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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.