What I Learned from Divorce

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I originally wrote this post a long time ago, but it wasn’t until now that I felt ready to post it. Last year, I went through a divorce. Regardless of the details, divorce is and always will be one of the hardest things that anyone could ever go through. Both people will hurt. Both people will experience a great loss. Both people will take a long, long time to heal. Both people will not know when the pain will end or when life will feel normal again.

But I’ve always believed that a part of being human is sharing our personal experiences in hopes that it resonates with someone else. Even though going through a divorce was by far the most difficult thing I have ever experienced, it was also one of the most growing times of my life. I learned a lot about myself and about other people. And do you know what the best part about going through something so incredibly painful like that is? You get to choose who you want to be on the other side. You get to decide to be more empathetic and more loving and give more grace to those around you. This was the best thing that I could say to the pain throughout the whole process; I won’t let you win. Love is still going to win.

So whether or not you are going through a divorce or something else that is incredibly painful, I hope that one or two of these thoughts connects with you and maybe encourages you along the way.

1. Family will be there.

I have spent most of my adult life making excuses for why I was not close to my family. We lived in different cities. I had different interests and political views. I had different values. My pets were my children. They didn’t understand me. But you know what? As soon as I decided to simply just start asking for my family to be there and started sharing my heart with them, they shocked and amazed me.

I have never been closer to my family than I am now. That is largely due to going through a divorce. When someone so significant who filled so many parts of my life was gone, I started to realize how much I need other people. My family was nothing but wonderful through the entire process, which was not short or easy (and in a lot of ways will continue for a long, long time). There were months and months of phone calls where all I would do is cry about the same things that I cried about last phone call. In turn, my siblings, my parents, my grandparents, started to become more vulnerable with me and shared some of their own experiences with pain in relationships. Love and heartbreak is very private, but when they saw that side of me, it brought us so much closer. It’s scary to open up to anyone, let alone your family, but my advice would be to not hold back from your family when you are hurting. Whether you like it or not, they are kind of there forever. You might be surprised by how they react. These are the people who have to be on your side, so take advantage of that.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Being married creates this habit where anytime you need something, you default to calling your spouse. When you’re sick, they go to the store and buy you cold medicine. When you have to stay late at work, they let the dog out. When you can’t make it to the dry cleaner before they close, they pick it up. The only time you might ask someone else is when your spouse is not available or they don’t have the skill set to do what you need. Once that was gone, I stubbornly defaulted to the “pull myself up by the bootstraps” approach and to be as independent as possible. But the truth is that switching from being married to being single is a hard process and I had to rely on my friends a lot more than I would have liked to admit.

I remember one night where I was so emotionally distraught, I was sitting at the dining room table sobbing, it wasn’t about anything specific but I was just hurting and I need a hug. I remember vividly staring at my phone and wanting to text someone, but I didn’t know who I should contact. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. I did that thing where I would pick up my phone and set it back down, then pick it up again… set it down… it was so so hard for me to text a friend and ask her to come over. Finally, I typed out a message and closed my eyes to force myself to press send and sure enough, when I asked, that friend came. She could only stay for 15 minutes, but those 15 minutes meant the world to me. All I needed was to know that someone else in the universe cared that I was hurting.

Beyond the emotional support, I’ve also learned to rely on my friends for silly little things, like “who is going to target this week and can pick up tennis balls for Simone?” Or “I am rock climbing today, who wants to be my emergency contact?” Or “I am going through the ‘sell-all-of-your-possession’ stage of grief, so who wants to come over and have a dance party in my empty living room?”

When you are going through something hard, people want to know what they can do to help. But you gotta tell them.

3. Being alone isn’t as terrifying as I thought.

Those first few months of living alone were horrible. Most nights I would just watch hours of crappy TV just to get through the evening. There were even times where if no one could hang out or do anything with me I just felt completed defeated and depressed and that no one love me. I know that sounds dramatic, but when you are that raw, every sense is heightened and you feel things much stronger than you normally would. I didn’t like being alone with myself. I didn’t like myself, period. At the end of my marriage, things were really rough and I regretted a lot of what I had said and done, which made me feel like a terrible person. It takes time to forgive yourself after that experience. It takes time to learn how to be alone with yourself, reconnect with the things that you really love to do, and heal enough to tap into what you love in life.

One thing that I started doing to fill my evenings was house projects. I re-painted, replaced old furniture, built a coffee table, added a steel clothes rack to my bedroom, and on and on. It was very cathartic to be moving and changing things and it helped me feel like I was at least in control of something. But it was certainly a learning process to be ok with being alone. But it is also true that time heals all wounds and slow but surly, each day it got a little bit easier.

4. It’s ok to be extra sensitive and needy.

I think I spent a good eight months being “The Needy Friend.” And I admitted that often, because I hated it. I would say things like, “I’m tired of being the needy friend! Someone else should go through a life crisis!” I’m sure there were days where my friends were frustrated with me and tired of hearing the same rants and having the same conversations that always ended in “it just takes time.” Which of course being a type-A personality, just pissed me off. There were also times where I just couldn’t be there for them in the way that they were there for me because I did not have the emotional capacity to be strong. But, just like they said, that phase eventually ended. And it made me more empathetic to everyone else around me on the other side. I have experienced a level of pain that I never had before, which I believe will play to my advantage in the long run. Life is a bitch, but if something good is going to come out of pain, it is empathy for others.

