Even though my marriage had been troubled for years, finding out that my husband was leaving me for another woman remains one of the most shocking and devastating moments of my life. In a single instant I was thrust into a world of the unknown. For months I was emotionally distraught, enduring mood swings that took me to hell and back countless times throughout a given day. Not only was my present and future uncertain, but I also began second-guessing my past, questioning whether my 24-year relationship (16 of which I had spent married) was a lie.
I was lucky to have had (and still have) a tight network of close family and friends who helped guide me through this difficult period, people who offered me comfort, advice, and a shoulder to cry on when I needed one the most. Whether it was insight about marriage or life after divorce, their wisdom was given both honestly and lovingly.
That being said, I could only absorb so much. Merely listening to others proved inadequate for helping me truly appreciate the value of their words. Even though some of those who counseled me were far more familiar than I was with the circumstances and ramifications of my situation, and were both generous and caring in their often unsolicited but sage advice, before I could fully embrace their well-intended messages I had to first find my own way. Here are seven lessons about divorce I needed to learn on my own before moving on.
1. There are no wrong choices. When I married, my husband and I planned for the future. We set long-term goals. We plotted our careers. We saved money. We started a family. When we separated, I planned as well -- how I would get through every minute of every hour of every day without falling apart and letting my circumstances defeat me.
Crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head was not a luxury I could afford. I had responsibilities. Children to raise. Pressure to jumpstart my career. And, most importantly, the burning hope and desire that my life would one day in the not so distant future take a turn for the better. If a choice I made was one that could potentially lead me to that day, I knew it could never be a wrong one.
2. A lot of people care. I still remember telling the first of my friends about my divorce. She was very concerned and still is, as are the many others who want to know that my family and I are continuing to do well. Regardless, divorce can also be a lonely time. Dissolving a marriage involves loss, whether it is of a best friend, a lover, or a dream that was never fully realized. Such revelation may cause us to feel isolated. Though it may seem so, we are actually never truly alone. There are people in our lives who care about us. Whether it is one friend or 10, family, clergy, or even a stranger in the community, there is someone in the world who will take our hand and listen, even for a moment. All we must do is extend that hand. I, personally, am so glad that I did.
3. A lot of people don't care. When I initially began telling people that I was getting divorced, I was self-conscious. I didn't want anyone talking about me. I felt as if my world was imploding and I needed my privacy. As it was, I had the odd sensation of living in a fishbowl that everyone was looking at so they could discover the dirty details of my divorce. The truth of the matter was most people outside my inner circle didn't care. They were busy with their own lives and their own problems just as they were before my latest one. And though my issues may have provided limited distraction for some, they didn't hold anyone's attention for very long. I was old news before I knew it.
4. Things will get worse before they will get better. Soon after my husband and I separated I ran into a friend at the supermarket. She, too, had been divorced but remarried a few years later. When I told her about my recent separation, she assured me that my situation would only improve. In the long run she was absolutely correct. But what she neglected to tell me was that finding my "better" would be a frustrating process of taking one step forward and two steps back. As it turned out, those steps were necessary ones for getting me to where I am today.
5. Things will get better, but they will also get worse again. Divorce is so often described as a roller coaster ride. That's because the lows are especially low and the highs are especially high. Following my separation I quite literally felt as though I had left my stomach behind, and I became unable to keep food down for nearly a month after my husband left me.
Slowly, though, I began to climb to new heights, ones that I had never before reached. First kisses, new relationships and, later on, professional accomplishments. The world suddenly became a realm of endless possibilities for me. My mind would race and, at times, I would feel invincible. But as the biblical expression, "How the mighty have fallen" (Holy Bible, English Standard Version, 2 Samuel 1:25) goes, I would also come crashing down from those highs and sink to entirely new depths. The cycle would then begin anew.
6. The better will eventually surpass the worse. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one has surely endured a period during which they questioned how life could ever be enjoyable again without someone they once loved in it. My father died during the winter following my thirteenth birthday. For months after his death I would wake up in the morning and, for a split second, wouldn't remember that my father was gone. Reality would quickly set in against the backdrop of a rising sun and the understanding that the world continued to go on without him. Spring eventually came after a long winter, and with that renewal I started to believe for the first time in a long while that, although I was forever changed, there existed the potential for me to find happiness and spiritual growth once again.
I experienced a similar morning jolt during the weeks after my husband left. But as the shock of my divorce began to dissipate, I started making note of those happy occasions I had once taken for granted. Realizing that such moments were not always so easy to come by, I learned to appreciate them that much more and sought them out, even if I had to push myself to do it.
7. Not only will I feel better, I will BE better. Little by little my hard work began to pay off. The fog gradually lifted. And the day finally came when the loss of my marriage no longer defined me. Today I am stronger, wiser, and more enthusiastic about my future than I have ever been before. I still have my bad days, but I have come to embrace them as much as my good days. Those bad days are an occasional reminder to me of how far I have already come, and where I never want to go again. But when I do find myself in that place -- feeling sorry for myself or lamenting about my past -- I try to remember, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." - C.S. Lewis