Category Archives: Triggers

This too shall pass…

There are times when all the inspirational quotes in the world, all the positive self-talk, all the telling yourself that you should be over this, that you’re moving on, that you’re stronger and better than you were, all the kind supportive comments of friends, family and counsellors just don’t cut it.  Something triggers you and the tears and pain and grief cuts right into your soul leaving you as raw and in such emotional agony as those early days.

There’s nothing – nothing – anyone else can do to help or console you. You know you’re just going to have to go down that dark path by yourself and know you’ll come out the other end into the light.

And when you do emerge into the light, it’ll be bitter-sweet, because you know that somewhere down the line – maybe not for weeks, months or even years – that darkness is waiting for you up ahead, hiding out of sight, waiting to pounce again when you’re feeling vulnerable.

For me, it was a combination of things. I had packed away all the pictures that include my ex-husband – or at least I thought I had.  But last night I came upon a family photo taken of us all a couple of years before he left me. We look happy.  Solid.  I’m looking at the camera with total innocence, his arm around me, no idea that my marriage and family are about to implode.  

Was he planning his departure even then?  Is that photo a lie?

And if it’s not a lie, if we were happy, if we were solid, if he did love me, how could he have stopped loving me so suddenly?

That’s almost worse to deal with.

That started the descent. I’m also jet-lagged, recovering from a bad cold and dealing with a chronic low grade pain in my hip which is currently being investigated, so finding that photo when I was tired and run-down led to the perfect storm.

I cried for about a solid hour  – probably the first time I’ve cried that much for over a year – and I know that, sitting here writing this right now, it wouldn’t take much to start me off again. 

I know it’s going to be better.  I know my life already is better.  I just have to look at the jar of dimes I started at the beginning of the year – two jars, one for bad days, the other for good days. I add a dime to one of them every evening.  There are only 3 dimes currently in the ‘bad day’ jar.  Three out of seventy-two – that’s pretty damn good.

But when you’re in that pain, it doesn’t help.

But… I’m holding on. I know I’ll get through.  I know I’ll come out the other end.

But I’m not the same as I was and I have to accept that.  That happy innocent woman smiling at the camera has gone forever.

On the outside I might appear like I’m moving on, that I have my life in order – and I am.  Trust me, I am. But inside I know that my heart is broken.  It will heal – it is healing – but someone who has had a heart attack is left with a permanent scar on his heart muscle.

It’s the same, I believe, if your heart has been broken emotionally. That scar will always be there.  Most days you’ll be fine, but once and a while you’ll get a reminder of the damage.

And then it will pass again.

Hang in there.

Moving forward into the New Year.

Way back at the beginning, after my husband left me, one of the things that helped me get through that first awful year was keeping a gratitude journal. No matter how bad things got – his bullying, my grief, arguments with lawyers, concerns over money, sense of worthlessness, dealing with the bank; finding somewhere to live; going into social situations on my own for the first time – I decided that if I could find 3-5 positive things each day, then I had to class it as having been a good day.

They didn’t have to be big things:  a nice cup of coffee; only crying 3 times in a day instead of 5; hanging out with a friend or friends; walking a dog; finding a nice e-mail in my inbox; my granddaughter hugging me; the sun shining; my favourite song playing on the radio; the first snowfall; leaves crunching beneath my feet: hitting 10,000 steps on my Fitbit; a hot shower, a good movie or programme on TV; chocolate. 

Such a simple thing, but believe it or not, it helped.

Isobel and I are now entering our 6th and 3rd years alone.  On the whole, life is better than we could have imagined it in those early days.  There are still some rough times  – the Christmas season brought heightened emotions and a few tears – but on the whole, we’re both in a better place.

So we’ve decided to conduct an experiment this year.  We’ve both chosen two empty jars.  We’ll label one jar, ‘good day’ and the other, ‘bad day’. At the end of each day, we’ll decide what kind of day it has been and drop 10 cents into the relevant jar. Visually, it will be interesting to see what they look like, and if nothing else we’ll have $36.50 to spend on a meal out, new book or whatever.

