Gratitude has a mind of it’s own. It pops up in the oddest of places.
The Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, I was sitting in my friend’s apartment in Denver, drinking coffee (and avoiding homework). I was writing a series of posts on being thankful, but I was unsure what to write next. Then I came across this post: Are Divorcées Pariahs? It hit quite close to home for me.
I was excited to see someone talk about divorce in that light. I knew what I needed to write, then. Strange as it sounds, I thought:
I am thankful for my divorce.
I was nervous to write about it, but I felt compelled. The story needed to be told… but afterwards, I was too afraid to share it. It felt so good to type it out, until the fear and shame and self-doubt crept back in. Is this over-sharing? What if my ex-husband reads it? And maybe, some tiny voice still told me that talking about my divorce was taboo and inappropriate.
This week, I read Kate Bartalotta’s post about giving up sex for Lent. I think I clicked on it because I saw the word
sex Lent in the title. What I read was not what I expected, though. She spoke tenderly about love, sex, and going without both while you find yourself again. It touched straight to my heart.
Now it’s time for me to put on my big-girl panties and share my own story. I hope it helps someone else feel a little less alone on their path.
I’m not going to divulge the ugly details. I’m not sure I could adequately explain the how and why in any number of words. Even if I could though, I could only tell my side of the story. Only the 2 of us know the truth about our divorce. I’d bet anything that our truths are quite different. And I have made peace with that.
What I do want to divulge is the way divorce was a growth experience for me. In the Pariahs article, Kristin Luce identifies divorce as a rite of passage. She says:
When we take ourselves through a rite of passage, we get to find out how we measure up to our own standards, not those of our parents or our community. We get the chance to course-correct where we find ourselves falling short. Divorce can shift us from being at the mercy of unbearable loss to embracing an unprecedented chance to wake up and become more fully who we are.
I’m quoting Kristin because she said it perfectly. Although I must add that I only learned to refocus on my own standards because I thought I had utterly failed everyone else.
I was married at 22 and divorced at 23. I’d been with my ex-husband since I was an 18-year-old college freshman. In fact, I spent most of my college career with my head so far up his ass that I lost sight of who I was. I forgot who I was a person and as a woman. I had few interests of my own. I had only a few friends.
As I navigated this period of unbearable loss, I felt quite alone on the inside. My self was hiding in there, somewhere, but she and I had a hard time finding each other again.
This time of my life was so painful, even though it was my choice to divorce. I left, but in doing so I lost the person who’d been my whole life for 5 years—all of my “adult” life. I lost my home, my job, my pets. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not stop crying. I packed my belongings in trash bags. I felt that I had lost everything.
I was terrified that I would be alone forever. I pictured myself old, with cats and a smelly cardigan, having to learn how to do everything alone. I would have to file my own taxes and put air in my own tires. At the time, that sounded awful. I was being melodramatic, of course. I was 23. I was not going to be alone forever. But I was truly petrified of loneliness.
As I lay in bed each night, I felt the pain of my losses physically: it felt like a giant hole was ripped into my body. There was a raw and gaping hole where my heart was supposed to be. My chest ached as I cried myself to sleep.
This ripping open was, ultimately, a gift. I had nothing left to fill that hole in my chest, except to fill it with myself. I found myself again, more fully and intimately than I ever could have without the pain to spur me on. I learned to love myself. I learned that I had a strength I never knew was there. I learned that I am a naturally happy person.
I learned to be present in the moment, because the big picture was unfathomable. I learned that the Colorado mountains are so beautiful, they can make my heart feel full. I learned that a sunrise can make me smile until I laugh out loud, all by myself. I learned to be so grateful for the things I do have, like family, friends, and health.
I lived intensely, in a way I never had before.
Truly, that period of my life was a gift. I would never want to go through it again, and I would never wish that pain on another person. More importantly, I wouldn’t change it one bit, even if I had the chance. I wouldn’t trade the person I am now for anything.
I am a better friend, daughter, and human being because of my divorce. I am a better me.
I must tell you also that I have seen several wonderful therapists to help me heal. I was strong, but not strong enough to do it all on my own. Asking for help is not weak. Asking for help is smart. It was the most generous thing I could do for myself at a time when I desperately needed generosity.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano
Emily Hassman is an IT trainer by profession, a grad student by night, and a yogini in all the moments in between. She lives outside Atlanta—and no, don’t call it Hotlanta. She blogs at Videos of Kittens.