Last year, I went public with my blog with a post called “What is Divorce?” and it generated a response unlike anything I had ever experienced. Clearly, the rawness with which I communicated my grief struck a chord with many – those who had already walked in my shoes, those who were going through divorce, and those who were feeling stuck in their own marriages. For some who reached out, it was a wake-up call to work on their marriages and fill the cracks that had crept in; for others, it was the wake-up call to finally take action.
Here we are, almost a year later to the day, and I am faced with a heart full of feelings again, some similar and some very different. What is divorce a year later?
Divorce is liberating and gut-wrenching. Once the ink dries, reality sets in that this life is your own. There is no answering to a husband for how to spend money, how to decorate, what groceries to buy, what meals to plan, or where to travel. You just go. You do it the way you want, and I won’t lie – there is something unbelievably freeing about it. Your once-conditioned choices aren’t tethered to someone else’s expectations, and it’s scary to have an epiphany in the grocery aisle realizing that you can cook whatever your heart desires, not what someone else wants or needs. It seems like a small microcosm of a larger picture, but for those of us who reveled in serving our husbands dinner each night, this moment is truly revolutionary.
Divorce is realizing that the dating game has changed, and sadly, so have you. It isn’t what it was twelve years ago, nor are your expectations. It’s redefining what you want from a relationship and what you are willing to bring to the table. It’s readjusting those expectations again and again, realizing that reprogramming your schema of love and dating will take longer than you think. It’s remembering that you are dating now; you aren’t married, and the expectations that you have of relationships are founded on those that built a marriage, so you have to re-frame your relationship truly on a blank slate because it is unfair to your significant other to project your baggage onto them.
Divorce is dating and falling back into the same patterns of thinking as soon as you get comfortable, except this time a voice within raises loud warnings reminding you to set boundaries this time – and you act on them. Divorce is seeing results from doing so, feeling proud and ashamed at the same time, wondering if you had these tools years ago if it could have all been avoided.
Divorce is scraping by as a single parent. It’s teetering on the financial brink trying to re-establish a budget that you’ve never before known. It’s selling your wedding china to pay the bills and make sure there is food on the table, sobbing as you drive away even though it was boxed up in the attic and would never have been used. It’s waiting on the child support check to afford daycare and insurance, feeling angry and ashamed at how dependent you still feel on a spouse with whom you don’t want to be tied any longer.
Divorce is co-parenting well until the dynamic changes, as it will always do. It’s introducing new people into your lives, your children’s lives, and learning to sit with the notion that the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with is spending their life with someone else. It’s also feeling things awakening that you haven’t felt in years – feeling excited, cherished, even giddy. It’s experiencing the fun of learning the habits, quirks, and idiosyncrasies of someone new. It’s the revelation of a totally long-forgotten emotion: hope.
Divorce is still feeling a twinge of guilt for moving on, especially when your ex-spouse isn’t. It’s a circulating range of variables from anger, to guilt, to indifference, to acceptance. It’s feeling all those again when they do move on, and then simultaneously being happy for them.
Divorce is lashing out and saying all the things you wish you could have in the past; it is also regretting them and the realization that the words themselves wouldn’t have fixed the past. It’s hearing some of the worst things someone could ever say to you or about you. It’s knowing that those words of anger wound ourselves more than they do the other person. It’s taking the high road, even when every fiber of your being wants otherwise, because it is no longer about you or them, but about the children.
Divorce is living daily with the guilt of single parenting, second-guessing so many choices because you feel as though you’re short-changing your children on the life they could have had. It’s dealing with their anger, their tears, and their isolation as they process grief in their own ways. It’s crying yourself to sleep at night after they tell you they love the other parent more, and it’s letting go of special holidays and occasions because they would enjoy it more with the other parent. It’s breaking the habits built by guilt and pity that you established at the beginning and absorbing the ramifications because now you understand the trajectory it set.
Divorce is a constant battle of trying not to define yourself by it but finding yourself still doing it. It’s being estranged from friends who don’t know how to interact with you anymore, and it’s losing friends who either side with your ex-spouse or disagree with the life choices you make now. It’s finding a new kinship with those in similar situations and setting play dates with other single parents because you just can’t swallow the small talk of marriage quite yet.
Divorce – a year later – is truly quite different from the initial shock. The first year is pure survival, living not just day to day, but minute to minute. The year after is having the fortitude to survey the wreckage, salvage what pieces left are worth keeping, and starting the rebuilding process of a life – feeling both exhilarated and overwhelmed by the blank slate that has been created. We can choose to allow our ever-wavering emotions swallow us whole into a life of bitterness, shame, and despair, or we can choose to seize this moment as a refining fire. What no longer serves us well is burned away, and we can choose what shape we take from here. We can do better.
We can let the past mistakes that haunt our dreams and the inner recesses of our mind dictate our future choices, or we can choose to forgive. They will appear, make no mistake. But if we see them as driftwood from the wreckage, we can acknowledge them as they pass by and allow them to simply pass us on their journey. Or we can swim out into that mess in the water and cling to it, drowning ourselves in the process. It is readjusting this mindset that either keeps us ensnared in the turmoil of marriage even after its demise or allows us the freedom to experience the beauty of letting go and becoming better versions of ourselves.
It’s our choice how we steady ourselves – either by the wreckage or by turning around to forge a new path. I’m choosing the latter, but it is a daily choice. I’ve had my weakest days and my strongest this past year, and learning the sound of my inner voice is the honing device that keeps me steady on my path.