Laid off.

What does it feel like when your long-term marriage is suddenly over?

I would have to say that the feeling is comparable to being laid off from a job that you’ve been doing twenty four hours a day for over twenty years.

You’ve been humming along, learning and adapting to new situations and new environments as they came your way, doing all of the new training that was expected of you. Putting all of your energy into being the best that you can be, at the one job that you’ve been lead to believe is your “forever job”, even after retirement, only to be told one day that you are no longer needed.

Or even worse, that you are replaceable. Just like that.

Thank you for your service, leave your keys on the desk, and there’s the door.

And as that door closes behind you, you stand outside numb with disbelief, blinking in the glaring sunlight, still wondering what just happened, but there really isn’t any good explanation.

You’re just no longer a good fit. They’re moving in a new direction. Without you.

That’s what that first year during our separation felt like, for the most part. Walking around in a state of numbness, dazed and confused most of the time, wondering what just happened. Was it just a bad dream? This wasn’t what I was working towards, or had included as part of my life plan. Ever.

And there really isn’t an unemployment office to go to to look for this type of work right away. Even if there was, you really can’t take on a new job right now because you’re still responsible for many of the parts of your old job, plus the added bonus of managing this strange new world of divorce.

To handle the experience of divorce you will have to learn all of the new divorce lingo, how to find information that you never knew existed, and be available on any given day to sit at a very long table for hours on end. Reading drafts of long documents written in what sounds like a foreign language sometimes, looking for errors big and small, and negotiating every last detail of your life to put into a contract will be part of your new responsibilities.

And don’t forget the emails! Reading and responding to all of the new emails, from all of these newly hired professionals, as well as your soon to be ex, those will fill your inbox each and every day.

It’s as if you’ve already taken on another job!

Maybe there should be an unemployment office, for newly separated/divorced people to go to during that time. A time when you are so down about yourself, and just plain disappointed in life, that you need a time out. A time that you are feeling so overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of the challenge of disconnecting yourself from this life you’ve lived for so long, and so disgusted with all of it, that you can barely deal with the loss much less the idea of moving forward.

You need an oasis. A divorce oasis.

I picture it painted in soothing tones of blues and having nice, comfortable couches. The kind of couches you can just sink into with a pillow on your lap, or fall asleep and take a nap, because at this juncture in your life stress can keep you awake many long nights, but it can also put you to sleep many long days. They call it a defense mechanism, I call it depression, but whatever it you call it there should be comfy couches.

There will be private rooms that are sound-proofed for those days that you need to just scream, or cry uncontrollably, or shut yourself off from the world to catch your breath and clear your head.

No kids running in at your worst moments, no phones ringing, or emails chiming on your phone reminding you of the million things you are expected to keep doing regardless of the fact that your life is unraveling. Just a small room with a chair and maybe a bed, a side table with Kleenex and water.

Because all of that crying, screaming and unbelievable stress can be dehydrating.

Another area would have a bar, of course, as if that was even an option not to have one! You can’t go through this without at least a couple of shots, or margaritas, to blur the lines every once in awhile. (at least I couldn’t)

And lots of snacks, not the healthy kind either. You allowed – even expected – to give in to your cravings and comforts when you’re here. So bring on the chips, the dips, the bacon wrapped anything. Bring on the fried foods, and the chocolate covered everything!

Nobody will judge you, or suggest (with arched eyebrows) that you should be ‘eating healthy right now to be the best version of yourself during this horrible time’ here.

No. The people at the divorce oasis get it.

Obviously there will be therapists and counselors. Some will be like a warm bath-wrap you up in a cocoon-rock you to sleep types, offering you herbal tea and a blanket while you talk. Soothing your concerns, repairing your soul. Hugging you. Often and tight.

Others will be the get down to the nitty gritty-come up with a game plan-and pull it together type. They will have plans, charts, white boards and excel spreadsheets to prepare you for this new unknown territory. They will make sure that you know about the challenges coming your way, how to take them on successfully, and come out of this fire with only a few minor burns.

They will push you out of your comfort zone, for all of the right reasons.

It’s your choice on who you want to talk to too, based upon your needs that day and at that very moment. Those moments change often, even in the same day, so better to have both counseling style options available under one roof.

A divorce oasis is exactly what you need after you’ve been laid off from this job, the job that was your life. Maybe that’s what my next career move should be, opening up the first divorce oasis. With the way the divorce rate is increasing for “gray divorce” I think I may have franchise possibilities.

Advertisements

False starts

In my push to normalize life, I’ve jumped into more than a few situations that I shouldn’t have. I’ve offered to take on more than I was truly ready to handle emotionally or mentally, pushing myself to expand my horizons, jumping in to help save the world in any way I could.

Basically trying to bury myself in a protective layer of denial to convince myself that I was fine.

I would gladly volunteer to take on a new responsibility, with the idea that I needed to “keep busy” and feel productive, to prove that I added value somewhere other than to my kids and inside of my home. I would remember those times that my usual self could handle multi-tasking and juggling different groups and activities, and keep our home and family running and intact, so I should still be able to do that now.

But I wasn’t my usual self.

I threw myself into the idea of taking a 40 hour training course to volunteer at a women’s shelter for domestic abuse victims. My heart was truly in the right place, I felt a deep desire to help, to make a difference in something bigger than my world. I wanted to find my purpose. I know, I already have a purpose, to be the best mother possible to my sons and to raise them to be wonderful functioning adults. But I needed a purpose that was just about me, for me, to make it all seem like part of a bigger plan.

