I’m divorced. It took a long time for me to say those words without feeling ashamed.
Shame is one of the many feelings that divorce induces, but it’s nothing compared to the excruciating sadness that comes from losing your family, your friends, your house, and your security.
Divorce catapulted me into the world of personal growth like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m still evolving out of the ugliness. It took nearly four years to be able to reflect on my divorce without trying to vilify my ex or without trying to convince myself I did the right thing. You see, it was my decision to leave my marriage after 17 years—a decision I will have to live with for the rest of my life.
But with each year that passes, I’m able to see it all more objectively. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to think about it without feeling some sort of emotion, whether that’s sadness or shame, but after a few years of healing under my belt, my perspective is finally starting to change. I’ve learned oh, so much—about my kids, my ex, my friends, and myself.
I couldn’t possibly list all the lessons that divorce has so graciously blessed me with, but here is a handful of things I’ve learned after going through the hardest years of my life:
11. The only people who will understand what you’re going through are the people who’ve also been divorced. And even then, unless they were also married to the same difficult person, they still won’t truly understand.
10. People will walk away from you for a variety of reasons. You’ll beg them not to leave you in the least-desperate-sounding way you can think of. And they’ll leave anyway.
9. People will stay. And some will pull up a chair, hand you a glass of wine, and hug you as you cry, time and time again. Those are your people. Hang onto them.
8. Love is possible again. Normal relationships are awesomely normal. And normal is beautiful.
7. Humility. I think that’s the word to describe finding yourself in such an intense state of desperation that you’re not sure you’ll make it through the day. Then you do. But no one knows how hard it was and that’s okay, because everyone is tired of hearing about it. It becomes evident that divorce has been so debilitating, that you feel you may crack at any moment—and you’re afraid to admit, even to yourself, just how bad you feel. You have no choice but to surrender to the despair, despite your best effort to ignore it.
Eventually, you start to feel better. The Earth keeps turning. And as bad as it still feels, you know that your divorce is far from the most important thing in this world. As a matter of fact, none of your feelings are the most important in this world. And you’re finally okay with that.
6. Sometimes you find yourself acting in ways that you never thought you would and you realize that people do abnormal things when they’re in abnormal situations. Then you realize that empathy is the answer to every question or situation that will come your way. And not everyone is capable of empathy. The only way to truly understand another person is to put yourself in their shoes, even if those shoes belong to your ex.
5. Perspective. Things that used to be incredibly important become hardly worth a thought. Things like dirty baseboards and old shower tile, things that used to induce an urgent need to clean and remodel, have been added to the mile-long to-do list and will probably stay there for four years. Because, who cares anyway?
4. I am courageous, strong, and independent. I’m kind of a big deal—to the people who love me.
3. I am sensitive, empathetic, and emotional—I love those things about me. I am sensitive, empathetic, and emotional—I hate those things about me.
2. Kids are resilient. And really smart.
1. I was right. But even being right comes with a price.
The tragedy of divorce is not for the faint of heart. The depth of heartbreak that comes from turning your back on an institution that has outlasted nearly all other cultural ideals is hard to articulate.
Whether that decision was yours or not, the loss is the same. The permanence is the same. Divorce changes everything—forever. And in order to move forward, it becomes imperative to focus on the benefits of living alone, of changing relationships, and of being free.
Moving forward is a learning process, but this I know for sure: things get better. It won’t always feel shameful to mark the “divorced” box. The anxiety won’t always wake you up at 3:00 a.m. And those damn country songs won’t always bring you to your knees.
I can’t say the sadness will ever go away, but given some time, it won’t consume your every thought of every day. And the personal growth that is forced upon you is not only valuable, but necessary.