My husband walked out onto our porch and told me he was filing for divorce. I was shocked. His words took everything I knew about life and threw it out with yesterday’s trash. At least that’s what it felt like, and I imagine the decision was just as difficult for him, because no matter who makes the final decision, divorce changes everything.
Since I married at age 24 before my brain was fully developed, and we were married 23 years, co-owned a business, and had 3 children, my entire adult life being dismantled. I was scared, really scared, about my future.
“When the student is ready, the master appears.”
True as this may be, the last thing I expected was for the master to appear in the form of divorce. But it did. And even though it was painful and hard, today I can say I am grateful!
Below are the steps I took to make gratitude possible.
GATHER A TEAM
I gathered a group of five women that I called my Wise Women. I asked each one if they would be willing to support me, not in bashing my husband and adding to the certainty of his wrongness, but in just listening and holding the space with me. Thich Nhat Hanh says deep listening can help you suffer less, and that’s what I wanted. My Wise Women listened without judgment when I cussed and cried. They were not afraid of my anger.
They also held me accountable for my actions, and they told me the truth when my fear-based decisions were likely to create more conflict. Often they reminded me to eat and sometimes just to breathe. They loved me well so I didn’t walk through divorce alone.
LET THE BLAME GAME RUN ITS COURSE
For a time, I needed to vent. I needed to share all of the ways he had betrayed our marriage vows and all of the ways he was bad and wrong. The energy of my anger was like a parachute holding me aloft so the shock and pain and grief didn’t plunge me into a dark abyss. I fully expressed my anger so it wouldn’t live rent free in my head or get stuck in my body. I knew I was done when the anger simply started fading away.
FEEL THE FEELINGS
After I raged, I wept. I grieved lost hopes and dreams. I felt fear, tremendous fear, about what the future would hold, and I felt a lot of sadness. I expanded my resources to include a good therapist who understood that my feelings were valid and necessary and didn’t try to make them go away. She knew that freedom was on the other side of grief.
She also helped me see the false sense of safety and security I had created in my life. She recommended I start writing.
I wrote in my journal everyday as a way to slow down my thoughts and keep my head clear. It also kept me honest. Writing uses your left-brain, and when your left-brain is occupied, your right brain is free to come forward, create, intuit and feel.
“Get to know yourself. Go slowly. Go gently. Make your journaling a special time. Write to make the great escape, to save yourself.” – “Writing and Being: Embracing Your Life Through Creative Journaling,” by Lynn G. Nelson
I asked myself some tough questions, wrote the answers in my journal, and I started to see patterns of behavior that put me last. I abandoned myself over and over in an effort to save my marriage. These were choices I made, because I didn’t know any better. Through journaling, I started learning what “better” might look like.
What makes me happy?
Why was I willing to stay?
What is this constant push to prove I am right or innocent?
Where have I violated my own integrity and been less than honest with myself?
What do I want for my life?
TRUST THE PROCESS
Getting to know myself, probably for the first time, allowed me to let go of a lot. I let go of my parent’s beliefs about what a family should look like and what a mom should look like. I let go of my family’s beliefs about loyalty at any cost. I let go of playing small and playing nice as a way to manipulate others. I let go of obligations that didn’t bring me joy. I let go of the shame I felt for my husband’s behavior. I let go of the fear that my children would blame me for the failure of my marriage. I let go and let go and let go.
And with each letting go, I found a little piece of myself – my true self. Like “The Runaway Bride,” I figured out how I liked my eggs, and I started writing a better story.
I hope what worked for me offers something that may work for you. Divorce is not easy, but it can be the catalyst to necessary change. I know it was for me.
Deborah Denson is a Mediator and Conflict Coach in Nashville, TN. She shares her personal journey learning to manage conflict and life in general on her blog, where she combines original art and wit into a daily dose of insight and humor for readers.