A Letter to the Newly Separated or Divorced

An open letter to you, on the day you decided to leave your marriage:

Congratulations. You just made a really, really hard decision. It’s something you probably agonized over for months, maybe even years. You likely shed thousands of tears. If you have children, you laid awake in bed at night agonizing over which would scar them most: a divorce, or a miserable marriage.

The day you leave is officially the first day of the rest of your life. My wise cousin told me, about a month into my separation, that my life hadn’t begun yet. Everything up until this point, she said, was about creating my daughter. Everything from this point forward is about creating my life. She was right. And I believe that’s true whether you’ve been married two years or twenty.

Today is the day you begin living for yourself. And, if you have them, your kids. Always put them first, and you’ll never make a wrong turn.

I’m not going to lie to you. This is going to be a hard road. At times, it will be incredibly liberating. Other times, it will be so fucking miserable you will wonder if leaving was worth it. But you’ll know, even as you ask yourself that question, that it was. Absolutely, 100% worth it. You are brave. And, as they say, fortune favors the brave.

I have a lot of wishes for you. Things like confidence in yourself and your choices. The strength to not jump into another relationship until you learn how to be alone. Faith in yourself, your intuition, and a higher purpose. The ability to forgive and appreciate the gift that this experience is, no matter how awful it can be. And patience with the process, because it’s going to take awhile.

But you’re not ready to hear those things yet. This is your journey, and you won’t get to things like forgiveness until the very end.

So for now, fuck forgiveness. Be angry. After all, anger can be empowering, so long as it doesn’t go on for too long. Just don’t allow yourself to become a victim.

Learn how to make boundaries and stick to them – you’re not going to get over this unless you commit to yourself. You are no longer committed to your former partner. It is his or her responsibility to take care of him or herself. Take the space you need. Say what you want, and stick to it.

Call a therapist. If you don’t love that therapist, deep in your gut, call another one. And another one, until you find your therapeutic soul mate. No excuses. You can find yourself a sliding scale therapist. Commit to therapy for at least a year. Realistically, two or three years. Because even after you’re over this, you’re gonna love that therapist.

Accept help from the people who love you, because you need help. I know it’s hard. You don’t have to accept help from everybody. But please, accept it from somebody.

Don’t rush the process. I know it is awful. It really is. But you can’t rush art, and that’s what this is. You are transforming yourself into something new and beautiful, and that takes time.

I have so much to say to you, but mostly, I just want to say this: Congratulations. You took the first step of a long journey, and I know you can finish it. Keep your head up. I’m on the other side now, and I can tell you this: it’s worth it.

What it Takes to Get Over a Divorce

About three months after my separation, I read a book about divorce. The book said that it would take at least a year of misery before I started to feel better. It also said that denial is the first stage, and that I’d feel like things were improving, only to be hit with the brunt of the “devastation” a few months later.

That book pissed me off.

I didn’t appreciate some jerk telling me I was going to suffer through another nine months of this garbage, after I’d already been through three months of hell. I especially hated being told that I was in denial and things would be getting worse. Screw that guy.

Well, that guy was right.

Actually, he was only mostly right. He said that I’d be grieving for my marriage, and grieving for the loss of my partner. But I truly believe that I did the majority of my grieving for the marriage while I was still in it. I did have to grieve for the Life That Should Have Been, and I also had to accept the Life That Is. I think accepting the Life That Is was harder than letting go of the Life That Should Have Been.

The misery over the next year and a half was related to the personal work I had to do, more than my marriage. I knew I had work to do. I couldn’t simply look at the marriage and say, “well, that was his fault.” I am not perfect. At the very least, I put myself in that position, and I didn’t know why.

I’ve never looked at “personal work” as a hard or negative thing. I actually quite enjoy it (and for a long time I think I subconsciously chased difficult experiences, so that I’d be forced to grow). Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the amount of work I have had to do post-divorce. It’s been exhausting, depressing, amazing, anxiety-provoking, and liberating all at once. There were a lot of things I needed to work on. Self-worth was one of them, along with being okay without a relationship. Creating boundaries was another. But giving up my insane grip on control has been the Big Kahuna.