I needed to feel that there was another meaning to my life just waiting to be unearthed, and of course I felt that it should include being strong, possibly even changing the world in someway. In my own backyard or on a bigger scale, but making a change somewhere that would make a real difference. I wanted to be that strong woman that kept pushing forward.

But I wasn’t that strong right now.

Along with this idea, I was consistently told that I should get “back into the game” and start dating. It would give me something different to focus on, be the start of a new chapter! It would take my mind off of the crap year (or two, to be honest) that life had thrown at me. I needed to get excited, to feel giddy and desirable. This would help me take care of myself emotionally, to know that I could – and would – find and be in love again. (because isn’t that the answer to everything?)

But I didn’t feel lovable, or want to be responsible for someone else’s feelings or expectations any longer.

False starts.

I’ve had more than my fair share over the past year. In so many areas of my life that it’s hard to keep track of all of them now. Volunteering, family commitments, friends, school, kids, dieting, exercising, just about every area I can think of at this point.

The arc of action was the same almost ever time.

I would determine that this (whatever it was) would be the answer to pull me out of the emotional desert that I was living in, it would redirect my energy for the better and life would be sunny and filled with rainbows and unicorns. It would be my “thing” and I would own it. I would embrace it excitedly each time, too.

Filling out the paperwork, researching the options, taking the courses. Shopping for the right foods, marking my calendar to keep myself accountable and fully engaged, telling my friends and family that I had found my path to better days.

For real this time.

Then I would crash. Or maybe it was more of a melting. My resolve and excitement slowly being replaced by uncertainty, leading to talking myself out of following through, or even believing that I could. Feeling overwhelmed and undeserving I would withdraw.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It took me the better half of that first year, maybe longer, to realize that I was expecting too much from myself. I was trying to run, when some days I could barely walk. Every time I would realize the truth in my failure, and convince myself to just wait until I was truly ready, I would knee jerk react to a question/favor asked and say “yes, I’d love to take that on!”

I was pressuring myself to “get better”, to be strong and move on. Push through.

Quit crying, stop feeling sorry for yourself, pull it together. It’s time to smile, and even if you have to pretend that you are okay, go about your life as if nothing has changed so everyone else will feel good around you again. Instead of wallowing, you should focus your energy on something positive for something or someone outside of yourself, to distract your mind from the noise that is constantly whirling around in your head.

Choose a point on the wall and focus, just stop thinking about it.

Those are deeply rooted habits of self-perseverance, well practiced by now. Most times I could successfully do this, push through and focus on the bigger picture. I could make myself small and less important for the greater good, be a team player or a leader depending on what was necessary at the time.

But this time I ran out of the energy to push it aside and keep it hidden. Or maybe I just couldn’t find the energy in the first place? It was as if all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room and I was the only one gasping for air, while the rest of the world went on breathing and living like they normally did. It was just me that had the problem.

So I gave myself permission to fail. I allowed myself to quit trying so hard, or trying at all.

It was time to sit on the sidelines for awhile and watch those that can, do it. It wasn’t helping me to keep throwing myself into things as a distraction, to take on new hobbies or responsibilities or causes, trying to prove that I was okay and ‘normal’ once again. In the end, it really only led to me being miserable and disgusted with myself.

With every email or phone call that I had to make to retract my offers of assistance or to back out of a commitment, with every promise that I had to break because it was still too much, I felt small and ridiculously stupid. My attempts at redefining who I am were only making it glaringly obvious that I didn’t really know who I was to begin with, and that I could fail in more ways than I had ever imagined.

I could disappoint more people, some very good people, more than I ever had before.

It was time to take a step back and take a deep breath. Take a break and slow down. What was the hurry? Why was it so important for me to be “normal” as quickly as possible? Part of it was for my kids, for my family and close friends. I didn’t want to be that person that sucks the life out of the room, who dwells on things that can’t really be changed, and yet doesn’t look for any other solutions or options.

I didn’t want to be that guy.

The other part, if I’m honest with myself, was the idea in my head that my ex was happily living his new life without any real setbacks or challenges, as if it was all just a small bump in the road. Disturbing for the inconvenience, but nothing earth shattering that truly altered his way of life. If anything, his life had just gotten a bit easier and more relaxing, he was living the life he had always wanted. It was all so easy for him.

Why was it so hard for me to find that same path? What was the life that I had always wanted?

Maybe that’s the problem, this was the life that I had always wanted. I wanted a solid family, two parents committed to each other, a couple built to stand the trials and tribulations of life for a lifetime. I wanted to have that TV family that I so desperately wished for as a kid, the one that stays in love and stays together forever. I thought that we had that, too. But we didn’t. So now what was I hoping to find? What is a happy life supposed to look like now?

I have no idea.

But I keep trying to figure it out, one step at a time. One false start after another. Eventually one of these starts will be the real deal, I just have to keep trying.

 

 

 

 

 

The hard stuff

I had a heart to heart talk with my son the other night. I didn’t start the day, or the night, with that intention but sometimes life presents a moment of opportunity and you take it. Run with it if you possibly can, these moments don’t come around very often and are fleeting at best.

