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Living Outside the Picture Frame: Three Things I Learned From My Broken Life

Aug 29, 2019    |   by Holli Fawcett Clayton

In today’s social-media-infused world, there seems to be a uniform prescription for happiness: capture (or create) a flawless picture, and post it online to show everyone your picture-frame-perfect life—then watch as a soaring number of “likes” appear on your screen.

For some of us, this isn’t so easy. 

Because our realities aren’t frame-worthy. 

Life can bring hard things. Things like death, divorce, illness, despair, abuse, aging, and addiction—the real things that we struggle with behind our stunning social media facades. 

I can definitely relate. 

Seven years ago, my first marriage unraveled. I was in my late-thirties (with three kids under age ten), and suddenly, my Facebook-perfect life was no more. There was an ugly divorce. The picture frame around my world shattered and left me standing in a pile of broken pieces, trying to figure out how to begin picking them up and putting them back together somehow. 

Hopelessness was everywhere. My self-esteem plummeted. Divorce felt like getting an “F” on my life’s report card—a big, fat, bold symbol of failure that was going to be publicly plastered everywhere. 

Just like that, I’d been sentenced to rock-bottom, as though I’d never make it into the top-tier of anything again. 

Ever.

Friends, if you’re going through (or have gone through) divorce, rest assured that this is not the case. I can tell you from experience. In fact, here are three top-tier lessons that I learned from my shame-journey through a failed marriage.

1. I have learned to forgive—especially myself.   Forgiveness is no easy feat, especially when the wrong you’ve experienced has cut your heart to pieces and shredded your soul and stolen every ounce of pride and hope and faith that you once had.

Trust me, I get it. I too, struggled to forgive. 

And the hardest part of it was learning to forgive myself.

I am human. I am flawed. And I did the best that I could to make my first marriage work. I take full responsibility for the things that I could have done better. But I refuse to feel responsible for the things outside of my control. It’s much too destructive.

So I have forgiven myself. And for the sake of my children, I have forgiven my ex. Let it all go, friends. It does NO good for you to hold onto shame or guilt or anger. Choose to set it free. Only then will you be free to live your best life. 

2. I have learned to find real connection. The people in my life today aren’t here because of my A-list accomplishments. And they don’t see an “F” on my life’s report card when they see me—they see a human being that persevered through some pretty formidable life circumstances. 

They see my heart. My desire to encourage and empathize. My crazy passion for writing. 

They loved me at my best, and my worst. 

They love me for me. Always.

These are the people to whom I am genuinely connected. It really is true—in dire times, you find out who your friends are.

3. I have learned that there is hope in hopelessness. After my divorce, there were days when I felt so hopeless I didn’t think I’d survive, but I did. There were days when I ugly-cried to my friends and my family, sure that no one would ever want to do life with me, a woman with three young kids and a damaged heart.  

I have now been married for six years to a man who, when we were dating, promised that he’d treat my children better than they’d ever been treated before. He is kind, loyal, honest, and fair—a person who makes things better, not worse. The list of things that he has done for me and for the kids is long, and we are so much better because of his unconditional love for us. The pieces of my broken past have been mended by the power of our beautifully blended family.

The moral of this story?

Keep getting up each day, friends. Hold fast to faith. Believe that there are better things ahead. Because I am living proof that there is hope in hopelessness. Happiness really can rise up from ashes to rebuild magnificent things.

Whatever your picture frame looks like—broken as it may be—I urge you to welcome it. Choose not to be ashamed of it. Dance inside of it and out, and even all around it. Make it meaningful and allow others to see you do so. Because life outside the picture frame is some of the most soul-shaping, real-happiness-producing stuff you’ll ever experience.

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Holli Fawcett Clayton
I’m Holli Fawcett Clayton, creator of Courageous & Connected, a website about human connection and the ways we can find it.
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