I am the oldest of three kids but look like the youngest. Blame it on being the shortest and having a round, babyface. Despite the unintentional nine-year gap between me and the youngest, we’re all full-grown adults now. I won’t tell you how old that makes me. A lady never tells her age. My parents are still married and have been together since my mom was fifteen. A marvelous feat in today’s day and age and a fact that makes me sick with envy. We moved a lot when I was growing up, but my family is from the deep south – Savannah, Georgia. When I think of my childhood, the weather and traditions come to mind first.
There are only two seasons in Savannah, warm with a slight breeze and sticky hot with no breeze. Those sticky, hot childhood summers were spent at Tybee Island, where the best beach was not located by the pier and dessert at the Sugar Shack always came before dinner. The best shoe staple was a pair of flip flops year-round, because walking barefoot was only for the risky or the foolish. (Everyone knows that sand spurs aren’t only at the beach.) Christmases were spent in a t-shirt and shorts – unless it cooled down and we got lucky enough to wear jeans with our t-shirts. The iconic moss that everyone loves doesn’t just cover the oak trees; it covers all types of trees with no discrepancy and is home to tiny red bugs that will burrow into your skin in a quick hurry. The humidity is so high during the hot months, gnats stick to your skin when you walk to get the mail. Almost year-round, roadside seafood trucks are filled with the fresh catch from their morning run. Family get-togethers almost always included low-country boil from those roadside seafood trucks. Low country boil is a lovely mix of sausage, shrimp, potatoes, and onions all boiled together in Old Bay seasoning. My childhood traditions also include the faith that helped shape how my parents raised me and my younger siblings. We were taught to be kind to others and to live a life worthy of a legacy – that a good name is better than gold.
But, you didn’t come here to read about my childhood memories. You came here to read a story. A story that’s supposed to help you feel normal in the midst of your suffering. A story that helps you know you aren’t alone. A story that fills you in on the ins and outs of a dreaded social upheaval so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So, let’s begin.
If you had told me 8 years ago what my life would look like today, I would have run in fear. I would’ve hid my head in the sand and decided that adulting was not for me and the suffering headed my way was meant for someone else. That surely – God did not actually mean for that to be a part of His will for me. That would be a cruel joke of the worst kind. And if you know me in real life, you can vouch — I don’t do jokes.
We all suffer, but the degree of how much you suffer in order for it to change your life is relative. No two journeys are the same. One person’s suffering may be another’s bump in the road. One person’s tragedy may be another’s catalyst. But. One thing is certain. True suffering is an isolating, hellish nightmare that no one likes to talk about.
My own nightmare comes with a few labels listed in the order of which they reared their ugly heads. Abuse. Abandonment. Abuse. Divorce. Depression. Suicide.
Let me shout them a little louder for the people in the back.
ABUSE. ABANDONMENT. DIVORCE. DEPRESSION. SUICIDE.
Maybe I should give you some time to digest before you keep reading. Or maybe you’ve already had enough and know this post is not for you. That’s okay. No hard feelings. Maybe your own suffering is too deep and you’re barely keeping your head above water. That’s okay, too. You can save this for later down the road when you feel ready or you can ditch it and never come back to it. Again, no hard feelings.
The week after I graduated college I got married. It was a short season of dating followed by a short engagement. Our families had known each other for years. No one had any concerns or felt anxiousness. We were all filled with joy that weddings should bring.
We were a little past two years of marriage when my ex walked in the door and made an announcement. He wanted a divorce and would not be coming back home. I was shocked. I’m pretty sure I sat on the sofa and said nothing. Or maybe I did. Honestly, I can’t remember exactly what happened after he said those words. Only those words are permanently seared into my brain. Trauma has a way of compartmentalizing things like that.
The counselor I immediately began to see named my trauma “Spousal Abandonment Syndrome” and labeled what I experienced before my marriage ended and after it ended as “emotional abuse.”
