Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Divorce Lesson #1

I’ve suddenly entered a new place in my life, traversing territory I never thought I would. A few weeks ago my husband told me he wants a divorce, and it was unexpected for me. This new landscape has been full of heartbreak, grief, anger, fear, anxiety, panic, denial, sleeplessness, PTSD reactions, and loss of appetite. I can’t say it’s been fun, but I’m learning a lot right now.

This post isn’t about the divorce itself– we put out a Facebook announcement about it (which you can read by clicking here, if you want) and have talked about it to people way too much. Suffice it to say, we are going to do this in as loving and nurturing way possible, and keep our friendship and closeness intact. Some people say it can’t be done. We are choosing to believe otherwise.

I wanted to write this post to start sharing some of what I’ve been learning in this process. It’s only been 3-plus weeks, and it seems more like a year has passed in how much has happened and changed, and my new insights and awareness. I’m in a place where I’m raw, I’m open and I want to make changes in my life to make me happier and more fulfilled. I can see now the many ways in which I’ve stayed stuck because of fear or old wounds that never healed. And I hope that whatever lessons I share might be helpful for others, whether you’re going through divorce or not. So here we go…

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

The first two weeks after my husband mentioned divorce were brutal. I was in a state of adrenaline rush (hence, no sleep), and my mind was racing and swirling, coming up with stories and thoughts at about the pace of every 30 seconds. The thoughts and stories centered a little on the past: “Why did this happen? Why didn’t I see this coming? What if I’d done this differently? Why did he do this? What about his issues? What about this event, or that?” Etc. But they mostly centered on the uncertain future that was now looming ahead of me: “What kind of life will I have? I don’t have a job? Will I be sad and alone while he’s out dating other women? Will I keep the house? Whenever I see a married couple, I’ll cry. Will he really want to stay connected to me? What does that mean? What will happen on holidays?” Etc.

Photo by Bob Alberti

Photo by Bob Alberti

My mind was expert at catching one little thread of a scary thought and spinning it for hours. I would be in such a state of panic, I couldn’t focus. I tried meditation, alcohol, reading helpful books and journaling. All these helped a little, but what’s helped most is constantly reminding myself to come back to the Present Moment.

The Present Moment is actually all any of us ever really have. We do have the Past and our memories, but those are gone, done, and we can do nothing about them now. The Future – whether it is lovely plans and goals we are imagining, or the worrisome, scary stories that I’ve been telling myself– it really isn’t real. It hasn’t happened and might never. It’s an illusion, and while having goals and plans and dreams are great, they don’t yet actually exist until we make it so. My scary stories are just as unreal—they don’t exist, they may never happen, and filling my head with them and torturing myself is only making me horribly miserable.

Telling myself scary stories is a habit I’ve developed, a worry habit, maybe a self-protective mode I developed in my emotionally chaotic childhood. I learned to scan my circumstances and look for the worst in the future so I could prepare myself, somehow keep myself safe. It was a survival tactic that probably helped me survive my childhood, but now it just gets in my way. Big time.

Now I’m having to develop new skills to get me through this current traumatic situation. It takes some time, a ton of practice, and a lot of repetition of soothing or sometimes sterner mental phrases to bring me back. For instance, “It’s okay, that’s just a scary story you’re telling yourself. None of this is happening today. Come back. Everything is fine in this moment.” Or maybe, “Cut it out. None of that is real. Focus on this moment here.” I’ve said such things to myself hundreds of times each day, and it really does help. Some days, I’ve managed to achieve a sense of peace and stay in the present. Other days I swirl round and round and never manage to calm the waves more than briefly. I know I’m building new neural pathways, and it takes some time for new messages and patterns to sink in. I am doing what I can, and I’m grateful for moments of peace.

That reminds me– gratitude can play an important part of staying in the Present Moment. When I start to list in my head all the things I DO have in this moment, I start to calm down and realize that things are not 100% bleak. I’m grateful for the sunshine and the pure blue sky today. I’m grateful for my three wonderful kids. I’m grateful for the ways my husband is supporting me in this process (yes, I know, even though…). I’m grateful for my new awareness of all the support and love around me as I share my pain with my community. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful for the new ways I’m growing, even if it hurts.

I am reminded of all I do have, and that brings some peace.