I viewed my life as a checklist. I was not brave enough to ask myself, “What do I want?” Instead, I went through the motions of what we’ve all been told will make us happy. On some deep level, I thought, “if I can just check off all these items, everything will turn out okay.” I spent my life worrying about things I had no control over, trying to fix things that couldn’t be fixed, and fruitlessly attempting to protect myself from being hurt.

Needless to say, it didn’t work.

When I faced my life, I had to admit: my attempt at keeping the “safe life” I thought I’d created intact failed. I worked at it for nearly a decade, and I couldn’t fix it. If a “safe” life can fail, where does that leave me? Is anything safe? Turns out, my life actually wasn’t so safe.

Some people think divorce is the easy way out. The reality is, divorce is harder than marriage – and I say that from the perspective of someone who did the work required by marriage. In divorce, you have to be brave enough to face the unknown, and you have to rebuild your life from the ground up. It is not for the faint at heart.

Now, in most cases I think this kind of realization would lead to a breakdown. I didn’t feel that I had that choice, though: I had to stay strong for my daughter. So instead of breaking down, I just kept going.

If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to guide you through my Divorce Analogy. (I figured this out after a lot of therapy, haha.)

All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. - Wayne Dyer

I think about life as a journey with neverending doors that might have something scary on the other side. For years, I was willing to limit myself to a tiny room. When I had my daughter, I took a good, hard look at that room and realized just how tiny it was. I wanted my daughter to see the world, so I opened the door and left my marriage.

On the other side, I found what appeared to be a creepy, haunted forest. Okay, I thought, I can handle this. I walked out the door and into the forest. I figured out a lot of the details of my life – I found some tools, I learned that I have an amazing support system, and I realized I was strong enough to carry the 80 pound backpack I had strapped to my back. I kept walking, and before long I found myself trudging through a giant pond of muck. I had no idea how long it was going to take to get out of that muck, but I just kept walking. I wasn’t depressed, but I was exhausted. I kept thinking it would end soon, and I thought once the legal process was over, I’d be out of the muck.

But I hadn’t actually taken the time to truly examine my life. It all seemed too dramatic. When I told people what was going on, I sped through the story, left the truly horrifying parts out, and quickly changed the subject. I simply couldn’t “sit” in my muck. Sitting with it was unbearable, and I was terrified by what would happen to me if I did. What if I sat in my muck and realized I’d never get out of it? Or that once I got out of the muck, I had a long, rocky road ahead, followed by Everest?

The true turning point was when I finally gave up, looked down and actually examined my muck. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, even though I was terrified. I’m not going to lie – it sucked. I took a solid look at my life and admitted: this is hard. This sucks. I am in this alone and I have absolutely no help. I felt like crap for about two weeks.

But it was a turning point. When you accept things as they are, and you admit that things are hard, you have compassion for yourself. And that compassion is the first step toward believing that you deserve more.

After my two weeks of feeling like crap, I realized I was out of the muck. I actually did have a long rocky road, followed by Everest. It was hard as hell, but from the summit I could see how beautiful my future was. I descended Everest and had another long road ahead. I knew I was getting to close to the end, but that heavy backpack was really starting to wear on me. I recently set it down, examined its contents, and realized this: I forgive him. I forgive myself. And I am thankful for this experience.

And you know what? That was it. It’s over. My divorce is finally over.

My end game is and always has been to create a better life for C. I left my marriage to give her a better role model. But the wonderful part of this process is that I am also a better person for myself. I am really proud of myself! I am truly a strong woman now, not a scared kid pretending to be strong. I am not angry anymore. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I have boundaries and I don’t feel guilty about them. I am happy.

At the end of this journey, I am ready to open another door…and I am thrilled to find out what’s on the other side!

A Divorced Blogger: My First 1.5 Years as a Single Mother

I want to begin writing again, but I will confess that I am beginning with some trepidation. Figuring out how to begin this story has been very difficult. I mentally crumpled up draft after draft and threw them in the digital waste bin, unable to properly articulate what C and I have been through. Re-reading this, there’s so much I have had to leave out about my personal experience—my divorce has been shockingly dramatic at times, to say the least — but I really think it’s for the best.