Isobel’s jars

Please join us in this experiment. We’d love to know how you fare.

We would caution, however, that if you are still in that first horrible year, perhaps the gratitude journal idea might be a better idea for you.  And if your ‘bad’ day jar fills more rapidly than your ‘good’ day, please think about seeking out professional help.

Vhairi’s jars

May 2018 ease your pain and bring you hope for a healthy, positive future.

Our very best wishes – Isobel and Vhairi.

P.S.  I’m adding this paragraph on January 7th.  I hope your year is going well so far, but if you’ve had to add a penny to the ‘bad’ jar, perhaps add a little note with it, saying what happened and why.  Then, at the end of the year, you can look back on those days, examine why they were bad, and judge how well you are moving on.

Getting Through Christmas Morning when Divorced and Alone

Gift photo

I can cover it up pretty well when talking to friends and family, but the truth is, Christmas without a partner definitely has its low points. It hurts to wake up alone on a day that is so fully loaded with family memories, children’s excited voices, stockings dumped on the foot of our bed, the dog in the midst of it all with her own Christmas treat from Santa.
Sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but it wasn’t a movie, it was our life, my life.

The children grew up, moved away and have their own families now, their own Christmas mornings and rituals. I miss those times, I can’t deny that, but if I close my eyes and listen…

The man with whom I had shared almost 40 Christmas mornings left me one week before that special date. Now he’s my ex-husband with a new family, and I am a divorced senior woman. But even this cannot take away the joy of those Christmases past. What happens today does not change the past. My love for him then was as real as is the love I have for my children. I must remember this. I must not let the humiliation and pain of the way he eliminated me from his life erase those good, true feelings of the past.

So now I am building a new Christmas morning ritual for myself. Ahead of time, I buy little gifts just for me, wrap them and yes, stuff a stocking to unload on Christmas morning-a book I’ve been wanting to read, a pretty colour of nail polish, my favourite chocolates. I will make a cup of coffee for myself, put my feet up and admire my little Christmas tree, strung with the bright and shiny memories of the past.

I wish I weren’t alone on Christmas morning. I wish I had a loving partner beside me in bed when I wake, beside me on the couch while we open our gifts to each other. But that isn’t the way my story goes. No, for whatever reason, whatever rights and wrongs, my story has veered off into a different direction. I don’t know when or what the ending will be, but I do know that only I can write it.

And in my story, I choose that Christmas is a day of joy, a day of love, a day of peace and acceptance.

Merry Christmas to every one of us! May our loving spirits keep us warm and strong.

Christmas Decorations

‘Why do you have a spark plug on your Xmas tree?’ my son-in-law asked last weekend.

Ah… well… since 2005, every trip I’ve ever taken with friends or family, I’ve bought a Christmas tree decoration as a memory of that trip.

A few years ago, a friend and I were in Guernsey during the 60th anniversary celebrations of the island’s liberation from the Nazis.  The island held a parade where the islanders dressed up in uniforms and clothing of the time.  A rather dashing ‘dispatch rider’ – doesn’t a uniform really make a man?? – on a vintage motorbike stopped beside us, switched out his spark plug and handed me his old one.  That, I decided there and then, would be my Xmas memory of that trip.

One of the hardest things I had to do when sorting through the 37+ years of ’stuff’ that we had collected during our marriage, was figuring out which Xmas decorations to keep or discard. My ex’s sister had given us some gorgeous ones for our first Christmas together in 1977, including some silk horses I adored.  I remember the excitement in my heart the first time I hung them. But I couldn’t take them with me.  Those memories were too painful.

Culling each and every decoration was like culling each year of our marriage. In the end, I kept only the decorations from  trips without my ex, plus one belonging to my mum and dad which they’d bought in Germany in 1948.  I gave the handmade ones my kids had made when they were young back to them.

The rest, I left behind.

In 2015, I couldn’t contemplate putting up a tree.  But I had a granddaughter for whom Xmas was magic, so I strung up a set of lights and hung some stars from it. Each star represented someone who had helped me through the nightmare.

