It’s late. I’m wired and can’t sleep. For days I have been considering blogging about the past few weeks and some of the transformations I have undergone but I never quite felt the need to write it all out. And up until now, I haven’t really needed to. But now I need to. And so I will.
Being divorced is one of the most awful experiences I have ever gone through in my entire life. I think I can safely say that if I were to take the sum of all relationship pain up until this point and lump it all together, this is worse to the tenth power. It is a demoralizing and degrading experience fraught with peril. I tend to air on the side of dramatic, but that’s the simple truth. It is a god damn mess.
I can’t speak for others, but all of my resources have led me to the same statement: divorce is this bad for EVERYONE. It is a messy painful ordeal and I am about to tell you why.
First, it might make more sense if I tie this altogether in the magical pyramid in The Book. The Book I refer to is called Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, Third Edition. It is widely used and was originally published in 1981. Thirty One years of this book guiding people along their way through this mess and only on its third edition. Impressive. Even more impressive is that my therapist recommended it to me immediately and with such conviction that I, a skeptic when it comes to self-help books, bought it immediately following the end of my session that day.
So, I bought the book and waited for it to arrive. Less than ten dollars on Amazon used. Funny that, minus the cost of the divorce itself, the cost of rebuilding my life is less than ten dollars including shipping.
When the book arrived I started at the VERY beginning, even electing to read the foreword that I usually opt out of. Immediately I was fascinated. Not only is this structured in a way that is easy to follow (rebuilding blocks in the shape of a pyramid) but there are real examples of people from seminars and their experiences on certain blocks along the way. The Book refers to this process of rebuilding as a journey, a hike up a mountain, with all the crappy stuff at the bottom, somewhere along the middle it gets easier, and at the top is reward: freedom.
Now, before you get all groan-y thinking it’s cheesy, Freedom implies complete singular independence and emotional stability. Complete emotional well-being and self-reliance and such well balance that nothing can hold you back. It is not freedom from the chains of your previous relationship, but freedom from your own chains. The Book and The Journey are focused on rebuilding YOU, not necessarily picking apart your relationship.
The first rebuilding blocks are rather straightforward. Along the bottom you have: denial, fear, adaptation, loneliness, friendship, and guilt/rejection.
Denial – This can’t be happening to me. Rejecting the acceptance that your marriage is ending/has ended. I have to say I had very little of this, considering I ended my marriage. I was definitely shocked at how it happened, and I still struggle to see how it happened exactly, but there’s no denying anything when you say to your husband “Get your shit and get out of my house.”
Fear – What will happen to me? How will I survive? Fear was a big thing for me in the beginning. Being so accustomed to having someone in your bed at night, or there in the morning, when strange noises come from pipes and wind – it was really scary at first. And, not knowing what my ex-husband might do next – terrifying. When it’s dark and you’re alone it’s hard to fall asleep at night no matter how many times you check the locks on every door and window when you have been given proof of how unpredictable another human being can be.
Adaptation – Adaptation centers on unhealthy behavior as a result of something lacking in your formative years. For example, adaptive behaviors include being a people-pleaser, being over-responsible for others, having an urge to help, and being a perfectionist. I possess all of these qualities. Does that mean four times the lack existed in my formative years? I don’t know. The Book isn’t really clear on how these things come to be, but it encourages you to explore your own past and find answers. The Book does say specifically that a person that does not have the needs for nurturing, attention, and love will develop these behaviors – but I honestly have a hard time recalling anything my parents did to cause such an adaptive response. It’s more likely that having a hard time connecting with my peers, even at a very young age, and experiencing rejection over and over, caused me to develop these social responses.
Loneliness – Oh, loneliness. My newly found friend. The loneliness, at times, is overwhelming. It can strike even when surrounded by people who love you. There are so many times when I just want my EH for one reason or another and he’s not here, I left him. He deserved it, and so did I, and no matter what emotional ties still remain we are never getting back together – but I do get lonely. And not just, hey… I’m bored and could use some company. I’m talking deep in the pit of your gut and all the way to the center of your soul aching loneliness.
