If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet for the past few months. That’s because I’ve been dealing with a very painful personal issue which has sucked just about every ounce of creativity from me. I have wrestled with whether or not to talk about it in this blog. I actually started this post almost five months ago not knowing if I ever would post it. My decision in doing so today is because I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the subject recently. All divorces are different, but they all share one common aspect; severe, gut-wrenching pain. Although I am still early on in the process, this is how I’m trying to cope with mine. It’s rather a long post, but if it helps one other person out there who is going through the same thing to know that they’re not alone, then it is worth posting.
There are times when life turns on a dime. One day, my husband and I were booking tickets for the holiday we’d been planning for several months. A few days later he came downstairs on a Saturday morning and announced that he was going to visit our (adult) kids and tell them our almost 38 year-old marriage was over. No discussion. When asked why, his answer was that, ‘It would be best for both of us in the long run’. And that was it! (Although I discovered later there was much – much – more to it than that!)
There’s a name for us, apparently – silver splitters or grey divorcees – and we’re the fastest growing demographic when it comes to divorce. So if you’ve been totally blindsided, like me, what can help you get through those first few weeks of suddenly finding yourself unexpectedly alone?
I’m only a few months into the process. I still have a long way to go in coming to terms with everything that’s happened – and my counsellor has warned me that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better – but here are three things I’m concentrating on in my journey towards healing.
1) HEALTH: I’ve been pretty casual about my health over the past decade. Between shift work, family obligations, my husband’s illness and life in general, my own health has scored low on my list of priorities. But something my mum told me after my dad died really hit home. Not wanting my brother, sister, or myself to worry about her, Mum made her health a priority, going for a long walk along the beach every day – even when it was raining and she could barely see for tears – making sure she ate well and getting plenty of sleep.
My mum was of that wartime generation that just got on with things, so I’ve tried to take a leaf out of her book. Every morning I get up, brush my teeth, pull on my clothes and go for a walk along the river. I bought myself a Fitbit recently and have programmed in 10,000 steps per day. By the time my walk is over, I’m already more than half-way to my daily goal. My emotional heart might still be shattered but my physical one has had a workout.
As for food, I’m trying to mostly cook from scratch. Sounds like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. Throw some chicken and veggies in a wok, or even just zap a potato and have it with homemade coleslaw, grated cheese or a salad, and it can be cooked, eaten, and the dishes washed and put away before the pizza delivery man is even loading your order into his car. It helps to keep only healthy food in the house so I’m not tempted, but I am allowing myself one chocolate treat a day.
Same with alcohol. I drink only when I’m with friends and keep no alcohol in the house.
Sleep? Well that’s the hard one, isn’t it? My sleep pattern has been totally disrupted and I can’t remember the last time I had a solid eight hours sleep. Most nights when I go to bed, all I can think about it is what has happened to me, both before going to sleep and the second I wake-up in the morning, and my heart just pounds. There are nights when I can’t sleep at all, and pace the floor back and forth. (There’s someone in the apartment above me who also paces the floor at 2am. One of these nights I’m tempted to go upstairs and see if they want to go outside for a proper walk!) But I’m trying to keep to a regular routine. I tried some over the counter sleeping aids, but they fuelled some bizarre and even more upsetting dreams, so I visited my GP for a regular prescription. He only gave me seven tablets, so I can only take them when I absolutely have to. I’m trying to follow the advice you find on websites about getting to sleep: no electronics an hour before bed, turn down the lights, soft music, write my diary and plans for the next day etc. But it’s hard. When I turn the light off, my brain whirrs into action, so most nights I am forced to play a movie on my iPad on my bedside table to hold back the dark and the raging tumult in my brain. If I fall asleep before 3 a.m. it’s a good night.
2) GRATITUDE: Many days I just sit down and bawl. I never knew – or understood – the incredibly powerful physical, as well as emotional, effects of grief, but when I think about who and what I have in my life I realise I must be grateful for my good fortune.
FRIENDS: I’ve never thought of myself as having a lot of friends, but the one thing I’ve discovered through this is that I do, and they are AMAZING. You know who you are, so thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I’m very lucky in that most of the friends I’ve made over the years are friends that I’ve made through shared interests, and not social friends we made as a couple, so I’ve not had to face the nightmare of friends deserting me as everyone ‘chooses sides’. Quite the opposite. My friends have let me rant and cry… but also allowed me to laugh. One friend in particular refused to allow me to stay the first few nights in my new apartment alone. Her company meant that instead of ‘imprinting’ my new home with tears and a sense of failure – plus the added grief of having to put my elderly dog down when she collapsed on the same day I moved out the family home – we christened it with a bottle (or two) of wine, great conversation and a truly meaningful friendship. She and her husband have also helped me clear my things from my old house, which has made the whole process so much easier than doing it alone. Another friend took me clothes shopping. I haven’t had as much fun shopping for clothes since I was a teenager. Another jokingly signs all her e-mails to me as a ‘Founding member of the BAAC’ – Bill’s An Arse Club. Another invited me to visit her in Victoria to celebrate my birthday away from sad associations. But they have all listened. Thank you. You have no idea how much you have helped. I could not be working my way through this without your support.
