Tag Archives: The Grey Divorcee

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.

Friendship is a Lifeboat

Now that the “battle” is over (I have been officially divorced ten months), I have my future in my own hands: I have a life to live, a future to embrace. Right? Well, maybe not exactly quite there yet.

I had thought I was coming to grips with the rejection and grief that official court-signed document had delivered when I first read the words: Certificate of Divorce. Yet more and more I realize I have been withdrawing into myself. Was I depressed? Yes. Was I anxious about this wide-open future? Absolutely terrified, to be honest and still am. I’ve been taking a mild anti-depressant for over a year now and that helped me to stop bursting into tears at little or even no provocation, but the grief over the death of my marriage, the fact that money is a constant worry. No little pill can make any of that go away.

I was drifting further and further into the hinterland of aloneness, staying home, not answering letters, turning down coffee meets with friends, even family. I’d say I was busy, but the truth was I just couldn’t get out of my misery and into the world. I didn’t want to hear one more person tell me that I’m better off without him. I know that but why can’t I get over the stupid, senseless grief?

About one month ago, I caught a shining sliver of light at the end of the dark tunnel.

I sit on the Board of a local writing group and one morning I found myself obligated to attend a Saturday meeting. I guilt-talked myself into going to do my duty as Secretary but in reward, I would leave right afterwards before the monthly workshop began. And worst of all, it was to be some sort of “touchy feely” workshop in which we were all going to–God forbid–discuss and record our writing goals and dreams. Write them down and put them in a homemade “Dream Box.”

I had once wanted to be a writer, but all I’d written for the past four years were lists, emails to lawyers and endless, fruitless job applications. My writing goals and dreams? Vanished into the mist of the past, just like my marriage.

Oh, I was really on a sorry-for-myself roll. I dragged myself around the house to shower, got dressed, drove to the meeting and sat down.

But…just before the meeting began, one of my writing friends commented that I looked tired. “Yes,” I answered, “I am tired today.” (Setting up my exit for after the meeting, you see.) And oh sure, there came the ever-present tears. I WAS so very very tired–all the time tired. This gentle person standing in front of me said something, I’m not really sure exactly what: a simple comment (not pity) about depression, about how the miracle was that one day, unexpected, the heavy cloud will be gone. She understood, didn’t try to “jolly” me out of it, but in a few words let me know that I was not alone, that we are all together in this soup of life.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so lonely. Some of the weight in my heart did miraculously lift.

I stayed after the meeting and I made the flipping dream box complete with someday writing goals that I dredged out of myself. I talked for a long time with a writing friend I have known for more than 20 years. Divorce, loneliness, none of these topics were mentioned directly, but my friends were there, offering their presence to me like a warm soft blanket. Not a cure, but such a comfort to be around people who care…about me, of all people! I think I needed to know that I wasn’t completely rejected, not hopeless, not unloved.

That day my friends picked me up, dusted me off and sent me back out into my new world without seeming to do anything. I want to remember this: how simple words can mean so much, how it isn’t a weakness to reach out but rather just part of being human. And maybe most important of all, not to be afraid to accept love.

Get up, Get Out, Get Going

My mum was sixty-three when my dad died.   She lived on an isolated island, my siblings and I between 3-24 hours travel distance away. Ever the mother, she didn’t want us to worry about her, so, despite her great grief, she did three things to keep herself healthy.

1) She tried to eat well even though she had no appetite.

2) Come rain or come shine, she went for a walk every day along the beach, sometimes barely able to see as her tears mixed with the rain soaking her face.

3) Instead of burying herself at home, she forced herself to accept invitations from friends to go for a coffee or a walk or visit her kids and grandkids. Mum hadn’t worked since she was 22, but she loved cooking, so a few years later, she ended up taking occasional jobs as a cook and housekeeper in well-to-do homes in London and the Home Counties. (But that’s another story!)

I sometimes think my own grieving process might have been easier if I’d had a job to occupy my brain and all those empty hours. One of the special challenges of a later-in-life divorce is that you may be retired and no longer have a structure to your day, so you will need to find one.

When my ex walked out on me, all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and cry. And for some people, that is the way they will heal. But I was scared that if I took to my bed, I might never come out.

Like my mum, I didn’t want my kids to worry about me, so I decided to try and follow her example.

1) I forced myself to eat well even though I had no appetite. (I lost 27 pounds in a year. They don’t call it the Divorce Diet for nothing!) I bought myself an electric wok so I could stir-fry meat and veggies every night. It took ten minutes (including chopping), it was nutritious and left me with little cleaning up to do.

2) I set my alarm for seven every morning and forced myself to get up even if I’d only managed to fall asleep two or three hours earlier. Before I had time for second thoughts, I pulled on my clothes, peed, brushed my teeth, made my bed, and went out for a walk along the river path. Like my mum, there were times I could barely see for tears, and once I came back from my walk, I didn’t want to disturb that freshly made bed. Later, I bought myself a Fitbit and challenged myself to walking 10,000 steps a day. At first it was hard…but in time it became second nature.

3) My friends were great and rallied around me. Like my mum, I accepted any and all invitations and made 2016 my year of saying ‘yes’. If someone invited me somewhere or to do something – and it wasn’t dangerous and I could afford it – I said ‘yes’, and through doing that, my world started to open up in ways I couldn’t imagine.

This routine got me through that first awful year. At the end of it, my emotional health was still pretty raw and patchy, but I was physically healthier (I have the blood work results to prove it!) and fitter than I had been in over a decade.