That year, a friend, whom I’ve had since before I even met my ex, cross-stitched me a banner that read ‘Happy Christmas’.  She wanted me to have something new, something I didn’t associate with my ‘married’ life, that first, hard, Christmas on my own. I cried my eyes out when she gave it to me.  After months of feeling worthless, stupid, of wondering if life was even worth living, I looked at the love in every stitch of that decoration, and…  well, she’ll never know what her gift meant to me.

In 2016 I moved into my new apartment and decided setting up a tree would be a declaration that I was moving on with my life.

For the past 30 odd years,  my ex and I had set up two trees every Xmas.  His was the ‘classic’ tree, decorated  with only white lights and red glass balls.

Mine…?  Although I called it the ‘Fairy Tree’,  my daughter lovingly described it as the Xmas vomit tree. Loaded with coloured lights, and every branch happily festooned with a decoration, there was nothing classic or elegant about it.  

The tree itself was huge, and with only the few decorations I’d brought from our house, it looked pretty sparse.  So you know what?  Another friend went to the thrift store, found some great bargains, and every single branch of my tree was covered. Xmas vomit to the ’n’th degree!

2017.

This year, there’s not a single ornament on that tree that doesn’t hold a deep and powerful meaning for me.

The Irish dancer?   Who could ever forget the sun setting over the Cliffs of Moher in 2005…

The four black labradors and one golden retriever…. How can I ever forget the love and support those amazing dogs gave me…?

The heart-shaped Outlander tartan… an amazing visit to Scotland this year with my friend and her daughter…

The hand painted silver ball my parents brought in Dusseldorf in 1948…

The cut out paper snowflakes my granddaughter made for me a few weeks ago…

The spark plug from that handsome fake dispatch rider…

When you’re divorced against your will, Xmas is hard.

All that ‘Happy and bright’ can feel very shallow.

But it’s just one day in the year.

One day.

It gets easier.

You’ll get stronger.

You already are.

And the lights will sparkle.

Special dates

Special dates hold power.  Sometimes they’re one offs  – graduation, moving into your first house, getting your first job, walking your child to school for the first time.

Sometimes they roll around every year – birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day.

Following a major life event – like divorce –  dates that once brought  joy, now bring… what?

I was married on November 2nd, 1977. Today would have been my 40th wedding anniversary, so it’s been looming large in my consciousness the past few weeks.  How will I feel?  How will I deal with it? Is it going to be as big a deal as I’m worried it might be.

Three years ago my husband and I were in the kitchen of our house.  I even remember what he was wearing – jeans, a blue and white striped shirt – and the scent of his aftershave – Old Spice.  We shared a kiss and discussed the fact that in three years time it would be our fortieth anniversary.  We’d been through a lot during our marriage –  separations due to his work, his infidelities and chronic health issues – and survived, so we talked about doing something special for our fortieth.

Less than six months after that discussion he’d left me for another woman.

Two months ago, they married.

To complicate things, November 2nd has always been a bittersweet date for me.  My dad died on our second anniversary, so while I celebrated the fact it was the day my husband and I were married, there’s always been a lingering sadness about the date because of my dad.

But that’s another story.

Today.

Today…?

What do I feel?

Honestly…? Better than I thought I would.

This is our third wedding anniversary since he left me.

The first one – our 38th – was very hard.

‘Firsts’ are hard, but in my experience, it was the second of everything – birthdays, Christmas, New Year, Wedding Anniversary – that was the worst.  The ‘first’ felt almost unreal.  The ‘second’ is when it really hit me – this was forever – but in the eyes of family and friends, you’re supposed to have ‘got over it’ by then – or at least, be well on the way to healing.  I know I was guilty of that kind of thinking before it happened to me, but for me, it’s this third year where things are really becoming easier.

Despite everything, I wish my husband and I had made it.

I wish we were going out for dinner tonight with our kids, our family intact.

But we’re not.

And it’s not.

And on this third anniversary of our non-anniversary, that’s… okay.  It’s getting better.