“Spousal Abandonment Syndrome is when one of the spouses leaves the marriage without any warning, and—usually–without having shown any signs of unhappiness with the relationship.”*
“Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his or her weapon of choice.”**
I thought you had to say horrible things or get physical for it to be abuse. LIE.
Every word you say has the power to speak life or death; to bring healing or pain.
No one tells you about the impact of an unwanted, unexpected divorce. Especially one that is one-sided like mine was. In the state of Georgia, you do not need both parties permission to file for divorce and there is no timeline of separation required before it is finalized. Your life as you know it can be literally ripped out from under you.
No one tells you that it is isolating and scary. No one tells you about the shame and embarrassment. No one talks about the side eye you’ll get or the lack of support. No one tells you about the overwhelming, crippling sense of fear. No one speaks of the losses you feel and no one rallies around you.
Honestly, death is easier. It’s concrete. It’s closure to a tragedy that divorce does not have. Your person is not dead. They are out there. Choosing things and others that are not you. But people know how to react to death. They rally around you. And. They’ll bring you food or send flowers. Not that you’ll be hungry. But you never know. Pimento cheese, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese can bring a certain level of comfort.
So. Let me state an unpopular and not acknowledged fact.
Divorce is a silent death that no one acknowledges as a death.
It’s the death of your best friend and teammate. It’s the death of your lover and confidant. It’s the death of your “previous life” – the life you used to live. It’s the death of your dreams and hopes.
What came to light in the months that followed before the divorce was finalized took their toll on my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I had no reason for why he left. He was just gone. In the blink of an eye, I was abandoned and alone.
I wasn’t eating. I couldn’t eat. I very quickly lost an unhealthy amount of weight and hit a number of the scale I hadn’t seen since freshman year of high school. I saw my doctor and started taking prescription sleeping pills soon after so that I wouldn’t keep waking up from the nightmares, covered in sweat, dry heaving from tears I didn’t have left to cry.
The job I loved and adored in my previous life? I lost that, too. I was two hours short of full-time which meant no insurance or benefits. I turned in my notice and began the job hunt.
The house in my previous life that I spent countless hours turning into a haven through my blood, sweat, and tears? Gone. I couldn’t afford the mortgage without a job and I’d be damned if I let him keep it. You don’t get to abandon your wife for no reason and claim the house for your own. I moved in with my parents and we listed the house as part of the settlement. It sold less than 24 hours after being listed. I guess the personal touches I’d added really spoke to buyers.
The people that I had considered to be my friends? They all picked sides. Some chose his side, some chose mine. Some chose the route of front row to my pain through false pretenses of caring. I cleaned out my friend list at 3:00am one night to avoid unwanted chats. My online social presence went from one thousand-ish to less than three hundred in a matter of a few clicks. I deleted social media and went socially AWOL.
Remember that part in my story earlier where I mentioned that faith was a part of my life? I stopped going to church. Not because I didn’t believe in God, but because the people that I had considered to be the hands and feet of Jesus at that church would no longer look me in the eye. The ones that did talk to me used it as a clever ruse to know intimate details of my pain for the purpose of their own entertainment and gossip. To be fair, there was one person that was kind, but they still didn’t do anything to offer support. I knew then what the hands and feet of Jesus in a body of believers should really look like and vowed that my next involvement in church would be only at a place where every. single. person was valued, loved, and appreciated through all life circumstances.
My new life was lonely. The abandonment I suffered through my divorce and those I trusted, showed me that people aren’t always who they say they are. I closed myself off. I sank into depression. I made a plan for suicide. I just wanted the pain to go away. Thankfully, I was more scared than I was determined to go through with the plan. I mentioned my feelings to a trusted friend and got help. I began taking an antidepressant. My wonderful doctor told me there was no shame in needing help for a temporary, hard season in life and the sooner I felt mentally better, the sooner I’d be able to get my life back. She was right.