He’s always been my well grounded, moral compass kid. I’ve always joked that he was born a forty year old man, his wisdom and insight always light years ahead of his biological age. The depth in his eyes reveals a sense of experience from beyond.

You just never know what your kids are absorbing during times of crisis and challenge. You don’t know how they see it all, what it looks like and sounds like, from their vantage point. And they usually aren’t very quick to open up and give you their inside view, choosing instead to keep it inside while they figure out how they feel – or how they “should” feel.

Or maybe they’re just afraid to voice how they feel, because nobody is asking.

Too often I have heard, and have been told, that kids are resilient. They adapt, they deal, they get over it all much faster than adults. They don’t have the same baggage or past experiences to layer onto whatever is being dealt out to them. And don’t forget, they are self-centered and really don’t give much thought to what is really going on in the grown up world of the adults/parents in their lives.

And to that, I say bullshit.

I can honestly say, from my own personal experience as a kid once, that we are kidding ourselves if we think it all runs off of their backs. We are choosing to accept this idea because it makes our load a little lighter, our guilt a little smaller.

It’s really just self protection if we’re honest.

And that makes sense, because during a time of crisis we need to be the strongest we have ever been, for our kids. We try our hardest to shield them from the ugly truths, the struggles and the conflicts, because it’s not “kid stuff”. We’re really trying to protect them, we’re really trying our best and that means we keep as much of it from them as possible hopefully.

At least that’s what we believe, and are told to do. But maybe they don’t see it that way.

Maybe, they are waiting for us to tell them exactly what is going on and where we think it will lead. The good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe they would feel better just knowing. It’s often said that most of our fears come from not knowing, not being able to see the problem or hear the back story.

So we make up our own story, which can be a lot worse.

But, they’re kids and they aren’t in the position to ask for this information, much less demand it, because it’s adult stuff. And it’s personal. It’s really not about them, we assure them, they didn’t create this situation and it’s not theirs to take on or carry. We’re supposed to carry it all for them, while we struggle just to carry what is ours.

That’s parenting, isn’t it?

But maybe while we are busy struggling to carry it all they’ve actually picked up a few pieces along the way, like rocks on a trail – some bigger than others – and they’re carrying them in their pocket, unseen everyday. They don’t show them to us because they can see we have enough to deal with, and our load is already heavy, but those rocks are getting heavier and growing in numbers.

Too hard to ignore any longer.

He surprised me when he asked “what really happened?” My heart broke when he told me, with tears in his eyes, “you left me out of it all and that’s not right”. He had been waiting for me to include him, to include all of them, in what I thought was only my struggle. But it wasn’t.

It was all of ours.

I knew this on a basic level, but I wasn’t ready to admit it before. From all appearances, they were dealing with everything well enough, adapting to our new life as a divorced family. Sure we had some bumps along the way, a few incidents of acting out and the wheels coming off, but we hadn’t fallen apart. Maybe we weren’t quite a well-oiled machine, but we were definitely a machine with a purpose and a drive to keep working – even with missing pieces.

What do you tell them when they ask? How many details do you include, how far back do you go? Do I give him the verbal transcript of that ugly night when it all blew up? The tirade of describing the resentment and the unhappiness that had been simmering, for years I was informed that night, that went unspoken. The harsh judgements spit at me about my character, my integrity, my worth – all coming from someone who swore to love and honor me for the rest of our lives.

Do I admit to the questions that still swirl in my head, that will go unanswered forever. The shadows of memories when I should have “known” something wasn’t quite right, but chose instead to look away to keep the peace. To believe in us and our family.

How do I explain the jagged path, that lead to this place, to my son?

I answered him the best way I knew how, that was the only way I could think of. I asked him what he wanted to know, and I answered his questions, but I did not elaborate with too many details. Broad strokes, the highlight reel. And that was enough, that’s all he really needed to feel included. To feel seen, to feel heard.

To let go of a few of those small rocks he had been carrying around in his pockets.

That night I realized that I work too hard to shield my kids from the “bad stuff”, which is doing more harm than good sometimes. They are on the outside trying to look in and I keep shutting the curtains. Leaving them to wonder, to worry, to write their own story of what is going on and most times not the best story.

How will they learn to deal with the hard stuff, when it comes their way some day, without some idea that it even exists? What tools will they have if I never admit that life is work, not just marriage, but life in general. It doesn’t just come to you warm and cozy without any challenges or tests of your strength and integrity.

Sometimes you have to have grit and determination to push through to the other side of the darkness. Sometimes, you need a flashlight or you need someone to give you a flashlight even if you don’t ask for one. You need help, you need support, you need answers whether they’re the ones you hoped for or not.

You need someone to take on some of the weight of those challenges, to take some of those rocks that weigh you down out of your pockets and carry them for you. Or toss them to the side of the path, out of your way. But in most cases, you have to have the idea that it’s okay to ask for help, to ask the hard questions and to give the hard answers.

You will survive. It will suck sometimes, but you will survive.

I’ve tried to be better with this idea now that I realize how hard it can be on my kids. I push a little more to have those hard conversations and to be more forthcoming with those sometimes ugly answers. I want them to trust in me that I will always be honest with them, and not just because they had to ask.

Hopefully I won’t need to worry about it so much going forward. Life is running much smoother now for the most part, but then again, life has a way of surprising us doesn’t it?

 

Did I say that?