FAMILY: I’ve had a bit of a rough patch with my siblings the past few years, but since all this blew up, their support has been phenomenal. Blood truly is thicker than water! Thank you.
FINANCES: I’m extremely fortunate in that I’m currently not having to forage around for enough money to live on. For now I have enough to get by – as long as I’m careful. I don’t know what the final settlement will be, although I will have to tighten my belt. 50/50 – as it is in Alberta – might sound generous, but given, for example, I will now have to pay 100% of the costs of my monthly expenses on half the money, it is still a 50% drop in income. But I remain lucky. I’ve heard of several girlfriends whose husbands have hidden all the money from them and they have been reduced to borrowing money from elderly parents or cashing in life insurance policies to have enough money to live until the settlement is finalised. That should never have to happen. You never know if it might happen to you, so if I can offer one piece of advice, it’s set up your own bank account if you can. Figure out how much money you would need to live for three – six – twelve months and then work towards creating that safety net for yourself. Just in case.
JOURNAL: Some experts recommend journaling as a way of coping with the pain, while some research suggests that it makes it harder to move on. I’ve taken a slightly different approach. It may sound rather Oprah-ish and new-agey, but I decided to start a Gratitude Journal. If I could find five good things about my day, then I decided that, despite everything, I had to call that a good day. They don’t have to be big things. Here’s a selection from my first month: Saw geese and goslings waddling down the street and failing to stop at the stop sign – just as well there were no cars coming; stunning view of downtown with the Rockies in the distance; great cup of coffee from The Good Earth; my granddaughter gave me a really tight, squeeze the air out of my lungs, hug; Marks and Spencer’s chocolate biscuits, mmmmmm; washed my car inside and out so she now looks new and shiny.
SELF: There are times when anger and despair engulf me. I feel stupid, discarded, and find myself questioning every single decision I have made over 4 decades. Sometimes I am literally breathless from terror, my stomach clenching and legs shaking, and it can hit anywhere – the grocery store, out for a walk, having coffee with friends. As a non-swimmer I can only describe the sensation as standing on the top of a high diving board, with no ladder behind me, and knowing I have to jump into 20 feet of water. It is physical and it is real and I am having to learn to deal with it.
In the past, like most women and mothers, I have put others’ welfare ahead of my own. Now I have to be kind to me. I must be – mostly – what matters for the next little while.
There are moments when my feelings of betrayal, followed by sheer utter stupidity, are overwhelming. When my husband left me, he wouldn’t tell me why, just that we would be better on our own and that there was no-one else in his life. And I believed him. Kinda Sorta. But not really. However, over the past few weeks, the truth has been revealed – and it’s not great. Where I thought I had started to heal, I am back at square one, but it’s been made much worse. His lies had also started to create a tension between me and my kids as they believed what their father told them. For months I’ve been questioning my life-long relationship with my husband – what has been true in all these years and what hasn’t. Sadly, now the kids are questioning their relationship with him too. So if there’s one request I have, it’s please – please – may the spouse who chooses to end the marriage put all the cards on the table at the beginning. When you walk away, you don’t just break up a marriage, you break up a family. It will hurt – dreadfully – but at least the healing for those left behind can start right away if all the facts are known from the start.
THE KIDS: Last – but very far – from least. It may seem strange that I didn’t mention the kids in my gratitude section. Of course I’m grateful to them. From the bottom of my heart. I’m not sure I could have got through this without them. They have been loving and supportive… but torn. As I said above, when a marriage breaks down, the family is changed forever. For the past 30 odd years, talking with them about their dad was part of every day, normal conversation. Now nothing is normal when his name is brought up. Maybe one day it will be again – but probably not for a long time.
There’s a common perception out there that divorce is harder on young kids than on adult kids, but with the recent explosion of silver splitters or grey divorces, research is suggesting that the opposite is actually true and the experts are only just starting to catch up. So if you are the parent of adult children, I would suggest you read this article from The Huffington Post on Adult Children of Grey Divorce. While I, as the discarded older spouse, am struggling to find ways to cope with the day-to-day, both practical and emotional, our kids are suffering too. We must remember that even though our hearts have be broken, we are still parents and must learn/remember/try not to cross boundaries with our kids, no matter how much we want to. They are still our children. My kids and myself recently met together with a counsellor and I can’t speak highly enough about the experience.
So these are my thoughts from a few months in. I know healing will be a long and slow process and I will long grieve the promised and looked forward to future that was ripped from me so suddenly on that Saturday morning in April. But I look around at women who have gone through the same thing and a few lines from a poem by Maya Angelou ring loud in my head.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
It’s still the middle of the night for me emotionally – and perhaps you, too – and I’m still afraid for the future. Dawn is not yet anywhere near the horizon. But even after the longest night, the sun rises. Oh yes it does.
So will I.
And so will you.