This post has been a long time coming.
I thought long and hard about whether or not to actually publish this, but in this case I think the potential benefits to others that are going through similar situations outweigh any embarrassment I feel by posting it.
In many ways I wasn’t ready to write about the shame of divorce until I felt like I was finally on the other side of it.
The shame, that is.
The divorce was over a few months ago, and the marriage about a year before that. The shame, however, lingers long after the paperwork is signed and submitted.
Maybe it’s because one of my sisters is now going through her own divorce, or maybe it just feels like enough time has passed, but now feels like the right time to finally tell the story.
Today I’m putting on my big girl pants and taking you through the rise, the fall, and the aftermath of my marriage.
Grab some popcorn. It’s a long one.
My former husband and I were, in many ways, a wonderful couple. This, coupled with the sudden news of our demise, created quite a bit of shock and surprise among our friends and families.
We met through a company we both used to work for when I was 22 and he was 28. We loved spending time together, found humor in the same things, and had similar life goals (well, at the time).
After dating for just over 8 months we went on a trip together to Thailand, where he surprised me by proposing.
Looking back, it seems to me that I was perhaps a bit young for such an endeavor, but at the time I was over the moon. I said yes and immediately got to work planning the wedding.
Our engagement was 18 months long, and during that time we moved in together, bought a car, and purchased our first home.
We wed a week before my 25th birthday.
The wedding was beautiful; our friends and families were so happy for us.
We went on honeymoon to Brazil, where we spent equal amounts of time together and separate (me reading, him playing a video game).
Alright, that was all the easy part. Those were just the facts, not the feelings.
We were married for just under three years when everything fell apart. It’s hard to pinpoint when things started changing, but somewhere along the line they did. For me, at least.
I had been working for a company that I loved for four years, but the last year of working there was an absolute nightmare. Without getting into too much unnecessary detail, suffice it to say that there were changes in upper management that basically made work a living hell for everyone there.
I probably could have managed the work stress had my dad not gotten sick.
I wrote about losing him in this post, for those that would like to read about the experience.
Between my stressful job and watching my dad get sicker and sicker, I started to sort of lose my stuff. My doctor met with me for 15 minutes and prescribed me anti-depressants and a strong anti-anxiety tablet for “panic attacks.”
He passed away in early August of 2014, just over two years ago. My former husband was with me along with my other family members at his bedside when he died.
By the time the team had taken him out of his house, it was close to midnight. No one in the family could stomach sleeping in that empty house that night, so we all went home.
I couldn’t sleep.
I sat up, talking about the experience of watching him die and what it meant to me. At some point, I realized that I hadn’t received a response in a while and saw that my husband had fallen asleep.
A therapist might refer to this as a “pivotal moment.” I mean, my therapist doesn’t say things like that, but I’m sure plenty of them do. It was the earliest moment I could pinpoint in the marriage where I felt alone and unworthy of love.
I started taking those “strong anti-anxiety tablets” several times a day. I started drinking a lot more than I had in the past, and not always with company.
My dad and family decided that I’d inherit the family home, which came into my possession about three months after his passing.
My former husband and I had decided to remodel the home and move out of our current place.
Our marriage had become increasingly more distant month after month, but I thought that maybe working on a three-month long remodel project would bring us together.
I told myself that everything would be okay once we moved to the new house.
We could get on with our lives and maybe I’d finally get pregnant.
Oh, I forgot to mention all of that. He and I had been trying to get pregnant for nearly two years by this point, and neither of us had really talked about it or gone to seen a doctor.
That was kind of standard protocol for us… we enjoyed each other’s company, but we rarely talked about the meaningful things.
I quit my job and started running this website full time. On top of that, I spent more than 40 hour per week working on the new house. He worked full time in an office and came over after work a few times to help out. When he did, we usually argued.
When we were home together, he played clash of clans in the living room while I read in bed upstairs. Most nights we’d share a meal while watching a re-run in front of the TV.
Again, my brain decided to interpret all of this in a way that made me feel unworthy of his love.
It wasn’t that it was terrible, it was just that it wasn’t the same as it had been before.
Of course, it’s not like I didn’t know that things change in a long-term relationship. I’d been in a few before, and I was prepared for the end of the honeymoon stage.
Or, I thought I was.
I began to feel like my life was sad, ordinary, and without meaning. I was unhappy, not just in the marriage, but in everything.
I started to believe that the problem was my husband, and that if I were free of him I could live an extraordinary life.
Of course, divorcing my husband didn’t make me happy, and it didn’t make my life any less ordinary.