With each passing day of my newly divorced life, I feel a bit more grounded, a bit more sane. I feel that I am getting closer to being the “me”, that I was so long ago, once more. And that’s a good thing, I know, and it takes time (boy, don’t I know!)

I am both relieved and very thankful that I can begin to see the sun behind the clouds now, because some days – some of my darkest days –  I honestly didn’t think it was possible. I felt dismembered and detached, like a distorted version of myself. I couldn’t remember who I was or had been. Ever. The past had been blurred by so much noise and deep pain that it was tough to recollect happier, lighter times.

But they are on the near horizon now, I can feel it.

Even with this new epiphany, I have to admit that I am still not the best version of the “me” that I once was not so very long ago. I’ve acquired some pretty disturbing habits, at least disturbing to me because I know that I was not like this before. Stress and heartache can mold and shape you into someone that you don’t even recognize, if it goes on long enough.

At one point, I will admit, I was probably relying on alcohol more than I should have. Not to a dangerous point of course, I wasn’t drinking everyday – at least not all day – just enough to blur the lines and put on the soft filter when it was all getting to be too much. Too hard. Too draining on my soul.

Did I really bring a margarita to baseball practice in my travel mug??

Now that phase has pretty much passed, thankfully. I don’t feel the need to escape my life the way I had before, and now I have so much more to focus on that is positive and brings me happiness. Stressful at times, but a good kind of stress this time, usually.

I had stopped exercising, stopped caring about how I ate, stopped caring about me. I was circling the drain more than a time or two, depression so deep that I would need a full-sized ladder to climb out of that hole some days, so sure that this would never end and that I would always feel this way.

Not certain about my future, scared, and disappointed in myself and life in general.

Normal? Sure, on some level. But when you’re going through it, normal is just a word that people use to shut you up. They want to look away and pretend that you are still “normal”, that you are still the same, but really you’re not.

One more habit to share, and if I’m honest, I think that I’ve overshared it quite a bit in the last couple of years, is my newly discovered world of profanity.

Yes, my word selection has grown exponentially since this all began, creatively and loudly too, I might add. I have uttered some swear words that in the past were completely off-limits. Words that are “those words”, you know the ones that even people who cuss regularly know that those are “the bad words nobody says”. Yes, I’ve not only uttered them, but I have screamed them, cried them, texted them, written them, sometimes stringing them together in a creatively descriptive way that I never knew existed.

Until I said it.

I was the mom that used “oh my goodness!” and “dang it” in front of my kids before this. I didn’t say my first swear word, out loud, until I was in eighth grade. I had finally had enough of the boy in the seat in front of me harassing me on a daily basis, my patience and my good manners had reached their limit. I eventually said “fuck you”, low and with meaningfully controlled anger, and oddly enough, he stopped.

The power of words.

Yes, I have cussed before, something that my ex showed incredible distaste for whenever I did. Not very “classy” I suppose. I readily admit that I am no angel when it comes to using foul language, but my boundaries disappeared this time around. They just dropped away, like the bumpers on a bowling lane – and suddenly I was serving up nothing but gutter balls!

And I didn’t care.

I stopped policing myself for the existing audience, for the most part. I do have some semblance of integrity and respect when I need to, even if it doesn’t appear so sometimes, so safe to say I held back in more public spaces. But overall, I stopped caring if it upset or offended someone. I didn’t care if people didn’t like it, if my kids heard it, or even if I spoke that way in front of my parents! Using swear words in front of or to my parents in conversation, slowly became normal. This was not normal for my family. The first time I said “fuck” during a conversation with my mom, and the ground didn’t crack open and swallow me – and she didn’t freak out about it – was when I realized that the dam had been released.

It just gave me more fuel, more permission to push the boundaries.

The thing is, I knew that I was doing something far out of character for myself but I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t. I could not express the hurt, the anger, the devastation, the complete loss that I was experiencing without seasoning it with a few (or more) cuss words. I felt as if I had adult onset turrets sometimes, the words flying out of my mouth before I could edit them. I could not find the adjectives that would properly express my feelings, or describe the darkness that was always edging into my everyday life, without using profanity as a sentence enhancer.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was real.

Professionals say that there are five stages of grief. I disagree. I think that there are at least six or seven, if not more, that are just sub-levels of the main list. The one I’ve experienced most is “loss of control for emotional expression”. Or to sum it up in a one word description like the original list (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) let’s call it “profanity”.

It’s a broad description, but a fucking good one.

This happens somewhere either before anger or in-between anger and depression, before or after bargaining, or both, or all of the above. And the beauty of this stage? You get to repeat it as often as you like, because some days you just need to hang on to that ledge and scream your head off in a litany of profanity.

I am not proud of my behavior, I also do not intend to continue repeating this stage much longer, but I do accept it. And isn’t acceptance where we want to end up anyway?

Blocked out

Over the last couple of years, since this all began to take root and take on a life of it’s own, I’ve had to utilize certain defense mechanisms. Tighten up my world, my inner circle of friends and acquaintances, to keep  my sanity and some semblance of peace.

Circle the wagons against attack and spies, basically.

And as easy as that may sound, in this day of social media and other online opportunities, it can be a pretty daunting task. It takes a lot of thought and planning, consideration and introspection, to know just who that will include. And from where.

You don’t realize how available you are for public consumption until it makes itself glaringly obvious…for all of the wrong reasons.

