Who are you when you're no longer one half of a couple?
Who are you when you're no longer who you thought you were?
Let's face it. Divorce is scary. Even if you initiated it or the break up is on amicable terms, your life is turned upside down. Your relationship is in the toilette and so is your perception of yourself and who you are in the world.
I remember when my first marriage ended. After nearly 20 years this thing I held sacred in my mind and soul imploded. Yes, he cheated. And no, I'm not blameless. His affair was the nuclear option but in reality, our marriage died by a thousand paper cuts. In the end we were strangers, separated by an emotional chasm too wide and too deep.
Faced with the finality of divorce, the severing of our relationship and everything I thought I knew to be true brought out the worst anxiety and sleepless nights I'd ever experienced. Broken apart, I spiraled down.
How was I going to do the rest of my life alone?
How was I going to finish raising two teenagers on my own?
Would I be able to pay the bills on my salary?
Who was I supposed to be in the world?
What was I supposed to tell everyone who thought we had the perfect marriage?
Will I ever feel happy again?
I felt as if I had been engulfed by a thundercloud of sadness and anger.
I felt sad for a long time. Sad that I couldn't make our marriage work. Sad that I failed. Sad that I wasn't good enough. Sad that our daughters were sad. When I didn't feel sad, I felt angry.
Why did he leave?
Why did he walk out on our family?
What did I do that was so wrong?
Why couldn't we make it work?
Why? Why? Why?
The dark season of my soul consumed me. In my bleakest hour, the helped I asked for arrived in a small book, The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz.
I devoured this book more than once.
In it, Ruiz writes, "just being ourself is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our life trying to satisfy other people's demands. We have learned to live by other people's point of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else."
For most of my first marriage I lived in fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough and I pretended to be who I was not just to please my ex-husband. When our marriage ended I came to fully understand the depth and breadth of the lie we both agreed to.
Ruiz' words struck my soul, "We know we are not what we believe we are supposed to be and so we feel false, frustrated, and dishonest. We try to hide ourselves, and we pretend to be what we are not."
In the margin, next to that paragraph, I scribbled "the inner feeling of being a fake."
Neither my ex-husband nor I gave each other or even ourselves the permission to simply be who we were. And after nearly 20 years, the masks we wore became too heavy. The chinks in the armor of falseness began to crack. Real people began to emerge from a marriage filled with lies, "shoulds," assumptions, and unreasonable expectations.
The first agreement taught me to be impeccable with my word. Because my ex-husband left me for another woman, I spoke the language of failure. "You're not good enough" was my hourly beat down.
According to Ruiz, "impeccable" means "without sin" and a sin is "anything that you do which goes against yourself."
Every time I blamed myself for his actions I was not being impeccable with my word. Instead of heaping blame on myself for his behavior, I learned to take responsibility for my own actions. I learned to stop beating myself up. I learned to stop rejecting who I was as a person and as a soul being.
The second agreement taught me to not take anything personally. This agreement hit me like a brick. As long as I took responsibility for my ex-husband's actions and behavior I was making the end of our marriage all about me. Ruiz writes, "Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness (say what?!) because we make the assumption that everything is about 'me.'" I learned that nothing someone else thinks or says or does is about me.
My ex-husband's actions, his words, and his thoughts were about him and the world inside his mind.
The third agreement taught me to stop making assumptions. So much of my first marriage was based on assumptions. And we both believed those assumptions. Assumptions lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to taking things personally. It's a vicious cycle of suffering and pain.
Ruiz asserts, "Often we make the assumption that our partners know what we think and that we don't have to say what we want. We assume they are going to do what we want, because they know us so well."
As I deconstructed our relationship and our marriage, I realized that our lives were based on "shoulds" and unreasonable expectations.
I learned that my assumptions kept me trapped in an endless loop of misery. I began to speak up, set and enforce clear boundaries, and ask for what I want. The more I practiced, the better I became.
The fourth agreement taught me to always do my best. I learned that as long as I do my best, no more or no less, then there would be no way I could beat myself up. Doing my best kept the shame and blame gremlins away, too.
As I did my best to heal and move past my first marriage, I was able to clearly see my actions and behaviors that contributed to the irreparable chasm. I accepted responsibility and learned from my mistakes.
Divorce recovery isn't an overnight process. It took me three years to heal and move on. The Four Agreements taught me how to face my fears, stand in my own power, forgive, and move forward in my truth and authenticity. Today, 13 years later, my life is filled with happiness and joy. If you are going through a divorce now, I want you to know your amazing new life awaits.
Peggy Nolan is a bestselling author and yoga teacher. She is passionate about leadership and personal growth. If your fear of not being good enough is blocking your path to a better life, download Peggy's free guidebook and audio, "Make Peace With Your Fear: Tame Your Inner Judge and Jury." You can also subscribe to Peggy's podcast, Let Go Move Forward.