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Today is the day that my 18-year marriage to my husband has come to an end. As I recollect our countless memories, military deployments, and PCS moves, while gazing into the eyes of my two children with special needs, I am overwhelmed with mixed emotions.
My divorce has been a heartbreaking tragedy and more painful than I ever could have imagined. A different kind of pain – not the same that I felt at times over the years, but more of a searing, gunshot wound that, although healing, is still very tender.
Committing your life to someone, and then having that bond broken, absolutely changes you. And the thing about grief is you don’t know how you’re going to come out the other side. I know I did everything I could to prevent the divorce from happening. I played the “suck it up” game, compromised my beliefs, showed resilience, attended marriage counseling, individual therapy, and fought so hard to save the marriage. I exhausted my resources. But the weight of it all came crashing down when I slowly realized that I was barely breathing, let alone living.
Very few people know about our divorce, although the decision was made six months ago. It’s not something I am proud of; in fact, I still feel, at times, like a failure. Over the last six months I have fought, argued, cried, screamed, threw self-pity parties, faked lots of smiles, attempted to be a good mom, and then cried myself to sleep every night. The hole I began digging got deeper and deeper, with room for only me and utter despair and sadness. Fear overtook my life: fear of being a single 37-year old mom with two special needs children, no paying job, no real marketable skills, and no savings.
In addition to the divorce process, I had to sell our beautiful home, pack our belongings, and move. I decided to stay in the same city because of Addie’s healthcare, but I could no longer financially afford to live in our neighborhood area. The stress of finding a new home was significant, but, through the grace of God, I got through it. We had to change schools, which meant Addie lost her beloved Mr. Charles, her 1:1 aide. Even today, I tear up when I talk about his everlasting love for my daughter. Again, another heartbreak, but we’re getting through it.
Lessons abound during a divorce – most of which no one should ever endure. And I’ve learned quite a bit over the past six months, both bad and good.
I have learned that honesty hurts really badly, but living a lie is worse. My husband had exited the marriage long ago, yet because “it was the right thing to do,” he stayed in the marriage. The signs were there – don’t get me wrong – but I was too naïve to see them. I was too busy trying to morph into something, anything else to try to make it work.
I have learned that social media really sucks when you’re going through a private, personal matter. A few ‘friendly’ photos can turn you into a raging, angry, embarrassed, hot-mess really quick. An easy fix though – he unfriended and blocked me, my family, and our mutual friends. This actually turned out to be a blessing, though. I am no longer privy to what he’s doing; therefore I have no need to get upset.
I have learned that self-harm is not the way to go. I stopped exercising and running, stopped watching TV, and lost interest in pretty much everything. I picked up a cigarette and candy habit, though, and became a BOSS at googling “how not to get screwed during a divorce”, learned to compute complicated child support formulas in my head, all while fearfully realizing just how financially broke I would be once the divorce was final.
I have learned that I don’t necessarily fit in the military community the same way anymore. It is a significant issue for me, as this ‘club’ is the only thing I’ve known my entire adult life. I don’t know who I am without being a military spouse. And this identity crisis is probably more painful for me than the divorce itself. I don’t want to leave the club – this is where I belong – yet I’m different now, and not accepted so easily.
But on the other hand, I have learned beautiful things during these past six months.
I learned as I watched my mother’s strength as she said and did all the right things for me because she too has been in my shoes. As I frequently raged and cried, she allowed me to experience it without giving me empty promises of, “It’ll get better.” I didn’t want to hear that then, and I’m not sure I’m ready to hear that now.
I witnessed the pure definition of resiliency through my children. Their innocence didn’t allow them to fully understand that impact of divorce. They just want to love and be loved in a stable and safe environment. That simple.
I have learned that being vulnerable isn’t all that bad. It’s really not weakness like I’ve always thought, but the meaningful core of human experiences. Sure, it’s been chock full of risk and uncertainty, but being vulnerable has allowed me to connect with others on a deeper level and actually be open to experience love and joy like never before. I can honestly say that vulnerability has allowed me to be courageous.
I have learned to pay way less attention to the things that don’t really matter. I lived in survival mode for so long without realizing it, and things that were previously front-and-center have taken a seat on the backburner during this time.
I have learned a whole new appreciation for single moms, state support, and available services for those just trying to make ends meet.
I have learned that sitting still and just breathing is good for the soul. Taking it all in, both the good and bad and sitting with it can be more powerful than planning and plotting the next move.
I have learned that my family and close friends will stop at nothing to provide me with an abundance of comfort and love, no matter what. It’s humbling to witness that love truly never fails, and I will forever be grateful.
The biggest lesson I learned was that no amount of self-loathing or destruction will fix the problem. Plainly, shit happens. I am not less of a person for being divorced, or a failure for not having a successful marriage. All of that negative talk was just fear beating into my head. And once I faced fear head-on and made the decision to change, everything became a possibility.
The children are adjusting so well in their new home and school. Emily is playing in the school orchestra and has emerged as a leader in her class. Addie is handling the change remarkably well, and although there has been regression, I know that she will find her way. And best of all? They’re happy. Happier than I have seen them in a long time.
These last six months have been kind of a crash course in learning to move on and choose happiness over wallowing in self-pity. I’m still getting my bearings, but life is beginning to be smoother than it was in my tumultuous marriage or in the early days of the divorce process. I think that has a lot to do with what I’ve been learning along the way. I still am trying to kick the Marlboro and candy habit, clean off the dust from my running shoes, and figure out who I want to be. I want to be useful and connected again, but I think it will take time to figure out how.
Life is not a war room. Love does not equal pain. Bad stuff happens to good people. Because tragedy, no matter if it’s death or divorce presents us with choices that we never thought we needed to make. There is a choice to give into the darkness, to let the hurt, anger, and despair fill your every pore and suck you into a hole where no one can find you in your emptiness. I’ve been there –some days, I still visit. But the other choice is to find meaning. And as I write this, I still don’t know what the meaning is, but I am looking for it.
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