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I got a divorce. For a time it did feel like the end of the world, and with absolute certainty I can say that I was the end of A World. But, in fact, it was one of the best things that has happened to me.
When I had to announce that my marriage was ending, I felt exposed, raw and unworthy of marriage itself. Instead of incubating human life and picking out nursery room curtains as I had anticipated I would be doing by then, I was performing a post-mortem on my relationship.
Said post-mortem had me thinking thoughts like “I unknowingly sabotaged my marriage,”and “Remember all of your mistakes, you deserve it." Also, “Get over it, people break up all the time,” “You have it so much easier than people who get divorced and have kids” and the ever-popular, “People are dying in wars and genocide and you’re an asshat for crying into your sauvignon blanc.”
From the moment I learned that my husband was unhappy in our marriage to now, a lot of middle happened. The middle was full of five million crying jags, lying on bathroom floors a la “Eat Pray Love,” feelings of worthlessness and shame, lots of red wine, apartment hunting, a cannonball into the self-help pool, and more Seamless.com ordering than you can shake a stick at.
But somewhere in the middle a couple of really good things also happened: I realized that yes, this was my life right now, but that this too would pass and everything was going to be OK. The other thing was that I realized I matter, and that I was doing myself a real disservice by not making my wellbeing my responsibility. If I was going to take a shot at really enjoying being on this pale blue dot, I was going to have to change some stuff, namely my thought patterns.
If you had asked me 12 months ago if I invested in taking care of myself I would have said, “Sure, of course I do. I go to the gym, I put makeup on every day, I meet my responsibilities at work, pay rent on time, purchase the occasional massage and pay an ungodly amount on hair color. Yeah, I take care of myself.” However, the truth was I wasn’t even in the general vicinity of liking myself.
In a moment of clarity, I realized there was something intrinsically wrong with the fact that I felt I didn't deserve to talk about my relationship breakdown with my closest family and friends because I was afraid it was inconveniencing them. I would get off the phone with my sister and think, “She has kids, and I just rambled on too long about that.” I was even telling my therapist a lite version because it was impolite to drone on when she probably had patients who were suffering from horrible traumas.
This break-up had been the centerpiece of my life for roughly eight months, and I was acting outwardly as if it was no big deal, and I was totally fine. When the truth was, it was unbearably painful at times.
If I hadn’t have gone through this break-up, I never would have discovered that this “taking care of and liking yourself” business is something you have to understand on a cellular level.
In an effort to maintain an outer shell of a normal human adult, I was policing myself by drinking a cocktail comprised of the following ingredients: hyper-awareness, self criticism, shaming and external validation, garnished with a sprig of self-deprecation to make it look cute and approachable. However it slowly dawned on me that knocking these things back was not going to get me to where I needed to be, which was to face my bruised self-worth and stop talking to myself like an asshole. The mixture of self-loathing and anxiety was a product of unrelenting negative self-talk and I needed to find another way.
I had to ditch the theory of relativity in regards to my “Shut up and don’t complain when others have it worse” mental habit. What I was calling whining and complaining was actually grieving, negotiating and accepting. Part of the human experience is sharing who you are with people who love you and I had been more or less reporting on my breakup like an out-in-the-field correspondent.
The next thing I needed was to cultivate a little patience. I wanted to be in the “she’s moving on” movie montage section of my life, underscored by an Aretha Franklin song, complete with makeover and revenge weight loss. This was not happening, and I was berating myself for it.
I had to learn the hard way that you can storm around something but it will just show up in your path again if you haven’t learned the lesson it’s trying to teach. The third juice cleanse was not going to rid the 20 pounds of unwelcomed break-up weight because I was using it as a cheat to the finish line. And the lesson was that this time, I would not be deriving my self-worth from my appearance.
I had to annoyingly accept that grieving, healing and learning takes time. This has been the singular hardest part of my journey. I have to constantly remind myself that change is sometimes small, subtle shifts.
I had to resist the urge to build a story. Writing the movie of your relationship is a natural coping mechanism. A friend asks, “What happened? Why are you getting a divorce?” and you want to construct a narrative complete with character arcs and exciting twists and turns! We're conditioned for beginning, middle and end.
Eventually I had to be okay with knowing why some things happened and some things didn't. Having all the answers wasn’t going to make me feel better. The joke would be on me if my story was: He broke my heart, I wasted my best years and I'll probably never have children. I knew I had the capacity to live more positively than that.
Tied to this was that I actively decided to bow out of the blame game. Mining a relationship for lessons and value is different than pointing a finger and pinning it on him or myself. Even if my ex took the whole thing on his shoulders and accepted blame, that wouldn’t change things for the better, partly because that could never be true and partly because it just doesn’t feel good to blame.
Another element that was important to me was to see myself rise from the ashes with a modicum of grace. Knowing there is a choice to accept this as an experience in gratitude and opportunity. As soon as I said I was done with trying to make the relationship work, my ex jumped into another relationship and is now going to having a baby with her. (And when I say “as soon as” I mean that shit was HOT on the heels, before you could put the “o” in “over.”)
But I have everything I need in the here and now, and can have everything I want in the future which includes a relationship, beautiful children, and a Celine boston bag in black. I put a ban on any investigation or seeking out information about the other woman. I consider it an accomplishment that I genuinely wish the very best for my ex, the mother and the baby.
It may sound like a humblebrag, or maybe just straight up brag because it is. It feels like an incredibly classy relief that I’m free from a mental cage of negativity. In turn I have an opportunity to allow my life to play out in a way that’s more aligned with who I am.
Lastly, I put necklaces on my insanely adorable dog, took pictures and grammed the shit out of it.
I am still miles from where I want to be. I have habits that are the product of my self-hatred and I have to be patient and trust that I do like myself enough to escort them out of my life.
When I’m having a bad day, bemoan that I can’t fit in my favorite jeans, or wake up hung over for the third day in a row, I acknowledge the anxiety, bid it farewell and remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I absolutely believe that marriage and long-term commitment are possible and achievable with maximum results. To that point, if my marriage’s result was for me to engage in the cringe-worthy-eyeroll prospect of liking myself, then I gratefully accept it.