This time of year is stressful for a lot of reasons, but especially for families going through or emerging from a divorce. Single parenting, dating again, holiday traditions can all feel overwhelming when mixed with the emotional compost of a new divorce. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and feeling a kind of second-hand stress about the holidays. At first, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t stressed out — Was I being naive, thinking that I was doing well with my shopping and baking and planning and decorating? Was I foolish to think that my kids and I were going to have a nice Christmas?
Then it hit me: we’ve moved on. We’ve reached the next “new normal” on this journey.
This month marks two years since my divorce was final, 33 months since I moved out and into a new home, 19 months since I started my first full-time job in almost 6 years, 15 months since I started dating James.
Wow. Time sure flies when you’re knee-deep in emotional transitions, doesn’t it?
I realized this weekend that my life is no longer defined by my divorce. For those who have never been divorced, that might sound a little odd, but it’s kind of like realizing, some long time after the loss of a loved one, that life has moved on and the sharpness of the pain is gone…. the weight on your chest and your heart has been lifted…. the fog of conflicting feelings, regrets, “what ifs” has dissipated. Temporal milestones have been passed, and, finally, life has assumed a new normal. You don’t think about it everyday, and when you do, it usually doesn’t hurt anymore. This realization usually occurs, as it did for me this weekend, not as a dramatic rite of passage — “Hey, my new life just started!” — but as a recognition that, at some point in the recent weeks or months, your life has moved into a new space, adopted a new texture, achieved a new balance.
This weekend was nothing too out of the ordinary. I spent Friday evening hanging out with my girls, working on Sabrina’s history project. Saturday, my daughters and I went Christmas shopping and had a really lovely time of it, and that evening, the girls, James, and I went to my office Christmas party. On Sunday, Bryn woke James and me up at 8:00 by climbing into bed to cuddle us. Then, as James and I laid in bed talking for another hour, the girls came in and out to visit or show us things. When we got up, I made a big breakfast for everyone. Later, it was off to the theatre for the girls and me to see Tom Sawyer, while James headed out to watch Tim Tebow save the day again with a friend.
Nothing special. And yet, so very wonderful in its ordinariness.
There were so many moments this weekend that struck me gently as being easy and soft and so not fraught. They felt normal.
Normal does not, of course, mean perfect. James and I will certainly argue again; we’re too passionate not to. The placid relationship I’m enjoying with my ex will be disrupted at some point, for some duration. My girls will go through the usual ups and downs of childhood. I will have bad days at work and challenges with friendships.
But that’s all life. Plain, simple, normal life.
During and immediately following a divorce, life seems to run on adrenaline. Mentally, you learn very early in the process that your carefully constructed house of cards could come crashing down at any moment for nearly any reason — you see your ex happy with someone else, your children openly grieve the family breakdown, your forlorn bank account cries out for sustenance — and every small achievement you’ve racked up in the previous days or weeks evaporates. The crushing realization of your new reality smacks you in the face. Again.
But it has been a very long time since I’ve had that experience. Mostly these days, I move through my life caught up in the same kinds of mundane, normal concerns I had before my divorce — Did the kids do their homework? What will James and I do this weekend? When will I make time for grocery shopping this week?
I remember other times in my life when major transitions necessitated the development of a “new normal” — when I moved to England and again when I moved to the American West, when I had my first baby, when I became a stay-at-home mom, when I started my own interior design company — they were all wrenching in their own ways. Even good transitions are stressful and require lots of adjustment and flexibility; difficult transitions (like divorce) require even more so, along with seemingly endless emotional reserves.
When I first moved out, I was conscious of trying to create a “new normal” for me and my kids. This involved trying to integrate all the parts of our previous life that we needed to bring along, while making new patterns that better reflected my new priorities, choices, and environment. Achieving that “new normal” was a much-anticipated and celebrated benchmark.
I read blogs and articles about divorce now as if from a distance. I can recognize and appreciate tales of “getting through one day at a time,” but the experience seems far, far away now. I hear stories of first holidays alone and observe tentative dating excursions with a kind of glum remembrance. This is no longer the texture of my life, I realize, with no small amount of relief.
When I first started writing, nearly everything I wrote was pretty raw stuff about my divorce. Now, almost nothing is. Even when I do write about my divorce, it feels (and likely reads) as more even and less emotional. Time is indeed a wondrous healer. When I re-designed my website recently, I consciously dropped the tagline referencing my “post-divorce life.”
I don’t think of my life as being “post-divorce” anymore; it’s just my life.
Plain, simple, normal life.