Ahhh, yes. Divorce. That terrifying, life-altering seismic event that happens to other people. Right? War-torn couples who couldn’t crack the code for wedded bliss. The reverberation of horror stories can make your ears bleed.
You mourn from afar safe in your bunker. Nobody really thinks about being in an emotional apocalypse until your heart is diced into a million little pieces and plummets to the ground like confetti in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
One thing for sure; whether you’re sitting pretty or stewing in misery, these breakups force you to face your own marital stability. Are you living the truth or settling with cheesecloth draped over your eyeballs?
Divorce is all consuming! It invades every cell in your body with a vengeance! You can’t eat, sleep, remember when you last brushed your teeth, or if you paid the light bill. That became obvious more than a few times–when I came home to a dark house. LOL!
Nobody wants to feel unwanted, unneeded or unloved. Simply put, not enough for your spouse!
It’s a hard pill to swallow.
I was dumped. Discarded just like those empty soup cans and jugs of laundry detergent in your recycling bin. I’m not disclosing this for pity, but, as a way to connect with other women who got served papers and may feel ashamed to talk about it. We’re in the minority. Be prepared for people to look at you dumbfounded.
Who really talks about it? IT, at all. The agony is searing. There’s no right time or place. Discussing your divorce is a guaranteed party pooper downer with girlfriends dipping nachos in guac and sipping margaritas at happy hour. Or, (even worse) with family passing the turkey at Thanksgiving.
I was just 42 years old, smack dab in the prime of my life! I was married for 15 years.
Going back to the front of the line and starting all over again was demoralizing. Feeling like a big fat failure, I wanted to hide from the world. I didn’t want to embrace a new normal. My old normal still had some oxygen left in the tank, or so I thought.
The cover shot is a feisty, squirrel sized, cotton-top tamarin monkey found in the forests of Columbia. That was me in 1998. Newly divorced, messy hair, fiery eyes and ready to bite anybody in my way.
1. Feel what you feel
Let it out! Cry, scream, rip a few f-bombs or punch some pillows. Leave the Oscar worthy acting to Meryl Streep. You must admit your feelings or they will eat you up alive. Stop pretending you’re un-phased and have it all together. Because guess what? Deep down you don’t.
Far too often, we say, ”I’m okay,” when we are really falling apart and dying on the inside. Afraid to show vulnerability– thinking that it’s a sign of weakness, I came to understand that real strength comes from peeling off the layers– being transparent and honest. You have to scrap denial. Clarity and self-reflection comes in waves. Feeling whole again takes time and patience!
During the first week of my separation, I walked in a rainstorm for four hours, ugly-crying along the way with my soaked hoodie and sweatpants glued to my skin. Undoubtedly, looking all kinds of crazy to the folks I passed on the streets. But I finally unleashed the bottled pain that simmered inside. It’s important to find your own place to exhale.
Also, don’t you DARE feel guilty about turning down invitations from well-meaning friends who want to ”get you out of the house to have a little fun.” Fun? Are you f#&*!#@ kidding me? This isn’t the time for entourages, soirees and hoopla. Not to say, there won’t be a bitch session or two with your sister or bestie, that is an absolute must do.
It was hard being around friends who were in happy, wedding-cake-topper relationships. All that bliss was too overwhelming. You will emerge out of hibernation and re-enter civilization when you are good and ready!
2. Stop future thinking
There’s no way around it. You will wade in turbulent waters while you’re trying to sort out your life. There will be emotional and physical air-strikes.
In the beginning, most of my days and nights were entangled with anxiety. Not really knowing which way to go, like being in a labyrinth. I wanted out fast! And, I wanted foreseeable outcomes!
My mind was unsettled–falling asleep was the worst. When I was at home, I couldn’t wait to get to work. When I was at work, I could’t wait to get home to my kids. Peace was elusive. It was incredibly difficult to stay in the present moments. I worried all the time about everything that could go wrong. Especially the impact the divorce would have on my young sons as they became teenagers and how they would view marriage as young men.
And, I wondered what life would look like for me on the other side of this chaos. Would I become cynical, bitter and broken? Would I ever love again? Or, BE loved again?
I was skeptical if I could stand on my own two feet, even though I was recently hired full-time as a RN at a hospital. It stirred up my own insecurities of not having a safety net and support system at home. The bottom line? I was too hard on myself. I was my own worst enemy.
Please treat yourself with kindness and lower your expectations of perfection and being judged; it’s unhealthy. You won’t have all the answers. You will learn as you go. If you don’t know something, ask someone who does. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your progress. Celebrate your small wins. Keep a journal of encouragement. Take one step at a time, not the whole staircase. Stop what-iffing yourself to death!
