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I started this post almost two years ago after my husband told me (very unexpectedly) he didn’t want to be married anymore. At the time I couldn’t even say the word divorce.

It has taken me almost 2 years to process our separation and divorce, to walk through creating a new life with my children, and to get to a place where I feel profoundly healthy & happy ~ emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally….

Not varnished-and-fake happy, more feeling I am exactly where I need to be. And with that comes contentment and ease, even during my painful minutes, hours, days.

And I never thought I’d be here : divorced OR profoundly healthy & happy in my divorce.

And not in a naïve-about-my-reality kind of way, but in a we-talked-about-everything-and-our-bond-is-strong-enough-to-overcome-the-brokenness-we-each-brought-to-the-marriage-because-we-have-a-beautiful-friendship kind of way (mouthful) 😉

When he told me he wanted out, I did not want the divorce; I loved being his wife and I loved our family and all that came along with it. Our marriage was not easy or simple, but for me it was a beautiful thing in countless ways.

Ok, that’s the nutshell. You’ve heard it before, right?

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Now for the stuff people don’t want to hear…no editing for the masses, just the real stuff…because I am so done with worrying what people think : 

We all deal with pain differently; some of us don’t deal with it at all…and often our pain is uncomfortable for other people.

Divorce almost always sucks; even when it is handled with love and dignity, it is still deeply painful. Period.

It was a major world shift and easily one of the most painful experiences of my life. And if you’re reading this and you’ve been through a divorce or held someone’s hand through it, you will know what I mean.

If there was ever a mind f*#k, this is it.

It is layered and complex and just when it feels like you might understand your heart and head, it changes.

Divorce is about profound loss. For everyone involved.

Of course, it felt awful. It hurt. I was humiliated. I grieved.

Of course I felt like I had profoundly failed my husband; there were days I couldn’t breathe properly and wasn’t sure how I’d stay sane or ever trust again or take care of my children and their broken hearts.

But overall I discovered strength and resilience I didn’t know I had; so many of us do when we have to, don’t we? Because my children desperately needed me to be whole and healthy for them, I had to get over myself in a hurry.

Eventually, you get over the constant loop playing in your head that asks what you should have done differently. You stop obsessively replaying the past 14 years and wonder when he started to fall away from you…

…because you know you can’t go back and you know choosing to stay wounded and hanging on to the past is its own kind of self-inflicted pain; feeling the pain and working through it is so healthy but choosing to remain wounded takes up so much precious energy.

And your children need you. You need you.

It is the difference between pain and suffering I think. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.

{ who said that? Some smarty pants, I think }

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So, you cling to the hope-FULL moments, the ones where you catch a glimpse of yourself before you felt so broken:

The random call from your brother, who, for 22 minutes straight goes on about how unbreakable and wonderful you are. He talks about how you are the most wonderful mother to his nieces and nephew and that he couldn’t be more proud to be your brother, that you are perfect the way you are…not flawless, but passionate and spirited and brilliant and perfect.

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Your son’s 9 year old friend who lives around the corner from your new house…and on the first day you move in he barrels into your house without knocking and mumbles “hi Cate” without a care in the world.

And what he can’t possibly know is that you’ve just sobbed for an hour in secret because you never thought you’d be here, you have never known pain like watching your children carry the heaviness and confusion and loss of divorce…and his comfort in your new house almost instantly makes it a home and for a brief moment you feel like your kids might actually be ok, even in divorce.

And when you hear that little guy make your son giggle, your heavy heart feels a bit lighter.

And after they both run out the front door giggling, you find peanut-butter on the ceiling (the ceiling!) and you don’t ask why because you don’t care; instead, tears of joy slowly make their way down your face because you know right now your son’s heart doesn’t feel so broken…and you hang on to that moment for as long as you can.

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Your girlfriend of many years whose friendship was surface and strained who comes back into your life in a entirely new way and together you claw your way through hurt and grief and hope and deeply vulnerable conversations until you look up one day and realize she has become part of all that is good and right and life-giving about your life.

She sits beside you and quietly says “we will get through this”. And you become fixated on the word “we” because you used to believe you were part of an indestructible, married “we’’ and accepting the truth you aren’t anymore has been one of the toughest things…

Again and again, she meets you to walk downtown for a drink and she listens for as long as it takes for you to catch a glimpse of yourself again.

