January 20, 2011

Welcome To My New Rollercoaster Ride—It’s Called Divorce. ~ Valerie X.

Photo Courtesy Xavier Castillo

I’ve been trying to get myself to write about all the changes I’m experiencing as I muddle my way through a divorce from my partner of 14 years. It’s not as easy as I’d hoped, but I’m learning that that is the name of the game with divorce. It’s not easy. It can be exciting, and liberating, and of course, scary as hell, but not easy.

Sounds like I’m describing a roller coaster ride, and I am, except your psyche and physical state feel the trauma without the need of a gigantic piece of machinery throwing you around a track at a hundred miles an hour.

When you’re approaching the entrance gate to a roller coaster, one you’ve never ridden but have heard god-awful stories about, you’re obviously going to feel nervous and have trepidation over your decision. Do I really want to do this? How have people survived this crazy thing? How will I?

It’s nerve-wracking to even think about a divorce, but if you’re there at the gate, you’re there for a reason. Looking back after you’ve made the decision will do you no good; you have already bought a ticket to a ride that you know is going to change your life, and you’re praying in the end it will all be for the best.

This is the time for your internal courage to step up and keep your legs moving forward. You take a deep breath, smile as you give them your ticket, and kiss your ass goodbye. And when those few people you meet coming off of the ride tell you, “It’ll be OK,” trust them—they’re alive aren’t they? Shit, they might even be smiling.

Now that you’re in and you’re being guided to your seat, your heart starts to pound a little more; there might also be a lump in your throat and some stains under your arms. You’ve moved past the thoughts and now you’re in the reality of the moment.

This is happening.

For me, there was always this surreal moment before I got locked into a roller coaster ride; a moment of asking, “What if this is it for me? What if I’m going to be that one unlucky soul that has the faulty latch and I fall from my seat to an early death? What will that look like as I fall? Who will be there to try and fix me? What will I look like in the casket?”

When you’re going forward with your divorce, there are moments when you realize the safety net you’ve come to rely upon is being removed and you’re preparing for a free fall. Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. It’s normal to panic at the thought of losing that safety net, but what if it had gaping holes in it? What if the net was frayed and broken in spots? This is the moment to take those fears about the fall and replace them with trust in your harness. Trust in yourself.

In the beginning it’s not so bad—a couple of loops here and there, but you’re used to that.  You’ve ridden on roller coasters before—like you’ve had break ups before—and this is the part of the ride that actually feels familiar.  Either: it’s familiar because you’ve ridden enough rides at Kiddie Kingdom to know you’re safe with these little loop-to-loops; or, somewhere along the line you’ve found a coping technique that works in situations like this. Closing your eyes, finding your happy place, maybe smiling through the fear, whatever it is, you’re handling it pretty well in the beginning. You’ve heard the stories that it’s all fine and dandy until the ‘big ones’ come up, so you know somewhere in the back of your head it won’t all be this easy, this familiar, but you’re protecting yourself from that thought. You’re convincing yourself that if you can handle this, you can handle anything this beast has to throw at you.

And just at the moment when you let yourself relax just the tiniest bit, the second you let out the breath you’ve been holding in, the ride slams you around in a way you’ve never felt before.

Welcome to a divorce.

Photo Courtesy Stan Wiechers

Having your heart ripped out is one thing; paying to have it done is another thing altogether. When you decided to go through with this decision you knew the warnings on the wall weren’t just a way to keep the sign shop in business. This is real, you’re really truly sitting in that car, locked into it, and you’ve given part of yourself over to this machine and the track it’s leading you down.

Like finding it in you to trust the safety harness that holds your life in its metal claws, you have a moment of trust. Trust, pure and simple, that you made the right choice in leaving your mate, that all this fear and confusion and panic is a necessary part to experiencing the freedom that comes from surviving the ride.

