“Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.” – Max Frisch
On February 13, I celebrated my one-year anniversary of arriving in New Mexico. I’m not sure if it’s actually arriving at this milestone or just the passage of 12 months, but I am feeling so different these days. So, I thought I’d write a post about it – my experience with that first year post-divorce, post-move, post-blowing-my-life-up. All this may be obvious to others, but since it wasn’t to me (even though I have divorced friends who have told me it takes 3 to 5 years to really get on your feet after a divorce, I guess I didn’t really believe them).
This past year was a tough one. I know I didn’t realize how tough it would be. I mean, I knew I’d be much less financially secure out on my own again after being married for more than 20 years. I knew it wouldn’t be easy moving across the Country from everyone and everything I knew and loved, especially since it was actually the first time I moved anywhere wholly alone, not even knowing anyone where I was moving to. I knew it would be difficult to be so far away from my children, even though they’re now away at college and aren’t at home anyway.
I knew all that. Rationally, at least.
Knowing it and experiencing it are definitely two completely different things. I didn’t realize how devastating it would all be. How anxious, scared, and overwhelmed I’d feel, every day. How sometimes, for days on end, it would be difficult to even get out of bed, much less do anything productive. How for weeks on end, months, I didn’t pick up my knitting needles (a way of nurturing and supporting myself, and a big way of relaxing for me). How there was so much I WANTED to do, how every day I wanted to be moving forward in getting to know myself again and creating a new life, but how many days ended with me feeling like I hadn’t done anything positive, productive, or self-supporting.
How many days would end, and I’d find myself deep in self-criticism for not painting, not doing anything productive, not doing anything towards my dreams and aspirations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I was in an ongoing emotional cesspool, and it felt like both a cloud enveloping me and quicksand I couldn’t extricate myself from.
Passing this one-year milestone, which I’d set more as a way to placate myself, so I could actually make such a huge move without completely freaking myself out thinking it was a forever-decision (as a good friend had said: think of it as a year; you can do anything for a year), is a success of sorts. I did something I set out to do. Anything beyond that is a bonus, the icing on the cake, right?
Anyway. That one year anniversary has come and gone. And I feel different. I feel lighter, somehow. Less anxious, less stuck. Not as mired in that emotional quicksand. Yeah, my financial situation is certainly not any better (in fact, it’s kind of worse because I’ve had to live on credit cards much more, especially since I closed my other business in August). But I feel less like I’m grieving the past, and more like I’m looking forward to, and moving into, the future. Today just feels brighter. It feels sort of like the clouds are lifting and I can see – I don’t feel like I’m just floundering and stuck anymore. Like I can actually breathe. And the financial terror – it’s still there, the credit card debt is still a stress, but for some reason, now I feel like I’ll be okay. I’ll create a new livelihood that I love and that nurtures me, and I’ll get my debts paid off and succeed in supporting myself.
I don’t know why this is. Is it that I’ve crossed this self-imposed milestone and enjoyed the success of reaching it? Or is it just the passage of time (does time heal all things?)? I don’t really have an answer. But some things I know for sure:
The first year post-divorce sucks, whether you’re the one who left or the one who was left; no matter how bad your relationship was or how ready (or not) you were to be out of it.
It’s not only okay, but completely understandable and acceptable, to grieve such a huge life change – again, it doesn’t matter if you’re the one who left, or the one who was left. And it doesn’t matter how good or bad your past relationship was. As I let myself feel this, I found I was grieving at least as much for the dreams and vision I had on my wedding day as the fact that I was now in my mid-50’s and divorced. In many ways, divorced felt broken to me; a failure, a ding to my self-worth. I’m sure for the people who were left instead of the ones who did the leaving (like I did), there’s a lot of added anger and betrayal to process.
What I’ve learned: you have to let yourself feel what you need to feel to work your way through it. No matter whether or not you understand it or can even put words to it. And no matter how much you want to rush it (get over it already is what I found my inner critic yelling at me), it’s going to take the time it takes.
Rushing it, burying it, criticizing yourself for it is just going to make it take longer to process, longer to work your way through it. Which is the only way to work your way past it. Feeling it, facing it, experiencing it, accepting it – you need to do all that to process it, and in processing it start to move beyond it.
Getting past that first year and forgiving yourself for whatever shortcomings you may feel it included is another life lesson for me. Far too many times this past year I would look back on the time that had already passed and think, “If Only.” If only I’d started painting a month ago, three months ago, six months ago. If only I’d stuck to my plan of getting back to my healthy weight, and starting to run and be active again, right away. If only I’d done all the things I’d planned in the timeframe I’d planned – how much further along would I be now to creating this new business and vision for my life.
Well. It doesn’t work that way. Looking back and criticizing yourself doesn’t do anything positive. It doesn’t magically make “now” different. You can’t go back and undo what you did or didn’t do. And, again, this first year is tough and I don’t think there’s any way to anticipate or prepare for it. It’s just not going to be like riding off into the sunset of your dreams, having everything go perfectly easy and right and “to plan.”
The only day you can change it today. And you can only do that when you’ve gotten to the place where you’re actually ready to.
There’s no doubt that the time leading up to deciding to divorce, and then actually getting through it, is difficult. I guess I thought once all that was done, I’d be on my way. And I was, just not in the way I imagined. There’s another whole journey after those papers are signed that must be taken. It’s not like you sign on the dotted line and POOF everything is wonderful (or, maybe it is for some? It hasn’t been for me).
I’m still on that journey. But one year into it, I’ve learned a whole lot, and what I’ve learned is helping me better navigate into tomorrow.
So. Be patient with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Realize that there will be days when it really is one step forward and two steps back. Try to quiet the inner demon who criticizes you and calls you a whiny baby (that’s one of the nicer things my inner demon has said to me). Stop thinking that you’re burdening your friends and loved ones with your negativity; if they’re really your friends and loved ones, they want to support you (even if that means listening to you whine and cry). You just can’t force yourself to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and dance off into tomorrow without processing how you actually feel and what you’re actually experiencing today.
So, feel it. Embrace it, in all it’s non-fun-ness (that’s a word, right?). Let it exhaust you. Every minute you spend accepting it and feeling it is a minute towards that time when you’ll be over it and moving into the next phase of your new life.
I don’t know what the next phase is yet, or what the next year will bring. But I do know it will be better (at least most days) than this first year has been, but only because I allowed myself the time to feel and process everything I’ve felt this first year. The days and the future are looking brighter. Today is a good day, most days. Finally.