**This post discusses the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I wasn’t able to include page numbers to completely give credit to each quote because I have only a digital copy of the book and so that won’t be the same as pages in the actual book. But I made sure to use quotes and it is not at all my intention to try and claim any of her awesomeness as my own.
This book means a lot to me. I don’t remember why I picked it up or how I heard about the book. But I am so thankful I did. I just saw the movie this week and I loved that too. Not nearly as much as the book, but the movie had all the parts I had hoped to see and all the feelings the book had me feeling.
The book was in my life at exactly the right time and reading it gave me exactly the validation I needed to make some final decisions. To understand what I needed to do to more forward in my life.
The first big moment for me in the book was her discussion of why she chose a new name after getting her divorce. The weekend I read the book I was alone at a cabin with just my dogs. Silence and beauty all around me as I sat by the fire and in the cute cabin and read her story. She says she knew if she got divorced she couldn’t stay her married name, but “I couldn’t go back to having the name I had had in high school and be the girl I used to be.” And as I read that I knew that it had described exactly how I was feeling.
I had filed for divorce that same year and had been living alone for only a few weeks short of one year. I was beginning to think a lot about my name and the choice I had to make in keeping the married name or “restoring” my maiden name. To me, keeping my married name was never a valid choice. I don’t mean it to sound as harsh as it likely will, but I just didn’t want to keep that connection to him. It is who I became because I married him and I wanted a full disconnection from who I had allowed myself to become in our marriage. However, going back to my maiden name seemed like going back to the girl in the corner. The girl I didn’t like or accept. And the girl who was sexually assaulted. It felt unsafe and just not at all who I wanted to be again. It was difficult for me to accept that because I also have very warm connections to that name. I am close to my father, I was very close to my grandfather, and my maiden name is both the middle name for myself and for my son.
When I read that part of the book where she decided to choose her own name, I put the book down and just sat with those feelings. And very quickly I decided that I would do that myself. I would choose my own name. I would decide later if I would keep my maiden name as my middle name, but I spent the next few minutes sitting by the fire thinking about what my last name should be once I was single. I didn’t expect to come to a decision so quickly, and I won’t describe the personal moments that led me to my name, but it was a completely clear moment. One of those moments that takes your breath away because it is so perfect. I knew sitting by that fire who I would become. And then I laughed and said right out loud to my dogs and the horses nearby, “that. is. awesome. and that’s what i am going to do.”
Cheryl Strayed’s description of her feelings about divorce just hit exactly on the types of things I was feeling and had been feeling while deciding to move out and then go forward with divorce. Reading her story validated my feelings and allowed me to give myself a much needed break from punishing myself for my decisions.
She wrote “as close as we’d been when we were together, we were closer in our unraveling, telling each other everything at last” and I understood that feeling in a personal way. My husband and I had been close in some ways for many years, but never quite the way I needed. I wanted a best friend to come home to and I never felt comfortable sharing my whole self and my whole, true feelings with him. But after I moved out, a really strange thing happened for awhile. I did feel closer to him and him to me. We had long discussions and said things we should have been saying all along. I felt closer to him than I had felt for years. Which led to a period of us accepting separation as an option when we had always said if we couldn’t live together, there was no point to staying married. So for the next 8 months, we lived separately and we talked and got together often to see if we could fix what was broken in our relationship. We didn’t succeed, but I’m thankful for the time with him because feeling close to him then allowed us to move forward and not go through an angry, hateful divorce. We were able to talk and be with our kids and treat each other with respect.
As I moved forward in living alone, I referenced the book often. I read parts of it over again and looked back at my favorite quotes a lot. I liked living alone and I still do. Cheryl Strayed wrote “Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.” I like that because to me that is one of the best things in the world…being alone. And I’m thankful that I can be alone and be comfortable and happy. I’ve not always been good at it because I didn’t like myself. It’s one of the best benefits I’ve received from therapy. I know now that I can be alone and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I want to be completely alone all the time or forever, but when I am I know that I’m still with a person who’s pretty great.
I lived alone for about a year and a half before the day of my divorce arrived. And even though it was the day my marriage would be ended, I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel happy or relieved or angry or scared. I just felt like it was what was necessary to do what we had already done in separating ourselves and agreeing that although we loved each other, we just didn’t work the same way we once had and that wasn’t enough for me. I kept thinking of this quote from the very same book, “I didn’t feel sad or happy. I didn’t feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right.” And no matter what else I was feeling, that day I just knew I had made the right decisions for me.
In moving forward now in my life, I still think of Cheryl Strayed and her story often. I’ll probably read the book again someday. There are a lot more quotes I read and think about on an almost daily basis.
Although our experiences in life were not the same, I understand the enormity of the quote ”what if I forgave myself?” Her quote goes on, but that’s the part I cling to because that’s what I have left to do with the girl in the corner. I must find a way to forgive her. And to accept that she is a part of me. A part of me who deserves forgiveness and love.
Thank you, Cheryl Strayed, for being brave enough to share your story. It has played a large part in my healing and my ability to move forward each day to rediscovering me.