You haven’t grieved enough. You aren’t angry enough. How can you not be furious? You can’t heal unless you grieve. You can’t heal unless you’re angry.
Even when people are trying to help, isn’t it amazing how often they tell you what to feel? Early on, when challenged over my lack of fury, I was patted on the shoulder as the person concerned over me reassured themselves by telling me, ‘Don’t worry, that will come in time.’
Sidenote: The thing is, our journey to healing is a personal one, and although everyone else joined me on that path the week before I left, it was a rite of passage I had embarked on several years prior. The stages of grief, although people like to categorize them strictly as Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, have many over-lapping qualities, and in all actuality, were introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her book exploring our approaches to death. Her book “On Death and Dying” was published way back in 1969. It was never intended to serve as the be-all, end-all authority on loss and grieving for all loss. Not that there isn’t something to be learned from understanding these concepts.
My anger carved it’s way from me in resentment, erupted from me as I slammed up boundaries, or physically absented myself from a situation that had become too extreme. Sometimes, it emerged directed towards other people, and though minor as those moments were, I still feel a little guilty at the collateral damage by those who had no idea what I was going through. With so much emotional energy in my household, however, I really didn’t have the luxury of anger. In some ways, it’s allowed me to channel my emotions more creatively, more productively.
When it comes to grief, I think, again, people missed the first few years of that process. There were many realizations about my marriage that resulted in soul-searching and grief. First came the realization that I would always have to work, that I would never be able to be a full-time mother. (No matter what words my ex offered, the reality was I couldn’t count on him to maintain stability and hold onto a job). Then emerged the realization I could never actually have a child with this man, besides the physical issues with my PCOS, I couldn’t justify bringing a child into the world when I couldn’t even protect our pets. So I resigned myself to making the best relationship with the two of us I could, and when he was committed for two weeks, I realized I could not rely on him to ever truly contribute to my own happiness. Finally came the realization that the man who promised to love me, was too emotionally broken and steeped in his own issues to ever do so.
By the time I finally left, I was an emotional wreck because of my own feelings as a failure, my fear of what my ex might do, and the belief that he would kill himself if I left. There was no grieving left for a marriage that had really dissolved a long time prior. Having experienced so much of his anger and vitriol first hand, I was terrified of encountering him and having to face his cold, hard death-stare. I didn’t want to be responsible for his death. But I also was exhausted by living in the shadow of fear.
After leaving, as I came to terms with requesting a protection order and filing for divorce, my grief wasn’t so much for the man that I had left behind, but for the hopes for the future I seemed to have squandered on a poor choice. Baby showers were far more difficult than bridal showers. Bachelorette parties were tainted more by my cynicism than my grief. I attended so many weddings, that the sting faded quickly beneath the joy and happiness of the people I celebrated.
There were small blips of anger when my ex did something new, and I made one post this past year where I felt one sharp sting of anger – though that was partly at myself, for always putting his well-being above my own. My greatest struggle, rather, was with myself, with trusting, with prioritizing my own health and well-being. I haven’t missed my ex since leaving. Not once. The joy of being responsible only for myself, and knowing it wasn’t selfish or terrible to want a little happiness, overwhelmed everything else. I suppose anger towards my ex felt like too much effort. He’d already taken so much for me.
My biggest struggles this past year have been to figure out balance, when I should prioritize myself, and when perhaps a little pushing myself for others is warranted. There was a lot of depression that I wallowed in, this past year. I once took pride in my selflessness in our marriage, not realizing the term was a cover for me allowing him to walk all over me. A cover to avoid having to stand up for myself and risk something bad happening.
There have been a lot of moments this past year since being separated that I’ve been selfish. I think that is not inherently a bad thing, as I am learning that my needs matter and that I should reach for the things that I want and are important to me. That said, sometimes this past year I’ve made like a toddler who has suddenly learned the word “No!” and applies it to everything. The trick, now, comes into using it properly and judiciously.
All that to say, was that I didn’t follow the stages of grief that others thought I should. In fact, I almost feel like I worked myself all the way to acceptance as a step towards leaving. I wonder if that is a part of why I was able to leave and never looked back, never considered returning. I suppose that was helped by the fact that we had no children to bind us together. A mixed blessing, as I always wanted kids, but it did make leaving less problematic.
Makes me wonder how others process grief, and their feelings and emotions over divorce, leaving an ex, major relationship changes/ultimatums. How did your grief process over major life events work itself out? Did it happen before or after you left? Did you skip over any steps? Linger in any? Did people try to put your emotions in a box?