The Surprising Way Divorce Can Affect You

Post-Divorce Mania? I can see aspects of this in me too. Great article.

Lessons From the End of a Marriage

For the most part, I guess you could call my response to divorce typical.

I spent hours laying in bed, tears soaking the pillow beneath my matted hair, mourning the life and love that had been ripped from me.

I expressed anger and bitterness towards my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough as I learned of his betrayals and indiscretions.

I lived in the land beyond exhaustion, every little task seeming to require more from me than I could hope to summon.

I was afraid for my future, unsure how I was ever going to be okay and overwhelmed at the enormity of the task.

I felt isolated and alone, my fingers still trying to call him and my heart still hoping for an answer.

But those weren’t my only reactions.

There was another response.

An unexpected one.

A feeling I’ve come to name, “post-divorce mania.”

And its effects were just as real as the…

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Life After Leaving, Part 3: It’s okay to be happy

What’s wrong with being happy?

A lot of websites, well-meaning people, and marriage ‘fixers’ (especially of the religious variety) will often say that being happy shouldn’t be your end-goal. That marriage is hard, and when you get married you should be in it for the long haul. I don’t entirely disagree, but those comments applied to all marriage relationships (particularly abusive ones) can be extremely problematic.

I should know, that’s one of the reasons I stayed so long, regardless of how miserable I became. It’s also one of the reasons I left and stayed gone, because when I was in… I was ALL in. And when I was out… I was ALL out. One benefit of working so hard at that relationship, I suppose, was I didn’t have any regrets.

In conversations, the same exact words may have different connotations to different people. Sometimes people mistake ‘Happy’ as people wanting to ‘live the high life’. But for me, and I suspect many others in abusive relationships, being happy means I have the freedom to be responsible for myself, own my mistakes without fear, and have what should be ordinary and everyday respect from the people in my life. I suppose what makes me happiest, is feeling fulfilled by my choices, my relationship, and my work.

Being born into a religious family, I think sometimes there is this idea in the Christian faith that anything worth having should be difficult. That to be valued, we must sacrifice. That we shouldn’t care so much about what we have in this world, but what we have in the next. These were all beliefs that led me to stay in an abusive and difficult relationship. If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably a part of the reason I ended up in that relationship to begin with, along with a lack of healthy boundaries.

Although I do still have faith in God and consider myself a Christian, I think some of the church culture nowadays romanticizes service and puts on expectations where our worth and standing is dependant on how much we sacrifice.

This is what I meant, when I said “I want to be happy”.

Before I left, I knew something was missing, a big black hole in our relationship that I struggled to fill. Everything I put into it seemed to be absorbed with nothing to show for the trouble. I didn’t know exactly what I meant when I thought, “I just want to be happy” and I never really felt I could verbalize that thought without people misunderstanding. So when I was finally ready to leave, I told my mom I “didn’t care if I was happy, I just want to be able to sleep.” For me, happiness seemed like a selfish goal, while sleep seemed like a practical and acceptable one.

Now I’ve learned that life can be fulfilling and full of joyous moments as well as difficult ones. If you’re never happy, struggle to find contentment, I think that is a sign of something needing some consideration. Just like physical pain helps us key into problematic physical issues in our body that may need to be addressed, a life absent of pleasure probably means we could use an emotional check-up. For me, that meant rooting my abuser out of my life, and doing the necessary work on myself to heal from that experience. My beliefs and expectations and views on boundaries needed some heavy consideration before I truly found contentment and ‘happiness’ again. It took me about 9 months before I smiled again, after leaving my ex. A genuine smile, not a strained one.

In my abusive relationship, the bar for being ‘happy’ was pretty low. Especially towards the end, to get a ‘happy’ moment was more along the lines of a sense of relief of not getting yelled at or feeling frightened or dealing with a suicidal spouse.

I can clean up just after myself, without being put-down and called lazy.

I can look at my bank account (regardless of positive or negative balance), and know what is going to be in there without any surprises.

I don’t have anyone angry at me, because they bought something expensive and now we don’t have money to pay the electric bill.

No one threatens to kill themselves or slit their wrists if I disagree with them.

