Happy New Year: Hope after Divorce and Dealing with a Crazy Person

I hope it’s okay, on this New Year’s Eve, to cut and paste words from the brilliant and so-lovable Anne Lamott:

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker decades ago, that I’ve never forgotten, of two men chained at the wrists and ankles to the wall, off the ground, in a jail cell, in a cave. One man turns to the other, and says, “Okay, here’s my plan….”

That’s how I feel about the last two weeks of holidays, the days of death by cookie, bad nerves, tight smiles and overwhelm. Doomed, like a prisoner, or space alien, but you know what? Also full of hope.

Hope? What a nut huh?

What a nut. Yes, that’s me. When I tell my story, and people praise me for being strong or brave or positive, I know the truth. I had to be dragged into my battle, kicking and screaming while pretending that nothing was wrong – my marriage was perfect. But opening my ex-husband’s secret email account finally showed me the truth – my marriage was a sham –  2,000 pages of the most awful, perverse, and graphic words in front of me. Words that made divorce attorneys divert their eyes from mine. I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. My ex-husband had been lying to me and gas lighting me for years.

I had to stand up and walk into the light. And then I had to fight for three long years to divorce this man. I had to fight to protect my children from him. I didn’t do it for myself. I did it for my beautiful, innocent children.

And finally when the battle was over, the new crazy started: a new boss, a three-week deadline to fix up my home and sell it, two weeks to find a new home, and then the move, all in the middle of a family wedding and the holidays. At moments, I wanted to quit my job without notice, laugh in the face of my sanctimonious and childless co-worker, send my kids far away to boarding school – or give them away to the first interested person – scream at my real estate agent, and get out of my car at intersections ask drivers why they think it is okay to ignore stop signs. And then climb into bed until it was all over.

But at the same time, something kept propelling me forward. It was knowing that I was making progress – it was hope. Hope for a better life, a new home, success at work, financial security – a new life, peace.

What a nut. Someone who is giddy with hope for 2015 as she sits alone in her new furniture-less house on New Year’s Eve after a 6 pm dinner with friends. But hope is everything – I’ve never felt anything so powerful, except for love.

And talking of love and hope, tonight my friend’s bachelor-for-life brother proposed to his girlfriend. Another divorced friend got a break, a little vacation with her children for a few days, just when she felt she might crack. My brother has mysteriously found the love of his life. A friend-of-a-friend has survived year three of the most awful cancer, the kind that requires countless rounds of chemo and horrible surgeries that remove organs – her own doctor told their mutual friends that she would not survive, but the cancer is now in remission. My own father has survived open heart surgery this year, and now it looks like he will survive prostrate cancer too. Another friend is about to offer a stranger an incredible gift that might give her the second chance she needs in her very difficult life. And my extended family, which has grown apart through the decades, came together this year, bound together first by collective grief and then by the joy of a surprise wedding.

As my friend said tonight, 2015 is going to be wild. Yes, I replied, and interesting and very very mysterious, I am sure.

Happy New Year.

“Broken” as it applies to my family…

“Broken” as it applies to my family….

(A post by thewanderunner on Brieflections.)


^^^^^I love this so much.^^^^^

I could say x’s family is broken because her husband is an alcoholic, and she has an eating disorder and likely a personality disorder.

I could say y’s family is broken because her husband calls his children fat and lazy and no-good.

And I could say z’s family is broken because she openly despises her husband because he travels all the time and cheats on her with a younger colleague and possibly many others.

But I would never say those things. So why is it okay to say them about divorced families? My children are doing okay, and in my heart I know they are growing up to be two wonderful, caring human beings who know they are loved and cherished.

My children have been knocked around a bit. And life will knock them around more, like it always does. But I think they will be more prepared than most. They are not broken, and they will not be broken easily.


Divorce, With a Little Help From My Friends

When I first opened my husband’s secret email account in September 2011, I went into a state of shock. I stopped eating and sleeping. My hair started falling out in clumps. I had terrible chest pressure and problems breathing. Interestingly, the only time that my breathing grew steady was when I went running.

My brain did some funny things. First, it shut down all memories of my marriage – the good and the bad. Within 24 hours, I could hardly imagine what my husband’s face looked like, even though I had been married to him for nearly 16 years. I didn’t know how to act all in a sudden – that would require decision making, which would require thinking. I wasn’t capable of it. The only thing I could do was act like normal. And so I did. That means that after I called him at work and cooly told him to come home and get his things and leave our home, I brought my son to baseball practice, helped my daughter with her homework, cooked dinner, and tucked everyone into bed.

Then I drank a the most expensive bottle of red wine I could find – one that we were saving for a special occasion. I recall leaving a little bit left over in the bottle, thinking, “I am not the kind of mom who drinks a whole bottle of wine.” And then I pretty much passed out.