Early on, my social media use became a bone of contention in my newly budding divorce proceedings. I was drawing too much attention to myself, and our personal business, by explaining exactly what was going on to those closest relations/friends to us while asking for some personal space. Trying to be honest and considerate, asking for some privacy temporarily by unfriending many of them, lead to more conflict in my divorce.

Following that ugly exchange, and a few more later on, seemed like a good time to cut some people loose. For good.

But cutting loose isn’t easy, and it’s not always the end.

“Unfriending” doesn’t build a protective wall around your personal space, shielding you from unwelcome eyes, instead it only puts up a fence. A wire fence that you can still see through anytime you wish, if only with an obstructed view. Look but don’t touch, or contact directly. It’s an invisible boundary, a suggestion to stay out of your business, that’s all. But unguarded boundaries can be ignored and crossed without much notice.

I know that all too well.

So, in the end, it lead to “blocking” the same people, which seemed extreme to me at the start. I wrestled with the idea for awhile, feeling guilty and oversensitive for even considering it. But the proof that it was the right thing for me to do became incredibly clear once I realized that my soon-to-be ex was being spoon-fed information about me from what I posted or wrote.

Information that he wouldn’t otherwise have, or even realize was out there, without help from friends and family, that were obviously trolling my social media. You see, he isn’t on any of the social media platforms, with the exception of one that has nothing to do with Farmville. But that doesn’t matter if you have enough connections that are, who will troll it for you in the name of protection and support.

To say that I felt cornered, vulnerable and exposed, is an understatement.

To know that I would have to examine, analyze and possibly edit everything that I wrote or posted, for the foreseeable future, seemed like a prison sentence for a crime that I didn’t commit. A situation that I didn’t create in the first place.

It was beyond frustrating.

Frustrating to know that there were actually people out there that believed it was their place, their duty, to stalk me and anything that I had written or posted to report back to my ex. Some of them are not even friends of mine, have no real connection to me, but are able to peek into my world through a common thread somewhere in the universe.

The ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ proven once more.

I still question what benefit these people believe they are providing. How would my posting a meme with goats help him gain anything in our settlement? Or insult or threaten him?

He once accused me of plotting his death, based upon a story that I shared on a platform (that he doesn’t use) that I didn’t even write. Because, you know, if I was going to plot someone’s murder I would definitely post it on Facebook first.

Doesn’t everybody?

It didn’t stop with Facebook. It included Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest and Tumbler. Yes, even Pinterest, because I was pinning self-help articles relating to divorce and depression that would give them an invitation to look into my unstable inner psyche and report back on it.

Unfriending and blocking some people that were close to me, some that were originally my friends even before I was married, but may have a thread of connection that could possibly lead back to him, was painful but such a relief. Leaving only those that didn’t share any connection to my ex, or possibly to his soon-to-be new wife, in any way that I could imagine was the only way that I felt protected. Safe.

Paranoid? You bet.

And still, that was not enough. Our lives can intersect in ways that we don’t even think of, for reasons that we don’t even realize. I had to go to LinkedIn and cut the weeds, too.

To see someone pop up as a “suggested connection” because they know or work with your ex, or his new wife, is like opening up a fun-house door filled with clowns or reliving a nightmare that you can’t escape. I don’t post my blog on LinkedIn, but it still made me feel exposed, susceptible to more scrutiny and judgement.

Do I miss some of those people? Yes, a few. Some had a very special place in my heart, added some interest to my life. Many were in my life for more than half of my life.

Do I regret my decision of who I chose to block? Nope.

A lesson that I have been learning, repeatedly it seems, is to do what is right for me. What feels right for me, not what other people think is right or feel that I should do. If I don’t protect myself, if I don’t put my needs or feelings first, nobody else will. And that lesson works in all facets of life.

Wear your seatbelt, look both ways before you cross the street, get off the field when the lightening siren sounds. Safety practices that we all know, and most of us use. The idea behind them is to make our personal world a safer place, to protect ourselves and others.

And now we can add ‘police your online presence’. I’m building an iron wall around mine with a secret password.

What to say?

I have been fortunate enough to have more than a few people express how I have helped them to understand what their friend/sister/relative is going through while they struggle through their divorce. Some have even said that it has helped them talk about it, or just listen, and really mean it.

I am more than touched. I am grateful and thankful for their words of encouragement, and knowing that somehow I am helping somebody out there, who is involved with a divorce in a variety of ways, is a silver lining to what is a pretty dark cloud. If nobody really talks about it, if nobody tells the story in realistic terms, how will anyone know what to do? What to say?

It all starts from that point. Just being willing to help, to listen, to support is the biggest step.

It makes me think back to the early days, when the idea of getting divorced was still new and incredibly scary for me. The things that people would say at the beginning, just upon hearing that it was happening, slowly changed as time went by and the reality of the process became more clear.

Divorce takes time. Sometimes a lot of time…

For many the story got old, almost boring, and it wasn’t very creative since you hear about this type of thing happening everywhere. Why should it be so special, or remotely interesting, just because it was happening to me? For some, it was clear to me, that it wasn’t moving along fast enough so I could “just be done” and maybe focus on something else for awhile – usually something that they found important or exciting in their own lives.

I get it. Really, I seriously do.

Divorce can be a pain in the ass and boring as hell, especially if it’s not happening to you.

