Sometimes, when it’s hard to look at your life straight on, it helps to consider moments in it as a story – or metaphor.
The week before my husband left me, we’d booked tickets for a ten-day music festival in Scotland. Six months later I went to that festival with a friend.
It was a wonderful, yet difficult, experience. My ex and I had seen Dougie MacLean – the main performer – just a year earlier, and although I loved the company of my friend, I couldn’t help thinking about my ex, and how he should be here with me. The fact that the festival happened during our first wedding anniversary apart made it all just a little more painful. But it was a great ten days – the music toe-tapping or soulful, but always inspiring.
The final concert was to be held in a large tent in the grounds of an upmarket hotel. As it was only a mile away, we decided to walk.
On the way it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And rain. Too late to turn back, we just kept plodding on, getting wetter and wetter. Loads of cars passed us, but none offered us a lift, and by the time we got to the hotel, we had to try and dry ourselves out under the hand dryers in the Ladies.
Not a good start.
But the concert, with all the musicians who had participated in the festival that week, was amazing. And in keeping with true Scots hospitality, tea and biscuits (or a ‘wee sensation’) was served at the interval.
When the concert ended, Dougie MacLean asked us not to head home, but to gather outside on the lawn. He wanted to record his song ‘Wild and Windy Night’ with the audience singing the chorus.
Fortunately the wind and rain had stopped by then. The sky was littered with stars, the trees around the hotel lit up with fairy lights.
And then we sang.
Will you hear me if I’m calling on this wild and windy night? Will you catch me if I’m falling on this wild and windy night?
With all those voices around us – some on-key, some off – it was pure magic. (And my friend and I can now say – legitimately – that we have sung with Dougie Maclean!)
But there was more magic to come. We met up with some friends and decided to walk home together in the dark. Plenty of people now stopped to offer us a lift, but now that the storm was over, the sky was so clear, the stars so bright, the constellations shimmering… none of us had ever seen anything like it, and we didn’t want to miss a moment by getting inside a car.
What about the story/metaphor? Only six months since my husband had left me, I truly was in the middle of my own personal Wild and Windy night. But, just for a moment, the skies cleared, the stars came out, my friends gathered around me to hear and catch me when I was calling and falling. It was a night of peace and hope in the middle of what was, for me, a very dark emotional landscape.
As my friend said of that evening… we were truly blessed.
I am truly blessed.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve always loved travelling; from my first sight of the sea when I was a wee girl, to that first train trip down to London, to my first sight of Venice when backpacking around Europe as a teenager, to that first transatlantic flight.
I know my way around airports and train stations, and am pretty comfortable hiring cars and booking hotels. But – apart from a few flights – I’ve never actually travelled on my own. It’s always been with people, or on my way to see friends and family.
Now that the divorce process is over, I have this fancy that one day I’ll spend time in countries I’ve always wanted to visit – which means I may have to do it on my own. So… I took some baby steps towards that recently. Forget about two weeks or one month travelling on my own. Could I do it for one day?
To be honest, I was really nervous when I picked up my car rental. I had decided to spend one day and one night on my own visiting a historical attraction I’ve always wanted to see, then stay overnight in a private hotel in a small village, rather than the airport hotels I’m more used to. How would it go?
Well… it didn’t start well. The weather was appalling – bucketing rain and gale force winds. To top if off, I dropped a bottle of cordial on my way to pick up the car, which meant that everything I was carrying – and wearing – got splattered in sticky. Sigh! Was it a ‘sign’ I wondered, that I shouldn’t be doing this? (I’m a great one for signs.)
But the rental went smoothly, as did the drive. I got lost only once – despite my sat nav. The historical attraction was great, I joined a tour, and when it was over, a woman kindly offered to drive me back up the very steep hill to where I’d parked my car.
All that was left was the drive to the hotel – across 10 miles of deserted countryside. I only passed two cars en route and my imagination ran riot. What if I broke down out here? What if I ran off the road and no-one found me for a day… or a week… or… ever???? What if…?! What if…?!!
And then I saw the view in front of me. On one side of the road was an ugly clear-cut, with only a few remaining dead trees scarring the hill. On the other? A serene landscape highlighted by a tiny burst of sunshine on a very grey day. I stopped the car and took a picture, imagining the clear-cut represented the death of my marriage and ugliness of the divorce process. The other side of the road? Hopefully the promise of a golden-ish future.
And you know what? When I arrived the hotel, the owner and his wife were wonderful. They helped me with my bags, and provided me with books on the area when they heard I had old family connections in the neighbourhood. I sat in front of a wood fire in the cosy lounge writing e-mails for an hour, and then had the most delicious dinner.
Next morning, after a fabulous breakfast and leisurely walk around the village, I headed home. I’d managed one day travelling completely on my own.
We’ll get there.
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.
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.
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’.
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?
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.
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.
When someone you love deeply treats you as if you were nothing, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like you are truly nothing.
The term Gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which a ‘loving husband’ tries to convince his wife, and others, that she is going mad. Of course she’s not – he’s manipulating her through lies and deceit to get something he wants.
Sadly – very sadly – it’s a technique many men use when ending (or sometimes within) a relationship.
Truth and lies become fluid. If you are the victim of this behaviour, you will probably find yourself questioning your own sanity. And even when your husband is caught out in a lie, he may continue to argue it’s not something he would ever say or do. And because you love him you’ll want to believe him.
So how can you protect yourself against being gaslit?
Firstly, listen to your gut. If you sense there’s a disconnect between what you’re being told and what you feel, there probably is.
Take some time to think back on your relationship. Are you aware this has ever happened before? If he’s ever done it once before – even on something minor – he has the capacity to do it again.
Try and protect yourself from being taken in again either before, during or after the divorce. This might involve writing down things he says or does that don’t sound correct to you – and perhaps even e-mailing them to a friend. If/when he denies he ever said or did them, you have the proof that you are not mad.
And if he does still try, or manage, to gaslight you… do NOT be hard on yourself. You are NOT gullible. You are a good, trusting and trustworthy person – qualities you do not want to lose.
Healing from an emotional avalanche is a long, long journey, often beset by many setbacks. For me, the early days were the baby steps of putting one foot in front of the other in the hope of simply making it through the day – and night – before waking up and starting all over again.
I’ve talked before about the things that helped – family, friends, walking, eating properly, starting a gratitude journal, but there was something else that helped me a lot when mind was unable to focus on reading anything longer than a paragraph. Pinterest.
Yes, you read it right.
Specifically the thousands and thousands of inspiring and motivational quotes you can find there.
These and many others helped me see I was not alone in my grief and that there was hope out there.
Only as my concentration and focus started to slowly return (it took over a year year) was I able to try to read some of the books recommended by friends and family. Vikki Stark’s Runaway Husbands. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Eckhardt Tolle’s The Power of Now, Brene Brown’s Rising Strong.
I still love Pinterest for its quotes and check it out every few days.
But there’s also one video I return to that is inspiring and humbling. Maybe you’ve seen it already – Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. (Click here to view.) I saw him first on Oprah and then watched his Last Lecture in its entirety on Youtube before buying his book.
The lessons he teaches are simple yet profound. My body might not take too well to bouncing anymore, but I’m going to work hard at following his example and be a Tigger rather than an Eyeore.