“I found a place. I’m moving out.”
“Are we done?”
“Yes, I think so.”
It was Christmas day. After nearly seven years of marriage, we could not find a way to work together. We were both defeated with nothing left in the tank to even discuss the issues we had to solve, let alone find solutions to making life together better. We were missing trust, faith in the other, too eager to find the argument in the situation, and in the end, we had grown into very different people from when we met. In the days after she moved out, I found myself in the spiraling thoughts of doom that come with a moment like divorce. The best way I can describe the feelings of my divorce is that of grieving a death. In so many ways, it was an accurate perspective. The person I was, a husband, a father, a friend had been replaced and as those labels fell away from me, and new ones added (divorced, single parent), I began to panic as to what that meant. How will I survive? Can I keep the anger away? Who am I now?
Life immediately after the decision to divorce was a whirlwind. For me, I didn’t eat as much, I often broke down crying spontaneously, and I stayed inside avoiding phone calls and text messages. This lasted about a month. Every day I was wondering what she was doing. Was she happier? I would believe she was probably on a cruise somewhere or winning the lottery (life was always better for her in my mind…continuing to beat myself up). The spiral of negativity, the same sad thoughts replaying themselves in new ways in my mind, was intense. I hid my emotions as best as I could, but there came a day where I needed an outlet. I reached out and found a counselor, someone I could be completely honest with.
The nice thing about visiting the counselor was his affirmation over my feelings and the situation. Yes, divorce is hard. Yes, your identity has changed and will continue to do so, hopefully for the better. Yes, we do need to make plans for helping manage the thoughts that are troubling you late at night and during the quiet parts of your day. In my second month on my own, I started to put in the work to find myself in a phase of recovery. Gaining more control of my thoughts, I found myself less sad, I was more productive, and I could fathom the idea of divorce more realistically. Writing and meditation helped me as well. I would journal when my mind was racing around with thoughts to help me identify what was causing me anxiety, and also to find solutions to solving the issue. Meditation is difficult, but I put some time in on the pillow, sitting and struggling to find silence. Despite my difficulties, I still found the time focused on my breathing to be helpful as it re-energized me and calmed the mind chatter that I had been experiencing.
At the end of month three, I found my greatest success. I had dealt with my mistakes in the relationship that helped us fail and identified ways to improve upon or simply own my personality in a relationship. I’m not perfect, and after some reflection, I’m not the easiest person to live with and be around. I can be moody, stubborn, and resistant, on top of being a loud personality with selfish tendencies. That’s not fun for anyone to deal with every day. I had to learn that about myself, among many other things. Breaking down divorce into stages helped me to get through the pain and realization of what it all meant:
Grief and feeling- Don’t fight your emotions. Let the hurt exist and when you can bear it, take a look and see what you can learn from it. Look from the perspective of what you can do now to improve upon these issues. Recognize that your future is yours and it is new.
Build your plan for recovery. Find your support network (counselor, friend or a parent) who can be good listeners and will not just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. There will be moments when you are sifting through tiny details that don’t matter. There will be times when you just want to say the mean and angry thing. It’s okay, do it. But don’t get swept away with the negativity. Find outlets to let out some energy; write, workout, read, hang out at coffee shops or diners, meet new people, make special nights for yourself, anything that helps you to smile and feel like you are building a better self will be helpful.
Build good habits. As you move farther away from the decision to divorce, it gets easier. After about six months, I wasn’t thinking about it every day But, when you do relapse, don’t forget your tricks to get back to positive thinking. You have worked to recover, to rebuild, and to now be your new self after divorce, don’t lose it in a moment of anger or frustration. You have worked too hard to come this far. The eating, exercise, reflection, connection to your support network are all things that will be important for you as you continue with the rest of your life.
One of the scariest thoughts that came from divorce was, “Will someone ever love me again?” For me, the answer was an easy “no” because I had plenty of things about myself that I didn’t like. However, this wasn’t actually true. I was being really hard on myself, making the situation more difficult, like I was a glutton for the pain. Like the saying goes, it will be hard to love somebody if you cannot love yourself. This has been very true for me and it was one of several observations I had made as I prepared myself to enter the dating world. I had to know my strengths and weaknesses with relationships, my tendencies when I’m scared or frustrated, why I got jealous, among other things. This helped me to own myself and to know what was causing my “reactions” to life with other people.
We seek love for many reasons, and some of them are not as good as others. For some of us, we imagine life as a romantic movie and all the gestures are center-stage, as tone-deaf as they may be. Others fear loneliness and can turn anyone into “the one”, which is dangerous for a lasting relationship. Our communities may push us towards relationships, despite our internal voice telling us this is not a good decision. While others may love the ‘idea’ of the relationship, without knowing how to even be in one.
It would have done wonders for me to know a few things before jumping into marriage. Getting swept up in love, it’s too easy to overlook the flaws of another’s personality so that we can continue to enjoy their company. But, have you thought about what an average day will be like with this person? Do they have a sense of humor you can share? Are they fun? Is there a mutual respect for their knowledge and way of thinking of the world? Do you have common interests?
Beyond these questions, think about if you were to be home all day long, could you handle that with this person? In love, you have to be able to accept the natural flaws of the other while being generally positive about them. Your natural chemistry brings you through the ebbs and flows of a relationship, creating a feeling of ‘home.’ The trust and security that is present will be alive because you can communicate effectively, maintain equality, and when you squabble with your partner, it ends with defused tension and genuine concern for the other person and their perspective. In life, we will grow and change. Love brings us many things, but for love to be all we want it to be, we must respect it by respecting ourselves. It is through this love that we can be our best at loving others, and all together, living the life we hoped for.
Life is a messy endeavor, and none of us will escape without our share of bruises and scars. It is going to be okay. Tomorrow will come and you have a chance to start it all over if you want. This is your life and you can take the next step, as hard as it may be to do so. I know, I was there too.
Written by Humberto Cerrillo
From Kwapi Vengesayi‘s book, Men Cheat More, Women Cheat Better: Stories and Conversations About Love, Life and Everything in Between (2017) Available on Amazon