I know that planning and figuring out the future is going to be necessary, researching options and getting answers from professionals. But right now, when everything is so new and raw, I’m in survival mode. We are taking our time in this process (another thing to be grateful for) and I need to feel these feelings. I’m looking to be a healthier me—physically, mentally and emotionally, and shutting down or having a mental crisis because I constantly scare myself wouldn’t be good for me or others. I want this path to lead me to a better life for myself. It is an In-Between time, a time of not knowing all the answers, of living in uncertainty. And for right now, the Present Moment is the best place for me to hang out.

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12 Comments

  1. I’m proud of you! Being able to share such a difficult time in your life, will give you strength. Many of us have survived and came out pretty
    great on the other side, but it does take time. Be kind to yourself and take the time to restructure your life and expect good experiences. Remember how sweet lemonade can be!

  2. I can say “rejection” wears many a mask. I can say, it will all look differently a year from now. I can also say through my own journey…My husband worked VERY hard on me with the word FRIEND. For me, it wasn’t to be, and was never his plan. However, it saved him tons of money in courts, from spousal support, child support, health insurance, retirement benefits, our home, our vehicles etc…He going on to remarry, leaving me (jobless), our three young children and that “friendship” far behind him. He raised another woman’s children and the wife will receive his retirement etc… FAST FORWARD, thirty years later. I…we survived.
    I am remarried–happily. I am no longer in the state of poverty I lived and raised my children in. He and I are still not friends…in fact, he resents my “resilience”…the happiness and successes in my life. He, is still married, yet an unhappy bitter human, with life and his marriage. I have not one ounce of “hate” in my heart for him….I carry no grudge. However, he does. I am a survivor, as well as my children. Two boys, both happily married, both in the “ministries.” My youngest, only daughter, met her husband while she herself was serving in the military, they now too have a child of their own. My ex, did not fare as well, and to this day, he remains “the victim.” Life, is a journey we cannot predict or control all aspects of what it brings our way…it is “a gift” with no strings attached.
    Unfortunately, some of those things “life” brings our way, the more unpleasant things like your divorce…took me to early retirement. I have worked hard these past eight years on acceptance of this new chapter. Not working, gives one much free time on reflection and projection. I’ve much to be thankful for. My very life (almost lost in a work related tragedy), my husband, family, friends, and our home. At 61, I try not look back, I try not ask “why?”…..I try not dwell in guilt or regret of my own actions and reactions to hurts, betrayals and rejections. It was all necessary, all part of a plan, much greater than I. Part of me needed it all to grow, mature into a better human now more capable of grace in acceptance, and caring for this gift with no strings….life. You will walk your journey as you so choose, I wish for you a better walk than mine…with more clarity, self worth and dignity. Like growing pangs….and every corner turned, uncertain until we’re there…travels, paths yet to walk will take you exactly where you’re meant to be.

    • Wow, Tony, thank you for sharing your story. It is full of wisdom and life lessons. I will heed your warnings. I really appreciate hearing where you’ve been, and how you got to where you are now.

  3. I wish the best for you and support you in your journey.

  4. I think your insights about living in the present moment are so spot on. A few years ago I remember a homily by a priest, in which he spoke about worrying. One of his points was, when you worry about what MIGHT happen, there are two possibilities: first, you worry about it and it DOESN’T happen so you’ve wasted that time/energy/emotion on something that never had to be thought about…OR…it DOES happen and now you have to go though it twice – once in the worrying and once in “real life”. It made a lot of sense to me!

    All the best to you – this was so poignant to read.

    • Thanks Jeanine– what a great point your priest made. So true. I havne’t quite figured out what the seductive lure of worrying is yet. There is defintely a pull for me, and I have to work so actively to stop. It certainly does no good, no matter what.

  5. I support your life and your life to be with prayers and good wishes, Theresa. Take care of yourself. Don’t make any decisions or agree to anything too suddenly nor without good advice. I wish strength, comfort, wisdom for you and every personal success and happiness to come.

