Strength is a funny word.
I think of my husband’s cousin who can deadlift over 600lbs.
I think of my patients who press on despite crazy horrible circumstances, aka cancer.
I think of ants who move giant pieces of crumbs and leaves and water droplets.
I think of my mom’s transition from “city girl/dentist’s daughter/musician” to “farmer’s wife”.
But I never thought of how much strength it can take to throw in the towel. Until about two years ago. Or maybe it wasn’t until later when someone told me I was “strong”. Either way, my concept of strength has changed over the years.
I celebrated my 28th birthday in 2010 with a bunch of my girlfriends. We went out for dinner, drinks, and dessert. It was truly lovely. One of my friends gave me a necklace which has inscribed in tiny cursive “All the strength you need is right there inside you”. I don’t know if she knew what was going on in my personal life, or if she really understood how much that gift meant. It became the shred of hope I clung to and I wore it every day. I needed to touch it and remind myself that I was strong. Sometimes I felt like my sanity was hanging off that chain around my neck. You see, at that point in life, my strength was perseverance. Keeping on keeping on. I kept going home to a loveless home. I kept being married to a man who would alternately put me on a pedestal then rip me to shreds. I kept trying to forge forward because I didn’t know what else to do.
Almost a year later, I found a new brand of strength inside me, one that let me love myself enough to save myself. I left that situation–not that it was an easy, flippant decision by any means! I agonized over this choice, but finally found the strength to say, “Enough is enough. My life is worth standing up and getting out.”
Another year passed. I wore the necklace less and less because my self-esteem wasn’t being trashed daily. I still liked the reminder and the necklace was prettier now that it didn’t have to be my lifeline. I began learning that strength was learning to love again. To slowly begin to open up and let others into my life, my heart.
This year I’ve rarely worn my necklace. Mostly it hangs on my jewelry tree. But every now and again, like today, I pull it over my head and celebrate all the strengths I have learned.