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The out-of-the-blue text from an old friend to tell you she is proud of you because you are handling the whole situation with class and integrity and compassion. And you cling to her words when you want to be mean and lash out at your husband because your ego is badly bruised and your heart is broken.

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Your 8 year old son who writes you love notes like this one:

 

love-note

You wake up day after day and are reminded that your primary job is to take care of yourself and the little hearts entrusted to you ~ your children look to you for safety and security while their world completely unravels ~ and it is that reality that pulls you through some pretty dark, funky moments.

(well, that and a good cry with a girlfriend and some great dark chocolate.) 😉

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OK…so here is what no one wants to talk about :

 

1. When you say nothing at all, it speaks volumes. And not in a good way.

Most of us don’t know what to say when something awful happens to someone; I get it, it is difficult.

I am amazed at how many people I felt were my friends said nothing ~ literally nothing, despite several opportunities to show some support…any support.

I felt hurt.

It’s ok if you don’t know what to say, I don’t either.

It feels yucky for everybody involved.

It is awkward.

It is painful.

But say something. Anything.

I am sorry…  how are you…?  thinking of you…  you’re on my heart…

I’m sorry you are in a tough season of life…

I don’t know what to say, but I wanted to say something…

Send a text.

Or an email.

Or leave a message.

It isn’t about you or your fear; it is about showing some modicum of support.

Friendship is mutual; it doesn’t work one way. That’s called something else but it isn’t friendship. There are people in my life I would have called my friends, people I’ve shared wine and laughs and tears with. Like, you call me to discuss a personal medical situation, ask for advice, and I do everything I can to help you ~ type friends. And then I hear nothing…for weeks and then months and then years and still nothing. And when we run into each other you tell me you really should drop by with some wine because I have been so good to you, but it never happens.

It is disappointing and it hurts.

And this is not about keeping score; it is about feeling supported.

I hate the concept of a fairweather friend, but I bet I have been one. And if you are reading this and I have done that to you, I am so deeply sorry.

My experience has taught me about empathy and makes me want to be a better friend.

When you choose to say nothing because of your discomfort, you speak volumes…and not in a good way.  

{ as an aside, the best article I have seen on knowing your place in someone else’s pain is one called : Kvetching Circles. So so good and well worth the read }

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2. Divorce (like weddings and funerals) brings out the best (or worst) in you; it is a choice.

I am amazed at the gifts I have found in divorce. Like, immediately.

Not two or five years later…but right away.

My divorce gave me huge, I can’t-unknow-this, life-changing gifts. 

One of the biggest surprises in this divorce was how deeply I bonded with my children as I walked them through our split.

When you have others looking to you to model integrity and compassion and kindness, it is amazing how quickly you put aside your own hurt for the good of their hearts. Not that I didn’t feel it all…I truly did. My therapist pushed me to fully feel the disappointment and hurt and regret.

There were times I wanted to lash out at my husband, I wanted him to know how I hurt…but our children would be the reminder I needed to stop being self-absorbed and small. Sometimes I can get so wrapped up in my own pain, I justify behaviour that is hurtful.

When we told our 8 year old son he sobbed. Later that night I was putting him to bed and I crawled in beside him and he sobbed some more. I cried too. And then he said …”mama, is it possible that your heart can actually ache when you’re sad because I feel like my heart actually hurts in my chest?”

And I held his little face in my hands as tears streamed down my face I told him “yes, baby….because it happens to me too…and then the ache goes away for a minute and then it comes back again and then it doesn’t come back for a while ~ and then maybe it comes back again but it isn’t as bad. And monkey, pain is ok. You don’t have to be afraid if it. It teaches you about what matters to you. And that is a beautiful thing. And I am right beside you in this…especially when it hurts”.

And I remember thinking in that moment : I have the gift of life experience and I know we will be ok even if I don’t feel ok…and he doesn’t. And as long as he feels and shares those feelings, we will get through this. My heart grew for him 10 fold that night as I fell asleep with him; it was the beginning of something beautiful with my kids that I am not sure would have happened if not for our divorce.

Then we then spent the next five months cocooning ~ physically and emotionally cocooning.

Hanging out….no agenda, no computer.

Nothing but time together ~ talking, cuddling, crying, walking, cooking, play dates, movies, the beach…

There is simply no substitute for time with your kids ~ unhurried, uninterrupted time…and it took my husband leaving me to really understand and appreciate this truth.