My happiness-metric

Being happy doesn’t mean I am always comfortable,  but it does have a lot to do with my feeling content. Happiness for me, is safety in my relationships. The freedom to be my authentic self. To recognize I can’t make everyone happy, and to let go of that expectation. I can be considerate, without making myself responsible for other people’s reactions and feelings. Honesty isn’t always easy, when it leads to difficult discussions, but having the freedom to be honest is part of what makes me happy now.

How do you see happiness? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve shared? Would love to hear from some of you. 🙂

Life After Leaving, Part 2: Not quite the End

Leaving wasn’t the end…

…it simply moved my new end-goal to finalizing my divorce. However, it still was a new beginning and an opportunity to learn who I could be on my own. Although our relationship was far past the point of reconciliation, my ex changed his tune immediately to try and get me back. If your ex didn’t respect your voice before, once they find out you mean what you say it will just be a lot of pointless wheel-spinning, manipulation, etc.. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know when this applies to our relationship. The trick is if we can admit it.

I wrote my ex a letter of explanation detailing everything, after the protection order was finalized. We exchanged a few e-mails on an approved e-mail that was an exception to the Protection Order. Although things had fallen apart terribly, I didn’t want any ill for my ex. I just wanted to get away from him. So I worked very hard to write my letter in a factual, kind and steadfast manner. If any of you have seen the graphic on the ‘Cycle of Abuse’, you will understand what I mean when I say his response followed the quintessential honeymoon mentality. He was so sorry. He was getting help. He was willing to do counseling. Apart. Together. A separation instead of a divorce.

These arguments may have swayed me before, but, while he admitted everything I wrote in that letter was true, he never agreed that his actions and choices constituted abuse. That made it easier to stick to my guns… as did the fact that he point blank refused any of these options in the months leading up to my departure.

Repercussions

The ‘honeymoon’ period of his rationality lasted only so long as it took my ex to realize that I was absolutely serious.

My ex was angrier about the protection order than he was about the divorce, and ultimately I had to share the response to my e-mail of him agreeing to doing all the things I had put in my protection order with my lawyer and his lawyer. My ex was very retaliatory throughout the entire process.

I stuck to my guns, and in the end, it mattered more to me to be fair and stick to my request of a 50/50 split than to cater to my ex’s threats and demands. Luckily, I was in a position with family support to make that possible. Usually, people start from a place where they will negotiate from. I just stuck unwaveringly to what I wanted and knew to be fair. I didn’t want alimony, and I didn’t want any ties to my ex after the divorce was finalized. It dragged things out longer, but it was important to me to 1) stay classy, 2) hold my ex accountable, and 3) stand up for myself and what was fair.

Two years after leaving, I am still struggling to get out of my financial hole. Recovery has been tough, I still owe thousands of dollars I borrowed for my attorney. I missed a few bills before our divorce that have chased me down, up to and including getting my wages unexpectedly garnished. (Oops.)

My ex is still out there, bearing a grudge, and likely skirting sanity as much as he was when I was with him. So safety is still a factor. I’ve learned a few practical things:

  • If you’re registered to vote, it’s likely your home address is publicly accessible. (Some states have ways around this in Domestic Violence situations – but it’s more footwork.)
  • There are websites with generic information about you, and some websites (if you log in) that have your full address. Mindful of my personal safety, I’ve gone to each one and opted out, some required copies of my license to remove the information (I redacted some info). Note: Google yourself to find out where your name comes up.
  • Lesson learned, when I move again, I am getting a P.O. Box.
  • Make sure to have two copies of a protection order. That way you can give one to the police in case of an encounter, and still have your original.

Even with all of that? It’s worth it. Home is safe again. Home is a peaceful place again.

I’m happy.

Life after Leaving, Part 1: Retrospective

While I prepare to file a renewal for a protection order (mine is about to expire) there has been a lot to contemplate and ponder. Mostly the soul-searching of, ‘Do I really think he could still come after me?’ (Yes) and ‘Am I overreacting by requesting a renewal?’ (No).

Now that I’ve wrestled with those two questions, I started to reflect on the past two years. No matter how many blogs I read, nothing really prepared me for what life would be like. I know not everyone’s experience is the same, but this is what it was like for me, leaving an abusive relationship of 10+ years. This will be my first ‘series’ of posts – I anticipate, and I hope to get out roughly one a week.