It’s more than difficult to listen to the same problem over and over again, even if new details emerge along the way, or side story lines come out of it like an episode of “As the World Turns”. There is only so much “drama” anyone wants to deal with, especially if it isn’t their own drama.

Unless they are the type of friend who feeds off of your pain and struggle, almost enjoys being in the trenches with you. They’re out there, believe me.

The friend who needs to feel needed, close up and personal to your problems, a cheerleader, your confidant. Those are actually the people you need to limit in your life during this stressful and painful time. Nobody needs a cheerleader, telling them to smile, cheer up and have fun! Trying to lift you up out of your funk, to be fun again, while sweeping it all out the door. Or worse, there’s the Church Lady from SNL friend. That’s the one that corrects you when you stumble and slip back into your old habits, for just a moment, and refer to your spouse or family as intact in the present tense.

“You mean your ex-husband, don’t you??” usually said with arched eyebrows and pursed lips. Thanks for that reminder, I almost forgot that the fabric of my life, that defined who I was, was unraveling after twenty-five years.

Good catch.

But from it all, I’ve come away with what I consider more than a few do’s and don’ts of what to say to someone going through a divorce, maybe more don’ts at this point. Because, let’s be honest, people are stupid. They mean well, most of the time, but they don’t make a habit of thinking it through before they speak sometimes.

When these phrases come out, phrases of hope or motivational quotes waiting to be made into a meme posted on your Facebook page, I sort of nod my head, like “yep, that’s one I hope to never hear again”.

Maybe my reaction to some of these may seem over-sensitive, maybe someone else would be able to let it roll off of their back, but like everything in life one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

And one person’s devastation is another person’s shoulder shrug. It’s all relative.

In the beginning, I heard the standard “you’re still young enough, and attractive, you’ll find someone soon I’m sure” – what exactly is ‘young enough’? And attractive? And why the push to find someone soon, if at all? What would make me so excited, or so desperate, to try this again?

Or “you’ll fall in love again and probably be married in five years!” First of all, why is the bar set at five years? Is this some sort of national average of divorced middle-aged women found in a recent study? You’d better have a graph to back that up.

As if I should be chomping at the bit to get back out there and date again, after twenty-five years with the same person, I should be looking for my next husband at the grocery store, or the gym. There are people out there who won’t even consider getting another dog once their beloved friend dies after many years, but a new spouse? Easy fix.

What’s the big deal??

No need to take a step back and figure out the new direction of your life. There should be no time to think about it, catch your breath and figure out what you really want your next step to be, you don’t want to overthink it. And don’t even consider that maybe you may not even want to go down this road again, that you may be happier as a divorced single, because you’re a woman and you need a man in your life! Time is a-wasting! No girl, you get back out there and shake it!

Isn’t this the dream of every middle-aged woman??

After the divorce was final, the comments were more indignant and less sympathetic. Almost dismissive. “You got a good settlement and got out of an unhappy marriage, you should be happy!”, “you made a twenty year mistake, accept it and move on” (that one was from a medical professional, believe it or not) or something similar. How does a ‘good settlement’ replace the last half of my life and my solidly formed identity?

And what exactly is considered a good settlement? Is it just about the money, the assets you’ve negotiated to keep, just the material things? According to what most people have said, I would guess it is just about the money.

It’s not about the loss of your identity, that you’ve worked to create over the last twenty five years. The loss of family and friends that you shared for half of your lifetime.

It’s not about now having to think separately about the very things that you did together as a family, splitting your children in half with visitation, holidays and insurance coverage. It’s not about your unknown future that is now hanging on some sort of string, and yet still tethered to someone for the unforeseeable future that you can’t even stand to be in the same room with now.

But hey, the money’s good, am I right?

It’s been a year now. I have been fully divorced for a full year, and while the comments have slowed down or had less of a chance to be uttered around me, they still manage to poke into a conversation when you least expect it.

“Yeah, a lot of people are getting divorced now, it’s everywhere.” (translation: you’re not that unique) Just because it’s a common occurrence, and can happen to anyone at any time, doesn’t make it any less devastating or life changing for the person going through it.

But thanks for being so condescending, that helps.

“At least you’re not married to that jerk anymore and now you can do whatever you want with your life!” (translation: you’re free now, completely free! what’s the problem with that?) While that statement is true on some level, it also glosses over what that life of ‘freedom’ will possibly look like. The assumption is that your life will somehow magically improve exponentially now that you’ve “cut your losses”, life will be full of opportunity and fulfillment. You will become that beautiful butterfly and the world is fresh and new!

Obviously, this ignores the fact that you still have children to take care of and consider with each life choice you make, who are also dealing with a great deal of change and loss. It filters the reality that you have had to move (again) and uproot your entire life, basically going back to the starting line and trying out a new path, now in your fifties, when you thought you already had that mapped out with someone.

Chances are that you’ll have to take at least a couple, or maybe even a few, years just to get your bearings and figure out what that new shiny future should/will look like, and then time to figure out if you still have time to make that new future happen, whatever it may be.

You’re no longer twenty five and fresh out of college, living in an apartment with roommates, partying on the weekends. You’re an adult with people depending upon you to function and get stuff done, and not just your kids, people from all points of your life.

