Tag Archives: The Grey Divorcee

Feeling Vulnerable

My back hadn’t felt good since a recent trip.  I’d lugged heavy luggage up and down way too many flights of stairs, and although the shoes I’d worn – with my orthotics! – were good solid shoes, they perhaps hadn’t been right for so much walking.  But I figured that things would sort themselves out after a few weeks back home in my normal routine again.

Wrong.

I was in my apartment one Saturday morning, bending down to pick something up, when my back ‘went’.  I sank to the floor, the pain so intense that I struggled to catch my breath.  My legs tingled and I felt panic rising.  Was this a stroke?  Was I going to be paralyzed?

I was at the farthest point in the house from a phone and I couldn’t move for the pain.  I waited about 10 minutes, trying to calm myself with deep breaths, then managed to shuffle on my butt down the hallway towards the kitchen and found my cell phone.  With that in my hand, I hauled myself on to a chair and sat trying to work out what to do. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I wanted someone to know what was going on, so I called my daughter.

“Do you want me to come over, Mum?”

“No.”  She had a one-year-old to look after.  “I just need you to know I’m not feeling too great.”

And then I started crying.

“Seriously, Mum, are you okay?  Do you want me to come over?”

I couldn’t answer.

And then she asked…”Are you feeling very vulnerable?”

Bingo. She’d hit the nail on the head.

Sprawled out there on the floor, in pain, unable to reach my phone, alone and frightened, that’s exactly what I’d felt.  And angry too.  After years and years of nursing my ex-husband through all his emergencies, the one time I could have done with someone there to help me, I was on my own.

To cut a long story short, although I got treatment for my back, I have been left with some issues, and those issues have forced me to face my vulnerabilities head on and deal with them.

My personal vulnerability, for now, is a health issue. Yours may be financial, for another person it could be safety or security, someone else’s may be loss of family, loneliness, depression.  You name them, our vulnerabilities are out there.

So, from someone who has no expertise, except having experienced one particular vulnerability myself, here are my thoughts to best protect yourself.

1) If it’s an emergency, don’t mess around. Call 911/999 if it’s a life-threatening health or safety issue.  If it’s still a crisis – not a life-threatening one, but you still need help – reach out to family, friends or other professional organisations that can help in that crisis moment.

2) Once the immediate crisis is over and has been dealt with, face your vulnerability straight on.  Can you give it a name? What steps can you take to stop/prevent/reduce the risk of it happening again?

Given that mine was a health crisis, but not life-threatening, I rested over the weekend, then made appointments to see my doctor and physio as soon as I could.  (I’m very lucky, living in a country with free health care, as I know this isn’t an option for everyone.) I got appropriate treatment, continue to do daily exercises to strengthen my back muscles, ensure I have over-the-counter pain medications in the house should I need them, always wear decent supportive shoes when I go out, have cut my luggage down to the bare minimum when I travel, check in with a friend via e-mail, and text my daughter, every morning, just to make sure we’re all okay, etc.  If yours is a financial, physical, or emotional vulnerability, list the steps you can take to better protect yourself in the future. Ask a professional for advice. Talk it over with someone who has been in a similar situation.

3) We’re all getting older and the reality is that this vulnerability – or another one – could strike at any time.  There are no guarantees in life, but remember this – you got through this crisis, you can do it again.  You’re stronger than you think. Trust in yourself, try to find people who can support you, be prepared, keep your attitude as positive as you can… and it should all work out.

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?
Yes.

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.

Coping with the Stress of Divorce

Dog in blanket

One thing I learned early on in the process of becoming single again was that I had to find a way to protect my health. The stress of having my world turned upside down and inside out was my biggest enemy to battle. And being 60 when it all began didn’t help! Getting older has its own stress menu to deal with.

I wasn’t sleeping well, to say the least. I worried about money, about my relationships with my adult children, with my friends, with my lawyer. At my annual physical, I broke down in tears when the doctor asked me how I’d been feeling.

I got so tired of hearing about how bad stress is for me. Okay, I know that but how on earth does one “deal” with stress? It just is, isn’t it? How could I eat healthy when the only food I could stomach was potato chips and chocolate? Stress wouldn’t let me eat healthy.

And oh, big revelation, stress affects sleep. Lying in bed, thoughts and scenes played through my head, a dozen at a time and all bad, all leading to other worries, other what if’s. It got so that I dreaded going to bed. It got so I drank two glasses of wine every night to buy myself a couple of hours of relief. And then I had that to worry about–was I becoming dependent on alcohol?
All not good. All building stress upon stress.

