In the more recent months, since I have embarked on this difficult journey that is divorce, I get told a lot by people that I am ‘amazing’. I also get told that I am ‘incredibly strong’ and that people do not know how I ‘do it’.
When I get told these things, I smile. I also recognize that now, as I talk of my survival over this hellish chapter of my life story, that my smile has moved from a ‘fake it til you make it’ smile, to a genuine ‘from the heart’, ‘damn grateful to be standing’ smile. I have learned to put my shoulders back and push my boobs out, stand tall and reply ‘thank you’, when someone compliments my fortitude. I usually then (depending on my mood) either change the subject or I share that I have had no choice but to ‘find my strength’. This is always met with an understanding nod and a firm and sympathetic rub up and down on my shoulder. I sometimes get the impression, that some of the married woman that praise my bravery, wonder how they would fair, should they ever find themselves in the same situation. And I amuse myself by entertaining the idea that the shoulder rubs from my fellow divorcing survivors, are to perhaps to try and connect to my source of strength and borrow just a little. Truthfully, I am still faking it, til I make it, but I’m no longer sure if ‘making it’ is as far away as I used to think. What ever ‘making it’ means.
Not that long ago, I used to shrug and shrink, when people praised me for how well I was coping and I would get a flashback of my lonely tears the night before. I would then sometimes share how hard it actually was and mostly walk away from the person with a hug and sometimes a tissue, hastily drawn from a pocket or handbag. On many occasions I couldn’t manage to discuss my pain, for fear of getting too emotional and just plain ‘losing it’. Who ever I was talking to, would then, often take my silence as a cue to share their own painful experience. Many people would also tell me about someone else’s divorce and tough time or ‘happy ending’ – if there is such a thing. No matter which way the chat would go or goes, I always walked away or walk away, having grown, just a little.
I have learned for the first time in my life, to not only lean on people that aren’t close family, but also to listen with greater empathy and less judgement to what ever others may be facing. I now properly listen and am able to be more in the moment, allowing myself to try and feel whatever it is that somebody is imparting to me. I sometimes close my eyes and have a sense of really connecting with others and of being able to let them lean on me, even if only for a short while. Before losing my marriage, I always felt for others, but now my compassion reaches far deeper and is more meaningful. I have learned that we never know what is going on in any body else’s life. It has become apparent to me, that even when we perceive someone to have the most calm and happy of lives, that everybody has a history and a story and that we generally have no clue how it is to be in their position. ‘Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’ had always just been words for me. Now I get what that truly means. I never imagined that I would be wearing these big girl boots that I’m buckled into. I always used to look sympathetically at those getting divorced. But oh, to be standing here, and it’s me, is mostly surreal.
Its nearing two years, since the tsunami hit shore, in my marriage. And it’s been about eight months since I acknowledged that divorce was choosing me. I could not see any way to continue in my marriage and so, for me, if I were to say that I chose divorce, it would sound strange and would not feel completely accurate. As a woman who felt as if she was clutching onto her last silken thread of dignity, I really couldn’t identify any other choice in the end. One would surely never ‘choose divorce’, right? We may fear the storm that we know will be part of the path that we are forced onto or maybe leap onto. We may commence our trail into the deluge, hoping for a rainbow to suddenly appear. We may doubt that any rainbow could ever possibly appear again. The crucial thing to hang onto as you are pelted with the rain, is that not even the heaviest storm lasts forever. The sun always appears again. And maybe that’s what ‘making it’ means – standing in the sun again and spotting the rainbow.
I knew that remaining in my marriage, would mean that I was not listening to my inner voice. I had shushed that internal whisper for more than a year preceding my decision to officially end my already ended marriage. I felt that it was time to surrender to The higher power in the universe, because, no matter how hard I had struggled against the tide, I had been swept in this direction.