“You should try a new hobby, something to get excited about” (translation: avoidance of your feelings is the best cure and will give you something else to talk about. Finally!) I tried the “new hobby” idea in the beginning, that’s what most of the divorce advice on the internet tells you to do. I took a sewing class, inquired into ballroom dancing, joined a different gym with a personal trainer, diligently researched the possibility of going back to school to get my masters, and volunteered in new areas to get more involved in my community, all to hopefully distract me enough to have a some sense of normalcy.

But here’s the thing, I can’t fully commit to learning anything new, or giving of my time, when my normal life is no longer working. It is no longer “normal”.

I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t get excited, I just couldn’t make it work the way that everyone promised me it would. I couldn’t do any of it with the same dedication and drive that I would usually bring to a new venture. I was only able to half-ass most attempts, that lead to me eventually quit, and that made me feel even worse. “I can’t even do (insert new hobby/interest here) right.”

“So when are you going back to work?” (translation: why are still sitting around, and not contributing to the world?) I heard this one almost from the beginning. I’m sure the idea was keeping busy will help you feel better. You’re divorced now so you need to fill in those hours that you used to be a stay at home wife and mother, be productive!

Here’s a newsflash, this is my job.

My job didn’t change because I got divorced. I didn’t divorce my kids, I didn’t divorce my responsibilities to my children, or to the home that they should grow up in. Yes, I can and will eventually go back to work, but I’ve been working for twenty years in the same job and I’m damn good at it. The challenge now is to find a way to dovetail those skills into a meaningful (financially lucrative) career or job. And this is definitely not the right time to force my kids into another new adjustment, having me gone all day everyday, to satisfy some status quo of what a divorced mother should be doing with her time.

Yes, I am very fortunate that I was able to negotiate a way to maintain this standard of living for my children, to keep something in their life normal and familiar, I completely admit that. But I am not going to give that up just to satisfy some insensitive idea that I need to prove my worth to the world by working outside of our home. Or that I need to pull my financial weight in this divorced relationship. If being unavailable to them everyday for 8 to 10 hours a day somehow proves my worth, makes me appear more productive and valuable in society, I’d like someone to show me the flowchart on how that makes my children grow up to be happier, more productive and secure adults in the end.

They may be old enough to not really need me, but they do need me. Especially now.

There are probably more than a few that I am forgetting, or have chosen to conveniently erase from my memory for good reason. But the idea is the same, isn’t it? We just need to think before we speak sometimes. Maybe put yourself in that situation – and I know, that will ‘never happen to you’. That’s the comforting mantra that we all repeat in our own head, isn’t it? You know how I know that?

Because that was my mantra for twenty years.

But just for kicks, put yourself in that person’s shoes, at this time in their life. Of course, you don’t know exactly what they’re feeling, or how they’re dealing with it, but you also don’t know what it’s like to die and yet you go to funerals and give heartfelt condolences to the grieving families. You don’t have to know exactly how it feels to be empathetic, you don’t have to have the same experience to understand how devastating this is in any family.

A simple hug, a warm smile, a basic “I’m so sorry to hear that” goes a long way. Sometimes just listening while they are ranting, crying, losing their mind is the best you can do, and that’s enough.

You don’t have to know what to say, sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all.

 

 

 

It’s just dinner

“It’s just dinner”, I told my mom this past Thanksgiving.

I wanted to believe it, I wanted to truly convince myself that it wasn’t that big of a deal, and that every divorced family does this. And it’s fine. Really.

But deep down, in my heart,  I couldn’t. I know that it was what we had agreed upon, during all of the negotiations while writing up our parenting agreement, but putting it into practice makes it much more real. Brings it all into clear focus, almost magnified sometimes.

And so begins the division of holidays for my children. The bonus round of divorce.

It seems like a simple thing, something that most people take for granted, that you just divide up the holidays and assign weekends once you’re divorced. The kids will adapt, living out of two homes with two lives to balance, to make the divorcing couple “happy”. It’s for the best for everyone! But it’s not really that simple when you’re kids are older, no longer toddlers or young children.

They have lives, they have expectations, they make plans…and they have opinions.

The terms agreed upon for children in a divorce are archaic at best. They are no longer individual human beings, instead they become property that needs to be divided or shared, much like the house, the bank accounts and other personal belongings.

No rights, no opinions asked, no consent.

And we go along with that outline, because that’s just the way the system works. Over the course of time, the many years of judicial experience with this type of dissolution, this has become the blueprint for co-parenting/child custody. It’s supposedly fair and just, and addresses everyone’s needs and expectations. But does it really?

It makes me wonder, why hasn’t anyone else looked at it this way?  Or have they?

Why aren’t we asking different questions, looking at the existing family dynamic and what developmental stages and ages they are in? Why aren’t we addressing each divorce as an individual experience?

Divorces are like snowflakes, no two are alike. The same goes for children.

Usually when you are going through a divorce, you’ve never done it before (with a few exceptions, of course) and your knowledge of what to expect is somewhat limited. It’s new territory, that is most likely out of your comfort zone and skill set, so we hire professionals who do this for a living, and have most likely experienced so many divorce situations that they have just about seen and heard it all.

They are the professionals that we rely upon throughout this entire process, to not only have our best financial interest in mind, but also the mental well-being and stability of the children involved. Whether they know it or not. The lawyers, mediators, financial advisors, judges, etc. all have a voice or opinion that will directly affect you – and your family.

