Divorce. This is the last place in the world I thought I would be moving towards at the age of 52. Yet, at the same time this was a very conscious choice for me. It was a decision that was years in the making and turned over and over in my mind and heart. There are days I find myself in a place of anticipation, fear, joy and sometimes uncertainty. Well, oftentimes a lot of uncertainty.
I married young, certain that this man, my rock, and this marriage would rescue me from my chaotic family life. I would raise children with love and safety. For me, our unconscious agreement was that we would create a cocoon where the four of us would be safe. But as can happen, eventually the cocoon became restrictive and suffocating.
It has been thirty years. I grew up in this marriage. Birthed two beautiful children. Found my calling. But at some point when we grow and change as individuals, love has to expand and transform as well. Couples need to create new reasons to recommit and to love. That didn’t happen for us and as life does sometimes, things didn’t go as we had initially planned.
At some point I knew I had to leave my “safe house of identity”. In her book Talk to Me, Anna Deavere Smith says that when we leave these safe houses, we end up in the “crossroads of ambiguity”. She goes on to say that “on the one hand, they are not comfortable places. On the other hand, in them one acquires the freedom to move” (p. 24). And that movement was what my soul was aching for. To stretch. To expand. To take up space.
I have learned that with the call to be free of something as defining as a 30-year marriage there also comes some degree of messy. Although the decision to leave a marriage has lead me to a more authentic life, there can also be a surprising amount of ambiguous-looking feelings that go along with it before I feel as if I have truly arrived on the other side.
Given I am usually one who relishes the thought of deep and sometimes messy work, truthfully, I don’t always embrace the degree of honesty this leave taking continually invites me to experience or the uncertainty that it gives rise to. So, as I move through this time with its challenges and with its gifts, I have found it helpful to call upon some pretty basic reminders.
1. Wait. Resist the urge to fix and plan. When we feel uncomfortable and think things are stalled or not moving fast enough, it can be easy to distract ourselves with planning the next adventure, relationship, whatever. Examine your impulse to jump into something new. Is it a distraction? Will it be worthwhile? Or do you just need to wait out the change and give things time to manifest? I love Kate Northrup’s post on how to be with waiting.
2. Be still. While you wait, breathe, pray, meditate. Find a refuge. Do it all or in some combination. Slow things down, way down. Give yourself time to integrate the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual changes.
3. Play. Lots of it and I mean LOTS!! For many of us this is new and sometimes scary concept to hang out with. Play exercises parts of our brains and hearts in ways we may have forgotten. Play, according to Stuart Brown, even makes us smarter. I took up softball since starting my new life. Not the competitive kind, more like the “you rock no matter how many times you missed my pitch” kind of softball. I love it.
4. Laugh. Lots of this, too. Laugh with others and especially when you’re alone. I like nothing more than finding that one youtube video that gets me going. No one is in the room with me. I’m laughing my head off. Before I know it I’m cry/laughing at the fact that I’m laughing so hard all by myself.
5. Shift gears. It’s so easy to get stuck in fear or self-doubt. Sometimes understanding that you are in a pattern of old feelings can help. And sometimes you need to chop wood, carry water, as I like to say. Make your bed and do the dishes. Clean the toilet. When you’re not sure what to do, organize the silverware drawer. Better yet, turn on music and dance. It won’t fix everything but it can give your body and mind space to breathe and interrupt that stuck brain loop.
6. Trust. Not so easy? Yeah, I understand. Our culture and family systems can be great at feeding the cycle of fear. You’re birthing a life. Finding the trust in yourself that you can do this goes a long way. You’ll have up and down days with this. Ride the waves.
7. Ask for help. Friends, lovers, professionals. Leaving the confines of what has always felt safe requires love and care. It calls for a circle or tribe that is uniquely yours. You don’t need a lot but make sure they are people that get you most of the time. The ones that you can trust to be brave when you are finding it tough. And the ones who challenge you to love yourself when you think there is nothing in there to love.
I will arrive on the other side of this. I know this to be true because after all my years I have had the honor of more than a few life challenges. I will keep walking as I did before. I will rest when I need to because I understand the value of stillness when it gets to be too much. I remind myself that of this when I feel like I’m in the eye of the storm. And it will pass. It always does. But the other truth is that I will not be the same person on the other side and that is both scary and fucking amazing. I can’t wait.
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