6 Things I Learned When I Got Divorced

LAYERS OF CLAY 

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On a cold night a few years back, I sat on the floor of a dark room in my best friend’s house. I stared at the wall for hours, reserve tanks of tears emptying from my catatonic eyes as I wondered how my life had gone to hell. One painful thought spiraled round and round in my head: After six years of constant togetherness, I would probably never spend another night with my kids in our home, never share those end of day giggles before clicking off the light switch and slipping from their familiar, messy room. I felt completely powerless.

hand-ring_smallIt was the deepest pain I had ever felt.

A blizzard hit that week. Snowmaggedon, they called it. Some preferred Snowpocalypse, but I knew what it really was: a Claypocalypse, the death of all I thought I was and would be.

After a couple years of wedded bliss and a couple more of utter anguish, my marriage had gone down in flames. Life altering failure. You don’t walk away from a shredded relationship like that without scars.

Have you ever heard that part of the wedding vows where they talk about cleaving to the other person? I wonder who came up with that part. It’s the perfect, bipolar word. To cleave can mean either to stick together or to cut apart. The word cannot even stay true to itself. It’s why divorce is a horror show with throbbing wounds, severed organs, and LOTS of blood.

Maybe you’ve known such pain. Maybe you’re afraid you soon will. I’ve been there and want you to know you can make it through. I’ve never written about my divorce before but with the passing of some years I’ve discovered how powerful it can be for a drowning person to see a survivor planted firmly on shore.

If I could go back in time, I would slog through that raging storm to find myself on the floor. Here is what I might say to myself, and what you should know if you’re facing your own personal apocalypse.

 

1. You can survive this.

This feels like the end of you but it doesn’t have to be. You can make it through. When your breath fails and you fear your heart might soon do the same, believe you will survive. Even when your dark night of the soul appears to be endless and you feel dead inside, you do not have to stay that way forever.

This might be the hardest thing you ever face in your life, but I am not slinging clichés when I say it will get better. You’re going to take time to heal, and over weeks and months the distance gives perspective. The wounds begin to mend. It’s a long process to be sure, but a forward moving one.

2. People will come to your aid.

They may feel rage on your behalf or find other ways of trying to protect you. Caring people will feel sympathy and empathy in love, but here is the key:

You have to tell someone things are bad and ask for their help.

Good people are going to come through for you. You’ll connect with folks you never knew before all of this. You never know where help might come from. A person or two may appear from nowhere and move on soon after. Like angels they will be there for you just when you most needed them, only for a moment. Lean on these people. Reach out to them in your weaker moments.

Look to surviving members of the Divorce Force who escaped marital shipwrecks and crawled from those despairing depths—gasping and wounded—back onto the shores of tomorrow.

3. Beware of perfect Puritans.

I won’t lie. Not everyone will be helpful. When you’re divorced some people look at you like you’re wearing a big scarlet D across your chest.

There are people who somehow think all their failures are lesser than yours because they haven’t gone through divorce. Ignore them. You are not the sum of other people’s judgments. Don’t languish under the callous chides of the “I told you so” crowd. Gravitate towards compassionate, life-giving people who care more about you than about being right or protecting their moral code.

For instance, if someone tells you to stay in a marriage when you’re being abused, I disagree. I’m not a counselor, just a guy who went through a tough marriage, but if you are being abused get out of that situation. If anyone is telling you to stay for ANY reason, do not listen to them. Even if they claim to speak on behalf of God. And don’t let people tell you mental abuse isn’t as bad as physical abuse. Do what you can to get help right away.

4. Open yourself to metamorphosis.

Separation and divorce produces an identity crisis. Who you were as a spouse or even parent changes. I had been husband and step-daddio. Then I wasn’t. Such loss of identity is jarring.

In the midst of many fights, there will be a point when you both know it’s really over for good. That’s an ugly moment, a gut-stabbing realization that who you thought you were—and always would be—is gone. The dreams of what your family might have been are killed. It’s like attending your own funeral and being locked inside the casket.

You can let this be the end or you can choose restoration and recreation. You have to use this opportunity to grow even as you heal or you’ll likely repeat the same mistakes you’ve already made. You might lose yourself for a while, but when you find who you are again, it can be revelatory as you see that your casket was really a cocoon producing a better version of yourself.