There were many, many months before I entered into the divorce process, that I tried pretty much anything to save or mend my marriage. In fact, I proudly believe that I moved heaven and earth to seek just about everything that I could think of to not get divorced, because it was the last thing that I wanted. I wanted something else for my children. I wanted something else for myself. I had believed in the happily ever after and for so long I believed that I would have it. I bravely (and sometimes not so bravely) pushed way beyond my comfortable boundaries as a wife and as a woman, to try and save my marriage. Even though that inner voice was crying out to me that I owed it to myself to be my own champion and stop waiting to start living again, because remaining where I was, was destroying me. At that time, I did not even want to glimpse a new avenue to see how it may look. I was terrified to carry on down the road in my life, without my (ex) husband by my side. I had loved him for so long and so thoroughly, that the lines between me as an individual and me as part of a couple with him, were more than blurry. Those lines were melted into each other like brown and white chocolate in a pot. It was impossible to unmelt them. He was very much a part of who I was. I did not know who I was alone anymore.
For over a year, I was broken, beyond scared and completely closed off to getting divorced. When the therapist that I saw at that time, spoke of divorce as a possibility that I perhaps needed to look at in the future, I would completely switch off. I hid and sheltered as much as I could from the world. I could not cope with my life any more, but at the same time, I knew that I had to keep the pieces of my external puzzle together, for the sake of my children. And somehow (not always) I mostly did. My inner puzzle however was completely jumbled and none of the fragments would even remotely fit back into their original connected form. This was the murkiest, loneliest, most tortuous time of my entire life. I did not know how I would ever get to the other side of the abyss. I went from minute to minute and hour to hour. I was nauseous all the time and I swallowed food, simply because I knew that I must. I slept for maybe two hours a night. I tried my hardest to cling onto my faith and the structures of my religion. That was a challenge, but looking back it gave me a kind of a frame work to get through the day. My brain largely switched off in many ways to how the world as I knew it was disintegrating. Without consciously acknowledging it, and even though it was beyond any pain I had ever experienced, I had begun a healthy and normal mourning process for my marriage. I have no sufficient words to describe the loss that I felt. The grief swallowed me and all that I was. I could not have gotten through this darkest of times, without the human angels who continuously held my hands. People that I knew and some that I barely knew, brought me meals, flowers and came to see me, even when I didn’t want to see a soul. My ‘go to’ person, had always been my husband. Without him to go to, if it were not for these caring souls who wanted to support me, I may have crumbled. I acknowledged for one of the first times in my life, that I was not as strong as I had thought and that I actually needed others. I had always been extremely private and closed and liked to look as if I could handle anything. But my survival suddenly depended on being able to embrace help and allow others beyond my my guarded walls. I did not feel brave. I did not feel strong. I certainly did not feel amazing.
The well known saying about ‘time heals’, bore its fruit for me, early in the season. I say ‘early’, because I deliberately pressed the ‘skip forward’ button. I made the decision one day, that I was not going to wait years or even a day longer to start living again or to start feeling better. I saw the effect that my attempting to breathe under water was having on my children and that was my primary motivation to start kicking my way back to the surface. I was less than ok and without my sons knowing that Mom could cope and was fine, they were struggling. I will not kid you, it was not easy and it was not instant, but it started with a decision to reclaim myself, that only – only – only, I could make. I focused on the fact that I did not know (and I still don’t) when my divorce would be through. I could no longer let the fear of the unknown or anxiety about the process consume me as it had. I had to find a way to be in the now and reclaim my sense of self.
I started working on something manageable but massively important : the way that I looked. I had always put an effort into my appearance. Throughout my marriage, I was always groomed and looked after myself. I kept my petite figure. I made the most of myself and I never ‘let myself go’, as I have seen many moms and wives do. I do not criticize or judge anybody, for I know how hard life can be and that sometimes we lose ourselves. But, I know that when we as woman look good, we feel so much better. When we take a little time to take care of ourselves, we have just a bit more to give. Our stock of good energy increases. I may be a little nuts (or a lot), but I even had a touch of mascara and blush and lipstick on when I gave birth to my sons : ) and packed clothes to leave the hospital to go home, that I felt good in.
Do not for a second think, that at the beginning of the end of my marriage and through the days when I was sobbing on the bathroom floor (I bet you have had those days) that I was putting on make up or getting out of my pajamas or oldest track pants. On those days, I didn’t even look in the mirror. I sometimes even took a selfie of my swollen eyes and teary face to prove to myself that I still existed. Those days were pure soul-wounding hell.
