09/25/2013 05:42 EDT | Updated 11/26/2013 05:12 EST

How Letting Go of the Perfect Life Changed My Life

In a moment, my view of the world and its expectations of me changed. As a teen someone said to me, "You cry at the drop of a needle." I promised myself right then and there that I would stop being emotional; I would be strong. If I wore my best poker face the world couldn't shake me. I rejected who I truly was, and my freedom to express that. But then life got complicated.

As my marriage was coming to an end, I lived in limbo for six months trying to wrap my head around letting go of my "plan," the life I envisioned that fit all the rules. What society taught me to strive for was to be married, have a home, career and someday a family. Walking away meant giving it all up, standing alone. I wondered if I would know the person standing there. Every question and scenario ran through my head. Mostly, that I would have to accept missing the life accomplishment deadlines in my head.

One morning after returning from a business trip, my husband turned to me and asked, "Are we going to be OK?" It was a conversation that had repeated for the past six months. I'd been lying to both of us, saying, "Of course, we will work it out." This time, however, my body was overcome by a clarity I'd never felt before. The fear was gone; the questions disappeared. My body was still; my mind quiet. I had no plan. The words just fell out of my mouth: "I am done."

I laid still with the weight of the world lifted. I felt nothing; I was present. My body lay heavy on the soft mattress. I closed my eyes awaiting his reaction, but I no longer cared what happened in the next moment. I felt free.

The decision was easy. The next few months however, were the most trying of my life. My husband was angry, hurt, and did not want to leave, so I moved to my parent's house. In the fury I gave back my rings. I did not want any games. Material didn't matter as I needed release. In fact, I walked away from all of it; the money, the material, the plans. I would start over.

My company was restructuring, which gave promise of new opportunities. The last thing I wanted was anyone to figure out that my world outside of work was falling apart. For three months, I continued to live "the perfect life." The restructuring was delayed. My nerves were rattled, and I was exhausted from acting, losing weight and barely holding myself together.

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I had no choice, so I called my boss and team into the office. My home had sold and I was in the process of making arrangements with lawyers and to move. I could no longer hide the truth. The thought of gossip was more than I could bear.

As I shared, three of the women in the room burst into tears. For the first time in years, in public, I cried. I was human again and surrounded by warmth and concern. They accepted me, tears and all.

My whole life changed. My feelings were alive. My boss asked why I'd hidden the truth. I said, "I've worked too hard to have anyone think I wasn't able to handle more right now." After the words came out I realized that being human and vulnerable would not lessen the respect I'd earned as a business professional. In fact, it added depth and authenticity.

My company completed restructuring and I was promoted. More importantly, I began the process of healing. At moments I wondered if the pain would ever end, if the tears would run out. In hindsight, being able to feel again was a gift. I had believed numbing myself to the world made me strong, when in fact it just ate me alive inside. When I accepted myself, I learned that being vulnerable enough to show the soft, caring and sensitive person that I am did not put me in a position of weakness. I didn't need protecting. I was strong enough. I finally met the girl who stood in my shoes for the first time. Beneath the shell was a soft soul who craved the warmth and love she deprived herself of. My relationships began to transform. New people entered my life. Old wounds and relations healed. I fell in love for the first time and my heart was truly open. I was finally alive.

I spent over 30 years developing skills I thought I needed to live the life of my dreams. Until I woke up and realized the vision in my head wasn't even mine; it belonged to the world around me. To find my own truth, I needed to reconnect with my inner child and to freely express what I felt. I wanted to scream and laugh, to feel good, to cleanse my soul crying. I needed to just be, without fear or apology. I wanted to be human, and to be OK with that. My inner child is the piece of me that is alive. She loves the silly, fun loving, klutzy, quirky, emotional, warm, less than perfect me.

I now accept that nothing is guaranteed, but I am strong enough to fail if necessary. My only regrets are the risks I didn't take. Failures have taught me that the worst case is never as bad as the story in my head, and without risk the best outcomes were not possible. I have been softened by pain, and lifted by love. Both have been necessary parts of my journey. Allowing myself to feel has helped me get to know who I really am, and to experience truly blissful moments.

Looking back, it has all been worth it, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn't change a thing.

By Jackie Mattioli

The Purple Fig is a community where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.

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