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March 21, 2020

Navigating Divorce Loss During Hard Times

The current state of the world has given me an opportunity to reflect more and to write more. I’ve also been struggling with the importance of telling and publishing my story, knowing there are so many more critical things happening right now. I mean, divorce may not seem like the most imperative topic – but I decided there are a few things still worth discussing.

I’ve been working on this post, on and off for months, as part of my loss series. Most of what I had already written is still pertinent, but the post has definitely taken a turn. The loss of security is evident for all of us given the state of the world and the pandemic we’re experiencing. So, what more fitting to talk about than loss of security and what that means when you’re divorced or going through divorce? The fear and insecurity that come from leaving a marriage are nothing shy of overwhelming, even during normal times. A pandemic can add another layer of fear above and beyond what is already expected when you’re going through divorce.

Let me start by saying, if you’re in the middle of a divorce, you must be scared shitless. I feel for you. If it was your decision to leave your marriage, you’re probably second-guessing your decision more than ever. You’ve probably considered going back. You’ve probably thought you should just forget the whole goddamn thing. There’s never a perfect time to leave a marriage and break up a family, but it must be especially stressful to think about, given the state of the world and the state of the economy. If the divorce wasn’t your idea, you’re probably even more afraid. Okay, so what now? Acknowledge your fear. Look it in the eye and then ask it to take a seat – at the other end of the table, so you can see it clearly for what it is. Temporary.

Breathe. Sit in your truth and know why you’re in this place and in this state of unease we call divorce. Separate the reasons you’re here from the state of the world. Try not to be influenced by fear. It’s easy to convince yourself you need to stay married, merely for the security that marriage offers. Be aware of how the fear is influencing your thoughts. Try to separate your divorce from the pandemic. And be patient. Don’t make any major decisions if you’re in a state of panic and high anxiety. Quiet yourself. Listen to your gut. It’s time to set your intentions and to get in touch with your inner voice.

I was lucky enough to get divorced before the apocalypse. And looking at me, it probably seems that I’ve got this whole divorce thing under control. I’ve got a good job and a comfortable house. I’m supporting myself and three kids. All true – still with the underlying emotion of fear. Divorce creates fear even in the most normal circumstances. It’s the loss of security that creates the fear. Security comes in many forms: psychological, financial, physical and probably several other forms I’m not thinking of right now. The three I’ve listed are the ones that my divorce so blatantly stole from me.

Yes, the whole point of divorce is to create change – so no, it wasn’t the change that had me fearful. I know I signed up for a lot of change when I decided to leave my marriage and the life as I knew it. I was actually excited about most of it. One might think that divorce creates fear of the unknown. I mean, there might be some of that, but chances are if you’ve been thinking of getting divorced for a while, you’ve already considered all the changes you’ll face. You understand that your family will change, your home might change and relationships will change. Although you probably haven’t experienced it all before, the planning and preparation supersedes the fear. The real fear is the fear of regret. It’s second-guessing your decision. Every. Single. Day. And being afraid you’ve changed everyone’s life for nothing; knowing that once you walk away, you will have changed the story your kids tell for the rest of their lives. Fear of regret can be exhausting. Sometimes you just want to say “forget it all” and go back. And sometimes you just want to go home to what you’ve known for 17 years, because there’s comfort in familiarity, even if it was pretty messed up.

I’ve always been organized, so the logistics of divorce were manageable for me. We didn’t use an attorney – which was one of those good/bad decisions and something I hope to talk about at some point. Even as organized and methodical as I was, my divorce created an insecurity and fear that even the best laid plan can’t defeat. On paper it was all spelled out so easily. I thought that if I could support myself and the kids, if I could buy a house and put food on the table, I would be set. But, there are too many what-ifs to count when you’re alone in taking on the world. What if I lose my job? What if my basement floods? What if my car breaks down? What if I get sick? What if there’s an apocalypse? It’s not that I can’t handle those things alone, but it’s scary as shit to think about not having someone else, who is contractually obligated, to come to my rescue. And my ex was really good at coming to my rescue.

My ex-husband and I were middle class. We were comfortable, but we didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle. Still, I wanted to be able to provide the same lifestyle to my kids after the divorce and it was important to minimize the impact of the whole situation on them – not easy to do with half the income and double the expenses. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I don’t have family money. My parents are still generous and the help they provide makes a big difference to me – as long as I don’t suffer a catastrophic financial loss. I’m not trying to scare you if you’re planning to get divorced – I’m just trying to set the stage for some necessary preparation. Of course you have to save, budget and make smart investment decisions – all imperative to creating financial stability. And when the dust settles, or the pandemic passes, not only will you have financial stability, you’ll have financial freedom. After I got over the fear of going bankrupt, which even exists in married couples by the way, I realized that I’m free. I will no longer be slave to my ex’s retirement goals. I don’t have to get approval for another purchase. If I want to own five pairs of black shoes, I can. And all of those trips I wanted to take? We’re taking them.

I was raised with enough tough love that I think I’m pretty tough. That quality has served me well as I’ve maneuvered the challenges of divorce, but even feeling pretty tough, I’m still a woman – and I’m still vulnerable. You have to be a woman to understand what that means. It means that we don’t walk anywhere alone at night. We don’t schedule a repairman to be at the house without making it clear that the husband will be coming home at any minute. And being home alone at night, even with all of the doors locked can create anxiety. Having a man in the house offers a sense of security. And having my ex in the house, in particular, gave me an even greater sense of security than I might have had with another man. Without divulging too much about him, I will tell you that he’s in a field of work that is intended to provide safety and security. And I felt it. It was comforting knowing that if I called 911, our house would get priority. I knew that if I saw a patrol car in the neighborhood, it was probably there as a favor to him.

I lived in a controlled environment for a long time, and that control gave me comfort. But the control I thought I had was an illusion. Even though it was imaginary, losing it by getting divorced still challenged my anxiety level. And nothing like a pandemic to remind us all that control is an illusion. Even in normal times, bad things can happen. I lost my job four months after I filed for divorce. And you know what? I got through it. There’s always a chance that bad things can happen. Yes, being divorced makes it harder, but staying married just for the purpose of feeling secure is tantamount to being institutionalized. It’s like being a prisoner who cannot function outside of prison. So, I ask you this: what is the cost of your security?

How do we manage the loss of security that comes from divorce? This is how: we sit quietly in our truth, knowing our worth and knowing that we deserve a love story that transcends all love stories. We don’t allow fear to influence our decision. We recognize the price of feeling secure and instead focus on hope. For me, I sit comfortable knowing that I made the right decision for me and for my kids, to leave my marriage, because the decision was not made in haste. I use my journal to remind me, when I forget, that I was unhappy for years. I tell myself that my work experience will always provide opportunity. I tell myself that I have help from family, friends and neighbors if I need it and that I will always have insurance, for whatever that’s worth. As for the possibility of catastrophic loss, I don’t dwell on the what-ifs. I will take each challenge as it comes. And if I’m presented with a challenge, I will face it head on, just as I’ve done throughout my divorce. I find the balance between saving for my future and living for today. I bask in the joy of being independent and in the power of knowing that the rewards and consequences of freedom are in my control. And that feels damn good.

This is what I know for sure: there will never be a perfect time to get divorced. And this: it’s okay if you need to delay this decision. But, make your decision knowing that the fear is temporary. And once the clouds part, there is an incredible amount of joy that comes from being free. Also this: if the pandemic has given you motivation to save your marriage, that’s fantastic. Do not allow fear to dictate your decision either way. Now go out into this messed-up world knowing you’re not alone, even if you’re divorced. Or stay home. Yeah, stay home – and still know that you’re not alone.

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