Outside of my immediate family, I had two trusted friends that I allowed to be an intimate part of my suffering – Sarah and Molly. (Yes, the Molly that is the author of this wonderful project. We’ve been friends since elementary school. To know her is to love her and be loved. Sarah and I met through our husbands. Her husband was my ex’s best friend since middle school. After the divorce, her hubby tracked down my ex and vowed to never speak to him again if he didn’t patch things up. Obviously, he didn’t patch things up. Sarah’s husband kept his word and her sweet family stuck around by my side.) Sarah and Molly sat with me in my deepest pain like Job’s friends came to sit with him. They spoke life and healing. They held me up. They answered phone calls in the middle of the night and dried many a tear. I will forever be grateful for their friendship and will never be able to repay the debt of time and energy that they invested into my life. To this day, those two friends are the only ones who know the tragedy of his character that aren’t fit for the world to know.
If you know someone who is going through a hard thing, for the love of all things holy – do NOT tell them everything will be fine. They already know that. They aren’t stupid; they’re in pain. If you really want to be a good friend, sit with them. Sit with them in their pain until they’re ready. Then. Then help them pick up the pieces. Then help them rebuild their life by speaking life and healing.
After our divorce was finalized, there was one more deep-seated hit that I had always wondered about, but never had proof of. I discovered he had been having an ongoing affair during our marriage. I discovered that his family supported his decision to leave me for this other woman and knew about the affair in its entirety. Throughout the process, they were completely silent. I never heard a word from anyone in his family. They say that silence speaks louder than words. And it does. Silence speaks volumes.
In all circumstances of questionability, whether you mean it or not, silence is an admonition of agreement and support against those being wronged.
Knowing this detail about the affair gave me freedom that I didn’t realize it would. Although I suffered for months wondering why he disappeared, I now had an answer. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I didn’t cause my divorce and I wasn’t a horrible person or any of the other thoughts that had plagued me.
I felt free from the chains that were holding me back.
I began the process to rebuild my life. I defined a new normal for myself that embodied all the lessons my heartache had taught me. I chose to be grateful for my previous life instead of resentful. (Although I can’t say that I would do it all again.) I let nothing go to waste. It took a while, and I’m still working on some things, but I did it.
I found a job to make ends meet and moved out of my parent’s house into a rental with a great roommate. Eventually, I quit that job when I found a job I loved and I bought my own house.
I found a church that embodied what the hands and feet of Jesus should look like. And just FYI- it looks like diversity. It looks like real faces of happiness and sadness instead masks of pretentious, pious perfection. It looks like smiles, hellos, hugs, love, and acceptance just the way you are instead of judgemental stares, holy rollers, pew claimers, legalism, and fire and brimstone.
I dipped my toes in the water of the mystery that is online dating. I wanted to know there are good guys out there. I’m proud to report that they do still exist and have laid claim to one. But — I’m also a realist and feel obligated to let you know – there are just as many creeps and you should be abundantly cautious. Make sure your people always know where you are and can track your location or sit at the bar incognito. (My catfish tale might crop up later. We could all benefit from the story of a humorous night with velvet highwaters.)
My new life is better than I could have thought. Everything I lost was regained tenfold. I have the honor of saying that my story is a tale of beauty from ashes. My pain and suffering were not meaningless. They taught me to be grateful. They taught me to be strong. They taught me to be gracious and loving to others. They taught me to stand up for myself and take no crap.
If you’re going through similar circumstances, now would be the part where I’m supposed to tell you everything is going to be fine. But I’m not going to feed you a line of toxic positivity. Your life is not fine right now. It sucks. It’s something out of your control and it hurts and it is going to take a long time for that hurt to fade. BUT.
Your past does not get to define who you are in your new life. Does it shape you and mold you into a better person for your new life? Absolutely. Does it give you a deeper sense of humanity and compassion? Yep. Does it teach you the value of another person? Without a doubt.
You can do hard things. You can be in charge of the steps you take forward. You can make a new normal for you, and for your children if you have them. Your story is a tale of beauty from ashes. Your pain and suffering are not meaningless. They teach you to be grateful. They teach you to be strong. They teach you to be gracious and loving to others. They teach you to stand up for yourself and take no crap.
* Midlife Divorce Recovery
** Psychology Today