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. Thank you for sharing these images and your story. Such an amazing set of photos that show huge amounts of strength – well done you!

  2. Love this idea! As someone whose been through this, I think you handled it amazingly!
    I was engaged to my ex fiance for over three years when we finally set a date and sent out invitations. The venues were booked, my dress (a gift from my beloved Nana) altered, and the RSVPs and gifts had come flooding in. Five days before the wedding, my fiance texts me and says he’s having second thoughts and maybe this isn’t a good idea. I called him in a panic and asked what the hell he was talking about. There were many arguments before he finally said that he just wasn’t ready to get married. AFTER THREE YEARS OF ENGAGEMENT. But he insisted he still loved me and wanted to get married someday, just not then. So, we cancelled the wedding. Six months later, he tells me he doesn’t want to be engaged anymore. It’s too much pressure, he says. Can we just date? So, I give him back the ring and say he can give it to me again when he’s really ready. (I know, I was an idiot… but I thought I was in love). He said he felt so much better and hugged me and kissed me. I thought we were going to start over. Clean slate and all that good stuff. But then he cheated on me several times and dumped me, literally dropping me off sobbing in my driveway a few days before our 4 year anniversary. Do you know what he did then? Texts me a couple days later to see if I want to go to the movies with him and some friends. I told him I didn’t want to speak to him for a long time, and to please respect that. Thankfully he did. I blocked him on social media and found, after no contact with him for a few weeks, that I didn’t even miss him a little. The anger issues, the arguments, the cheating… all of it was gone and I felt better than I pretty much ever had. I found a new church (he went to the same one as I did) and made new friends, and found myself happy and content with being single. Then, I met a wonderful man online. We met in person, started dating, and when he asked me to marry him, I had no reservations about saying an ecstatic “YES!” We’ve been married for three months now, and he is the best thing that ever happened to me. And I doubt I would ever have met him if I hadn’t gone through what I did. So, in the end, while being dumped really hurt, it brought me to a place where I was happy with who I was and could make wiser decisions when it came to relationships.
    (PS I ran into my ex after I started dating my husband…. and I had no romantic feelings for him left whatsoever, especially when I found he was tangled in the same bad habits as always. It was just what I needed to start my new life with my husband!)

    • Since you loved Shelby’s story, be sure to watch the Slideshow her father made, using the perfect song – the Slideshow also includes video of the actual “trashing” – http://youtu.be/0Sr32hzRd8U

  3. This gave me chills (in a good way!). Thank you so much for sharing this, and I agree, you look fabulous! So much love comes through the photos and bonus points for the donations at the bridal salon. Cheers to you and your beautiful spirit. I wish you nothing but the best

  4. Thank you so much, Shelby. You’re amazingly brave. I haven’t experienced this type of heartbreak, but reading your story gave me courage to handle my own tragedies.

  5. What a inspiring story. I had my own “left at the altar” moment this past year. After paying for the venue, ordering the invites, and the dress,my fiance called off the wedding. It was heart breaking but it was a learning experience. We are still together but getting married is off the table for the time being. We are becoming stronger as a couple and as individuals. Thank you for sharing.

  6. You go girl! Way to find the joy in a heartbreaking situation! You’re a rockstar!

  7. I have mix of emotions I can’t really express now, just wanted to tell you that I have partially been there (months, not days), and I respect you, and I somehow love you and what you did. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Oh my gosh! You are an amazing woman. So much strength. Not many people can go through something so awful and turn it into something beautiful. You are awesome. 🙂

  9. good for you for turning such a heartbreaking turn of events into an empowering experience. and can i just say, i love that champagne photo with dad chugging straight from the bottle in the background? you rock.

  10. To be loved, to be loved, WHOOOA! what a feeling, to be loved.

    Too often we assume the only or best love is the intimate kind between lovers. Look what the love of your parents has created!! I know your mom must look at these pictures and her heart and muscles all swell with pride knowing, “I did this…”, not alone, not for glory but because she loved her baby girl ohsomuch. To say that you’ll be fine is to make the understatement of the year, I can say that now because we’re so close, LoL! Thank you for showing us what we can overcome and how good we can look as we do.

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