I could have slept for days, but my children were young, and they needed me. So I woke up at 6:30 am, believing it was all a bad dream. When I realized it wasn’t, I had to lie down flat again and remember to breathe. This would happen for months – I would wake up, look around, remember what was going on, and then bend over from the anxiety and tightness in my chest.

But afterwards I always got up and took care of my children. They saved me.

That first morning, after I dropped them off at school, I called my friend K and told her I had learned that my perfect husband was not exactly faithful to me after all, and that he had moved out. As soon as I said those words, she told me she was leaving work and heading to my house. Since then, she has been with me, listening and advising and supporting me and my children nearly every day. I have a feeling that when she unofficially signed up for this, she had no idea that it would take up nearly three years of her life, and that she would learn things that she never imagined about my husband – and perhaps about the world in general.

And along the way, we learned a lot about ourselves. Like, what did I first see in this man when I was 23 years old and first met him? What did she see in the man she nearly married at the same age? Why were we attracted to our opposites? Why did both of us stay silent when our instincts told us that something was wrong? How did the role of perfectionism contribute to all of this? And why were we perfectionists in the first place?

Some days I call her my brain. My own brain is a tiny bit out of whack when it comes to this divorce and the circumstances leading up to the breakdown of the marriage. I tend to forget things. But she always remembers. “Madness,” she’ll say, “he sent you that threatening email last Easter, and you were so worried, and you didn’t reply for three days. And then he sent you another threatening email because you didn’t reply fast enough.”

“Ahhhh,” I say. I do remember. And then I wonder if perhaps I just don’t want to remember.

I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have her friendship and support for the past nearly three years. And of course, I would say the same about my father’s overwhelming support. And then the support of so many other friends – and I have to confess that I was once afraid that some of these friends would dump me when they found out that my soon-to-be-ex was a lunatic who engages in some really repugnant and scandalous behavior.

But as it turns out, I didn’t lose any friends. In fact, I’ve made more friends along the way, and I’ve reconnected with old friends: D and C and J and V and so many more. I have no doubt that some gossips talk about my divorce and my husband’s dramatic weight gain and overall bizarre new appearance. I’m sure that even more people wonder what the hell happened to him, and to the marriage. I hate when I occasionally hear pity in people’s voices when they talk to me.

But I’m told the pity will fade away in time, and, of course, gossip and speculation gets old too, and gossips will move on to a more interesting story. Either way, no one has told me any gossip specifics, and so I make the conscious decision to remain happily oblivious.

This ordeal has also brought me closer to my father. Ironically I was scared to tell my parents about my separation because I was afraid they would freak out and blame me. But both of them have refused to judge or blame me for one thing involving my marriage. I’ve also learned that almost nothing shocks my father. That he deals with difficult situations like he would deal with a business deal – he takes out the emotions, which leaves him able to see all the different sides of a problem. He’s taught me some critical life lessons: he was the first to say that you should never make the “other guy” feel humiliated – that you should leave him with something, even if he doesn’t deserve it. He’s taught me that you don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t control everything – you need to let people do their work, and you need to let go and trust them to do the right thing (even if you don’t particularly like them for fully respect them). And he’s taught me that you need to focus all of your energy on the most precious part of the deal: in this case, the children. And then you marshall all your strength and make all necessary sacrifices for the fight to keep them safe.

Along this awful journey, I’ve become closer to countless friends, as my obvious vulnerabilities make them more likely to share what’s going on in their lives. I’ve learned that the old expression, “Never judge anyone. Because you never know how their life is & what they’re going through….” is very true. I am surrounded by people who, by most definitions, lead charmed lives, at least on the surface. But difficulties touch everyone, sooner or later, and there is no such thing as a perfect life. Everyone struggles.

And lastly, there are the divorced moms I’ve grown to know, each one braver and cooler than that last. I’ll never forget the first time I went out with a group of them for drinks, shocked that they were laughing out loud about the horrible things their ex husbands had done. No one I knew talked openly about problems like that. What a relief, I thought. I was able to breath again, listening to them. I would say that most divorced moms are unshockable, but that’s not entirely accurate. When they hear something that shocks them, they stay silent and absorb it. They live in worlds that are no longer all black and white, and because of this, their empathy and acceptance have been expanded in all directions.

And so now I start to meet the working moms. So far, they have greeted me with enthusiasm, and with tons of practical advice, calendars, schedules, and childcare options. I admire their focus and energy. We’ll see if it rubs off on me.

And so I fight on, sometimes feeling alone, but never really alone. And that is the difference between me and soon-to-be-ex.



Divorce: It Takes Courage

I’ve been reading this nutty little book, Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life by Abigail Trafford. It was first published in 1982, and an old boss of mine recently told me tshe read it when she got divorced more than twenty years ago.

