I spent the first thee months after filing for divorce crying. I had no idea that much water existed in my body. I often woke up out of a dead sleep with racking sobs; I cried in the shower; I cried in my car at lunch, and every night, sat on my patio, crying and smoking incessantly. Something I had taken up, after a decades long hiatus, the day I told my husband of 26 years it was over between us.
Apparently my weeping was so disturbing, my next door neighbor, who was only a nodding acquaintance, sent flowers with a condolence card. I guess she thought someone had died. Frankly, it was as though everything had died. I was stuck in a tidal wave of sadness and pain, in spite of knowing I had made the right decision.
My marriage had been torn to tatters by his deception and my denial, and in those final few years, the resulting turmoil had created a living hell in our home. Looking back on it, I cannot imagine why I had not ended it sooner, I was physically and mentally exhausted from deluding myself that somehow it was only a phase we would survive, especially since he continued to talk about our future together. With our children gone, sitting in the same room with a person that I realized was not the man I had believed he was, became excruciatingly lonely.
Loneliness was something I had experienced a great deal of through the years, with the combination of his business travel and the many relocations his career created, but this was a whole new kind of lonely.
At the end, his guilt combined with heavy drinking resulted in verbal abuse towards me that tore at what little self-esteem I had left. My reaction to it was a passive-aggressiveness that he later termed as meanness, and the reason he was no longer in love with me. (A lame justification for years and years of his deception.) I hated being that person, though. Those last months were one kind of pain, but ending our life together for once and for all brought a new level of sadness I had not anticipated. To say it knocked me on my ass is putting it mildly.
Ending a marriage is the end of everything: the idealism of love, family, commitment, and in our case, what I had believed was once a true friendship. It finishes off the dreams of a future together, dreams we’d talked about all our marriage. We went from a unit to a dispersion of pieces in minutes that shocked our children, family and friends.
Those hundreds and hundreds of family photos taken through-out the years, their meaningfulness, if not their truth, became painful in their existence and I boxed them up. Even the gifts he’d given me throughout our marriage became nothing more than a reminder that he had attempted to lull me into an acceptance of his habitual lying and cheating; I unburdened myself of them as fast as I could. The grief was staggering; it came in waves and knocked me to the ground again and again, to the point of not catching my breath.
Where I live in California, near the beach, you are warned about the possibility of being caught in a riptide when swimming in the ocean. A riptide takes hold of you and pulls you down and sucks you away from shore. It is unexpected and exhausting, even for the best swimmers. It’s as if you’re on a treadmill; you’re going as fast as you can, but getting nowhere. It’s imperative to stay calm, swim away from the shore (which is against your natural instinct), but once the pull lessens, you can swim parallel to the shore. Then, when you feel no pull outwards, you can swim towards safety. It’s scary because you feel vulnerable and alone. You have to be patient and you have to believe you can do it, even when you are beyond tired and want to give up.
Eventually you have to get through divorce, even if you doubt you can. With clearer insight gained from distance and time (and the help of good therapists, friends, and family), I have become — slowly but surely — a person who wants and deserves better. No longer is turmoil, sadness, disrespect, and dishonesty acceptable. Grief is tiring; you lose sleep and it scars your soul as well as your face. I knew I no longer wanted to live in that state of mind or body.
When stopped being so grief-stricken over my divorce, I concluded the following:
1. Life is short and the opportunity to be happy or fulfilled or valued by yourself is essential to living a happy life. For me, it was time to get to living a happy life, pronto.
2. Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it — a good motto to live by. Eventually, by acting happy, you actually begin to feel happy. I became worn out being so unhappy; it was no way to treat myself. I was sinking into negativism and worried I was entering the point of no return.
3. Without a doubt, the sadness and the pain make you old before your time. It shows in your eyes and on your body, how you walk, and in the way you present yourself to the world. In the last year since I filed for divorce, I’ve worked on the inside of me as well as the outside believing it would come together and I would become a whole, better, more fulfilled person. I believe it’s working.
4. You have to have a clear mind to proceed, to achieve, and to be there for the people who matter — your children, their future children, family and friends. Like that movie with Cher, when she slaps Nicholas Cage and tells him to “snap out of it”, I kind of do the same thing to myself. I give myself a good verbal slap across my psyche to snap the hell out of it, sometimes several times a day.
5. Of course the best reason to be happy? It’s the best revenge! You cannot put a price on it. (Though a divorce attorney certainly can.)
I did not like the person I had become in my marriage, and I did not want to continue to feel victimized after the marriage. I spent far too many years of my life and energy helping someone who squandered everything — our family, his career — on immensely bad judgement. I no longer have any excuses not to pursue my own goals. The only thing I have in life is power over me and I remind myself how powerful I am against any tide.
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