Rebuilding your life isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if I can do it so can you.
When I was dealing with my divorce, I never thought I would get to this place — this vantage point of talking about “rebuilding my life after divorce.” When I say I was “stuck,” I was stuck! Add “spiraling” to the mix, and I’m sure you get the ugly picture.
Divorce is traumatizing on just about every level. The shifts in finances, custody and other pragmatic matters can be seismic in their effects. And the emotional upheaval can leave your life shattered when your world comes crashing down.
You would think that the person initiating a divorce would skate through the process less scathed than the other — at least emotionally.
But it really doesn’t matter if one person initiates the split or both partners come to the table with the same mindset. It sucks. It hurts. It turns your life and your sense of self inside out.
Little did I know that rebuilding my life after divorce would be just as difficult as living in an unhappy marriage. The defining difference was that one scenario was a slow, hopeless death of my spirit, and the other was a slow, eye-opening re-emergence into life.
Both were agonizing. Both were my choice. But only one gave me hope.
There is a fine line in marriage between forming a union between two whole people and losing yourself to an enmeshment or subordination. And no matter what the unspoken paradigm of the relationship is, the marriage will always have an identity all its own.
For a person already struggling with his or her self-identity and -esteem, hiding behind the “us” identity can be an easy escape. For a while, anyway.
When I married the first time, I was young. Too young to know myself, let alone stand up for myself. I was, however, old enough to believe in the power -- and obligation -- of my word. Even though I knew before my wedding day that I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing, I had given my word. And at that point in my life, keeping my word to someone else was a sign of maturity and fidelity.
Sadly, I allowed my faithfulness to someone else override my faithfulness to myself. My promise, in my mind, was my dying obligation. And I was dying to keep it. Literally.
Little by little I gave away pieces of myself -- pieces seemingly small enough that I assumed I wouldn’t notice. And yet, I was giving them away in hopes that my husband would notice my commitment and even my compliance.
I couldn’t live and thrive within my marriage. How could I imagine rebuilding my life after divorce? My health suffered. TMJ made it all but impossible to open my mouth, speak or chew. My self-esteem was tanked. I lost several loved ones to death in a two-year period of time. I had a miscarriage. And two severe car accidents left my body broken and in pain.
But sometimes life has to deal a hard blow to get our attention. I hadn’t listened to my inner knowing. I had shut off my hearing and my connection to wisdom. I was miserable because, in essence, “I” didn’t exist. “I” went through the motions of “keeping my word,” but to something that wasn’t authentic because I wasn’t authentic when I said “yes.”
And then September 11, 2001 changed everything. For America. For the world. For me.
Getting a divorce was only the unlocking of the cage, so to speak. Rebuilding my life after divorce was the real test of my promise – this time to myself.
Just because the cage is unlocked doesn’t mean the one inside walks right out. And I didn’t. I hurt so much that I thought I would die. I replayed all the tapes of disapproval and unlovability that I had listened to throughout my marriage, and I manifested them by starving myself and making a new promise: that I would never get married again.
Rebuilding my life after divorce was really about building my authentic life for the first time.
I had to undo a lot of damage; but that damage was nothing more than a stark reflection of a deep and neglected voice to which I had failed to listen. Now I was listening, but didn’t know how to recover, let alone become “lovable” again.
It was a good year after my divorce began before I started my rediscovery process. I had been waiting for someone else to rescue me, to lead me out of the pain and into hope. But the moment came when that sequestered voice within me spoke up loudly and clearly: No one is coming to your rescue. You have to rescue yourself.
One of the first bold moves I made was to bring competent and compassionate professionals into my life. I had neglected myself physically, and needed to hear the raw truth about my anorexia and overall health. Food had been the one thing I could control in my out-of-control world, and I had to make friends with it and stop using it as a weapon. Hiring a personal trainer was a statement of self-worth, even as I was still struggling to feel worthy.
I also hired a stylist to help revitalize my appearance and my self-confidence. I had dumbed down my expectations both of and for myself, and I needed to see all that I could be. Sometimes having another person who can see beneath the veil of despair and resignation can change the way you see your own reflection.
Perhaps the most important person who helped me rebuild my life after divorce was my therapist. I will always be grateful for the compassion and objective guidance I received during a time that felt so desperate and lonely.
Despite the progress I was making in the years after my divorce, I still wasn’t ready to back out on my resolve never to marry again. Even after meeting and dating a man who loved me and whom I loved, I couldn’t push past that one last promise: I will never get married again.
If you have followed my blogs, you know that I did, eventually, push through that block. I realized that I was holding onto a fear created out of an old self. And I had worked so devotedly to give voice to a wisdom and self-knowing that had been stifled since before my first “I do.” I was now a person with something valuable to give to a marriage. I was also now a person capable of expecting and receiving something just as valuable.
Rebuilding my life after divorce wasn’t easy, but the effort was worth it.
And it all started with two little words to myself: I do.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people with rebuilding their lives after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.