With millions of people getting divorced every year, I thought it would be appropriate to write about my own. I realized I mention it sometimes in my blog posts and upon noticing this it sort of bothered me, but when I think about it, it really has shaped me into the great person I am today. I've been really excited about my life lately and where it's going and the healthy, functional relationship I'm in now with my current husband couldn't be possible without having gone through the rough and heartbreaking time I had when I got divorced.
A brief background on what happened:
I was with my ex husband for 10 years before we got married, since I was 17 years old. I don't think he ever really wanted to marry me, but he didn't want to lose me either, so I think he chose the less painful path for him. Two years into the marriage as we began talking about having our first child, he began an extra marital affair. I had no idea until a few months later when I began to speculate, but several attempts to confront him turned up nothing. This went on for several months until I moved out and we separated. I hoped we could fix the marriage and he seemed willing as well. About a month after that the decision was made for me when I found out the truth, and a few weeks after that I learned that his girlfriend was pregnant with his child.
At that point I was 30 years old and we had been together for 13 years. I was really at my lowest of lows. I was convinced that there was no possible way I was going to heal from this and thought of myself as “damaged goods”. My self esteem was in the toilet. I lost my faith in marriage and love itself. I thought over and over again, “Does ANYONE live happily ever after anymore?”
Before I could even think of living happily ever after with someone else, I had to live happily ever after with myself. After I picked myself up off the ground (actually, more like dug myself out of a deep hole full of crap) I started making plans about how I was going to heal. I'll be honest; part of it was needing to prove to my ex that I wasn't going to hold a candle for him and want him back (which I didn't anyway). I wouldn't let him or anyone else think I could let this take over me and cause permanent damage. I vowed I would become a kick-ass woman, better than ever! I never realized just how powerful that message to myself became.
I compiled a list of things I did to heal and get over him and the event (note: those are two totally separate things to get over. I found it MUCH easier to get over him rather than what happened). They are in no particular order:
Luckily, I already had a great therapist who happened to be the same therapist I went to couples counseling with my ex. I saw her at least once a week or every other week. In her office I was allowed to be as vulnerable as I needed without judgement and say things I may be embarrassed to tell anyone else.
2. Telling my story
I can't count how many times I have told the story. The first few times it was like I was telling it about someone else because I was still in shock that I was in that situation. Very soon I learned that I was not alone, and that many women could relate. Quickly it became less about gossiping, and more about healing. I went to a workshop about 4 months after my ex and I had split and the woman running it confronted me and very firmly told me to stop telling my story, saying that I was giving my power up to him. At first I believed her, but soon after thought that was the worst advice I had ever heard. I was actually giving myself power by hearing the words come out of my mouth and slowly figuring out how and why it all fell apart. How was I supposed to learn anything by keeping my mouth shut? The more I shared my story, the more my growth and development flourished.
A few weeks before I decided to move out and separate from my husband I was walking through the campus at CSUSM toward the parking lot. An old man stopped me and as he approached I thought he was going to ask me for directions. He said, “Who is Jesus Christ to you?” I replied with no hesitation, “He's my Lord and Savior”. I almost had to turn around and look over my shoulder to see if that answer had come from someone else. I hadn't been to church since 8th grade and prayed maybe a dozen times since then. But the answer came out of my mouth like I was saying my own name. He smiled and gave me a flyer for his church and walked away. As I walked down to my car tears streamed down my face. I knew where I had to go. As I pulled into the parking lot of the church I grew up going to I didn't know exactly why I was there. I asked for Pastor Borgie and the church secretary showed me to his office. He said he remebered me and asked me why I was there. I broke down in uncontrollable sobs and told him. “Please don't think I'm crazy, I'm not on drugs, really!” That's all I could come up with. He handed me kleenex and said, “Andrea, everyone is born with a hole in their heart. All our lives we try to fill it up with things like money, food, sex, alcohol and whatever else. If you fill it with God, everything will work out.”
Did I just hear a collective groan? Really, exercise helped me tremendously. My exercise of choice was running (still is) and I ran my heart out. I ran and imagined myself running away from my problems (which is obviously impossible, but it was great motivation), I ran to be somewhere else. I put my headphones on and listened to sometimes angry music (Alanis Morisette's “You Oughta Know”
and Nine Inch Nails “Hand that Feeds You”) or sometimes inspirational music (Natasha Bedingfield's “Unwritten” or Kelly Clarkson's “Walk Away”) Sometimes I would run so fast and so hard I felt like my heart would explode out of my chest. But what exercise did for me was 1) Gave me something to do to fill time, 2) Gave me confidence mentally and physically and 3) Cleared my head and Lord knows I needed all the help I could get in that department.
