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?

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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.

 

 

 

A different filter

About a year and a half ago my oldest son broke his phone. Not a new occurrence when you have teenagers with phones. They forget they have them in their pocket as they jump into the pool, or try to tape it to their handlebars to take an action video and inevitably it goes flying off during one of their “tricks”, or any other simple to avoid circumstance that they just didn’t think through. It also gets lost, or stolen.

It happens.

When it happened this time, I was not as willing to get him a new phone. This was the second (or third?) time within his contract period, he was able to repair it the last time, and it was beyond frustrating. So, I “punished” him with my old phone, an iPhone 4s. Yes, I know, the horror! I could have dyed his hair pink and it would have been less offensive to his teenage ego.

But he took it.

This made the most sense at the time, it was definitely cost effective, who doesn’t agree with “free”? Plus, we were still paying off the previous (broken) phone. We agreed that he would use my old phone until the contract was paid in full, about six months. A painfully long time for him, I’m sure.

He assured me that he would wipe the entire phone of my personal data; texts, contacts, email, etc.

Word to the wise: take it somewhere that does this as part of their business. Never, and I mean NEVER, trust your teenage son to do this type of thing for you. It’s bound to disappoint. And possibly instill incredible fear into your heart and soul.

He got his new phone about a year ago and has been happily using – and protecting – his new updated connection to the outside world. But just today, I happened to come across my old phone sitting on the family room table. It looked so small, so out of place, that I didn’t even recognize it as being mine. It had 6% battery life.

Not really realizing that it was indeed my old phone, I opened the screen to check the contacts to get an idea of which one of their friends it belonged to. Imagine my surprise when I found my list of contacts, and then looking at texts saw my old texts from two years ago.

At first I panicked, wondering if he had read through my texts or my email. Not that I was plotting or planning anything illegal or immoral, but some of my text exchanges with friends can be a little “colorful”. Not really meant for my kids to read, you know?

As I scanned the list of texts, I came across a set of old texts between my ex-husband and myself. I winced. What would I read there? Would it make me feel hurt, upset and raw like I felt during that long year of our divorce process, or happily vindicated in our decision, glad to have moved on, relieved?

They were texts from only two years ago. It was a crap shoot in my mind, the sequence of events and timing not nearly as clear at that moment.

I scrolled through, holding my breath.

There were texts from the early days of him commuting to his new job, plans for wine and pizza when he arrived home, asking what he wanted me to get from the grocery store for an upcoming fishing trip. Communications about plane delays, weather reports, car repairs and family gatherings being planned. Updates about our kids.

Jokes, intimate only-we-can-understand type of jokes. I could feel the smile that I must have had back then reading his messages, the eye roll I must have done in response to some of his sarcastic comments. And there were “xoxo”s mixed in among the few emojis, usually at the end of his texts.

I could feel the love.

At that moment, my heart ached. And I realized that it was real at some point, or at least we did have some pretty good stretches of “good” in our marriage. Maybe it was better through text and over the phone? Possibly.

Another mark on our permanent record for poor verbal communication skills.

What happened to us? Where did that go? I realize now, that those were the things that kept us together for so long. Those small things. The little stuff that makes you smile, makes you feel connected, and forget that that other person can really annoy or upset you on any given day.

But the small things couldn’t fight off the big things in the end, could they?

It made me sad. It made me miss that part of us, the part that bound us together and made us a family with our boys. At that moment I looked past the sad, the bad and the ugly from our marriage. I changed the filter and saw only the soft edges and warm light. I saw the film reel of the highlights playing in my head. I heard the music of our laughter and the language we shared.

And I missed it.

If only for a moment, for a few minutes, I forgot all about the ugly words we had exchanged over the last year or so. In person, by email.

In texts.

I pushed aside all of the resentment, the hurt, the bitterness and only felt what I thought we had all along. A solid foundation to build on, to hold onto in the hard times, the challenges we took on together and came out on the other side even stronger. A partnership beyond the basic necessities.

Love. Somewhere, deep inside of it all, there was love at one time.

And it made me mourn for both of us. We both went into our marriage with such hope and promise, dreams and plans. So many years invested. All for it to implode almost instantly in the end. How did that happen?

I don’t have the answer, still. I play the reel of our marriage over and over in my mind, I look for clues and hints, but nothing really stands out as “the moment” that it went off the tracks, unable to be corrected. The little things pop up like spikes on a Richter scale, most of them small, barely registering, with a few larger ones over the entire marriage, but nothing of such magnitude that it should have crushed our foundation. At least I didn’t think so at the time.

It doesn’t really matter now, it’s done. It can’t be rebuilt. It won’t be rebuilt.

Finding my old phone, and old texts, made me aware of how the filter that I choose to look through can change everything. It can make me feel a completely different way if I let it. I do like the feeling of this soft focus filter, the warm fuzziness of it all, at least for the moment, for a day.

It gives me a welcome rest from the sharp clarity of my memories, and my everyday real life.