My pale and zilch effort reflection in the mirror sucked me down further into the wallowing pit. It occurred to me that I needed to look different to kick start feeling better. I no longer felt even remotely like the person that I had been in my marriage. I had walked through fire and come out on the other side – burnt clean and new. I have taken the good of who I have always been with me to the ‘other side’, but many new parts have been added to who I now am. I have become resilient. I was told by a special and wise friend who had been through two divorces of her own, when I could not see the wood for the trees that I would gain this ‘resilience’. I remember mulling over that word. I knew that this friend never used words lightly. I looked up what the word meant because I never used it and I never really heard anyone using it. I discovered that it means ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Toughness. Hardiness. Ability to last. Ability to bounce back. Hardship and pain in ones life, gives us this gift.
I took myself off to the hairdresser and told her to give me a funky change (which was turning from a brunette to a blonde!! And cutting some of my hairs length into a long bob). I skipped out of there, feeling lighter and loving the dramatic change. Even my hair dresser, who has known plenty of her own hardship, is one of my human angels. She never charges me the full price for my new look and always makes sure, she gets it just right. My new hair color was and is a visual declaration to myself and the world, that this is a brand new me. It didn’t even take me long to get used to it. It feels completely right for me to now be a blondie. It was a bit awkward facing people that knew me as a dark brunette for the first few times, but I think I projected such a comfort in my new look, that others accepted it quite quickly. I started making an effort once more with my make up and wearing jewelry and painting my nails again. These are things that make a big difference to the way I feel. I started walking tall again and best of all, I started smiling again. I still don’t have a huge appetite, but I make sure that I eat a lot of healthy stuff, even when I’m not hungry. I still don’t sleep well, but it’s slowly getting better. I have started drinking water instead of so much comfort – tea and hot chocolate, which has given me more energy. I begun exercising, early in the morning, which helps me release some stress and gives me some time to think. All of these elements, take a concerted effort, but every little thing I do, makes it rain less and less.
I was always someone who liked to plan and picture how I thought things would be. I have through this shake up of my world, learned the huge lesson, that none of us have any clue what the next minute can and will bring. We all often forget this, until we are reminded by something good or bad. I am now very aware that I need to focus on the moment. And by ‘need to’, I mean that it such a huge waste of energy to be worrying about step five, when you are only on step two. I have no idea how my life is going to look, going forward. None of us do. When I start to stress over the unknown or agitate about about all the things that scare me and what could happen, I breathe in and tell myself that even if I go crazy with stress, it ain’t going to change a thing. It’s wonderful how remembering that simple motto, has aided me in being more present. It doesn’t always work, but it’s resonating with me more and more. I try and enjoy little pleasures : slowly spooning the foam off a cappuccino, looking at the trees and the blue sky when I walk, a hot bath, getting lost in a great song. So simple, yet so taken for granted when all is ok.
Sure, I have times when everything is too much and I feel low and bad. It’s normal and ok to not feel positive all the time and I forgive myself for unwanted tough moments quickly. I get through those times now, by speaking to and leaning on friends and loved ones, who encourage me. When my children have a hard time with their own emotions relating to the divorce, it is of no use to them, if I am in a heap and knowing that, helps me bounce back from the downs too. I try and hold on to the truths, that ‘this too shall pass’ and that ‘tomorrow will be better’ and that ‘things happen for the good’. I consciously chew on the fact that my new chapter ( and in fact all of our chapters) belongs to our Higher power (whatever that may be for you) and I am trying to connect with my soul and my faith once more. This has been a challenging but crucial task, that takes ongoing focus. I don’t stick to the structure and observances of my religion, that I once did. I am seeking to discover who I am and what makes me happy and for once I don’t feel guilty about that. I feel like I owe it to myself and to my children to find some joy again and to teach them that it’s ok to do that in a positive way. I love to dream and to hope.
My world was flooded by the most torrential storm I could have ever imagined. I thought it would drown me and if I had allowed it to, it may have. But the water, slowly sunk into the ground, the sun came out and now, some seedlings are pushing through the soil and I can’t wait for the first buds that are appearing to open.