Friendship – Friendship is complicated after divorce. The Book says that a lot of friendships end because married couples have other married couples as friends and when divorce happens the other married couples feel threatened by it so those friendships end. My EH and I didn’t have a lot of married friends but there were certainly His people and My people and the added layer that I moved halfway across the country… a lot of friendships are maintained only over the phone now and some are just over. It’s depressing. I invested almost as much of myself into His people as I did into Him.
Guilt/Rejection – The Book says the “dumper” (me) feels the guilt whereas the “dumpee” (my EH) feels the rejection. Easy enough. The guilt is not so bad as it was in the beginning, and it was never so bad that I wanted to change my mind. It was just hard to stomach abandoning someone I loved so much when he clearly needed me more than ever, but staying with him was something I couldn’t stomach more so that won out. I feel confident in my decision and that guilt is a useless emotion so I do not spend so much time feeling guilty, I trust that his family is taking care of him. And since our separation in June I feel I have been nice enough to him and given him some valuable pieces of advice to help him along his way.
The second layer of the pyramid is as follows: grief, anger, letting go, self-worth, transition.
Grief – My therapist tells me (as does The Book) that divorce is like a death. You are literally seeing your entire future, which you were SO looking forward to, die right before your eyes. In my case, there were so many things I was so excited about doing with my EH that I am so saddened will never happen. Like many people in love, we discussed child rearing (and were actively trying to have a baby) and home buying and careers and cars and parenting and our entire future. Goals and hopes and dreams. All of that ripped away. And, of course, grief over the life we DID have. The love we shared, our dog, our home, and my in-laws. I miss them terribly. With the holidays coming up I can’t tell you how much it hurts that I won’t be with them. Living in Ohio, so far away from my parents and sisters, my in-laws really opened their hearts and made me a part of every aspect of their lives. I never got the chance to say goodbye to them, there is no closure there. And I was so happy to be a part of their family.
Anger – Anger is probably my favorite block in the pyramid because reading about Anger validates every feeling I have. I felt like a crazy person with how angry I was, and am, sometimes. It’s not about being pissed off. It’s not about rage. Rage is a red-hot short lived burst of feeling with adrenaline pouring through you. This kind of anger is different. It’s black and like smoke and it creeps. It creeps from the darkest place in your heart and soul and seeps into every cell of your being. It is bitter and hateful and mean. It is the meanest you will ever feel and makes you feel sick, affected, like an illness. You would happily run over your ex in your car and then throw it in reverse and back over, not because of rage… because of this creeping anger and desire to cause pain and suffering. Remember how I said I thought I was crazy? Apparently it’s completely normal. Talk to any divorced person about this kind of anger. I’ve never felt it in my life, but it’s not so bad if I just breathe through it and give myself the chance to feel rather than feeling bad about it. It passes. But it’s a good thing we’re not in the same room when I get that mad. I wouldn’t get violent, but I’d pull out every hurtful thing I knew about him and exploit it until he cried. Because it’s dark and twisted. And not at all me. But it’s a part of the process and I’m not ashamed to put that in print.
Letting Go – Letting go is in the center of the pyramid because it’s a crucial part of healing and rebuilding. Letting Go is just that… the ability to let it go. Disconnect the emotional ties from your ex and move forward as one person. So far in The Journey all of the blocks are directly related to dealing with what happened – The Divorce. Moving forward is about just you as a person and discovering who you are. At this point I struggle with this block, and from what I’ve read it’ll be about six months before I’m ready to let it go. There are certain parts of my life that are exclusively my EH’s. Certain things that meant so much to me that I am not quite ready to let it go yet. For example, Christmas last year was not only our first Christmas as a married couple and new family, but the first Christmas that emotionally I let go of my immediate family and embraced my EH as my new family. It was a big deal for me, because Christmas was always a big deal in my family and is a big deal to me. And last year was about creating new memories and new traditions and a new life for every Christmas following. This year, it’s too soon to give that up. It meant too much. It helps that I will be with my family for this difficult holiday season but I also feel protective over those memories and also the urge to reclaim my own life by making new ones without reverting back to the pre-married traditions. This year, to symbolize this, I am getting my own live table-top sized Christmas tree to put on my desk that I alone will purchase the ornaments for. The Kyrston Christmas tree. Anyway, until I can conquer this block I am kind of stuck.