Mine isn’t the only experience – I welcome comments and am happy to share blog posts if folks write (or have written) their own experiences summing up their experiences after leaving an abusive relationship. Questions welcome. Gritty, funny, practical. 🙂

Life after leaving… really started before I left.

I hesitated to speak up for so long, because a part of me knew that once I did, everyone’s feelings about my husband would change.  Even outside of our relationship, he was not the easiest person to get along with, although very few suspected what was really going on. About three years or so before I left, he threatened my life, and I resolved at that time that if things didn’t get better I may have to make a choice I didn’t like.

The last six months of my marriage I struggled with extreme anxiety and depression. I had decided years prior, that I had to be responsible for my own happiness, and I tried for a long time to make that happen within the context of our marriage. So when my health began to go downhill, I began tracking my panic attacks and anxiety, trying to figure out what my triggers were, so I could deal with or remove them, or seek help from a counselor.

All instances led directly to my husband. It took me a few more months, and two or three extreme incidents to finally start reaching out to people I trusted. When my mother asked me, “Honey, do you want to leave?” there was only a moment of silence before I agreed. “Yes.” And broke down. But having made the decision, I felt a temporary lightness and hope. I can be free.

If you haven’t decided to leave your situation yet, my post ‘How Do I Leave?‘ summarizes most of what I felt was helpful, or you can go to the ‘Leaving your Abuser’ tab on my home page and look at the blog posts there.

My original plan was to wait a month, get things together slowly, sneak things out here and there. It was simplified by the fact we had no children. But that night when I first went home, I realized I couldn’t maintain the facade for long. Apparently everyone on my very small team was relieved when I reduced that time frame to a week.

I had help, however. Having allies in this case makes an impossible seeming situation surmountable. 

Confessional

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been two months and two days since my last post…

It’s easy to forget sometimes, that this blog is just for me and no apologies are required or expected for my periodic absences. Those of us who write here float in and out as the moods (or muse) takes us, and that is okay. It’s the writing version of being a snowbird – one of those retired kinds of people who heads south to Arizona in the winter, and returns to the frigid north in the Summer.

Apologizing, however, is something on an ongoing struggle for me, particularly when I’m feeling on edge. I’m not sure if this is a product of my gender, as I am a woman, or something I picked up from childhood. Walking on eggshells for ten years certainly didn’t help. Regardless, lately I’ve been considering that phrase “I’m Sorry” , usually right after the words drop from my lips. My reasons for sharing it vary, but if I shake them together and sift them out, it seems like I am often apologizing for… well… being me.

Last year I worked harder to be authentic, and while I think I achieved some of that – I think the next little step in this journey is to be unapologetically authentic. Not that I need to go out of my way to cause others annoyance, or lose my empathy, but instead to own who I am without that momentary hesitation.

This goes so much deeper than the words. Perhaps it touches on something I heard in Brene Brown’s ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. “Guilt,” to paraphrase her, “is when we make a mistake. But Shame? Shame is when we feel we are a mistake.”

Ever since hearing her lecture series on audible a few months ago, I’ve noticed more when touches of shame rise in me. And when they do, inevitably, I find myself apologizing for situations beyond my rational control, or apologizing for me. Apologizing for being such a mistake.

The truth though? I’m not a mistake. I am a person who has made plenty of them, will continue to make them, certainly. But those errors don’t define me.

I’ve never graduated with my Bachelor’s. I’m not a failed college student. I’m a successful professional who’s moved up in my work despite my lack of degree.

I am a divorcee in her mid-30s. My relationship status doesn’t define me. I am learning better how to communicate in all my relationships – friendships, familial, romantic – and have healthier boundaries. Healthy relationships are a part of a good support system.

I “live” with my parents. I am not mooching off their generosity, I am working hard to be financially stable. My parents and I are room-mates, sharing responsibilities and each pulling our fair weight.

Working through and confronting my fears of self is a little arduous at times. But now that I can pinpoint when that needs to happen (often when I am apologizing for existing and being myself) I am able to remind myself that I don’t exist just to accommodate others and bolster them at the expense of myself..