I love my children wildly, but something changes in crisis. And I wonder if I would have learned my kids so well if not for our split.

I love the way Anne Lamott talks about loss. I love the way she talks about anything, really. But it really is true. Life teaches us, it tosses us around…and eventually, we learn to dance with a limp.

 

divorce-anne-lamott-quote

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3. You can divorce and still do life together, beautifully and with healthy boundaries {as long as you’re ok with swallowing your pride on occasion}.

My children are why I work so hard at this one; if not for them I might have punched my ex in his throat or broken his stupid (albeit, talented) bass-playing hands in a moment of rage. 😉

Even in the midst of the initial sting of the “I don’t want to be married anymore”, we always agreed on just how healthy and happy and secure our children were (and are). We agreed that nothing ~ not pride or hurt or anger would ever eclipse our single priority: our children.

Yes, we had (and have) small moments.

When my husband started to walk me through what he felt and told me he didn’t want to be married, I called him a piece-of-sh!t and some other things I can’t even recall. It was a small, mean thing to say (and I’ve had several of those). We all make mistakes and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Period. I apologized for my small moment because I know that he didn’t intend to hurt me.

When the kids and I bought our new house, my ex felt it made sense for him to have a key. And it probably did make sense logistically but I wasn’t comfortable with it. He felt my boundary was uptight and it might have been, but I didn’t budge. But before I got to the place where I was comfortable with my boundary, I started to defend my choice. I felt like I was being difficult and that made me tough to love.

I blamed myself for a long time for the breakdown of our marriage. Over time, I worked through it with my therapist and came to a place where I was no longer concerned with how he felt about it because it was my boundary, not his. At the time I needed some emotional distance and giving him a key would have been unhealthy for me. So I didn’t. And he felt it didn’t make sense. And that was ok.

My ex is a gentle, kind man who wants to be happy and wasn’t happy with me; I don’t begrudge him for that. He deserves to know joy and peace and happiness and passionate, restful love. I know who he is at his core, how much love matters to him, and trust that his decision must have been an excruciating one to make.

I also believed we had a lot to fight for in our marriage and he threw in the towel too early and made some bad decisions that hurt and humiliated me, but at the end of the day protecting our children and their self-worth and self-esteem trumped all of that.

Sometimes we get this divorce thing wrong, but more often we get it right and we keep reminding each other how important our children are.

And yes, that requires two somewhat healthy people and even healthier boundaries.

But more than that, it requires a complete absence of ego and sometimes biting your tongue ~ not an easy task, but one worth figuring out.

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4. Transparency with children can be incredibly healthy.

{ I know, gasp! }

We did not give our children every detail, that would have be entirely inappropriate.

There wasn’t any “your father sucks” stuff. I admitted I disagreed with his decision, but also said I would support and love him through it. And in my small moments I would admit I was very frustrated with him.

We talked openly about the choices we make in life, for as long and often as they needed to.

We talked about sadness and accountability and discipline at length.

We talked about self-isolation, self-care, and vulnerable, authentic friendships.

We talked about pain and grief and boundaries and choosing kindness even when you are hurt and angry.

We talked about the truth that your life is what you create it to be, one choice at a time.

Their questions would come up at odd times, but because I wanted to create a safe space for them, we created a “code” word (recommended by a therapist friend ~ thank you, Joan) they could use when they really felt they needed to talk. I promised I would stop whatever I was doing (out with friends, cooking dinner, working on the computer ~ whatever) and be there to listen to the question and answer it as best I could. They promised not to use the code word flippantly.

The code word was used fairly often at first, but dissipated over time and when I heard their word, I knew they needed me.

Two years later they still use it, though not often.

Because of our transparent conversations, my 13-year-old daughter has become more self-aware; she recognizes her needs and wants to honour her boundaries. And she will openly ask for my support. She is becoming disciplined in the way she cares for herself and watching her take care of herself is the most beautiful thing.

It has been an emotionally messy couple of years and I wouldn’t change one minute of it.

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5. Healing isn’t linear.

Just when you think you have your heart and head in check, there is a hiccup.

Like the kind that makes you throw up in your mouth a little….

You will see your ex out in public and some lovely creature will be chatting him up and you’ll watch him light up for her the way he used to for you….and inside you shrink. You feel your eyes slowly well up even though you think this is crazy, we aren’t together. And then he will walk over and introduce her as his friend and you will wonder if perhaps they have a future ~ 127 thoughts go through your head in 3 seconds and you realize again that he is not your husband anymore.