The fact that this book is still in print says volumes about divorce. The book treats the craziness of relationships, breakups, and the aftermaths in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s almost unsettling. Divorce truly is the craziest of times, and it makes people say, do, and feel things that they previously couldn’t imagine.

Here’s one of my favorite passages:

A combat soldier’s definition of courage is moving from a safe place to an unsafe place (in order to win the battle). For an infantryman under fire, courage is leaving the safety of a foxhole for a new position. In psychological terms, the definition of courage in divorce is moving from the safety of one stage to the uncertainties of the next. Courage in divorce means moving from the safety of shallow feelings in the Hummingbird Phase to the pain and confusion of the Foundering Phase. It means moving from the safety of despair in the Foundering Phase to the making of choices and taking risks for a new life in the Phoenix Phase.

So, it takes great courage to move forward through a divorce.

I love that statement. It’s so true, but because our society tends to think of divorce as a failure, we overlook the courage it takes to move through the process of divorce.

Every single decision we make is a form of courage. It can just be showing up. Going to the school cocktail party without a spouse. It can be the process of detaching. Making a conscious decision to let go. It can be the day we realize we need to get a job. Or let our friends set us up on a blind date. Or the day we refuse to let our ex get us angry anymore.

It can also be identifying our role in the breakup of our marriage, no matter how large or small. On some days, it might just be getting out of bed in the morning. Other days, it’s moving to a new neighborhood and starting over. Or letting go of a home that we can no longer afford.

And at the beginning, it can just be walking away from a bad marriage. As simple as that. As Ann Landers said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

I think that most of us beat ourselves up, over and over and over again, about our divorces. We don’t realize that divorce can be a show of great strength, and each little step in getting through a divorce is courageous.

It means we are strong, and we are courageous. As Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Giving Back the Name (DPchallenge: power of names)

“I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.”
                                                                                                        ― Jeanette Winterson  

When I got married nearly two decades ago ago, I took his name because I thought he was amazing and I wanted to be associated with him.

Only much later did I learn the truth.

It’s an unusual name that sounds ordinary. With the exception of my soon-to-be-ex, his parents, and a dead poet, I have never met another person with this same name. One reason is because my father-in-law says he has no living relatives. Not one.

How is this possible, I’ve always wondered? He started out with many brothers. What happened to them?

“They all died,” he told me.

“Oh,” I replied.

“That seems sort of strange,” I thought. But I said nothing more.

And now that the divorce is nearly final, I waver about giving up this name. It’s not an easy decision because my children share it. Do I really want to have a different last name than my children? How would this make them feel? Would they feel like I was divorcing them too? Would things get confusing at airports and the Department of Motor Vehicles? If my soon-to-be-ex got remarried, what would happen? There would be two of us, and it’s pretty safe to say that we would be polar opposites of each other in every single possible way except for our name.

I don’t want to share a name with someone like that.

Then again, I have a divorced friend who says her children can’t change their name, so she has kept it too. She says she wants to help “class it up” for her kids.

I love that.

But I’m still on the fence. I went to a job interview with someone who had once worked with my soon-to-be-ex, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat wondering if he would make the connection. What would he think of me? My work ethic? My values?

It’s not fun to go through life so connected to someone whose actions make you feel ashamed.

When I google my ex, I find all sorts of things that embarrass me. Like a YouTube video. I won’t share the details, but it involves public speaking. He looks ridiculous, I think. When I google more, I see his overinflated bio. We used to argue about that. I always wanted him to tone it down. Of course he wanted to pump it up.

I suppose it could be worse. At least google doesn’t reveal “the events leading to the breakdown of the marriage.” If so, I would be at City Hall right now, lined up to change my name.

When I google myself using his name, I find little bits and pieces of a life. But when I google myself by my maiden name, I find only strangers with the same name.

Online, I exist only by his name.

In my twenties, I didn’t think too deeply about changing my name. Maybe there should be a movement out there to let young women know that this is sort of a Big Deal. Once you change it, it’s hard to go back and become yourself again. It’s more than just paperwork and social security bureaucracy. It’s just like when you have children with another person, you may never be able to move back home a few states away. Ever.

No one ever tells you these things. But you should know them before marrying someone and connecting yourself to them in a way that can never be broken neatly.

One day I’ll wake up and know what to do about this name. I’ve always loved new beginnings and fresh starts. The first day of school and new school supplies. A  blank page in a journal. A new car, a spring garden. Visiting a new place and imagining myself moving there. Perhaps my old name would become my new name and give me a fresh start in life, without the googling and the baggage and my dark connections to a name that never fit right anyhow.

This post was written in response to the Daily Press Power of Names Challenge.