Perhaps things could have been different if we had been better prepared going into the marriage. Neither of us knew what it really took to take care of a marriage, and when push came to shove we both just did the bare minimum and shut down.
We moved into the completed house on Valentine’s Day 2015. It took about two days for us to pick up our old routines of living like platonic housemates.
I reconnected with two of my old friends who I hadn’t spent much time with since the wedding. One of them in particular, a man I’d known since I was 17, listened to my tales of a perilous marriage and made me feel heard.
It soon became obvious where things were going with this man, and a week later I sat down with my husband and asked him to move out.
Other than that conversation, he and I had precisely one talk about our failing relationship.
I had been at the bottom of pit of depression that had lasted for what felt like weeks. My particular brand of depression stems from shame, self-loathing, and a fear of being unworthy of happiness.
I begged him to leave me. I told him that I was broken, that I could never be happy, and that he would be better off without me.
The next morning, he went to work and we never talked about it again.
Well, until I sat him down and brutally told him that I didn’t love him anymore.
What followed was the darkest period of my life. I’ve never hated anything in this world as much as I hated myself during those months after we split. I was seeing a wonderful therapist who tried to help me through it, but the shame was almost too much.
I was living not only with my own pain, but also with the guilt of knowing that I had caused my husband pain, too.
Our friends and families were shocked, but I tried to keep up a composed exterior around them.
Once we split up, he and I finally started getting to know each other. Ironic, right?
He talked to my family members and asked about my childhood. I still don’t know what, if anything, they told him. Did he learn that I had been date raped by another man of the same name? Did they tell him about the childhood experience that left me testifying in a child abuse case in front of a grand jury? What about the multiple suicide attempts?
We went to couples therapy, at his request, after he moved out. I learned about his feelings of marriage and divorce, fears from his own childhood, and what really made him tick. We talked about our infertility.
I booked appointments with my own therapist across town directly after these meetings so I could go cry my guts out.
I felt a deep sense of terror when I thought about what people were saying about me.
I was ashamed, humiliated, and felt like a complete failure.
I made promises, vows even, in front of everyone we knew. Then I broke every last one of them.
It’s not that I haven’t been through breakups before, but there’s something so different about going through a divorce. I never felt like I was a failure if a relationship didn’t work out. When it comes to marriage, there are different expectations.
You made a commitment, to your spouse and to your community, that you intended to do everything you could to make sure you died holding hands. I failed at that.
Could my word be trusted? Could I be trusted? Am I just a huge piece of crap because I can’t even keep it together to fix a marriage that was just barely broken?
I loathed every part of myself and most days would have welcomed the cold embrace of death.
I didn’t want to necessarily hurt myself, but I just wanted to pain of existence to be over. I wanted it snuffed out. Maybe a meteor could just destroy the entire planet without warning.
Something like that.
The Part Where It Gets Better
Alas, the planet was not destroyed. Little by little I started to forgive myself. I forgave my former husband a long time before I could forgive myself, but eventually it happened.
My therapist was a great help to me. She reminded me of the following:
- No one is talking bad about you. Everyone else is worried about their own lives, and likely their own marriages.
- No one is perfect. Not even you. Get over it.
- The only person who has to love you is yourself.
She recommended a great book to me that provided me with lots of breakthroughs. It’s called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, and I highly recommend it to anyone suffering through shame, guilt, or fear:
I started exercising and meditating.
I read lots of books. I adopted two kittens. I focused on my work. I spent time with my family.
I also spent time with my boyfriend.
Yep, the same one who made me feel heard all those months ago.
He was crazy enough to stick around and hold my hand through all of the darkness.
He even went with me to Colombia.
(my bag got really heavy)
He patiently waited as I spent ages looking through a used book store in Italy.
(yet again carrying my bag)
For months and months he talked with me about all of the darkness and never judged me. I finally let myself open up to someone in a way that I had been afraid to in my marriage. I learned a lesson and I won’t make those mistakes again.
To those of you out there who may be suffering through the shame of divorce, please know that your shame is not you.
There’s nothing wrong with you.
You are worthy of love.
I know it feels like the world is tilting on its axis, but sooner than you think this too will be only a memory.
The New Normal
My former husband and I are fortunate to be on friendly terms. He’s actually coming to my house to attend the wedding of two of our good friends in a little over a month.
You’ll still find plenty of references to him and our time together though out old posts on the blog. He was a huge part of my life, and I’m not going to edit him out as if it never happened.
In many ways this blog is like a journal, a chronicle of my life and adventures.
I guess it’s a pretty public journal.
I suppose it was damn time that I opened up to you and finally told you what’s been going on with me.
I’m sorry that it took me so long.
Thank you for reading, and for being a part of my journey.