I got caught off guard the other night. A man I was talking to said, “Tell me about you.”
All I could think of to say was, “Uh…I used to be funny.”
“What happened to your funny?” he asked.
“I got divorced.”
There was a thoughtful pause before he whispered, “Me too. I used to be funny. I’d forgotten that about myself.”
Divorce. It changes people. The picture is of me this past week out hiking over some pretty sharp, big rocks. It’s not very flattering, but it’s real. And divorce is real and dangerous.
Those of us who have been through it belong to an association of soldiers with all the battle scars, but none the badges. There is no honor in divorce. But guess what? It’s time we come together to rid society of the stigma attached to divorce. While there is no honor, there should be no shame. Our situation became untenable and we decided to advocate for ourselves. Simple and complex as that.
In the beginning, when my pain was off the charts, and my heart was still shattering and my life still unraveling, someone gave me a book about divorce. It was a big ol’ clinical thing warning about the damage I was doing to my children. After that I ventured to the library and checked out a whole basketful of books to advise me how to navigate the raging mess the dissolution of my marriage had become. Let’s just say that over the years I read hundreds of books because I was desperate for help. I sought counsel through all types of therapy. I did a bunch of #$%@. Some of it worked. Some felt like a waste.
What did help was what I’m going to share with you because if you’re not divorced, it’s likely you love someone who is. I hope that if something strikes a chord with you, that you’ll pass this message along because I really do want to help wherever and however I can. It’s why I get so blasted personal.
Truth is, the divorce rate worldwide is declining. Know why? People are no longer taking the plunge. That’s right. Marriage isn’t the desired and sacred institution it once was. For those who do marry, the odds of divorce hover at about 50 percent. So, if you’re among the brave and lasting, kudos to you.
There’s a destructive power in divorce, and if you ever even gotten close to it, you know the soul damage it can do. It smothers your self-worth. It makes you question everything and everyone. It magnifies memories so that you’re not sure what’s true and what’s just recalled. If you’re not careful, it will make you say and do things that just aren’t you. In short, it skews you and it skewers you.
It also does something wonderfully transformative.
Number One: Divorce earns you a mandatory doctorate degree in Inner Reflection. Or at least it should. Nothing you do in life will test you like divorce will. It will make you burrow down deep into the pockets of your own heart. You’ll revisit the child you once were, you know, the one with all the dreams of unending romance. You’ll recall the teachers and nurturers and tormenters of your life. You’ll return to the roads that led you to where you are today. You’ll see which paths misled you. And hopefully, you’ll discover that no matter what’s been said by whom, you have incalculable worth. Your dreams still matter. Your mistakes do not define you. Regardless of how deep your wounds are, you can heal. You’re meant to heal and be whole again. Divorce might be the end of your marriage, but it is not the end of you.
Number Two: You get to be you again. This isn’t so much about who you become as who you un-become. That’s up to you, but you do have power to let go of the fear, the regret, the anger, and most of all the pain. Those things are not your enemies; they are your teachers. I was married for nearly a quarter of a century. That’s a long time to identify as a couple. I had completely abandoned the idea that I was an individual. On my own I felt weak and unstable. With no one there to lean on for support, I had to steady myself. That hurt at first, but eventually made me stronger than I’d ever been. I got acquainted with my own likes and dislikes, and figured out that the adjectives that had been used to describe me were not accurate at all. I got to define myself and that, my friends, is empowering.
Number Three: You learn to appreciate your comfort zone. Loneliness is associated with divorce. You used to share a life and now you don’t. That hurts. It’s scary as any monster can be. All of a sudden all the work falls to you and you have no one to divide it with. That’s unfair. But those of us who lived for any time in a disconnected union know that you can be lonely even when someone is lying next to you. Divorce tends to be hectic. After divorce, you’re busy. You don’t get a lot of free time, so you appreciate it when that opportunity comes. The blessing is becoming someone you want to spend time with. Sometimes I’ll say aloud, “So what do you want to do tonight, Toni? Netflix? Gym? Sleep?” Reading usually wins. I’m still not socially strong enough to request a restaurant table for one, but I really do admire the people who are comfortable doing that. And for someone who is not strong in math, I now understand the concept that 1 + 1 sometimes equals more than 2. That happens when two whole and healthy individuals unite. It’s mathematical magic that doesn’t happen when one partner is insecure and uncertain and needy. When I’m whole and steady and interesting, 1 + 0 can equal enough.
Number Four: You learn to value valuable people. (Please read that again because sometimes my thoughts only make sense to me.) What I’m trying to say is that divorce is a divider. You’ll soon learn the people who love you from the ones who only say they do. It might surprise you who shows up and who stays away. Just because someone shares your DNA doesn’t mean they automatically act like family. Friends tend to become family during a divorce. This is the stage where you learn to let go of the people who don’t help you evolve. This is when you get to use your pain to help others heal. That’s right. In the midst of your suffering, you’ll heal by helping someone else heal. Hurting people hurt people, but they also help. And when the sorting is done, you’ll know who to value because they’ll be the ones who value you too.
Number Five: You grow. You get to pick up the pieces of your shattered life and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones just aren’t part of you anymore. As for those tucked away dreams, with no one there to tell you that you can’t, it’s a whole lot easier to convince yourself that you can. You can survive. You can regain your health. You can pay the bills. You can get that job. You can go back to school. You can be ready when love finds you again. This shift in thinking expanded my world in all kinds of ways. Where there were barriers, there are now open doors. If there is a downside to this personal evolution it’s this: I no longer have someone else to blame for my failures. I must take complete responsibility for my choices and their consequences. It’s called adulating and it’s the skill that we divorced folks master first.
Divorce is not an end; it’s an exit. There you are driving full speed ahead on a road you think is going to last forever, when suddenly life whips you around and puts you on a different path. It changes the passengers in your vehicle. It slaps you behind the wheel. Don’t stop, my friends, use your pain to fuel you. Use the lessons you learn to help others. And use to the love you have left to love again. It’s within you to keep moving. If there’s an “up” side to divorce, it’s that no one will ever again hold you back or hold you down again, because from now on, only you decide your direction.