And it hurts all over again ~ like someone ripping the bandage off a wound waaaaaaay too early. And so you bleed for a while, until you can get your heart around it all over again and then the bleeding stops.

And as you walk away, you beat yourself up for crying in public…but the truth is you are still grieving. And it still hurts.

You have history and children and once, not so long ago, you believed you would die with this man.

And your best friend reminds you to be gentle with yourself …because you are allowed to hurt.

And then you have almost 2 whole months of feeling really good…

And one day you are putting away your fresh market flowers, feeling light and grateful and even sassy…..and your son starts to talk about how fun your family vacation was last summer. And without notice, you feel that ache build, you relive what you know now and didn’t know then: that it would be your last family vacation. And how fun it was. How could it have been so fun if he was already checked out? How could you not see? And the tears just start to fall. And they don’t stop for a while.

You are equal parts irritated because you were feeling wonderful.. and gutted because you know someday someone else will vacation with your kids…

…and through it all you hold on to the words be gentle with yourself Cate, it is allowed to hurt.

6. Divorce is layered because there is loss and pain and forgiveness and …even hope.

In the months and years since my divorce, I have often felt it feels like my heart breaks over and over….

Every time my son shares how our divorce still hurts…

Every time I see my ex on stage doing what he loves, I cry. Because I fell in love with that guy…

Every time he shares some life journey of his with me…

Every time I hear that one of his family members said he was never happy in our marriage…

…because I really did love him and I really did the best I could.

My girlfriend once used an analogy that was shared with her; it felt harsh at the time but I have since come to understand it is a perfect analogy.

She said: imagine two pieces of construction paper glued together. When you divorce, you are no longer glued together ~ try to separate those pieces of paper ~ try to tear those two pieces of papers apart and leave them intact. It is impossible to do. Some pieces stay glued together, some tear away easily…but they cannot be torn apart and be left fully the same. Neither can you. And that’s ok.

Her analogy was helpful for me. It felt like she gave me permission to be affected by it all ~ the new discoveries with my children, the pain, the learning myself, the joy, the disappointment….

Amidst the pain of separation and divorce, I have discovered beautiful gifts ~ about myself, about my kids, about my (ex) spouse…about why we do what we do.

If you let it, divorce will show you what is broken and what is beautiful…

I am more sure of who I am than I have ever been.

I have never known this kind of pain…but, I have also never been more sure about what is beautiful about me as I am now.

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7. Failures in life teach you a lot about how often you manage perception.

I did it. I still do it. And I am learning not to.

A few years ago I closed a business I opened only 18 months after the grand opening. We lost 300,000. I had red flags I didn’t listen to and ultimately asked my family and a very close friend to pay the price for my stupidity. I was devastated.

The same sort of thing happens with divorce.

For a while when I went out I would wonder who knew and who didn’t. I wondered what people thought. I worked very hard to manage perception…to make sure people knew we were still friends. Even when we both needed emotional distance from each other, I still desperately wanted to be friends. He was my best friend. I talked with this man every single day for 14 years ~ often several times a day ~ and didn’t really know what to do with myself when things fell apart.

Those who love me and know my heart carry weight in my life; their opinions matters. And that list is short.

I am not worried about what anyone else thinks. And that is the most powerful freedom.

We all make mistakes. None of us is perfect…that’s the truth.

 Anne Lamott says:

“A good therapist helps. Good friends help. Pretending that we are doing better than we are doesn’t. Shame doesn’t. Being heard does.”

She is right…

And when it all gets stripped away …I am profoundly happy and healthy with my three beautiful children, I live in a healthy body, I am surrounded by family and friends who show me unwavering love and support, and I fully live my life.  

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And to my ex-husband:

I am sorry I failed you.

I am sorry I ever made you feel like anything less than you are.

I am sorry for the ways I hurt you.

Thank you for the all the beautiful ways you loved me.

Thank you for all the beautiful ways you loved our children and for the ways you continue to…

We both deserve to know joy and peace and passion and safe, deep, whole, beautiful love.

And it’s ok that we stopped finding or nurturing or building that with each other.

We both did the best we could…of that, I am sure.

I love you. I will always love you.

And I have let you go.

Cate

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{and if you are reading this and you are going through a divorce, or have been through one…I am sorry it hurts so much}

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