This will likely be the only post where I discuss C’s experience in detail. There is a very fine line between too little and too much information. I hope I have managed it well.

***

In January of 2012, I left my husband of five years. Out of respect for both his privacy and my daughter, I will not go into great detail about the reasons I left, but the important piece is this: Everything C knew of life, from the womb up until the day we left, was tension and anxiety. Any time I think of what C’s life must have been like, I think of our poor dog, who lived much of her life with her tail between her legs.

C held it together through the upheaval surrounding our separation, even though it included a lot of change. She and I traveled to Oregon to stay with my parents, took a ten-hour drive back to California, lived in a motel for nine days, and found a small new apartment where we shared a room. Everything fell apart four months later, though, when I got a job outside of the home.

Starting Daycare

I have been the only constant in C’s life. To this day, she has never spent a night away from me, and I am the only one to ever comfort her at night. For a child who often struggles to go to sleep and doesn’t sleep well at night, this is a big deal. She is two-and-a-half and still wakes up at night, scared. The first time she spent more than three hours away from me was her first visitation day with her dad at 18 months. At the time I went to work, C was a little over 18 months, and she had never been away from me for any real length of time.

I found a job, specifically looking for something flexible. I was very lucky to find something that allowed me shorter-than-average days (thanks Joanna!), so that C wouldn’t have to be away from me for 10 hours a day.  The job is also four days a week, which has proven absolutely necessary for C’s well being.

Once I found a job, I started looking for a daycare. I did a ton of research, trying to find the best possible place for her. When I found the daycare I settled on, I felt confident that she would be in a loving environment. There were 14 kids and 5 adults. The caregivers assured me that she would be well cared for emotionally and that they would help her through a difficult transition.

The transition to daycare was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I prepared her for it ahead of time, explaining what would happen, and taking her for visits. The first day I left her, she screamed “MOMMY! MOMMY!” and had a look of total terror on her face. I again assured her she would be fine, exited quickly per the Internet’s advice, and held it together until I got outside, where I literally collapsed on the sidewalk. I felt horribly guilty. Thank God for my mother, who reminded me that I truly had no other choice—I had to work to support us.

You never know how strong you are until you’re forced to be.

C’s experience at that first daycare was so traumatizing for both of us that it literally pains me to recall it. The daycare provider tried everything she could, but she couldn’t comfort C. During the first week, she cried most of the day and refused to eat or drink. By the second week, she was withdrawn and quietly depressed. When I came to pick her up after work, I would find her sitting in an outdoor swing with the primary caregiver, staring off into the distance. I started calling this behavior “going to her happy place.” Every once in awhile, she still goes to her happy place, but luckily I recognize what’s going on and can talk to her, which helps a lot (man, am I ever thankful she can communicate now!).

In the depths of winter, I discovered there was in me an invincible summer. -Albert Camus

The daycare lasted for nearly a month before I realized it was never going to improve, and continuing to leave her there would just cause more trauma. The daycare had a caregiver entirely dedicated to C, but she still couldn’t cope. They gave her two more days until she was essentially kicked out, but none of us (me, C, or the caregivers) could take it anymore. My mom flew down from Oregon (again) to stay with C while we tried to find another option.

Thus began the search for a nanny we could afford. The nanny I found, Cyndi, was sent from heaven above, I swear. She is kind and patient, super experienced, and willing to work with C—but even she was blown away by the level of anxiety that C was displaying. She became completely hysterical by the sight of bark chips, sand, shadows on the ground…and a lot more. It was heartbreaking.

Cyndi worked very, very hard with C, and I credit her with much of C’s improvements during that period. Part of their time was spent in a nanny share with Cyndi’s son, which was ideal because C was also afraid of other children. By the end of their time together (Cyndi and her family moved), C walked right up to a group of kids playing in a sandbox at the park. That absolutely never would have happened just a few months prior.

