This morning I was introduced to a woman whose eyes took me back three years in time. This post is dedicated to her and all the other “Lisas”….
“Lisa” and I met awkwardly and unexpectedly, in a waiting room, through a mutual friend. Our friend wanted me to meet Lisa because she is struggling through the end of her marriage, and our friend thought my blog might help her. I reached out my hand in hello and Lisa took it, but when she turned her eyes to me, my heart broke.
The tears were about to spill over, when she asked me, in a soft voice, “It does get better, right?”
I remember those days. I remember the fear and the helplessness. The near desperation and the loneliness. I knew no one my own age who was divorcing or had been divorced. I felt like I was alone in a sea of people making different choices from me. I didn’t have anyone to point to and say “THERE! That’s what I want to have! That’s what I’m aiming for, too!” I remember saying to Annie, before she had left her marriage, “I need to see a divorced woman who has made it to the other side. I need to see someone who is happy and content and past all of this. I need to see it and I need to see it NOW because I am afraid that it doesn’t actually exist.”
When your marriage is falling apart — whether because you are leaving or he is — you’re awash in doubts and regrets and uncertainties. It seems that every time you find something you feel certain about, another wave of doubt washes over you and you’re floating in ambivalence again. The pain of the broken dreams and smashed hopes is palpable; it’s true: depression hurts. And the whole time, you’re grasping for a lifesaver that you can ride to the other side.
What has amazed me (and my friends who came through it after me) is how similar the process is for most of us. No matter the reasons for the marriage’s failure, or the proportion of guilt assigned, the process of moving through those feelings and struggles is very, very similar. True, some people stall at one point or another, and some are more extreme in the expression of their feelings at particular places along the way, but, overall, the journey is very similar.
And thank God for that.
Because, Lisa, there are lots and lots of us who have been where you are. Who have had the same fears and sadness you are facing. Who have had to pick up the pieces of lives blown apart and start anew. Small steps…. little victories… until we begin to create a life that is whole and good and hopeful again.
In fact, hope might be the defining feature of these new lives. Not the feigned or desperate or false hopes you’ve experienced time and again as your marriage has unraveled, but the true, buoyant hope of possibilities grounded in the certainty of your own strength and knowledge of your own needs and desires. I have had my heart broken twice since my divorce, but it was an entirely different kind of pain. It’s not the pain of being stuck or of being hopeless. It’s the pain of being alive. And that distinction is real and true and makes all the difference.
Moving through a divorce is not easy, and anyone who claims it was for them is either lying or delusional. Building a new life is never easy, and when you’re weighed down by the guilt and fear and doubts that you carry out of a broken marriage, it’s doubly hard. But nothing truly worth having has ever come easily. Nothing. And when you reach the other side and realize that, somewhere along the way, you have put the guilt aside, overcome the fear, and cast off the doubts, you’ll find yourself standing in the middle of a life you hardly recognize but can claim as your own.
I remember reading the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” to my daughters when they were small. It’s the whimsical, lyrical tale of a family that sets off on an imaginary bear hunt (only to, quite comically, encounter a real bear). The part of the book that I loved, and stressed to my girls, was the refrain the family chanted every time they hit an obstacle — “Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Guess we’ll have to go through it!” And so the family does.
Divorce is like a bear hunt. There is no easy way around it or over it or under it. You’ve just got to square your shoulders, straighten your back, set your focus, and go through it. That’s the only way to the other side. Sitting in your misery and expecting it will change of its own accord won’t do it. Neither will hoping that someday you’ll have the strength. There’s never a “good time” to get a divorce. It’s never going to hurt less. It will suck.
But then, one day, it won’t.
One of the first men I dated after my separation told me about his divorce recovery from his first wife. He spoke about how he had simply put one foot in front of another for what seemed an eternity but was probably about 6 months. He told me how he’d begun to wonder if he’d ever be happy again…. And then, one day, he was running errands on an ordinary Saturday, and he went into the bank to make a deposit. He came out and the sun was shining. He stopped for a moment and let its warmth touch his face, and as he did, it hit him. He was okay again. In fact, he was kind of happy again. He said he stood in the bank parking lot and cried silent tears of gratitude. He had made it. He had made it to the other side. Life was beginning again.
I think most of us have similar moments we could relate. They are precious and they are sacred, and, if I could, I would box them up and deliver them to you, Lisa, to carry you through the days ahead. But since I can’t, you’ll just have to have faith that yours are awaiting you.
One small step after another. It’s the only way any of us got here. It’s how you’ll get here, too.
And someday, you’ll feel the sun on your face and the hope in your heart. Again.
P.S. — There is an email button on this website. Feel free to use it. 🙂