Friday, December 31, 2010

keepin' it real

It's New Years eve, the time of year to reflect on the past twelve months.

I have been enjoying reading other people's blogs lately-- posts about gratitude and personal accomplishments from 2010. I have been wanting to write something myself but have been struggling to come up with what to say.

I do a lot of battle with the very opinionated voices in my head-- the voices that tell me how I "should" be. That I should keep this blog positive, light, professional. That I should be upbeat.
But here's the deal-- none of that would be a truthful account of my 2010. And while there are a ton of people out there that would say it's wrong to involve one's personal life on their blog, I have to say that I disagree. Being authentic is never a mistake.

While there have been some incredible adventures and opportunities over the past year, it hasn't been easy. In fact, it's been one hell of a year.

My husband and I hit our seventh year of marriage and our twelfth year of being together.
Like every single married couple does at one time or another, we hit a hard patch in our relationship-- a long, grueling, we-don't-know-if-we-can-make-it-through-this-and-actually-stay-together patch.
A 12+ month period of questioning absolutely everything, of looking at the foundation on which we built our relationship over a decade ago, and wondering if it was best to simply cut our losses and part ways. A period of sorting through old hurts and insecurities, of arguing, crying, yelling, and trudging through our lives exhausted, emotionally spent, and broken hearted.

Over Thanksgiving in Myrtle Beach, Joe and I spent an evening catching up with my cousin and his wife. The question inevitably came up- how were we doing? Joe and I looked at each other, paused, and then told them. The truth. We weren't that great, we were struggling, we didn't know if we were going to stay together.

It was so liberating to talk, as a couple, to people we loved and trusted and be able to put aside all the formalities and small talk and just be real.
Of course, we both had individually confided in close friends over the past year, but we had never sat together in a social setting and simply laid out the truth of what was going on in our relationship. And once we had, I wondered why we hadn't been doing that the whole time. I mean, when you get married, you gather the people you love around you and ask them to support you in your relationship. So why weren't we gathering them close now? Why weren't we asking them for support?
I don't think I have ever thought about that aspect of our wedding ceremony as much as I have in the past couple months. I don't know that I ever stopped and thought about what that meant.
But now I get it. The people who you call your close friends and family, they are the ones that are there to support you as a couple, to play devil's advocate when you are complaining about your spouse, to challenge you when you want to give up, to hold your hand when you cry. They are not there to judge or take sides, (although some may do both, as we discovered, and those people are not helpful or healthy to you or your relationship.) Your real friends understand that there are always two sides to a story, and that it takes two people to make or break a marriage-- always, without exception.

I wish I could say that everything is perfect now. That it's all fixed and we are back to normal. But this is real life, not a romantic comedy. We are pretty battered, still somewhat unsure, still unclear about what the future holds.
I will say, though, that something massive has shifted between us. That there is a new closeness, a new trust, a new tenderness and softness that wasn't there before. We are laughing together again. I am seeing things in my husband that make me remember why I married him-- his compassion, his ability to make every single person feel special, his kindness, his flexibility, his integrity and work ethic, his beauty. I am falling in love with him again.

When I think of 2010, I am reminded of something an officiant said at one of the hundreds of weddings I photographed: When your marriage is strong, you can handle anything that life throws at you. When your marriage is struggling, the smallest tasks become nearly impossible.

I have thought about that officiant's words all year long because he could not have been more accurate. 2010 was full of so many amazing experiences and I have worked hard to stay in a place of gratitude about all of them. But coloring all of those experiences is the struggle between me and Joe. The pain and uncertainty of the "us", is what stands out from this year, above all else.

So, what about 2011?

Well, to talk about the impending year, I should probably mention how I have been spending the end of this one.

For the last 12 days, I have been scouring every inch of our home and filling bag after bag with things to donate. I have brought enough stuff to Goodwill to fill a small apartment-- furniture, clothes, darkroom supplies, exercise equipment, and more. I have cleaned out every cabinet and have made a massive donation to the food bank. I've emptied and scrubbed every junk drawer and over-filled closet, every corner of our home where the things we don't want to look at get shoved into and hidden. I have made a point to look-- actually LOOK-- at all the stuff I have been hauling around with me with the past 10 or 15 years, through multiple moves and addresses, and ask myself why they are still in my life. I have forgiven myself and passed on all of the gifts people have given me but that I didn't really need. I have sorted through all the things I own and I have given away everything except for what I truly love and use on a regular basis.

And the other day it hit me hard how timely and appropriate all this "purging" has been. How divinely connected it is to the simultaneous shift in my marriage.
Because, ultimately, the questions I have been asking myself are, "Why am I hanging on to all of these things that no longer serve me or the life I am living now?" "Why do I continue to cling to all of this 'stuff', even though it gathers dust and takes up space that could be used for something else?"

So, as for 2011, I am not making any lists or pronouncements about how it's going to be the best year yet. Instead, I am surrendering. I am letting go of what no longer serves me. I am trusting. I am showing up and seeing what happens. I am trying as much as my impatient Aries self will allow to stay present and live in the moment. I am believing that, no matter what comes my way, I will be okay. More than okay, in fact. I will be great.

Happy New Year.

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Lara said...

I have often thought about that aspect of a wedding ceremony - how the community comes together to support a new union - and about how we should turn back to that community for support and celebration more often. I wish you the best.

Maravilla said...

Thank you for keeping it real and authentic Clare! I followed the link to your blog from Twitter and I'm very glad I did! Your words resonate with me deeply and wish you and Joe courage and love in the coming year to keep up the conversation. Thank you so much for sharing!

Daddio said...

You give all of us a lot to think about as we end the year and welcome the new one.

Chef said...


Mel said...

Thanks for keeping it real.

I hope that all the outcomes, are the outcomes you hope for. And thanks for being honest. Personally, I prefer to read about people rather than just seeing glossy varnish.

shawna [of styleberryBLOG] said...

I have been a blogstalker for awhile & keep linking my foodie friends to you because I have a love of food photography & yours is amazing. kudos to you for being honest...I did the same this year & it brought such a sense of peace & amazing support. We are not alone in struggles! Hopefully they make us stronger...

Dana said...

What a beautiful and moving post Clare. I have shared my struggles with my older son on my blog, but of course there are other struggles that I keep quiet about. I can so appreciate someone who chooses to not pretend like their life is a fairy tale and tells the truth about how hard life, especially marriage, can be. I wish you the very best for the upcoming year and beyond.

Jenifer Ward said...

Fellow Aries, you are a hero for that post.

Shawna said...

Beautifully written, Clare. I love your honesty, because so often we all just smile and say everything is ok, when it truly isn't. I am excited to see where your new business ventures take you, and as always will be checking your blog for updates.

Lauren said...

Hi there,

I was steered your way through my dear friend Laurel, and I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your post and refreshing honesty. I wish you and your husband the best in 2011.

And I've also been inspired to purge. Perhaps I will finally part with a few things.

Joan Leonard said...

Clare, your sharing is a gift to those who are able to "hear". Other people's stories have always enabled me, in some way, to see my own journey a little more clearly and to have the courage to face the difficulties. Looking back now, honestly facing the difficulties brought growth and freedom. Kudos to you and Joe; you are two awesome people.

Joan Leonard said...

"PS" to my previous comment.
The photo of the sun breaking through the clouds is SO appropriate and beautiful. Don't you find nature affirms us in so many ways?!

paola said...

Clare, I've just read this. You're very brave. Marriage can be BLOODY hard sometimes and I hope that this year you can get to where you both need to be.

And can I hire you to declutter my house?