I googled “How to cope with stress,” and read about eating well, meditating, exercising…all things that seemed impossible to accomplish at the time. An entire day of preparing statements and information for my lawyer would go by and me not eating anything, not wanting to eat anything, not even feeling hunger. I lived alone now–no one to cook for or share a meal with. Yes, I felt sorry for myself. I became dehydrated from shedding tears. I couldn’t stop crying.

Meditate? I couldn’t focus enough even to read a book, let alone meditate. As for exercising- well, I went for walks with my dog, but that wasn’t offering much in the area of cardio. I was heading downhill fast. I knew it but I thought that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Divorce Stress is Different

One article that I came across in my search actually took a look at stress specifically in relation to divorce, arguing that divorce is the most stressful experience a human being can experience in that it is ongoing and affects every aspect of life.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201207/where-are-you-the-divorce-stress-scale

In this article, the author recognizes that coping with (not eliminating) stress from divorce is an ongoing process that is different in many ways from the usual strategies. She talks about getting information and becoming knowledgeable about the legal processes, brainstorming options and making a plan. Working towards being in control of the situation as much as possible can really help. That was it! I had lost control of my life; I needed to find new stars to steer by. Maybe there was a way to get safely to shore on my own.

Dealing with stress was under my control.

After that, I did try to eat better; I didn’t always succeed, that’s for sure, but I became more aware of what I was eating and tried to see that it was my choice whether to go for the cheese and crackers or instead add some cheese to a quick salad. I went for rambling walks with my dog, deciding just being outdoors on its own was better than no exercise at all. (And it made my dog happy, which made me happier too!)

The arthritis in my joints wasn’t going to let me take up jogging or aerobics at the gym, so I had to stop berating myself about cardio. I kept track of my blood pressure and took yoga classes. I stated taking a mild dose of an anti-depressant to counteract the sleeplessness and emotional breakdowns.

These things all helped, but the strategy that benefited me the most was talking out loud about my situation, as difficult as that was, especially in the beginning. As I opened my own bank account, negotiated my first “single” auto insurance policy and having to explain the why of it, the kindness and understanding of strangers over the phone was a touching surprise. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but nevertheless, it just felt so good when someone would say, “I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through a divorce. It’s a stressful process.”

There was such comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in this sea of failure and rejection.

Expressing what was happening as a simple fact and dealing with what had to be done one step at a time, brought me out of my head and into the world. Casting light on my fears gave me the strength to find ways to overcome them.

And each time I achieved one step forward, I felt that little bit better about myself and my situation.

 

 

 

 

Runaway Husbands

RUNAWAY HUSBANDS: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal by Vikki Stark.

Website: http://runawayhusbands.com

I love this book. It was my ‘bible’ in those first few months after my husband walked out on me, assuring me I was not alone, and talking me through the healing process. Even now, two years later, I’ll pick it up, and read through a few pages. There’s always something in there that helps me see how far I’ve come, in both practical and emotional ways, but still acknowledges the hurt and loss that will probably – to some extent – always be with me.

Written by a therapist, who was blindsided when she found herself in the same situation as so many of us, she gathered together the stories and thoughts of over 400 women who had also been abandoned. Patterns emerge thoughout the book, both of pain and healing. You – and we – are not alone. Other women have walked this path before us. Their stories are painfully recognizable… and their healing and transformation inspiring.

Close to the beginning of the book, Vikki Stark gives the 10 Hallmarks of what she calls Wife Abandonment Syndrome. Working my way through the list, I ticked off nine-and-a half of them. (I was fortunate – my husband didn’t leave me destitute.) I found the list extremely helpful as it left me feeling less stupid. I wasn’t the only person who had been manipulated by a man I loved.

Here is Vikki Stark’s list. I hope it helps you the way it helped me.

1) Prior to the separation, the husband had seemed to be an attentive, emotionally engaged spouse, looked upon by his wife as honest and trustworthy.

2) The husband had never said that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving the marriage, and the wife believed herself to be in a secure relationship.

3) The husband typically blurts out the news that the marriage is over out-of-the-blue in the middle of a mundane domestic conversation.

4) Reasons given for his decision are nonsensical, exaggerated, trivial or fraudulent.

5) By the time the husband reveals his intentions to his wife, the end of the marriage is already a fait accompli and he often moves out quickly.

6) The husband’s behavior changes radically, so much so that it seems to his wife that he has become a cruel and vindictive stranger.

7) The husband shows no remorse; rather, he blames his wife and may describe himself as the victim.

8) In almost all cases, the husband had been having an affair. He typically moves in with his girlfriend.

9) The husband makes no attempt to help his wife, either financially or emotionally, as if all positive regard for her has been suddenly extinguished.

10) Systematically devaluing his wife and the marriage, the husband denies what he had previously described as positive aspects of the couple’s joint history.