I promise you… whatever you are feeling now… it does – and will – get easier.

Hang in there.

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.

Two days ago, Isobel and I were discussing whether we should continue with this blog. We’re not getting a lot of traction on it, and after almost 3 and 5 years since our husbands walked out on us, we’ve been through hell, come out the other side, and are happier that we’ve probably been in years.

We’re happy.

Is that what someone going through the early stages of one of the worst experiences of their life wants to hear?

Only days ago I played a ‘game’ with myself where I took my ex and a friend, or family member, and said to myself, “If I could only see one of these people once more in my life, who would it be?” I went through a whole list of almost 30 people lining up each one against my ex. Not one of my choices turned out to be him, and oh… did I feel smug.

And then…

I knew my husband was remarrying this month, but it’s one thing intellectually knowing it’s going to happen. Hearing from someone that it had actually happened was something else. And then to check out her Facebook page – I know, I know. It was mad thing to do – and see her looking so young, pretty and deliriously happy…

All that pain came rushing back. I know in my head that after years and years of having to deal with his infidelity and chronic illness I am better off now than I was with him, but inside…

You can’t turn off 37+ years of loving someone just like that. Despite the divorce papers tucked away in my fire safe, despite everything, it hadn’t felt ‘real’.

And now?

All those feelings of inadequacy, hurt, pain, betrayal and loss came rushing back. Hadn’t I been the one to pick him up off the floor in the middle of the night when he’d passed out after his blood pressure dropped so low? Hadn’t I been the one to move our family, not once, but 3 times across the Pond so he could follow his dreams? Hadn’t he told me every day of our married lives that he loved me? What is so wrong with me that he left me?

Once again I thought about that spot in the river where I had decided that, if the pain got so excruciating that I couldn’t stand it any more, I would walk in and it would all be over.

You know something? This whole divorce shit sucks. It sucks big time. It messes with your brain, with your heart and with your whole sense of yourself. You look at yourself and the choices you made with your life and marriage and wonder – if this was how it was going to end up – how you could have been so f—ing stupid as to have stood beside him and supported him for so long?

And yet…

I was a good wife. I am a good person. When I heard the news of his marriage I was on one of the best holidays I’ve ever had in my life.

I was devastated. I wanted to crawl in a hole and weep.

But…

I will survive.

I will thrive.

And so will you.

There will be days when the pain and loss overwhelms you…

… but then you’ll wake up next morning and get on with your life.

If Music Be The Food Of Love…

maybe you need to change the record!

Noel Coward wrote, “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” He was right. Music has the power to conjure up strong emotions.

During that first year on my own, I just had to hear a piece of music from 1977 onwards, and it could bring me to floods of tears as I associated it with some part of our marriage. (Think Bridget Jones in her flat singing along to All By Myself.)

So I decided – in the short term – not to listen to music on the radio because I never knew what they might play and didn’t want to be caught unawares.  Instead, I listened only to music from before I met my ex-husband, and indulged myself in all the kinds of music I’d enjoyed when I was young; Broadway Musicals, The Beatles, Early Stones, Early Bowie, Early Elton John, The Monkees (I blush), and classical favourites amongst others. After attending a folk festival in Scotland, I also started listening to artists I’d heard performing there – Dougie Maclean, Duncan Chisholm, Ross Ainslie, Dallahan – brand new music that had no associations with my married life.

And you know what? It helped – a lot – allowing me to remember who I was before I became a wife and mother, and who I was now becoming.

I also created myself a playlist of empowering, inspiring songs. Here are just a few that helped me.

Let the Sun Shine.
Don’t Stop Believing
Defying Gravity
Let it go
When You Walk Through A Storm.
I Will Survive
Firework
Unwritten
Try

That cliché about time being a great healer is a cliché because it’s true. Now and then I’ll hear something on the radio and I might feel a pang, but time, and taking that deliberate enforced break, gave me distance… and strength.

If you have any particular songs you feel have helped you through your healing process, we would love to hear what they are.