5. Family and Friends/Filled my calender
Very soon after the big event I was sitting alone in my studio apartment with my cat and a bottle of wine. I realized If this continued I would end up crying every night and slowly turn into a Bridget Jones movie without the humor and British accent. So, I picked up the phone, grabbed my planner and called all of my friends. I made plans for as many nights as I could. Looking back, this was probably one of the most helpful things that I did. Everyone was more than willing to see me and spend time with me. It got me out of my apartment and took my mind off things. Time passed quicker.
I had started journaling when I suspected my husband was cheating, so I just continued. I got all of my crazy thoughts, typed in all caps, wrote him scathingly hateful letters (which never got sent), and basically poured my heart and soul out. When I couldn't call him to scream at him, I would take it out on my keyboard and start typing. When I felt like I was falling apart, I would write. It was password protected because even in death I don't want anyone to see it. What was most helpful was looking back at what I was feeling and seeing my own healing progress. It gave me hope that things could get even better.
7. Creating a Vision Board
This came later in my healing, after I realized I was worthy (and ready) for a better relationship. I developed “the attitude of gratitude” and wrote down 10 things I was grateful for. It was actually easier to come up with than I thought it would be. I then drew a picture of what I wanted my life to look like. It was simple (I'm no artist, it was basically stick figures). I had to come to terms with the fact that it may take a long time until I met someone great, but I knew exactly what I wanted him to be like. My vision board told his story; he had integrity. A month later, I met him.
8. Reading self help books
My therapist recommended a couple, but one that I “accidentally” found at a book store helped me the most. Welcome to Your Crisis by Laura Day helped me realize my situation was an invitation for a new life. Private Lies by Frank Pittman talks about the reasons spouses cheat. I didn't focus too much on reading about infidelity and broken marriages because for me, I knew it was over. I read books that helped me become a better person. I also read two books on codependency and later found out I was what is know as a “love addict” and read Pia Mellody's Facing Love Addiction (which by the way, if you're codependent, there's a good chance you're a love addict). This particular book spoke volumes to me. It was one of those books where I thought she was writing a biography of my life. After every other page my jaw fell open and I furiously took notes and said out loud, “Oh my GOD!” It was shocking how much of a love addict I was in that relationship and I am forever grateful that I found out so I could fix it.
9. Online support
I never thought this would help, but it did. I found a divorce support group on ivillage
. On their discussion boards I found a group of women all going through their own divorce. Some were victims of infidelity, others had different stories. But it was a place where I could be anonymous and vent, complain, get advice and just have sincere support. I was amazed at the genuine encouragement and friendships that were developed there. Sometimes it was difficult because my friends, although loving, caring and supportive, couldn't relate because none of them had ever been in my situation. There on my online support group I had a sense of comradery that was greatly needed.
Honestly, writing this blog has helped a lot. It's helped me organize and put on paper what I've learned. I had to come to terms with the fact that that relationship is a big part of my past and a big part of who I am. Blogging has helped. It's allowed me to use it as an avenue not of complaint, but of gratitude for the learning. If you're thinking about doing it, but aren't sure if you want other people reading about it, remember you can always make your blog private, invite people to read it by email only or publish it later when you're ready.
11. Screaming in my car
Okay, so I left the most lunatic sounding one for last. Yes, I screamed as loud as I could in my car. I felt it was the only place no one would hear me. I screamed so loud I would lose my voice. I would scream obscenities at my ex husband. If anyone did hear me I probably would have been committed, but I needed to do it, so I did.
Those are the things that did help. I think it's important to point out something that didn't: dating too soon. I convinced myself (and the guys I dated) that enough time had passed (2 months!) and I was ready. Ummm, yeah, what was I thinking? This was way too soon after a 13 year relationship that ended traumatically for me to think I could give myself to someone else. I needed more time. Looking back, I really enjoyed the time I had my little studio apartment by the beach, just me and my cat. I was terrified, but so alive. By dating too soon I feel like I took the hard way to learn who I was and hurt some people along the way.
It took me a long time to get where I am today. It wasn't easy. It was the hardest thing I've ever faced in my life. I never thought I would end up a statistic but I did. My heart goes out to anyone going through a divorce, weather you wanted it or not. There are so many different emotions involved.
If you get nothing else from this post, please believe if you are going through this or have in the past, a divorce is an opportunity for growth and development. Once the fog clears, pick yourself up and make it your mission to have a kick ass life. It's your choice.