  6. First off, I wish you strength as you go through this process. Even if it’s for the better (which in the end, I tend to think everything is), it’s a rough path to get from the present to the future. For me, when going through a divorce, the hardest part had to be the feeling that the rug had been pulled out from under me. Like you stated, we never REALLY know what the future looks like, but we make assumptions about what it will look like. For me, it was the constant state of reminding myself that I wasn’t going to live in the house I was living in, necessarily have the same friends I had before (especially when some people feel compelled to chose which person’s “side” they are on) and even just not knowing how I’d spend a Saturday once I was no longer in that marriage. The idea of creating a new life is exciting and terrifying all at once, and I agree that focusing on the present is a wonderful way to remind yourself that you are, in spite of all of the changes, doing pretty okay getting through it.

    I also found that people’s reaction to the news that a divorce was impending was sometimes surprising. Personally, I was amazed at all of the people, many of whom were previously divorce women, who I felt were almost upset with me because I didn’t seem to be as angry as they thought I should be. I was surprised at the people (including one attorney I spoke with) who encouraged me to not let my daughter (then 2) see her dad, or do other equally malicious things. I find sustained anger exhausting and not particularly productive. I decided pretty early on to focus on it being a life transition, and not a war to be waged. Now, 8 years later, I’m happy to say that I consider Rob (who I never refer to as my ex-husband, because that defines him as the one thing that he is not) a friend. It’s also not all happiness and acceptance and sunshine and roses getting to that place, but it’s doable. Theresa – I’m sure you have offers of support running out your ears right now, but let me offer up one more just in case. 🙂

  7. I’m the child of not one but two divorces. My mom and my biological father divorced when I was 9, after he had spent 2 years cheating on her. He doesn’t really factor into my life. He really didn’t want to have much to do with us after the divorce. He’s a narcissist; the only contact he wanted was to stake his claim… on what, who knows. My brother has cut off all contact. I hear from him twice a year. He takes me out for a $15 meal and makes pointed remarks about how much I eat. It’s easier than cutting him off, honestly. That’s one of the more painful types of a divorce, but in some ways, it’s easier because it’s so goddamned clear-cut. He cheated. It’s over. There’s a right and a wrong and good and bad and it’s easier even though it’s more jarring.

    My mom remarried when I was 12. The man she married is who I refer to as my dad. Steve. He’s amazing. He was only 30 years old, but he jumped right in and started being a parent to a tense, high-strung, strange 12-year-old girl and a laid-back, acting out, hurting 9-year-old boy. He was our dad. And when he and my mom had two more kids, we were a family with no mentions of “half” sisters or “half” brothers or “step” anything. We were just us.

    And they stopped loving each other the way you have to love each other to stay married. They didn’t stop loving each other entirely, but they couldn’t be together any more. It wasn’t working. They were becoming bad versions of themselves, fueling each other’s worst traits with their own spiraling worsening traits. It was no one’s fault. It was both of their faults. It didn’t matter. This is another kind of divorce, and it seems closer to yours. No one transgressed. It just stopped working. And that almost makes it harder, because there’s no Reason Why to point to and blame. There’s just entropy, time, circumstance. And those things are intractable, unavoidable.

    We are all okay. Not only did we survive, we thrived. My mom did not remarry and will not remarry. She has found herself, truly, for once undefined by a man or a marriage. She sculpts, she paints, she writes, she cooks.

    My dad remarried and is very happy with my stepmom. We all have holidays together. My dad and my stepmom come to my mom’s house at Xmas. We have family birthdays together. And sure, it was weird at first. And it was hard, more so for them I’m certain. But we all love each other. Yes, even my mom and my stepmom. My mom and dad are still *great friends. The little in-jokes from their marriage still get made here and there. They talk on the phone, about the kids, about their lives. They were always amazing friends. They just weren’t very good at being married to each other.

    I love you and Bob both a lot. I have really enjoyed getting to know your family these last years, through Facebook and through little interactions here and there. I am really pulling for you, Theresa. You have a deep river of strength in yourself that I don’t think you see. I know how that feels. But I know you are going to come out of the fire, phoenix-bright and reborn; forged stronger than before, yet not brittle enough to break.

    xoxo

  8. Theresa- wonderful words and wisdom about being in the present moment! It is truly all we have. What a brave path you are blazing! (And I so understand the scary stories we told ourselves all the time – and what of those were a self fulfilling prophesy and what was I attracting to myself during this time?)
    Blessings, love and light to you!

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