Letting Go and Moving Forward

How many times have I heard those words from friends, even strangers or read them in so many different books and articles? I know everyone means well, but really, how does one “let go” of 37 years of marriage as if they were no more than an old pair of jeans that no longer fit?

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. How on earth does one let that go? It happened. You can’t erase the past.

And “move forward?” Against the binding ties of so many years of life together? Impossible.

For a long time, it truly did seem impossible as I struggled through each day of fear and hurt and bewilderment, only to relive it all night after sleepless night.

It wasn’t until it was over, the divorce final, that I realized I truly was on my own. To be honest, I was terrified. For more than half my life, I had defined myself in terms of being part of a unit, one half of a marriage. And that was gone. Whatever had or hadn’t happened in the past–it was gone. There was no going back. No do-overs.

I wrote on a long sheet of white paper: Today is the first day of the rest of MY life. I read it every day. I tried to believe it.

But who was this person left in the wreckage? Where would she go? What would she do?

For me, that journey forward started with spotting a pretty pink armchair at the local recycling shop. It had curvy, soft lines and it made me feel good to look at it. Not trying to sound too pathetic, but back then, feeling good was sadly a rare occurrence. The chair was inexpensive, fit into the back of my old SUV and once I got it home, it became my place to sit with a cup of coffee in the morning. Just for me.

My husband would have hated that chair, but that didn’t matter anymore, did it? I could do whatever I wanted, couldn’t I? For the first time, that thought felt good instead of frightening.

Next I found some lovely lacy curtains (again at a thrift store – hey, I didn’t end up with much money but there is also power in being frugal). I checked out a DIY site on Google, then sanded and refinished the kitchen table. I dug out some fabric I had stashed for decades in the basement and recovered the chairs that went with the table. It was pretty. It made me happy.

I was making MY home.

Over the years, without consciously realizing it, I had shrunk my world to fit the confines of an unhappy marriage, trying to be someone else, someone that he would love. All I had accomplished was to lose little bits of myself along the way.

The joy I felt every time I saw sunlight filtering through those lacy curtains was opening a path in my heart. A path forward to myself that is reflected in how I go out into the world, what clothes I wear, the food I eat.

No way it’s an easy path. The thorny brambles of the past will always show up along the way. I stumble a lot, but I am moving forward into MY life.

Believe me, I’m not some paragon of strength and determination. It’s taken me five years to get to this point. But even a quivering sparrow of a woman can rise up from the cold ashes of divorce and grab hold of the joys that are out there in every day/

Well, I am here, alive and even thriving, and I am telling you: it’s all out there, waiting for each of us. One step at a time, right?

1,000 Days

On Friday January 19th, 2018, it will be 1,000 days since April 25th, 2015, when my husband ended our marriage.  A marriage that lasted 13,688 days – or thirty-seven years, five months and twenty-three days. (Not including how long we knew each other before then.)

1,000 days seems a good time to stop and take stock.  Where am I at this point in my life?  What have I come through?  Where am I going?

I’ll be honest, the first four hundred days were sheer hell.  About 150 days in, I can remember sitting in my rental apartment, wondering how much longer I could survive the emotional pain. I wasn’t sleeping, had no appetite, and the weight was dropping off me. How long until I started feeling normal again?  I asked friends who’d been through something similar.  They couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give me a time frame, but assured me I would get through it.  My grief was so overwhelming I wasn’t sure I could cope with such uncertainty. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and chose a place in the river if the pain became intolerable.

And yet… and yet… some amazing things happened to me in those 150 days. I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had.  I found myself a lawyer and apartment, and my friends and family rallied around me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It was spring, so I was able to walk in the fresh air every day and watch nature turn into summer. (The dramatic weight loss might not have been healthy, but it looked good!) 

I reckon I had a nervous breakdown about 300 days in. My brother and sister opened their homes to me, fed me, talked to me, walked with me and let me cry. That was probably my lowest point.  I’d experienced my 60th birthday, 38th wedding anniversary, Christmas and New Year without him. This was real.  There was no going back.  The ugly truth of my husband’s lies and deceit had been revealed.  The settlement was dragging on and I was lost in a fog of despair.

And yet… during those 300 days, I concentrated hard on eating well and walking at least 10,000 steps every day, so I was physically healthier than I had been in decades.  I’d given a workshop at a conference that was so well received, someone tweeted that my workshop alone was worth the whole conference fee. I’d started travelling, and attended a wonderful music festival where I stood under a night sky blazing with stars while a friend commented how blessed we were to experience such beauty. She was right.