You have to trust yourself—and we all know how terrifying that can be! You will still have thoughts like, “let me off at the top, they can do that, right?”  But then what?  The long difficult climb down, back to the end of the line in the hope that maybe next time you have your ticket to freedom stamped, you’ll have the strength to go all the way through with it.

You’ll simply be climbing back down into the doubts and sad routines that brought you up here in the first place, back to a world of embarrassment because you thought you could, knew you should, but you lacked the conviction, the self-trust. You have to learn to trust yourself in a way you haven’t done in a long time; you have to let it all go to gain it all back, and no moment will test or reward you more than when you reach the top of the climb.

If you’ve ever ridden a modern day roller coaster, you know exactly what I’m about to describe.  You’ve made it through the loop to loops, the backwards and sideways thrills, you’ve been slammed around as your heart explodes out of your chest with all the new feelings and traumas, but now you’re climbing up, up, up to the climax of the ride and you hear it, feel it, click by click by click.

You can see everything from up here.

At this point, you’re fully committed. You’re no longer concerned with how you felt at the gate, and you’re not thinking of anyone waiting for you on the other side.  You’re about to be fully consumed with yourself.

When you’re almost to the top, all of a sudden you have this perfect view of the world around you. Damn, you can see everything from up here! It’s the first time you’ve looked fear in the face and found the hope that lies hidden, masked by your own self-doubt and stubborn pride.  Freedom is something you’ve had to fight for, and in the final moments before you top that last arc, it’s a beautiful thing to be you.

Your life, with all of the anxiety you’ve just experienced, now takes on the thrill that you’ve been hoping for. That thrill is what’s gotten you here in the first place.  You wouldn’t be on this goddamn ride if it wasn’t for something in your life being off, lacking, broken or stunted. You’re there because you know there’s only one way to get that thrill back into your life: let go of the fear and just go for it.

As you sign the final papers ending your marriage, your gut drops. Your ass leaves the seat and for a moment you experience the rush that comes from free-falling into the great unknown. That final free-fall is like a baptism, a high-speed washing away the sins of the past. Even if only for 5 seconds, you’ve got the first taste of a new life.

There are no strings holding you up, no arms holding you back. You have let yourself go. You can scream, you can laugh, you can cry and grip those restraints until your knuckles turn white, but you can never deny the pride you feel knowing you’re experiencing all of those things because you had the courage to try. You had the faith to believe. You had the determination not to give up on yourself, and faith in the new life waiting for you on the other side of the exit gate.

Getting divorced is a physically draining thing to go through. Make no mistake, some days you wake up and can’t handle the path you’re on, like some of those loop-to-loops. Some days you wake up and feel like you can’t take it another second. You’re searching for an escape ladder, and falling to your death sounds like a better way to spend your day than dealing with your partner.

Expect your divorce to be just like that roller coaster: some things you can handle, and you might even be able to throw your arms up in the air and *gasp* enjoy!  But sooner or later you’re going to get thrown into a backwards, upside-down tailspin that leaves you wanting to hurl. You have to find a way to get through those parts, or you’ll never make it to the crescendo, you’ll never make it back to you.

Keep your eye on the prize, on that final obstacle you’ve dreamed about conquering, and don’t give up until you feel the release of all the tension, all the anger, all the sadness. In the final moments, as you’re slowing down and coming into the finish, you’ll get the ultimate reward from your bravery: the knowledge that you survived. You landed with your feet safely on the ground, and you’ve earned your passage through the exit gate into a new you. A freer you, and maybe, hopefully, a you with a smile on your face to boot.

Trust me. It’ll be okay.

Valerie Soraci grew up in a suburb of Chicago and left as soon as she could, vowing never to return. After studying philosophy in college, most specifically animal and minority ethics, she followed a boy out to Colorado and set down roots in Boulder. She’s been stuck here ever since. Now, with two kids under foot and some cats thrown into the mix, she’s setting out on a new chapter in her life as a single mom. Politics, animal and human rights, art and having fun interest her as do finding ways to make positive change within and around herself.

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