"I know myself better and more fully than I ever have before," Niecy Nash said

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For Niecy Nash, divorce was about putting herself first.

On Thursday, the Claws star opened up about her split from her husband, Jay Tucker, in a tearful speech at the 2020 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards Luncheon.

Nash, 49, was accepting the Vanguard Award at the bash, which was held at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, California, as a slew of famous faces — like Kerry Washington, Jenifer Lewis, Billy Porter, Issa Rae, Eve, and Vanessa A. Williams — looked on.

In October, Nash and Tucker revealed that they were going their separate ways after eight years of marriage. “In this season of our lives, we are better friends than partners in marriage,” they said at the time. “Our union was such a gorgeous ride. And as we go our separate ways now, we feel fortunate for the love we share — present tense.”

The decision, Nash said on Thursday, was a tough one because so many people had perceived them to be the perfect couple. Even her family had said things to her like, “‘But y’all look so good together…”, “Well, if the man ain’t beating you…”, and “What are you leaving for?”

“The untethering from my family’s beliefs, the internet’s expectations and my marriage ending caused me so much pain,” Nash said, recalling how she had told her family, “‘But what about my happiness?’ ”

Niecy Nash
Niecy Nash
| Credit: Randy Shropshire/Getty

Leaning into that pain helped Nash heal and grow.

“I’m not quite sure why it’s our instinct to run from pain instead of realizing it’s a barometer for all the bulls— we allow,” she said. “I was thinking that maybe if we didn’t see pain as a punishment, we could welcome it with open arms. We can sit with it and take copious notes. For me, pain is ‘putting all things in necessary order.’ It will ultimately stretch you, it will grow you and it will make you better.”

Getting to the other side of it required a few steps, which Nash laid out.

She explained: “Here’s what you do. One, you acknowledge how you feel. Two, you got to know that your feelings are not facts. But rather the fact lies in why you feel the thing in the first place. You got to be transparent.”

“Trust that it is so much easier to walk in your truth than it is to run towards a lie,” she continued. “Make decision about what you now know. You gotta own the part you play, that’s important. You gotta forgive yourself and others. Get professional help if you need it. … You get busy being better for yourself and for all those who are coming after you.”

“The only way to get back was to do the work. I did my work. I put my life back together piece by piece,” Nash said. “I can’t help you do your work but what I can do is invite you to think differently. I can encourage you to walk in your truth, to heal your trauma and live your best damn life.”

Niecy Nash
Niecy Nash
| Credit: Leon Bennett/Getty

Along the path to that self-discovery, Nash was cheered on by famous friends like Washington, Gabrielle Union and Iyanla Vanzant — all of whom she thanked on Thursday by name.

“There was a sisterhood that happened and it absolutely blessed me where I was,” she said. “God loves me because the women that I call my village, I love those women.”

Another person who helped Nash? Oprah Winfrey, who started her down that journey early when she asked Nash, “Who are you without a man?”

“I said, ‘Girl, I don’t know,’ ” Nash recalled responding, pointing to that question as a motivating factor for her self-exploration.

“There was a huge myth that I inherited from the women in my family specifically, which is ‘You are nothing without a man. Get one, keep one, no matter what. Blind, crippled, crazy, married or lazy. Get one baby girl because they will validate you,’ ” Nash said. “This long line of women that I come from had never been taught what choosing themselves looks like.”

That “generational curse” has changed now, Nash said, for her daughters.

“I realized that I did the thing when my daughter said to me, ‘I am so proud of you and I want to be just like you when I grow up,’ ” Nash said. “You will always be the thing, whether you have a man or not. Whether you have one chasing you, it does not matter. You’re the thing and you get up every single day and you choose yourself and you teach your children how to do the same.”

Niecy Nash, Jay Tucker
Jay Tucker and actress Niecy Nash
| Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Tucker, an electrical engineer, and Nash got engaged in 2010. Months later, the pair tied the knot at an outdoor afternoon ceremony at the Church Estate Vineyard in Malibu in May 2011.

The marriage was Nash’s second. She and her first husband, Don Nash, split in 2007. They share three children together.

“My first marriage was to a pastor and with that divorce, I lost my husband, my pastor and my church, just like that.,” she said in Thursday’s speech. “My second divorce was made public by somebody other than me. Somebody dropped dime, it’s okay. When I got divorced for the second time, not only had I written a book about love at that time, we were hashtag couple goals all over social media.”

Looking back now, Nash only sees a bright future ahead.

“I am so full of gratitude,” said the Reno 911! alum, who turns 50 on Feb. 23. “I know myself better and more fully than I ever have before. I shared the details of my journey. I was a human being transitioning into a human becoming, becoming the thing that the women in my family before me have yet to become.”

“I have never been better in my entire life and I don’t belong to nobody but myself,” she said. “Oftentimes in this place, I think about The Last Supper. Jesus prayed, he broke it. He gave it to the people and that is how I feel. I feel like God took me and he broke and he gave me back to the people better than I was before.”