Why I wear what should have been my wedding ring
"Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could be a page in someone else's survival guide" - Morgan Harper Nichols
This story begins in the summer of 2014. I was a recent college graduate working as a part-time nanny as I pursued this crazy dream of mine to own my own photography business. I was young, thought I knew all there was to know about life, and was in the middle of transforming my life in so many ways. And yet, in the middle of this chaos, I met a boy on tinder (yes, tinder) who caught me by surprise. He was everything I was looking for in a best friend and boyfriend: funny, cute, thoughtful, sweet, creative and just as weird as me.
Fast forward 3 years and I was living exactly the life I had always wanted with that cute tinder boy in our perfect loft apartment. Our love was just as flawed as we were, but in between our moments of laughing all day in bed together, fighting in cars, and loving deeply- we planned our future. A future that no matter our mistakes or imperfections, would always involve our love- no matter how imperfect or complicated it would be.
We decided on an elopement in the mountains of Colorado. We decided on our future children's names. We decided on life views and values we shared. We decided on rings. Amongst his many searches in the perfect ring for me, we found a company called The True Gem Company that made the most beautiful rings with conflict free stones (something that was important to me). Then, one day as I was scrolling through Instagram, I couldn't have been more excited to see that The True Gem Company was having a giveaway for a wedding band. I spent the next few hours writing an email to the owners of this random ring company telling them about me and my boyfriend, the life we had planned together, and how much we would appreciate having a band we could use at our mountain elopement.
A few weeks later, I got an email stating that we had won the band. It was the first tangible item that was going to start our forever. And it was ours. And yet, as quickly as our forever was beginning, it ended.
I don't think "good breakups" exist, but I also know that as far as breakups go, this was a bad one. It was sudden, abrupt, and confusing. The person I loved the most in this world, the person who just a few weeks before breaking up with me had written me a letter stating that he's never been happier, was suddenly telling me he wanted a life without me because he had actually been unhappy for a long time. He went from promising to unconditionally love me forever, to putting terminating conditions on the love we built. He expressed that he didn't think I was worth a chance to change my faults because he wasn't sure I was capable of more as a partner or human.
I spent the next months following the breakup so hurt, sick, and disgusted with myself that I couldn't eat without throwing up. Between managing grieving, dwindling self-worth, and my busy season, I emailed The True Gem Company to notify them of our breakup & tell them they should give the ring to someone who deserves it. And this was the response I recieved from one of the owner's, Lynne:
Life is weird... and painful and unpredictable. I’ve certainly written a few very different chapters of my own and can understand where you are. This really isn’t supposed to be a contest but rather a celebration of life and love and sometimes that means loss too. Whether he is in your life or not, as far as I am concerned, this band is yours my friend. Maybe it was meant to represent a new beginning- that part is up to you :-) It was YOU I connected with and I am thrilled to send this sparkler your way regardless!
Just know that I am thinking of you! I love following you and seeing your beautiful photography work. Just keep building your life and I have no doubt you’re building something beautiful! Take it from someone who has had to start over more than once! Keep your heart open, it is worth it! I am a fan and will always be rooting for you!
When I read Lynne's response, I was still in that stage of raw hurt where very few people's words could comfort me. And, here she was, a complete stranger giving me grace and extending generosity beyond expectations. Lynne's sweet love for a stranger like me was the first of many experiences which proved to be gold in the wreckage. I quickly found that sharing a story of heartbreak brings people out of the woodworks. It shows you a beautiful vulnerability of other humans where they share stories of hope, despair, and healing in ways to comfort and help you through your pain. It reshapes your soul, and brings you back to life again. It takes those little nerve-endings that were burnt in the breakup and begins to sooth and calm them. It makes you feel love again.
While waiting for my ring to arrive in the mail, a lot of self exploration happened for me. With the help of an incredible therapist and loved ones who helped me heal during the breakup, I realized that the life I had been living the past 26 years was guided largely by anxiety, and that anxiety had been hurting the ones I loved the most in ways I had no idea were even happening. In the months leading up to the breakup, I was going through a mountain of physical health and mental health struggles, many of which I wasn't even aware of until after he left me. Facing this truth of a lack of self-awareness was devastating, embarrassing, and painful.
There was great beauty that came out of this hard discovery. I learned to forgive myself. I learned that I am are more than the person my anxiety wants me to be & was allowing me to be. And the people who truly love you know this. And they stay to see who you can become, who they know you can be. They fall in love with your roots, not just your flowers.
I used to love the way he loved my freckles. The way he believed in my art and my business. The way he always promised me his love forever. But here’s what I have now: I love my freckles. I believe in my art and my business. And I promise to love myself forever. He doesn’t get to have the person I’ve become. He doesn’t get to have the person who looked at their roots, dug them up to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and planted them new. I am the one that gets to dance with the flowers I've grown.
So, why in the world am I sharing this on my photography blog? Here’s the truth: my business and my ability to run my business the way I’ve always prided myself on took a hit this past year amongst my grief and personal growth. There were weeks when I couldn’t sleep more than an hour a night. There wasn’t anyone who could do my job for me if I felt too weak to work, and that pressure was real. Emails went unanswered, I probably seemed foggy eyed to my beloved clients, and my drive to grow my business took a stand still. I’m not proud of that. I’ve always prided myself on being a self driven, motivated entrepreneur. And this past year, I had to put that on hold while I focused on my biggest investment: myself. As difficult as that was, I realized that investing in myself is investing in my business because I am my business. By taking the time to heal and better myself, I am in turn providing a better service to my clients. In a miracle twist of perception, I am proud of that.
A second reason I'm sharing this with my photography world is to share how vital you all have been in my healing process. My couples & families whom I have been lucky enough to photograph and meet during this chapter in my life have renewed my love in love. The sweet side conversations you have while I photograph you, the forehead kisses, the vows you promise each other, and the unconditional love I witness every weekend is something I wish everyone had the chance to witness. You remind me that forever is possible. And, even if you aren't one of my couples, but simply follow along with my art, you are just as vital in this healing process. To know my art is being seen, heard, and appreciated has helped my heart feel worthy at times I didn't feel worth much at all. Because my art is my heart walking outside of my body, when people accept or enjoy my art they are in turn accepting a piece of my heart. You have made me feel accepted during a time of rejection.
It's obvious to give credit in my healing to the ones who love me and know me well (shoutout to my dear friends who would kidnap me and basically force feed my favorite food, Portillo's milkshakes, down my throat on a daily basis- ya'll the real MVPs). But the compassion and empathy I have received from strangers like Lynne, my clients, the people I encountered during my winter travels, and even random Uber drivers has blown me away. It has healed me in ways I didn't even know I needed healing, and I am beyond grateful.
The final reason I am sharing this on my blog is because I believe in honesty and transparency, and I live a life that reflects that. I think we live in a world where social media allows people to paint perfect impressions of their lives, and I never want people to be misled by mine. I also realize my struggles are not unique, or worth any attention, really. But, if one person reads this and finds comfort or hope, then this was worth all of the sweaty palms it took to write and post this. I believe in sharing your story, your hurt, your mistakes, and your joy. Be proud of your journey and allow yourself to be loved for it.
This is my life now. It’s a life full of learning, love, growth, healing, independence, acceptance, and adventuring. I wear my ring as a badge of honor of who I've fought so hard to become. And, I wear it as a promise to love myself the way I hope one day someone else will: with honesty and forgiveness without conditions or doubt.