And for their services they get paid very well, for the most part, and they should because they are the ones with the knowledge and experience in this scenario. They are the people that help you design the new outline of your life after divorce. Based upon what is presented to them by either side, of course.

But sometimes, what needs to be considered isn’t necessarily presented during those discussions. Sometimes, there are surprises that nobody could account for, or expect. People change their mind, or agree to the arrangements being laid out just to get through it as quickly as possible without any real intent of following through. People sometimes put themselves and their needs/desires first, with no regard for their children or of the possible fallout, and not just while divorcing but in general.

And people lie. Even if only by omission, but they still lie.

So tell me, how do these professionals not realize that telling almost grown teenagers that they must spend time/holidays somewhere else – even with their own parent –  instead of their normally expected traditional practices, is not going to be an easy sell? After everything that they trusted to be their intact family has now been blown to bits.

They are still shell-shocked, reeling from the intense changes most likely, but we’re going to tell them to keep quiet and go along with the program that the adults decided upon.

How can anyone be so confident that what you are all agreeing to in that room, at that time, is exactly what it looks like on the surface and how it will truly work? How can they be so confident that there aren’t any hidden surprises, that we’re all being up front and honest and doing what is truly best for our family and not just our own personal agenda?

Why are we not giving our ‘old enough to know what they want’ kids a voice? Or even a chance to be a part of the conversation?

I know, it’s an adult decision, right? This idea is too big to burden our children with that type of discussion, or to expect them to make those types of decisions, you may think. And I would agree, if your children are under the age of ten maybe. But after you’ve been married for over twenty years, and you have children that are close enough in age to that number, it’s no longer too big for them to handle.

Not including them in the conversation is more disturbing, and disruptive, at that point. Completely disregarding them as individual people is insulting.

During the divorce process, we’re sold this fantasy of cooperation on all fronts, presented with the ideas of shared parenting with butterflies and rainbows. You can now make an agreement regarding the future for yourselves and your children and stick to it. Now you will be thinking of each other’s best interest, be totally honest about your future intentions, and work together as a team to make this transition as easy and painless as possible, right?

Sure, your marriage didn’t work out, actually it kind of imploded, but now you’ll be the best of friends going forward while raising your children under two roofs. Because that’s the best thing for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

You want to be amicable, to get along for the sake of the children, they keep telling you.

Nobody ever mentions the “what if” scenarios, because it’s too messy and abstract, and you just don’t know until you get there. But you should have some idea that it could, and most likely will, happen and have a backup plan of some sort.

Or at least lower your expectations and be realistic.

During all of those mediation meetings, we put things on the flipchart of how we wanted it all to work, much like a project or a new job. We listed our “goals” and our “challenges” and when they didn’t align we “discussed” it – amongst the group in the room, of course – to get us all on the same page and in agreement.

Very professional, formal and detailed. Everyone saying the right things the right way – because isn’t that the most amicable and grown up way to do it? Presenting our opinions and desires for discussion, not raising our voices or getting emotional, eventually agreeing to what sounds like a collaboration for the blueprint of our future relationship.

All for our kids “best interest”, right?

But is it? Did we really take into account what their best interest was, or what would make them feel the most comfortable and able to adapt to this new lifestyle? Not really.

Instead, we ignored the possibility that they may have had another idea of how this will all work in the end. Or if they would need time to digest it all first, to be able to get on board with this new world order. We didn’t even ask them. They’re our children, technically still minors for the most part, so only the adults in the room – behind a closed door – are able to make those decisions for them.

Not only have we thrust them into a newly designed family unit, without any say so, but now we are telling them that they really don’t have a choice but to go along with what everyone else agreed upon in their absence. Because that’s just how it works.

Let the grown ups handle it, because they’ve done such a bang up job of it so far.

Maybe their best interest was to be given the consideration of choosing how and when to spend their time with the parents involved. Maybe, instead of us looking at a calendar and splitting weekends and holidays with a swift decision based upon “fairness”, we should have asked them what they wanted to do? What would make them most comfortable and feel in control?

Try telling a teenager that they are now shuttling between homes, every other weekend and on major holidays, because that’s what was agreed upon without them.

This is one of the most difficult situations for any child to be in, traumatic and upsetting for the most part, and yet we leave them out of the discussion.

You would think in this age of ‘safe space’ and ‘using your words’ at least one professional in the room would have some idea of how this may play out, and what corners to look around. Especially someone with a degree in family psychology, who is supposedly guiding us in our mediation to best serve our family. Flipcharts and all.

As the divorcing parents, we don’t think of any of this during the stressful time of just trying to get through it all, trying to survive the process without losing our minds. We are so focused on what is fair, what is equitable, that we slot our children into the balance sheets instead of having them sit at the table, even just once, and giving them a choice. Asking them, “What do you want to do? What makes you more comfortable?”

Because nothing about this is comfortable. We don’t even want to think of it, or we ignore the possibility that they may have another idea, for fear that it will only make it more messy. And this is already messy enough.

It’s time that we look at the whole picture in a divorce, not just the assets to be divided, but the people that it affects. Especially now with the supposed increase in “gray divorce”, couples divorcing after twenty or more years of marriage, which equates to almost grown – but still dependent – children in the picture. No longer babies or toddlers that are still adaptable and easily accepting of a new arrangement, but children with a clear idea of what they think is fair and reasonable. Children with an opinion.

It’s not just dinner.