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How Do You Know When You're Over Your Divorce?

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Have any of you gotten to that place, where you've woken up one morning, in your apartment alone, an empty space beside you where your former spouse used to be, and you realize, "I'm over it?"

Somehow -- slowly and yet suddenly -- the heavy cloud of mourning, the knots of anguish in your stomach are gone. You never thought they'd go away. In fact, you might have learned to live with that feeling, accepting it as an inevitable imprint of divorce trauma. You've stopped fighting it.

And that's when it goes away.

There is no way to predict when it will happen. The aftermath of a divorce is comprised of many painful stages, and each time you think you've graduated past one phase, you enter into another one. I suspect it is different for everyone: It is a function of who we are and how long we were married for, not to mention the nature of our relationship and the manner in which it fell apart.

I was married for seven years of a fourteen-year relationship that began when I was 20 years old. When my husband and I separated, I was 34. I was a different person, with different needs (not that I ever really knew what I wanted at the unripe age of twenty). Our divorce was not amicable, and by the time we both signed our divorce papers, we had managed to destroy the memory of whatever good had actually existed.

So when our divorce finally became official, I was relieved. But not for the reason one might think. I wasn't relieved because I had finally extricated myself from a union I no longer wanted to be a part of. I was relieved because I thought I could finally move on. I could finally be free of the pain and sorrow that had been plaguing me since we had called it quits.

But I was wrong. Yes, we had signed on the dotted line, but no clear time line for healing had magically appeared. I didn't know what shape my immediate future was going to take or how I was going to feel next. Would I continue to be sad? Would I vacillate between the extremes of euphoric freedom, and despairing malaise?

The answer is, all of the above. While I had succeeded in moving out of one phase of divorce -- where I had been fixated on the tangible goal of making our divorce official -- I have moved into a murkier place, where I had nothing to "do" but move on with my life, and hope that with time, things would get easier.

And they did. They do. Over time, while I would still be seized by unsolicited pangs of remorse, random memories, and sometimes, even hallucinations of seeing my ex-husband on the streets of New York, it gradually became less frequent.

But I still hoped and wondered, "When will I feel normal? Am I even entitled to be?" My best girlfriend, also recently divorced, commiserated: "When will be free of these divorces? When will our history stop sabotaging our potential for a new relationship? When will our exes stop invading our dreams?"

For me, since I was married for so long, I wondered when I would ever accumulate enough experiences of my own, so that I could recount a story or memory to a friend and "I" would effortlessly fall from my lips, rather than "we."

And then one day, as I was turning a corner in the West Village, I spotted my ex-husband up ahead. He was walking in my direction. The last time we ran into each other -- almost a year ago -- my stomach dropped. I think I was shaking too. But this time, in the moment before he looked up and saw me there, I realized that I wasn't shaking. I was calm. I might have even smiled.

Is that the moment I was over it? I don't think so. I believe it was the moment that confirmed I already was.

There isn't a single defining moment that marks progress. Rather, it is an accumulation of hundreds of intangible moments - of tiny shifts - that build on one another and carry you out of that final phase of divorce. Sometimes all it takes is sign - a concrete incident - to shed light on your growth. These signs can come in many forms, such as:

1. You stop going to his Facebook page to see if he's changed his profile picture (since you're not friends you're not privy to anything else).

2. You no longer have an uncontrollable urge to talk about your marriage or "what happened to you" anymore (you can still write about it though).

3. You enter into a new relationship where you don't cry the first time you have sex.

4. You enter into a new relationship where you're not comparing the new guy to your ex, checking off the positive qualities he has that your ex didn't. Or perhaps you've come so far that you realize they have some good things in common, too.

5. Your sister calls you on what would have been your tenth wedding anniversary, to see if you're okay, when you don't even know what day it is.

7. He sends you an email out of the blue, and while you experience a disconcerting jolt of anxiety, it doesn't send you into a tizzy the way those emails used to. And even if you might consider writing back, you get too busy in your own life that the email gets buried in your in-box.

8. You find out that your ex has a new house, a new wife, and maybe even a new baby. Six months ago it might have driven you to the brink of email bombing, but now suddenly, you are too busy enriching your own life, that you don't care what is going on in his. Maybe you're even happy for him.

You no longer engage in, or react to, the above. Because life has distracted you from it. Your life. A life that you've built all by yourself, from the ground up. And when it whisks you away -- when it rescues you from the lurking tidal wave of your past -- I think it's a good sign. I'd even go as far as congratulating you on your graduation.