“Yes, I’ve changed. Pain does that to a person.” I saw those words on a friend’s Facebook page just this week. The quote was not credited, but I traced it back to a chronic pain support website. However, when I read it, I did not think of the changing effects of physical pain, which I can only imagine are awful, instead I immediately thought of emotional pain.
In the past three years I have changed. It was a necessity. There is no way I could enter my situation and leave as the same person. My husband dropped me off at work one morning and didn’t return for over 24 hours. That’s life-changing pain. When he did return, a web of well-calculated lies started to unravel – a fake abduction, payday loans, eviction, and such chaos and deceit that it is best-suited for a Lifetime movie. The emotional roller coaster that my children, my family, and I have endured has shaken me to the core. It forever changed me as a woman, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, and friend.
Some of the changes have been gradual and are subtle only to me: greater compassion toward my students who are from difficult circumstances, the ability to brush off as inconsequential petty things that once seemed major, the feeling of pure joy when something wonderful happens to a friend, the confidence I have gained in sharing my opinion. However, other changes are more notable. They are so notable that I know the exact moment when the old me was gone and the new me had emerged.
Last night there was rain, a storm warning, lightning, rain, rain, and more rain. This was on top of an already saturated ground. Our local meteorologist said we received the amount of two months of rain in about 24 hours. Therefore, like many, many others in my area my basement flooded. A seeping slow flood that saturated every nook and cranny of my partially finished basement. Ugh. It is a situation that can test anyone’s patience, and as a single mother I’ve found that these types of situations can be even more excruciating.
I bought my home in November. All. By. Myself. I was terrified, not only to be a sole mortgage holder, but to take on all of the minute responsibilities of homeownership on my own (yard work, snow removal, yard work, plumbing problems, yard work, painting, etc.). Yuck. Two years ago, I would have never even thought I could do these things on my own. I had a fantastic partner. He was an involved father, a natural parent, and an attentive spouse. With him I could tackle anything. Without him, I wasn’t so sure.
As I stood in my basement, feet covered in water for the fifteenth time, I looked around. I was able to successfully move all of the children’s toys and the small furniture upstairs by myself at midnight the night the flood began. I was using a shop vac to vacuum the never-ending water and pump it outside. I had help, my wonderful parents and my grandfather came as soon as I knew I had a problem outside of my control, but here I was essentially keeping my cool in a situation that even a year ago would test my patience. The water, the rain, expected the “new me.”
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and theologian, called rain, “wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech…” and as I worked to clean it up for the umpteenth time that day, I let my mind reflect on the years of intrinsic changes I have endured. I am stronger, more confident, I make every decision on my own. From how to clean up a flooded basement, to what to make for dinner, to what school my children should attend. There is no co-parenting, no discussions, no compromise with another. It is sometimes lonely, stressful, agonizing, and still unbelievable to me that this is where I am, but I have to believe that I can do it. The most difficult part has been to set precedence and boundaries. To believe that I am making the correct decisions for myself and my children even when others might believe I am flat out wrong.
As I reflect through the sound of the falling rain, the slosh of the water, and the hum of the shop vac, I am proud of the change. I am proud of myself. It is definitely not that I am happy with my divorce, I grieve for it everyday, but through this devastation I have become a strong, confident woman who would not have been present in my old life. The pain has changed me into the woman, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, and friend that God meant me to be.
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About Nicole Brinkman
Nicole Henning Brinkman is a cradle Catholic who was raised in a Catholic/Lutheran home. She was educated in Catholic schools kindergarten through master's degree (Go Irish!). Born and raised in the Midwest, she has lived throughout Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio. In 2015 her faith was tested, and forever strengthened, when her husband suddenly left her and their two young boys; shattering, but not destroying, her belief in the Sacrament of Marriage. Today, she lives near family in northern Illinois (think corn fields, not Chicago). She is a fourth grade teacher, wanna-be writer, perfectionist, and a single mother who strives to live a Catholic vision of family life no matter the circumstances.