Since our time with Cyndi, we have slowly worked our way into a preschool setting. After Cyndi, C had another nanny, attended a Montessori school with only six kids, and is now in a very calm, structured preschool with 12 kids. Although making that many transitions is far from ideal, we had a lot of unexpected issues arise that made it impossible to find the right situation immediately. In the end, I think it has turned out perfectly, because her school is fantastic. She will be able to stay there until she starts kindergarten, and, for the first time, she is thriving in a school environment.

***

A child who grows up with a baseline of stress develops a fight-or-flight response to any negative emotion. I did my best to create as relaxing an environment as I could for my daughter and I, and in some ways this made life even more confusing to her at first. One time, about a month after we left, my mom realized she forgot her glasses at my house and made some sort of exclamation like, “oh crap!” From the backseat, C started crying: “Mimi sad, Mimi sad.” My mother felt awful, and of course C picked up on that, too. Her life had become very calm, and she reacted to even the slightest bit of arousal.

Trying to Find Help

Soon after I started work, I went to a Meetup of “freshly single mothers.” One of the women in the group had a horrible experience with domestic violence. Her son was in therapy at a clinic specializing in early childhood trauma, and had made great strides. I called the clinic as soon as I got home.

It took awhile to start the treatment, but C’s therapist has been incredibly helpful. She’s taught me how to communicate with C in a way that she understands, and in a way that offers her comfort. She’s also provided me with a long list of books (which I’ve added to), which have helped.

As her ability to express herself has developed, C’s inner turmoil has become more and more apparent. While it is heartbreaking to hear what’s going on inside her little head, she’s now able to understand my explanations more, and I’m able to ease her fears—currently focused on bugs, goats, and polar bears—more than I could before. I am so thankful that I found professional help for her when I did.

We are now a year and a half past the separation, and I have been working outside the home for over a year. It’s been about nine months since C started with her therapist, and I’ve found that a calm, relaxed home environment is what we both need to be happy. In many ways, things have improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go. She still doesn’t sleep, has a hard time with certain situations, and needs a very structured routine in order to feel safe.

Through this process, I have learned a lot about toddlers (sensitive toddlers specifically), and would love to share the information with others. While C’s emotions and reactions have been amplified due to her sensitivity and early experiences, many of her difficulties are issues that all toddlers struggle with. Some of the most common are separation anxiety, difficulty with sleep, fears of the unknown, and transitions.

Little kids don’t have to go through trauma to have a hard time with transitions. Despite this, finding resources to help C was really difficult. Many of the books and advice aimed at helping kids are for ages 3+, when you’re able to reason with them more successfully. Toddlers under two, on the other hand, face specific challenges…most notably a lack of ability to communicate. They’re also a lot more aware of their surroundings and other people’s emotions than we give them credit for. They may not be able to speak, but from a very early age kids can understand everything going on around them, and are constantly trying to make sense of it. At times it was hard not to talk about the divorce in front of C, but she could understand everything we said.

The Future

I am sure that we have many challenges to face in the future, but I definitely think things are (finally, hopefully) improving. One of my main goals for C is to help her learn to be a strong woman—to find her own voice and speak her mind, even if it doesn’t please others. This is something that I have found challenging in my own life, and I think my personal experience (and that of other strong women we know) might be helpful to her.

The past year and a half has been very bumpy, and I’ve had to be very vigilant about protecting my daughter, while teaching her that she doesn’t need to be afraid so much. This wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable sharing at the time, but it feels right now. I am looking forward to sharing with you all again.

If there is anything at all you’re curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with the entire Internet, I will contact you directly. Thanks so much for sticking around.

Marriage and Divorce: Sharing the Details

When sharing the news of my divorce with people, I feel very awkward. People usually have the same look of shock on their faces, and I can tell it makes them uncomfortable – especially if we aren’t very close. They want to ask what happened. They want to ask what happened really, really badly. But they don’t, because they don’t want to be nosy. And I appreciate not having to talk about it in detail – but I still feel awkward: should I tell them? Should I keep it to myself? What is the protocol in this situation?