5. Write, write, write.

As I processed my marriage, what happened, what went wrong, what could I have done differently, why did this happen to me, what is going to happen to my life now, etc. my head continued to spin in circles at a million miles an hour, 24 hours a day. I had countless sleepless nights and many evenings where I could do nothing but write down all of those swirling thoughts. Whatever I wanted to write, whatever I was thinking in that moment, I wrote it down. Even if it was the same thing that I wrote the night before, I wrote it again. Verbally processing is good, but the benefit of writing things down was that I was able to watch my process. I saw the stages of grief emerge. But I also saw progress. Now going back and rereading the worst months, I realize how far I have come from that point. It feels good to have that perspective and to know that I am in a much better place.

6. Just feel it.

This ties to the previous point, but don’t suppress your emotions. It’s ok to feel. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to cry a lot. It’s ok to be super angry one moment, back in love the next moment, and completely terrified the next. My emotions were all over the place for nearly a year and not only was I trying to process what happened, but I was also so unsure of where my life was headed. I had to completely rethink my future. All of this was incredibly overwhelming and I went through so many ups and downs with feeling excited and terrified, sometimes both at the same time. The majority of the time were downs in that process. It was not pleasant and it really, really hurts. But you have to just let yourself feel it and know that every day the pain will be a tiny bit less. Maybe even some day the pain will be a memory.

7. It’s ok to say no to events.

As someone who normally would be at every event, supporting my community, volunteering, going to birthday parties, hitting all the swanky places to be, going to concerts… I eventually had to just give myself permission to say that I didn’t have to go to anything if I didn’t want to. That phase probably lasted 5 months or so, but I don’t regret it at all. I needed that time and space, and you know what? I didn’t lose my network of people by taking that time off. Those events and people will still be there on the other side, so don’t stress about it. There was a point where I knew I had to slowly start getting back into things and even at that point I gave myself permission to go to an event for one hour and then I could leave if I wanted to. That was all I could handle at that time. Then eventually, I wanted to spend more time at events and grew into the social butterfly that I was before.

8. Your “normal self” will come back.

I think one of the most frustrating parts of the whole process was being mad that I couldn’t be happy or do the things that made me happy. I was lethargic and emotional and my life looked completely different than what I was used to. I tried to do things that would normally bring me a lot of joy and it would barely do anything for my mood. I was just in a negative and dark place and unfortunately I had to stay there for a while. It’s all a part of the process. On the other side, not only do I have my personality and joy for life back, but I believe I am a better person as well. I appreciate so many of the little details of life that I may have glossed over before. You would think that going through a divorce would make one more jaded, but there are so many examples of where I see the world a little brighter now. It’s sort of like getting back an old friend once I settled back into myself. I missed that person. It turns out that person is a little bit better than what she was when I left her.

9. Single life is great.

As someone who got married really young (wait until your at least 30, kids), I didn’t have the time that I needed to discover who I was and what I wanted out of life before jumping into marriage. Yes, I had my own hobbies and own career path and own friends. But there is something significantly different about your 20s and your 30s and there is a reason that people tell you to wait to get marriage. It’s not that you don’t know who you are in your 20s (I hate to say that because it sounds so degrading), but you are still sifting through a lot of different experiences as you try to find out what really makes you tick. Let that process happen and run its course. If you become a person that you love and are tapping into your passions, the right partner will emerge.

Sometimes it is overwhelming to be single, but for the most part, it is very freeing. I’ve created a beautiful and peaceful living space that I am in love with and have developed some really great habits that I know I can stick to. I am also able to do what I need in the moment without having to plan my schedule around someone else.

I’ve also learned to take care of myself better. If I wake up on a Saturday and I know that I need to just chill out and do nothing for the day, I can do that. If I wake up on a Saturday and want to bike 20 miles, run 6 miles, and go to a Pilates class, I can do that too. I’ve been able to listen to myself and learn what I need to be a healthy person. And when I am able to take care of myself, I can then take care of other people (which happens to be one of my favorite things).

10. I don’t need a man.

I have been awed and amazed by the friends who stepped up to support me. There were many, many of them who have helped me at various points throughout the process. From being a should to cry on, to helping me move, to killing centipedes for me, to making me dinner, and so much more, I’ve realized that a lot of those holes that I thought couldn’t be filled are being filled with many friends instead of one. There are so many incredible and inspiring people out there and if there’s one good thing that has happened after my divorce, it is that I have gotten closer to a lot of them. I have a great job, a beautiful apartment, two loving pets, amazing friends, a supportive community, I am confident in myself and what I want out of life, and have an incredibly family who I know will always have my back.

One Reply to “What I Learned from Divorce”

  1. Good read. All of what you say is very true and I agree with all of it. I’ve been through a divorce and unfortunately it looks like I’ll be going through another one again. It’s unfortunate and when you throw a child into the mix, a lot of the above changes as well as priorities.

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