I have to admit, when things start to go sideways – when something horrible starts to happen – I always try to stop the skid. I try everything and I hold on tight while I get spun round and round. I stay until the accident is completely over.
Put another way…
When the shit hits the fan, I don’t move. I stand right in front of it, trying to turn the fan off. Trying pointlessly to stop the crap with my hands while it sprays all over me. I stand right there. Getting covered more and more. Getting dirtier and dirtier.
And I don’t mean this as a good thing.
Look, there are times when bad things happen and we need to hang-in and show our strength. There are times when we need to stay in the storm and weather it the best we can.
But there are plenty of other times when I’ve had the opportunity to just walk away. And I choose not to do so. And that decision just causes more hurt. More heartbreak and despair.
Let me explain…
I’m sure I could sit here and think of at least a dozen times in my life when I’ve held on too long and tried too hard to right a wrong.
The one that really sticks out above the rest, of course, is my marriage. It’s been over 10 years since I was in the middle of that storm. More than 10 years since I stayed too long. 10 years since I tried too hard.
When my ex’s drinking got really bad, I should have left. And when she cheated on me. I should have left. When she cheated on me again. I really should have left. And when the emotional (and sometimes physical abuse) started I should have left.
But I didn’t. I stayed there. I stood in the middle of the storm getting wet. I stayed in front of that fan.
But keeping myself there isn’t my biggest regret. It’s keeping my kids there too.
I remember the first time she told me she’d cheated on me. She told me she wanted a divorce. But despite everything that was happening, I didn’t. I wanted to save our marriage.
I remember walking into each of my kids’ bedrooms. I watched them sleeping so peacefully. I balled my eyes out. I wept for myself. But I wept mostly for them. I didn’t want them to grow-up with divorced parents. And I feared that my ex would get custody. How could I leave them alone in the drinking and the abuse?
So I vowed to stay. And I did. As long as possible.
But even after I left with the kids, for months I kept fighting what I believed to be the good fight. I kept trying to get my ex well. I kept trying to save our marriage. I kept trying to save my broken heart.
After a couple months it was clear that I would get custody of the kids. So, it wasn’t about protecting them anymore. It was about trying to save me.
And I wasn’t trying out of courage anymore. No, it was because of cowardice. I was scared. Scared of being a single parent. Scared of my ex drinking herself to death. Scared of an unknown and uncontrollable future.
Mostly, I was scared of being alone.
Now, there are times when weathering the storm or standing in front of the fan is a good thing. For example, after Wildflower’s accident, I stepped right into the storm and I stayed there until she was well enough to make decisions on her own. I did that and I’d do it again. Absolutely. I was acting from a place of love.
No, what I’m talking about is when we stay and keep fighting a fight that isn’t even a good fight. I’m talking about when we are doing more damage to ourselves by staying. I’m talking about when we’re acting more out of weakness than strength. When it’s not about love anymore. It’s about fear.
I did it again when Wildflower and I broke-up. I should have just walked away. But, let’s face it, I stayed and left and went back because I loved her so much and missed her. I was heartbroken and lost. I just wanted to be with her. And I was willing to pay any price for that.
That was my fault. And it wasn’t acting out of strength. It was acting out of weakness. Yes, it took strength to stay. But that strength was born out of fear. And it was ruled by pain.
I should have walked away sooner. I should have valued myself more.
But how can we tell the difference? How do we know when we should walk away and when we should stay?
Because there’s almost always a reason to stay.
In my marriage I could point to my ex needing help and my children needing a healthy mom and their parents to be married. With Wildflower I could point to so many things. Our love, how it felt like destiny – how being with her often felt spiritual and sacred.
There’s almost always a reason to stay. And it’s a good reason.
So, how do we tell the difference?
It’s not easy but I think there is a way.
There’s a saying that goes something like:
“If you’re having doubts then you already know the answer.”
In other words: If you’re questioning a decision then you aren’t really questioning it, you’re just too scared to admit it.
I really don’t like that saying because I think it only works in very narrow situations. But, I do think it applies here.
If you’re not sure if you should stay or go then it probably means it’s time to walk away. If it feels icky or uncomfortable to stay, then it’s time to go. If staying makes you feel weak but takes all your strength, then it’s definitely time to leave.
When Wildflower was in the hospital after her accident, there wasn’t one second when I questioned not being there for her.
Similarly, when my oldest child ends-up in the hospital, there is never one minute when I question if I should be there for him.
I know staying in the storm in those situations is the right thing. It just is. There’s no question.
And there has been many other times in my life when I’ve chosen to step into the storm for a loved one or for someone that simply needed help. I’m proud of those times. And I knew – absolutely knew without any question – that I was doing what was right and good. I knew it.
And I’ll continue to help others. I’ll continue to step into storms when it’s the right thing to do. That’s a major part of who I am. And I’m proud of that.
But with my marriage, and with my most recent break-up, I constantly questioned if it was time to walk away. Because it was. And I just didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t want to completely feel the hurt.
But in the end, I only hurt myself more. Worse, sometimes staying means those around us get hurt more too. Staying too long may even result in losing people or things that are important to us.
And I know it isn’t easy. At least for me it’s not. In fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. Leaving someone I love so much. Even while they’re begging me to stay.
Or walking away from something that is precious. Even when I think it can still be saved.
But at the end of the day, I can just walk away. I don’t have to try to stop the skid as everything goes sideways. I don’t have to keep trying to turn off the fan as the shit flies all over me. And I don’t have to stand in the lightning and the rain as the storm rages on.
I can just walk away. If I have the courage to stay then I have the courage to go too. Right? Absolutely.
And sometimes walking away is the right thing. For me. For them. For everyone.
And sometimes, staying is the wrong thing. For me. For them. For everyone. It just doesn’t feel that way when hearts are breaking.
But that’s the truth. And I hope and I pray I remember that the next time things start to go sideways.