In the very beginning, I really didn’t want to tell people I was getting a divorce at all, let alone the reasons why. My emotional state was a super healthy combination of fear, shame, and embarrassment. When you get married, you check off a certain box on the Success Worksheet, and unchecking that box feels like a huge step backward. And announcing it? It’s like saying to the world, "hey world! I have failed! Look at me!"

It’s especially difficult when you don’t know many other divorced people. From the outside, everyone else’s "Marriage" box is checked off in permanent marker. It remains to be seen how many of my friends are actually happy in their marriages, and how many are serving themselves up a big ole plate of denial for breakfast every morning. In short, I’m the first one to get a divorce, and being first sucks. It’s embarrassing.

But, as my mom predicted, I got over the embarrassment pretty quickly. Now I’m just sort of matter-of-fact about it: “Yep, I’m getting a divorce. No, no one cheated.”

People have different reactions. Mostly they want to know what happened, because they never saw us having any problems. Sometimes they want to know simply because they’re curious…but mostly I think they want reassurances: did you always know it wouldn’t work out? Did you guys mean "forever" when you said, "I do"? Marriages are hard – are you just quitters? Basically, they want to hear that our relationship was fundamentally different than theirs is. They want to know that nothing is lurking in their marriages, ready to jump out and cause the D-word. They want to know that divorce isn’t contagious.

I can’t give them any of those reassurances, though, because I have no idea what is lurking inside their marriages, just like they didn’t know Divorce was lurking in mine. All we see of one another’s lives is what we choose to share – and most people only share the good stuff. After all, marriages are made up of good, bad, and mundane, and it’s hard to paint an accurate picture of what your marriage really looks like when you can’t share every little detail. I think people are afraid to talk about anything negative because they worry they’ll regret it the next day when the fight is over. Or they’re afraid their friends will judge them. Or that everyone else’s relationship actually is as perfect as it seems, and they’re the only one with major (or not-so-major) problems.

Plus, talking about marital problems can ruin friendships – everyone has a different opinion about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and you might get a whole lot of unsolicited advice that you don’t agree with if you do choose to open up. And of course, most people only want to hear what they’re willing to confront – and some people will get angry if they hear anything beyond that.

I wasn’t ready to confront the issues that led to the end of our marriage, so I didn’t tell a single soul about them. Sometimes I worry that my friends and family feel betrayed because I was so silent.

I could end this post with a call to action: “let’s not be quiet anymore! Let’s tell the world every little detail, in the name of empowerment! Let’s blog about it!”  But I’m not going to. I actually think it’s a good thing that people aren’t sharing every single detail of their married lives on the Internet. In an online world where people can tweet faster than it takes to second-guess themselves, it’s good to know that some things are still sacred. Or if not sacred – at least private. Because too much honesty can come back and bite you in the butt.

Thoughts?

I’m getting a divorce

If you’ve sent me an email lately, I may have taken a very long time to get back to you. Here’s why.

Literally every aspect of my life is totally up in the air right now. Why? Because — I can’t believe I’m about to publicly declare this — I am getting a divorce.

I’m not one for airing my dirty laundry in public, so I am going to be short & sweet about this:

  1. I won’t be talking in great detail about what happened here. I don’t think it’s particularly mature and it’s not good for C. But no, no one cheated.
  2. C and I have moved into a small apartment and are sharing a room. I bought a twin bed for the first time ever. I’m not sure whether I’ll be sharing photos of our space or not, as I am feeling much more private about my life right now. I’m trying to create as relaxing a space as possible for us.
  3. Being a single mom is harder than I ever thought it would be, but not in the way I thought it would be. I feel such an intense need to protect C from this awful situation, and the knowledge that she is now from a “broken home” kills me. But it is better than the alternative, so that brings me some solace. She is doing well and seems relaxed (despite FOUR MOLARS coming in at once, people!). 

Overall, we are doing okay, definitely as well as can be expected. I have very much appreciated my clients’ understanding and patience (I swear, I really do have the best clients ever – Amy, I’m especially looking at you!), and all the support I have received from my friends – but especially from my family. I am so incredibly lucky to have my parents.

Please be patient with me as I try to get the details of my new life worked out in the coming months – I will be slower to respond to emails than usual. Thank you.