3. Impulsive divorce haircuts will backfire
I’m all for ditching a stale self-image to feel better. A new tube of MAC lipstick or a sexy dress might do the trick. But if you’re considering a big hair chop, that’s a whole other story. Don’t do it, if you’re not 100 percent sure. You’ll be sorry. I know, I was.
Here’s the thing; I stopped caring about styling my hair post-breakup. I rarely looked into the mirror. I was fine with stuffing my shoulder-length hair into a head band and calling it a day.
A barber friend noticed my drab look and said, ”Come over to my shop. You’re in a rut. Let me hook you up. Let’s go short and sexy like Halle Berry.” At that time, it sounded promising and kind of exciting even though it was out of my comfort zone. Why not? It was a month before my actual divorce court date. In my own delusional state of mind, I agreed and took a bold step toward a new and improved me.
First of all, there’s only one Halle Berry.
The Oscar-winning actress is drop dead gorgeous. When my barber friend was done with me and spun me around for the big reveal, I almost broke into tears. OMG! I hated it. I couldn’t hide my stoic expression, so I told him I had to get used to it. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
Truth be told. My big head was twice the size of Halle’s. LOL! A pixie haircut on my round face didn’t work. I missed my hair; it was my security blanket! What was I thinking? This guy was a skilled barber, but not a miracle worker!!
A girl friend saw me soon after the chop. While shaking her head in disbelief she said, “You must really be depressed to let somebody do that to you? Don’t worry. It’ll grow back.” That added more angst to my already frazzled life. I had to live with that new ‘do for one year.
Unfortunately, we often make rash decisions when our brains are in a fog. Save your coins and your dignity. And, remember, there’s only one Halle Berry! LOL! Be yourself, not an impostor.
4. Stop playing sob songs
To alleviate a real ”love hangover,” don’t mix booze with romantic ballads. I learned the hard way!
My favorite group was Boyz II Men, known for their beautiful, harmonic, sad love songs. So, there I was lying on a sofa in my basement with all the lights off, staring at the ceiling, sipping a glass of cheap red wine. Drowning my sorrows while listening to “End of the Road,” over and over and over again. You can’t make this stuff up! LOL!
What kind of masochist was I? A depressed woman listening to depressing music. Prolific songwriter, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds penned the song. Here’s a portion of the sad lyrics.
Said, we’d be together. Said, it’d never die. How could you love me and leave me and never say goodbye? Although, we’ve come to the end of the road. Still, I can’t let go. It’s unnatural. You belong to me. I belong to you.
Well. Damn. Babyface!!! I guess he was going through something too. LOL! I laugh my head off now remembering that crappy night. I beg you, don’t follow my lead. Listen to Lizzo or Bruno Mars–any artist that sings feel good tunes and makes you want to dance. It’s an antidote to getting out of your slump.
Oh, and by the way, mute any songs that take you down memory lane as a couple when you dated, got engaged and married. I packed away my Boyz II Men CD’s and filled my head with instrumental jazz, nature sounds and classical music. I couldn’t take any more chances with tearjerker lyrics. Listening to a gentle rainfall was safer.
5. Divorce court is dingy and wide open to the public
Forewarning, don’t go strolling into the courtroom assuming all the intimate details of your divorce are thrashed out behind closed doors with just the spouses (exes-in-waiting), attorneys, clerk and judge. You can forget about privacy!
Who are all these strangers seated in the bleacher section? I asked myself, as I became increasingly annoyed.
Divorce court is public, which means you might just see anybody there– your neighbor, old classmate, church member, co-worker or the lady at Dunkin Donuts who makes your coffee and hands over your bagel with cream cheese.
Courts are filled with any busybody who has nothing else to do with their time but to sit in on your drama and gossip. I felt violated and humiliated as they took in an earful about my painful split.
The vibe is like a three-ring circus; the only thing missing were the elephants, the buttered popcorn and peanuts. I was taken aback by the environment.
The lights were dim, the walls were dingy and a thick stench of sadness filled the air. The courtroom was smaller than I imagined; it was an intimidating space that made me feel like a criminal awaiting my fate. Just be prepared. Make sure you vet a good family attorney. Do your homework. My attorney was whip smart and empathetic; she talked me down from the treetops when I was a bundle of nerves! Get a good night sleep before your appearances (easier said than done). I carried a small crucifix and tissues in my purse. Take a box of Altoids, your mouth will get dry!
6. Lessons will breakthrough
Listen to your own voice. You will find out that you’re a survivor! Resilience, determination and courage will pull you through. You may feel like your life is over, but think of it as the beginning of a fresh start. Yes, divorce is the death of your marriage, but it’s not a death sentence. Don’t sit in the shadow of your hurt–you have a purpose!!! Create the person you need to be and the life you deserve to have!