5. Do what you are most passionate about.

What you pursue as you rebuild your life will help shape your new identity. Immerse yourself in something healthy that you love. Take a trip if you can. Workout. Take that cooking class you always wanted to take.

For me it was teaching and writing, something I was already doing and another I had long been unable to pursue. Communicating to students and crafting words helped bring me back to life.

What activities energize you? Pursue those life-giving practices, preferably alongside others who share your passion.

Inspiration might come from anywhere. Seek healing through art, music, nature. Speak positivity to yourself. Find your anthem.

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6. Restoration may be possible.

I’d also offer a quick word of hope for those whose relationship may be teetering on the brink. I’ve met people whose marriages appeared to be dead and buried, yet they came back. Sometimes spouses experience true remorse and contrition. People can change. You owe it to yourself to explore all avenues before finalizing a divorce, so you don’t one day look back and wonder if you should’ve tried more.

Unfortunately, many marriages don’t survive, but we can survive divorce.

You can come back stronger. Someone in your future is going to need you to walk through their marriage meltdown with them, and you will be there as they navigate their own personal hell.

I didn’t know all these hard-earned lessons years ago as I faced separation and divorce. I was slumped on the floor in my best friend’s room, broken, thinking the future was lost.

But it wasn’t.

The terrible storm passed. I’m still involved in my stepkids’ lives. And when I look at the walls now I don’t see a dead future but a promising canvas of endless possibilities.

Believe me, my friend. The shore is off in the distance. We survivors are here, torches and life preservers in hand. Look to the light. Breathe. Struggle. Strive. Survive. You can make it. I promise.

Clay Morgan Word Tinker

Author: Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.

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  • TamaraOutLoud

    Thank you for this. Even though I’m safely out of my own divorce, this somehow reaches back in time and heals my heart a little.

    • I’m really glad Tamara and thanks so much for sharing in the process of helping others find the healing they need.

    • Renee Jacobson

      Hi Boo. SO I’m going thru is now? Are all bloggers destined for divorce?

      • TamaraOutLoud

        Oh honey! I miss you. Let’s talk. We’ll all be okay. Better than okay. (Your words, your heart.)

        • Renee Jacobson

          Yes please for talking.so cool to find you and KB Owen & Jessica here. This is where I met y’all.

  • Nathan Lee

    Appreciate this so much. Thank you! Have not experienced divorce but so much of what you write here is what I should have done hitting bottom in another situation. Much respect for you as always.

    • I appreciate you too Nate. Someone else echoed your thought about how some of this applies to other situations. I’m really glad for that.

  • Alise

    Such good stuff. I remember when I told one friend that I was getting a divorce she asked, “Is this really what you’re doing?” And when I said yes, she said, “Okay, then let’s start from here. Trying to go back from here is pointless.” Those words were life-giving to me. Not because it was any major comment, but because it let me know that she was with me for real, not just to try to fix me.

    Thank you for this post. It’s important.

    • Oh man, when you are in the pit of separation it takes .2 seconds to sort out who will help you survive and who will destroy your day with their first sentence. Thanks for saying this post is important. I think so too and hope many people are positively affected by knowing we survivors are out here.

  • K.B. Owen

    Clay, I had no idea you went through such hell, my friend. This is beautifully put, and I’m so glad you made it through the other side. Hugs.

    • Thanks Kathy! You know, a lot of our blogging fun over those years was a great part of my healing.

  • Steve Bazal

    Thank you for this article! I am two years into the process, and still going through it day by day. It’s hard! Especially the games that get played with my daughters, but I am determined to come out the other side, for myself, my daughters, my new partner & the people I love! It still hurts and the scars are still healing…slowly, but I will make it!

    • Thanks for sharing that Steve. Every note from one more survivor is more encouragement for people trying to see the light ahead. Yes, you will make it!

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  • Noel Young

    Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for sharing about this painful experience. I pray that your words will bring hope, encouragement, and healing to others who are going through similar circumstances. God bless!

  • Mike McCormick

    You’re a good man, Clay. Thanks for being willing to share your story- it will bring hope and health to many people.

    • Thanks Mike 🙂 I appreciate you always being there.

  • It’s been so long since my divorce and still this made me cry. Our marriage died a slow death, a little more each day. It was a relief to be done, I think, but when it was finally really over, I mourned for a long time. Memories of that time still have the power to infuriate me, or just really break my heart. Thanks for sharing. I think we don’t consider or realize that people we know have gone through similar things. It’s always good to be told there’s hope for the future. And it’s not always easy to share our tough times with the world.