Self–Worth – is exactly that. Being divorced definitely lowers your self-esteem and self-worth and it causes you to feel a lack of identity. I invested so much of myself in my relationship and I am at a complete loss for who I am without that person in my life. I question what it is I REALLY stand for. The core of this being, of course, that being treated poorly in my marriage causes me to feel that I am undeserving of love and respect. Since I felt I was true to who I was, it makes it even harder because I was essentially rejected at the most intimate level. So, was I really true to who I was? Who am I exactly? This part of The Journey is about being focused on reinforcing a healthy self-image and really believing that I’m not so bad after all.
Transition – This block is about really getting to the bottom of why my marriage ended or perhaps why it even started in the first place. I am more than halfway through the pyramid or Journey at this point and it’s not until NOW that I’m really getting to the bottom of the Whys and Hows of my relationship.
The next line in the pyramid is as follows: openness, love, trust, and relatedness.
Openness – A symptom of being divorced is putting up tons of walls and being extremely guarded. It does not necessarily mean I am being dishonest, but I have put myself in a position where no one can hurt me. This causes me to be superficial in the new friendships I am creating and distant in my current ones. Loved ones around me are often bothered by this and possibly nervous and new people I meet either find me to be mysterious and alluring (ha.) or disconnected. Honestly I think the new ones aren’t paying that close attention and my loved ones know enough to know that I am better off left alone. I am cagey and tense, like a kicked animal I shy away from human contact. There are a select few in my support system that know me on an intimate level, but even some things I keep to myself. Opening up is hard after you’ve been hurt so deeply and profoundly. This building block is about learning, little by little, it’s okay to show who you are.
Love – Love from someone else is a difficult concept to grasp after the supposed love of your life has betrayed and hurt you so deeply. In the beginning I said what many divorced people say – I am never getting married again. It’s not about the wedding or status of wife, it’s about the level of intimacy and deep emotional connection that you have with that special person. Another layer of this would be that if I can’t love myself, how can anyone love me?
Trust – Also tying in with Love, learning to trust and letting those walls down.
Relatedness – Relatedness has to do with the love relationships you have after your divorce. Often you find yourself drawn towards the exact opposite of what you left, and since you are so vulnerable and in so much pain, your emotions and judgement are affected. This new person makes you feel even better than before because they are validating every thing about you the previous one rejected. Unfortunately, the point of The Journey is for ME to take responsibility over my OWN good feelings about myself rather than rely on another human being to supply that need. And it’s important to be careful here, because a lot of people seek therapy not after their divorce ends, but after that first post-divorce relationship (which you have put all your stock into) ends.
The next line is as follows: sexuality, singleness, purpose.
Sexuality – Now is the time, in theory, that one should be ready to be intimate with someone they trust and love and the prospect of dating, although scary, easily achievable.
Singleness – This is, for me, the block that I recognize as the most important but not necessarily my favorite. Singleness represents the ability to be single and completely independent – and be okay. As independent as possible. For example, I probably won’t be able to achieve this block… living with my parents. In order for this process to work, in theory, I have to be alone for a while and be content being alone. No, more than content. I need to be happy alone before I can even consider creating a life with someone else.
Purpose – It’s time to find purpose in my life and work towards goals now that I am a well-balanced, emotionally stable, independent, happy individual.
The final block: freedom.
Freedom – As I said in the beginning, freedom implies complete singular independence and emotional stability. Complete emotional well-being and self-reliance and such well balance that nothing can hold you back. It is not freedom from the chains of your previous relationship, but freedom from your own chains. It also represents freedom of choice, to be happy as a single person or happy entering freely into another relationship.
Now, in addition to those rebuilding blocks, I have some other thoughts.
