We’ve all had our hearts broken, haven’t we? Where our chests throb with pain and the agony of withdrawal renders us useless, doomed to a life (though thankfully temporary) of holing up in our beds, eating ice cream (or in the worst cases, not eating at all).
There are books for that. How to heal a broken heart. How to accept the end of a relationship and move forward.
But, speaking for myself, those books inspired only frustration and rage when my husband first left. I felt alienated and unique reading them. Of course my pain was surmountable and of course this or that helped to assuage my grief. Why though did I so often feel that they weren’t quite getting me? The degree to which my hopelessness and despair were engulfing me? It seemed so trite … all of it, from “kids are resilient” to “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
It’s taken me years to fully grasp why nothing seemed to resonate back then. Because my broken heart was not the problem. The logistics of my life were the problem. Managing my children’s questions and melt-downs was the problem. Trying to wrap my brain around how I would be able to support myself and my kids was the problem. Functioning on a daily basis was the problem. All of that interlaced with nightmares of my ex with other women, nightmares of my ex’s other women with my kids, nightmares of being homeless; A tapestry of nightmares from the literal to the ambiguous struck me night after night arousing panic attacks and inhibiting my appetite so that in addition to being heart-broken, I was battling sleep deprivation and mild starvation. So, I was losing my mind. I’m a mother. The horror of feeling like I was losing my mind while my children were in my care 24/7 only added more anxiety and self-doubt.
There was a bottom to my pit … and I settled into that bottom for a while. I read everything I could. I exercised. I was given advice left and right whether solicited or not. Much of it, intended to inspire, just elicited an internal defense “they just don’t get it.” On the outside I appeared human, even as though I was thriving, but I could crack with the slightest gust of antagonism or provocation – A phone call with my ex, an old song, an inadvertently poignant comment from one of my kids and I’d have to excuse myself without fanfare and head to a restroom to sob, rinse, repeat.
Life goes on even when we are not ready to.
Sometimes the ex moves on so much faster than we do that it feels as if we’ve been transported from one chapter of our lives into a chapter in a whole different book. New characters, new plots, new rules…
I’ve switched from “I” to “we” because I realize that I am not so unique. There is so much shame in our culture in falling down, in losing hope, in relinquishing the fighting spirit and just going belly up. But when it comes to divorce, that is the condition most of us find ourselves in, belly up like a turtle, writhing and unable to defy gravity and flip over … at least without some help.
Help comes by way of gestures small or large from close friends and family or even more surprisingly from new friends and strangers.
But the most profound help comes from ourselves.
There is no book that will tell us how to run our lives on a day to day basis. I read countless books and articles on divorce. I saw lawyers and therapists and went online. The advice I received was often contradictory and ranged from illogical to stellar. When it comes down to it, each life is too nuanced to put in a nutshell.
The mere passage of time will likely facilitate recovery from most losses but how to create and adapt to a new normal is a whole other process. And it is a day to day process. Dividing property, caring for children, taking on more financial responsibility, all while struggling to let go of a long-term relationship … I thought it would do me in.
My advice today is to keep going. Keep breathing. Keep nourishing yourself. Keep knowing that the process of completely falling apart is part of the process of pulling ourselves together.