    • I know what you mean about those memories coming on so strong and often negatively. Some couples never talk again, some keep it civil, and some seem to rebuild a relationship of one kind or another. I think the most important thing long term is to forgive in our own hearts, whether anything is reciprocated. That’s the only way to have any control over the long-term effects. But you’re right, there may always be a scar there.

      • Yes, including forgiving ourselves. Which may be hardest to do.

        • Renee Jacobson

          I’ll say. I’m working on that. I’m trying to figure out how I didn’t figure things out sooner!

          • I’ve was thinking about you yesterday a lot – love you lady. Whatever happens, I do believe it will be alright. Not always what we wish for, but alright. And we are all blind sometimes about ourselves and others. Sometimes we want to be, sometimes we need to be to survive. It’s what you do and how you handle it when you open your eyes that matters. And whether you are willing to go forward from there. I don’t really know what’s happening with you, but I know you’re a go forward kind of woman.

          • Renee Jacobson

            I feel like everyone is giving me too much credit. Some days my brain dog is so thick, I fear it will never clear. I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing – but I feel I’m finding myself more at peace. I’m not sure why. I like having my own apartment. I like not having to wash other people’s dishes over and over again. I like being able to do what I want to do without having to check in or apologize. I like meeting new people an saying what I want to say without worrying I upset someone else.

            And yet.

            I miss the comfort of having another person in and around me. Except he disappeared when I neded him most, so now I have to figure things out for myself at 47. I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared. I feel afraid when we talk about finances because I’m not working.

            And yet.

            Someone it will all work out the way it’s supposed to.

            Do you remember vying at the weirdest times? To the weirdest triggers? That eventually ends, huh?

          • Renee Jacobson

            Brain FOG, not brain dog. Oy.

          • Yes, the sharpest edges fade away. Transition is the hardest time. But like Clay said, the relationship can morph into many different variations, and I think you should be patient with yourself and him. Try to be objective – look at both of you as though you were a stranger to your relationship. What would you see, think, say to those people? It’s so hard taking out the emotion, hurt, resentment, anger…and only acting on the truth. And it’s hard to be brave enough to speak the truth, even (or especially) with those we’re closest to. Maybe that’s where you are now, creating enough distance to see more clearly. And space to be completely honest with each other and yourself, because the scariest result of that honesty has already happened.

            I see good for you, not sure why. I’m just finding it hard to feel really negative emotions for you, which sounds mean. But when I think of you I feel so much hope inside me. And joy. I’ve been wrong plenty, but I can’t help how I feel.

          • Renee Jacobson

            Michelle, that is the nicest comment ever. I’m holding on — sometimes it feels like by my fingertips — but I’m here. Trying to get back to some semblance of joy.

  • Renee Jacobson

    Clay, it’s me. Your long, lost friend. I’m separated now, and I feel like the crying will never end. People keep saying that I need to heal, and I’m all: What does that even look like? Is it when you can finally stop crying? What does restoration look like? I’ve been with my husband for over 20 years, and I truly feel like my world has split open. Thank you for writing this piece: I’m going to believe it will get better. It has to, right?

    • Oh Fryber Renee, I’m so sorry to hear about this pain you’re going through. I really do believe it has to get better, even if it’s impossible to see how. I think restoration looks different for all of us, but it begins sloppy and raw, those first moments we can begin to semi-function like a normal human. I knew I was really not okay when I went to a funeral for a woman who I knew. I hugged her husband of many years by the casket and absolutely lost it, WAY out of proportion to the moment. He had to console me.

      Over time and many ups and downs, I finally had closure. It’s hard to heal when you’re still not sure which way things are ultimately heading. Eventually a tiny bit of peace came over me. I remember some time later going to another funeral for another family I knew. A sweet woman’s husband had died. She loved him so much, and I was able to offer a bit of comfort. Those two funerals are snapshots for what restoration looked like in my life. Hard fought, those years and tears. Whatever happens, know you are loved Renee, and one day, miraculously, your world can seem right again.

      • Renee Jacobson

        Thanks Clay. I really miss chatting with you. The last 18 months have been really difficult ones for me, and yet — somehow, even in the thick of it all — I have faith that I’m going to be okay. Even just seeing your blog post felt important. Thank you for continuing to help to connect people by sharing your story.

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