Three years ago today, I separated from my husband of 15 years. If I described it as the worst three years of my life, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
First, my own feelings of abandonment and rejection were “triggered” (using teen lingo but appropriate none-the-less). As a three year old, I was sent to live with my father and subsequently “poorly treated” by his wife. There were also all the other “divorce dominoes” (a phrase I’ve coined because it seems like just about every area of your life is affected and knocked over).
The “divorce domino” included navigating legalities that would affect the rest of my life of which I was completely uneducated; figuring out how I was going to earn enough money to support myself after leaving my career for my ex-husband’s career across country; working out custody schedules and parenting alone; and the accompanying emotions of grief, disappointment and embarrassment. There were things I hadn’t even considered. Suddenly, I felt like I was back in my 20s when everyone was getting engaged and married and had a ring on their finger which translated, for me, to mean “I’m wanted”. Walking into a parent meeting or into synagogue, or anywhere else bare fingered was like having a sign flashing “failure”, “failure” “failure” or worse “unwanted”.
Being alone was a completely different alone then it had been before I was married. After almost 17 years with one person, there was no one in my bed, no one to make important life decisions with, no one to call when something good or bad happened, and empty rooms (but a clean house) when my children were with their father. Even my friendships were affected because I was living in a world that my close friends could not relate to. I had to climb ladders at 3 a.m. to change smoke detector batteries and I had to take out my own trash.
Perhaps even harder than that, I went back into the dating world as a woman in her 40s who’d nursed three children and had not had a boob job. (I’m going to save the dating article for another time because I could literally write a book about that!!
Of all though, fear and envy were the hardest part. Suddenly, it felt as if I was in a vast ocean and paddling desperately to stay afloat. I clung to men as if they were life vests. While I worked in commissioned sales almost my entire marriage, my husband’s steady income was the safety net to which I could fall. It was that steady income that gave me the courage to start my own business.
It seems as if everything I was juggling was exacerbated by my desperation to have a “partner” partly for companionship, partly for the escape from reality, partly for financial security and if I’m being honest because my ex-husband had someone.
The absolute worst thing I had to confront was my own envy. While I faced the ups and downs of dating, never being with any one person for more than four months, falling for men who were emotionally unavailable, and pretty much only dating guys who’s schedules seemed to be exactly opposite mine, my ex-husband and his girlfriend (for more than two years) had every other weekend without kids and traveled the world vacationing together. I didn’t have a partner and I couldn’t afford to even take the the trips.
There was no hiding my depression from my children. I remember coming home on a weekend without kids, thinking the house was empty, falling onto my bed and sobbing. The hard, body shaking, wailing sob. It was such a hard cry that it wasn’t even possible to do the “in front of the mirror and watch my eyes turn green” cry. And then my then 15-year-old daughter walked in.
When I was four, I remember watching my mom cry and to this day, it has stuck with me as one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.
Because I was simultaneously building a new business and adjusting to this huge transition I went looking for help anywhere I could get it. You know what happens when you realize your children are watching? You take very small steps forward.
As I did, people, things and experiences began showing up on my path. It may have been a book someone told me about, it might have been a course that came up while reading the book or it might have been something said by one of my yoga instructors.
As things began to “work out”, I began to learn to just trust. One book that really helped was “Uncertainty” written for entrepreneurs. In the book they talked about the concept of going to zero. Imagine just about the worst case scenario and give yourself a “Plan B” for how you’d survive. They shared the story and this quote by J.K. Rowling, the famous author and creator of Harry Potter.
“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized and I still had a daughter that I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
I came up with my “Plan B” which meant moving into my mother-out-law’s spare bedroom, getting a job at Starbucks and letting the girls stay with their father. I went from holding onto everything so tightly out of fear to slowly, slowly releasing my grip. Sometimes, it was an easy decision like when things synchronistically happened and sometimes I just made the choice to try it anyway. Quite frankly, I was sick of trying to control everything.
Life did not work out the way I expected it to. If I had gotten my way either my ex would have come back pleading with me to work things out OR I would have continued dating my first post-separation boyfriend.
If either of those things had happened, I wouldn’t be where I am now which quite frankly is the happiest I’ve ever been. There is more than I can possibly share in this blog now but highlights include 1000+ yoga classes and doing poses I never dreamed of doing at 48, getting fish pedicures with my daughter in Mexico, zip lining and rock climbing (I have a huge fear of fish and heights) and talking about my sex life in front of 50 people at an open mic night.
Best though I learned who I am and why I am. I learned to accept myself exactly as I am and work on the things I need to change without beating myself up. I learned how important gratitude is. I learned to quiet the voice in my head that said anything that wasn’t kind.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
No matter what is happening in your life, it is going to change. The only good choice available is to embrace what is and figure out how to find the “silver lining”.