I never, ever, ever thought that I would be checking off that nosy marital status box on forms: Divorced.
Thrown into the storm of divorce after discovering my husband's complicated secret life and finding out that he had no remorse or plans to change, I screamed and fought my way through divorce like a mad woman caught in a tidal wave.
I had been married 20 years. Who would willingly decide to give up all that shared history tied together so carefully with silver ribbons? Our fireplace mantle held photos of each of our three newborns along with pictures of each of them five years later, standing by our front door proudly showing off their new shoes as they started their first year of school. What about the photo of our family together, smiling in front of the two-story home that we stretched for years to buy -- one that finally had enough bedrooms for each of us?
And where would our golden retriever sleep now?
In the beginning I told no one. Ashamed, feeling rejected and reeling from my husband's callous comments that our marriage had long been over for him in his head so he had been out looking, I felt an all consuming mixture of shock, fury, despair, guilt, panic and worry.
Had I failed at marriage -- the most important job I had ever signed up for?
My parents had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the year before my world blew up. Why couldn't we have at least made it to 25 years?
As the shock began to wear off, I cried every single day, thinking to myself -- how did I get to this place? There must be some logical explanation why things had come to this. Thinking way too much kept me up late at night, as I replayed the possible reasons over and over in my mind.
Like a defense attorney, I needed to put together an airtight case with supporting evidence and testimony about why exactly this divorce had to take place. It was not enough to show my closest friends and relatives the lock box full of papers my lawyer sent to me detailing subpoenas, depositions and my husband's American Express bill that showed the charges for the trips for two that I had never gone on with him. I needed to convince the neighbors, the parents from our kids' schools and our friends from church too!
Soon I was defending the reasons for my divorce to the plumber who came to fix the dishwasher in the rental home I had to move into, the postal clerk when I turned in a change-of-address form and the dental hygienist when I was trying to explain why I'd missed my last several check-ups.
I could not shake the belief that divorce was wrong and the consequence was that I was now damaged goods.
When the divorce became final in 2008, I started to venture into dating again. Although I had tried to convince myself that it was time to move forward and start my new life, I was far from ready.
Each first date became a mirror of the previous one -- getting dressed up anticipating a fresh start, determined not to talk about my failed marriage and then ending up talking about it anyway. My date would usually respond in kind and soon it felt like we were in a Damaged by Divorce Group therapy session. By the time the server brought the check, I just wanted to rush home to read my new Oprah magazine and cuddle with my dog while eating Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
It took me several years of finding my own way and a lot of therapy before I could clearly see how divorce does not define me or make me damaged goods. Like a scientist taking apart a substance to find out what it is made out of, I had to go back and do the inner work to figure out why I so strongly believed that divorce was wrong and made me feel less worthy.
Now I have learned how to see divorce through an entirely different lens. A lens with more compassion and a clearer understanding that those who go through divorce need our support and encouragement instead of judgment.
A hug and a kind word go a long way. Our experiences in life don't always show up for us in black and white -- so many times there are grays mixed in, adding a richness that we can learn to value and appreciate, rather than feel that we need to defend.