The Book makes some very interesting points that I have never considered before. So many people talk about getting married and being in love and saying things like “You complete me” or “I am one half and you make me whole”. Even the candle lighting ceremony at some weddings uses two candles to light a third and the two original ones snuffed out.
The Book gets angry at this and instead proposes this instead: love relationships and marriages should be entered into ONLY by two people who have reached the end of The Journey successfully. They should both be as balances as possible and as self-sufficient (emotionally and otherwise) as possible to create a life together. When I reflect on my marriage, this was not the case. We were two broken people coming together to love each other through it, and even if the deep feelings are there – sometimes it just isn’t enough. If I had been a complete well-balanced person, perhaps I wouldn’t have been attracted to my EH in the first place (and the reverse is true as well).
Even now I find other people’s problems irritating when it’s obvious they aren’t working on them. I have no patience for it. This process is painful and uncomfortable and requires a lot of sacrifices. I’m basically performing an autopsy on my dead marriage and also an exploratory surgery on my own psyche – without anesthesia! It’s terrible. I hate it. But I recognize that it’s completely necessary and without it I will likely experience the same level of pain in the future, and I just can’t do this again. It’s awful. I don’t know how ANYONE does this more than once.
The process itself takes a solid year, according to most sources. Some (is not many) take 1-3 years or 3-5 years. Sounds like an awful long time to wait before entering in to a really serious commitment… but on the other hand that commitment is probably doomed to fail because I am even more screwed up now than I was before and a serious committed relationship would probably just distract me from working on myself.
On the plus side, I have an amazing support system that is here for me emotionally, spiritually, and physically. On dark days where I burst into tears
-side note… I have cried more in the past six months than I have in the past six years. I mean, at least three times a week. Ridiculous.-
they are there for me and understand I need extra love and patience right now. I am so incredibly grateful that I have these people, and my therapist says that it is crucial to a faster recovery and rebuilding process. And as much as it all sucks, I really have faith in the process and believe that at the end of it I will be a superhero or something compared to what I am now, to myself. So it’s worth it.
But man, does it suck.
I fear I wasn’t much help in the way of describing the process in its entirety. I remember that I told you how awful it was going to feel for a while and that it would eventually get better as time goes on.
I wasn’t really euqipped to give you any sound advice (if you even wanted any in the first place) because honestly, I don’t know how I got through it. I did not have a systematic approach to my “recovery,” so to speak, and that’s probably why it took me more than a year to really get to a good place.
Hell, it took me a year to even really get on the road to recovery.
As you said, it’s a dark time for anyone who goes through it. When my marriage fell apart, it seemed like any potential for my soul to feel joy was completely sucked out of me. Food had no taste. The sun didn’t feel warm. Even my tears–so deeply felt that they may as well have been tears of blood–felt like they had no meaning. The pain consumed much of who I was.
I couldn’t even find comfort in my children, because they reminded me of the fact that from that point on, I could never give them a “normal” life. I felt as though my EW robbed me of the one thing that I wanted to do for my children, which was to have them grow up in a singular family with both their parents in a loving marriage.
My daughter will grow up like me. She’ll never even know what it’s like to see her parents together in a loving relationship. Her earliest memories will be of a split home. If she turns out anything like me, it will be hard for her to discover and understand what it means to be in a healthy marriage.
But as time went on, I think mostly through subconscious effort, the pain started to ebb. I think I reached a point where I simply could not endure any longer under such conditions, so my psyche began to numb itself to the suffering. I know that eventually I started to consciously block it. In those inevitable moments when the blackness returns, I told myself that I had to get over it. I forced myself to block it.
You are going to turn out better than I did. You will come to be a healthy, independent, confident woman. Unlike me, you were mature enough to admit that you couldn’t do it alone.
Words cannot express how much joy it brings to me to see you so hopeful and to know that you’re going to come out of this alright. Your a strong person, and there is no doubt in my mind that you will one day cast aside the chains and go on to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Thank you for sharing your experience. It makes people like us feel less alone in the world, even if we are far apart.