Most importantly,  my daughter had a gorgeous baby boy.

Days 400-700 were a little easier, but still held challenges.  I was fortunate enough to be able to take another couple of holidays with a good friend. I decided to say ‘yes’ to every invitation I got, as long as it was safe and I could afford it. That attitude resulted in me having some great experiences and making new friends.  I bought an apartment, and after almost 40 years of not making any major financial decisions, discovered the process wasn’t so intimidating. Not when you’ve got great people helping you. 

Day 468, we signed the settlement papers. 

Day 681, the divorced was finalized. 

Days 700 -1,000  – I started to find my new normal.  I was sleeping.  The weight was creeping back on – sigh.  I was still travelling.  Although I continue to have fears about my financial future – who doesn’t – if I’m careful, I reckon I should be okay. My concentration isn’t fully back, so I can’t indulge my previous passion for reading, but I’ve been to the theatre more in the past 3 years than for a long time. My friends and family have stuck with me, and they are amazing.  

On the days I pass my ‘spot’ on the river, I feel a huge relief that it never came to that, but also anger that the man I loved could hurt me so badly I would even consider taking my life.  Three years on, I now know he would not have been worth it.

Moving forward,  I need to concentrate on my health, my family and friends, more travelling and get my career going again.  

I need to accept that I may never totally get over the sense of loss… and that’s okay. It means I cared. My marriage was important to me. I loved my husband deeply, and though I may have been somewhat naive, love is nothing to feel ashamed about.

I believe I am through the worst of it.  Way back at the beginning of all this, I never thought I would have a good day again, but my current reality is…I have way more good days than bad ones.  So my friends were right.  It takes time. No-one can give you a schedule to heal to… but you’ll get there.

Starting on Day 1,015, I have an adventure planned that I have dreamed about since I was 15 years old. It’s something I never could have done in my ‘old’ married life.  I’m excited about it, terrified too – as I’ll be doing it on my own – but trying to focus on being excited.  

If I pull it off, I’ll let you know!

The Other Woman

One sad fall-out from my husband’s affair – and subsequent remarriage – was having my eyes opened to the truth about women. As a nurse, my working life was spent mostly in the company of other women.  Nurses are amazing. They are compassionate and there to assist both patients and fellow staff members in good times and bad. Of course you find the occasional unpleasant one here and there, but on the whole they are brilliant.

I could never understand when female friends talked about the bitchiness they experienced working in offices, or not trusting other women. And I felt very fortunate in comparison to the back-biting my husband described in his mostly male work environment.

And when it came to the subject of affairs, I knew of only one woman amongst my friends who’d cheated on her husband.  Husbands who’d cheated on their wives…? Now that was a different story.  

I guess, over the years, I’d developed a Pollyanna-ish belief that, at heart, women are somehow better human beings than men.   We are the ones who give life.  We are the ones who nurture and protect.  We are the peacemakers. We are the ones who usually sacrifice our futures for the good of our loved ones.

And then, after months of secrets, lies and deceit, I learned that my marriage had broken down because ‘the other woman’ – his office wife, who I didn’t even know existed! – had given my husband an ultimatum.  He could have me or her – but not both of us.  

That revelation devastated two of my core belief systems.  First, that my husband loved me.  He’d told me so every single day or our marriage until shortly before he walked out.  Secondly, that women are more honourable than men. For every man out there cheating on his wife, there’s a woman knowingly – and deliberately – participating in that deceit.

That really struck home when I met with my husband’s mistress face-to-face.  I asked how, as a devout Christian, she could deliberately break four of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not steal, covet, bear false witness, commit adultery.  She shrugged, then smirked and said, “I don’t pretend to be a perfect Christian.”

Her response shocked and saddened me, and left me with a sense that everything I had believed to be true about my life and marriage for the past 37 years was a lie. Who could I trust if I couldn’t even trust my own judgement or memories?

As it turned out, there were plenty of people I discovered I could trust – the ones who rallied round and supported me through the pain. 

Perhaps it’s a good thing that my rose-coloured glasses have shattered.  I’ve learned that women can be just as deceitful and manipulative as men. 

But the opposite also holds true. 

Whether they are men or women, there are many honourable, trustworthy people out there too. 

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.