The sun was hovering just above the horizon, not quite setting, burning bright and golden. The sky had picked up its glittering hues and the sea looked dark and inky, yet ominously inviting. I waded slowly in. The waves crashing hard against my body. I was oblivious to what was happening around me, a cacophony of joy: beachcombers frolicking at the shore, surfers gliding elegantly, friends laughing… Everything was muffled. I felt the pull of the undertow, as the tide heaved with immense power, drawing me further out, my toes barely touching the sand, lifting off with every movement of the water.
Did it really matter if I drowned? I had caused so much hurt, pain, and destruction that I felt like perhaps the world would be a better place without me in it. I slowly closed my eyes. The rest of my body relaxed, preparing to slip quietly away into nothingness.
“Steph!” A voice called loudly from the shore. Snapping me out of the tempting clutches of a terrible fate. “Steph! What are you doing?” I turned around, straightened up and steadied myself. It was my father. “I’m just swimming,” I called back. “You look nice in that bathing suit,” he replied. “Thank you,” I said, grateful for much more than the compliment. I was grateful he saved my life.
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“Mama! Look!” Beside him was four-year-old Sebastian trying to body surf. Chuckling as he threw himself into the edge of the water with gusto. Max was playing in the sand. They were aglow in the rosy sunlight.
All I could think of was that I had to get through this. I had to trust that this was the right decision. I had to be there for them and not just be there but be the very best version of me.
It’s difficult for me to write this. These are painful truths and moments I haven’t shared with anyone other than a handful of people. Despite years of therapy and healing, the memory still cuts deep.
It had been a few months since I left my marriage when this incident happened. I felt like everything was spinning out of control, I had hit my absolute rock bottom. Immediately after I went to therapy. It was important to me that I “fix” myself because I needed to be the best possible version of me to be the best possible mother to my children.
What I learned was that I didn’t need “fixing.” I needed to get to know myself more, embrace all aspects of me wholly, understand the why’s of my actions, and learn to have the utmost compassion, acceptance and love of my real self.
Choosing me was the best decision I ever made.
It’s so easy to cast judgment, especially in a society that loves to gossip. Words have power and energy, so use them kindly. Most especially with yourself, says Stephanie Zubiri.
I have never been in a happier space, because I truly can I say I love myself wholly. My children are thriving because they live in a home where love and joy reign. Where they have a mother who can always give them her best.
So many women suffer in silence. We are taught that we have to sacrifice ourselves to show love. This is the absolute opposite of the truth. We owe it to the people around us to be our happiest, most fulfilled and most radiant selves. And sometimes this means making some hard decisions.
In my latest podcast featuring Mikaela Lagdameo, we share openly about our experiences and why we both chose to leave our marriages. It’s not a topic that’s easy to discuss, particularly in a country that is so conservative and frankly so unforgiving to women.
“I agreed to speak up about the process of going through something so painful, so difficult but so real because I wanted to share what was going through my head that helped me in my journey of healing and forgiveness,” she shares on an Instagram post. “This is in the hopes of relating to women that might be going through the same thing, especially those who might be in a dark place where you think no one understands.”
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The conversation is so rich and complex that it’s challenging to distill in one article; however, the nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from it are quite simple.
Be compassionate. Have compassion. What might look like a picture-perfect life might, in fact, be a mask for inner turmoil and chaos. No one really knows what’s going on. For my part, I never spoke a word to anyone until I knew it was really over because we were still working on things. I was also doing my best to keep out other voices that were not my own. To have the quiet to listen to my heart and not what other people thought.
“You really can’t judge and belittle people’s experiences just because you went through it,” Mikaela shares, as she is often asked for advice by women going through something similar. “People have their own journey, their own decisions, and their own emotions.”
It’s so easy to cast judgment, especially in a society that loves to gossip. Words have power and energy, so use them kindly. Most especially with yourself.
Accept and honor the pain. “You need to accept the pain; the hardship, the happy and sad moments, accept it all,” says Mikaela. “Don’t wrestle with it. Because when life throws all this hard stuff at you, just accept it and take it.” Taking time to honor the difficulties and feelings is the first step to moving forward. “Life is hard. Everyone is going through some kind of hard. Take a breath and accept the reality without sugarcoating it. Then, slowly take the steps to get through the day. Then the next day and the next.”
Be the change. Things might not turn out as you hoped. People may not be what they seem or act how you wish them to. As Viktor Frankl once said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” If we keep waiting for circumstances to change, we will always be unhappy. The power of change lies within us.
“You be the change,” declares Mika. “you should not be waiting on someone to make the change. You be the change because it’s how you react to things. It’s your decision. It’s your life. And in the end, the people around you will respond to you differently as well.”
Forgiveness is key. For a long time I blamed my ex. My anger was directed to him. Hours in therapy taught me that I was in fact angry at myself. Angry at myself for giving up my power, for slowly letting myself fade away until I was so withered. Angry at myself for becoming someone I didn’t like. For espousing values that weren’t my own. For hurting so many because I wasn’t living my most authentic life. When we learn to forgive deeply, we are released and liberated. We must find true forgiveness for those who hurt us and also for ourselves.
Love yourself. You will only have the kind of relationship that you feel you deserve. All your relationships are a reflection of how you regard yourself, whether that’s with your friends, family, partner, and even children. You set the standard for how they treat you. You get to command the love and respect you feel you deserve. Working hard at finding unconditional love for yourself is key to self-worth. If you value yourself and you love yourself, then you will expect the same from the people around you.