I got left at the altar: turning heartbreak into artwork

Guest post by Shelby Swink

When I met my fiancé, we were both athletes at the same university in Tennessee. We started dating soon after that and hit it off very quickly. Our relationship was put to the test a year later when he moved back to his hometown in Florida, and I stayed in Tennessee to finish school.

After a year of long-distance, he surprised me and decided to move to Memphis, my hometown, to be with me. Two years after we met, we moved in together and were doing great. So great, that we got engaged and started planning the wedding for the next year.

I poured my heart and soul into the wedding plans to try and make it the best day it could be. It was going to be a celebration of our love and commitment to each other, so I wanted it to be absolutely amazing. A few weeks before the wedding I had everything planned out to a T and was so excited for our big day.

Five days before the wedding the unexpected happened. My fiancé and I sat down and he told me that he was not in love with me, and did not want to marry me, or spend the rest of his life with me.

I was in complete shock and had no idea what to think or do. I was numb. The next couple days were a blur of calling guests, canceling services, and figuring out our living arrangements. Fortunately, my friends and family surrounded me and showed me endless love and support.

As the day that was supposed to be my wedding day approached, none of us knew what to do, think, or feel. I knew that a pity party was the farthest thing from what I wanted or needed. A few people brought up the idea of trashing the dress, and at first it sounded crazy…

My mother had spent so much money on the dress and alterations, so I was nervous to even think about destroying it, let alone try and pitch the idea to her. But after thinking about it, I knew that doing something to mark the occasion was the perfect thing for me. I was not going to let my ex-fiancé's mistake of letting me go take away my happiness.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

My bridesmaids and parents supported the idea 100% and even joined me in their own dresses and suit. My friend Carolyn didn't even wait for my photographer Elizabeth to say “go” — she just kind of threw the paint on me.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

The moment the paint hit my dress… I was free. All the disappointment, all the hurt… I just felt it leave me. I can't even describe how liberating and cathartic the experience was for me. I let go of all the hurt and became myself again.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography) (102 of 319)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography) (128 of 319)
trash the dresses before and after
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)
Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

I am a strong woman who believes that everything happens for a reason. We all face adversity in our lives, but what really defines us is how we decide to overcome that adversity. I decided that I will not let this tragedy and heartbreak consume me, and bring me down in life.

Trash the Dress, Part Two (110 of 124)

Afterwards, my dress was proudly displayed at The Barefoot Bride in Memphis.

Through the beginning of 2015, a portion of each wedding dress purchased while my dress is displayed will go to a Memphis non-profit that helps other women learn how to find their inner strength.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Ultimately, I have come out of this experience a stronger and better person, and I am excited for the future knowing that God has a plan for me. Always remember to remain true to yourself and believe in your own strength and you can overcome anything life throws at you.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Updated to add

Here's a video, from Shelby's dad!


Comments on I got left at the altar: turning heartbreak into artwork

  1. This. is. AMAZING! Shelby, you are an inspiration and the pictures are just priceless. You had an awesome un-bridal party and parents, and you can see that in this pictures. Rock on!

  2. I love this!!! I’m divorced and for some reason I was hanging onto my wedding dress. I’m engaged to an amazing man now so there was no reason to keep it around. So this past Halloween my old wedding dress got torn up, black paint and dirt splattered and I wore it as a day of the dead bride! I loved it! The first rip I made gave me so much power over the left over anger I was holding onto. It was a great release! Way to go girl!!!

    • I did the same the first Halloween after separating from my ex. I pinned cobwebs all over it, I mangled it, then I gave the whole thing to a crafty friend to use the fabric and beading to make something for herself. I was so done with it. It was a relief to get rid of it, even though it had been so costly. In the end, it was heavier on me psychologically than any dress had a right to be, and letting go of it was freeing.

  3. I’m not gonna lie, the first few pictures of the paint on your dress made me want to do that to mine FOR the wedding because its pretty, lol. Then again, I’ve got a weird Halloween wedding… Regardless, go you! You rock that pride. No one can take that from you!

    • Do it . It would be awesome . some brides do a TRASH the dress after the wedding .

  4. Wow. I am floored and inspired by your story. You turned a terrible moment into a beautiful story of strength. The pictures are fabulous and I hope the experience as well as your support system helped you heal. I think it’s wonderful that a bridal shop took your dress and are using it as an inspiration to others. Best wishes to you and your future!

  5. This was such an incredible read. Unfortunately, none of my break-ups have been an easy, amiable separation. While I’ve never been left standing almost at the alter, now that I’m building a relationship that is leading towards engagement, I’m having that feeling in the back of my mind that ‘I’m so happy, something bad is going to happen’. My parents are firm believers in willing what you want to happen (and willing the opposite is just as likely to make it so, so don’t will the negative, either!). Thank you so much for the reminder that there are healthy ways to deal with this kind of grief and loss and find yourself and make yourself whole again, without that significant other you were expecting to compliment you. This was a beautiful article and I so appreciate you sharing.

  6. Not to take away from the tragedy of being betrayed by someone so deeply, um, you actually look SUPER hot covered in paint. The more paint, the more amazing the photos. The most touching images were the smile and cuddles with your parents. Love love love through and through. Beautiful! Bless you and your awesome friends and family. xxx

Read more comments

Comments are closed.