Divorce with dignity? Ha! Here’s how I lived to tell my tale.

Here are some of the things that happened to me after I decided to leave my long-term marriage.

First, I left my marriage. Then I left the family home. I rented a tiny place for my son and me. I lost my job. I had one confused and hurt little boy who required a lot of extra TLC – and a place to channel that anger that wasn’t always directed at me. One of my closest friends asked me to sleep with her husband, a man I had been friends with for years, so she could have an affair with someone she had lusted after for months. (I declined.) I did, however, develop inappropriate crushes on unavailable men. I ended up having two medical mishaps – after fortysome years of good health. Both required surgery, one landed me in the E.R. with a nasty post-operative infection.

In the first year I flew solo with my son I dealt with a technology meltdown, a flat tire, and rats that had set up shop in the attic above his bedroom. We could hear them running laps at night and scratching in the walls. When I asked the person who lived in the cottage behind mine how he’d deal with them (the result of said tenant leaving pet food out in the open) he answered, all wide-eyed and mystical: “Have you tried asking them to leave?” It was all I could do not to hit him with a hammer.

My girlfriends from my mamas group, along with dear friends both new and old, helped me move into my new place – in acts of kindness I will never forget. They put together furniture and sewed curtains. They brought pizza and ridiculously luxurious olive oil to restock my pantry. They brought produce from their gardens. They checked to make sure the electric outlets were safe and the locks on the doors secure. They unpacked boxes and folded said boxes neatly for curbside pickup. They made meals, invited us for dinner, and swung by with overstuffed sandwiches and freshly squeezed lemonade as we set about creating a new home from scratch.

My galpals listened to me bitch, moan, and cry. They told me when I needed to keep it together and when it was okay to fall apart. Parents who had gone through divorce with kids let me know when my kid’s behavior was to be expected and when he was out of line and needed firm boundaries. I am indebted to one particularly wise soul who called unexpectedly one day and said simply: “Surrender. Turn off the phone, step away from the computer, close the curtains, and go back to bed. Give in. Do it for as long as you need to and then get on with it.” It turned out I only needed a day, but I never would have given myself permission to check out like that.

I signed up for a service that promised divorce with dignity, but the operator of said service simply took my check and ranted about how evil his ex was. I found a lawyer who was way too into process – on my dime – for my taste. So I found another, no-nonsense attorney, who was more my style. After months of back and forth it really only took a three-hour meeting to square things away. But before “we” got there our mediator fired my ex and me, essentially for bad behavior that makes me cringe to this day. I can still remember leaving a mediation session and screaming at my rapidly departing soon-to-be ex-husband. He didn’t hear me; at least he didn’t turn around. And passersby ignored me: Just another loony on the streets, I guess.

I write this now and realize that to some, perhaps those whose marriages haven’t ended, I sound like an unhinged human being. The truth is: There’s a period when your life unravels and a marriage ends that is, well, kind of a crazy time. It’s like the end of a union sets off all these other chain reactions you weren’t expecting. Friends cry uncontrollably about the break up and require comforting at a time when you have nothing else to give. Some folks avoid you, lest the divorce disease is catching. Some pals fall away from compassion fatigue. Your kid won’t tell friends his parents have separated, which is tricky when play dates at mum’s house are in the cards.

While divorce is a common occurrence, everyone’s specific situation and circumstances are unique and come with their own set of challenges and concerns. Parenting, finances, betrayal, property, grief, upheaval, anger, sadness – these are the heavy hitters during most marriage dissolutions. It is definitely a crazy time, which is why I always recommend that the newly separated and those going through divorce grab a copy of the book “Crazy Time,” by Abigail Trafford. My friends ahead of me on the divorce path handed me a copy when I quizzed them about all the wacky things happening in my life.

Sure, it’s good to read those tomes about dealing with divorce that concern themselves with practical matters of parenting and childrens’ welfare, along with logistical issues, and legal concerns. But nothing quite prepares you for the emotional rollercoaster that ensues post-separation. So “Crazy Time” and a support system of friends is crucial. It’s important to have some separated and divorced folks in the mix, friends in the same boat – and on the same parenting schedule – to hang out with and compare notes. My social circle shifted some within the first year or two of separation. Some married friends don’t want to know or can’t relate to many of the newly separated or divorced and their issues. Fair enough.

You do need to make time for your physical and mental well-being too. It’s true, post-separation time is crunched as you deal with paying bills, parenting, and running a home solo – but exercise, routine check-ups, alternative therapies, and counseling helped me survive the tough stuff. Because: It’s challenging to parent, work, or simply keep a life together if body and soul aren’t in decent shape. When I told my dad, a doctor, I was getting divorced one of the first things he said was, “Are you healthy?” which proved prescient down the track but struck me as a strange thing to ask at first, since I’d always seen myself as one of the fittest members of my clan. As I learned the hard way, who knows what’s around the corner.

Getting divorced is like moving to another country: The first year can suck and then things get better as you learn how to navigate the new landscape. Look around, there are a ton of us who survived crazy time and lived to tell the tale.

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Photo by  Djim Loic on Unsplash


Sarah Henry is a freelance writer and the single mom of a teen boy. She has a food blog, Lettuce Eat Kale, and tweets under that moniker. Her food stories have appeared in The Atlantic, CHOW, San Francisco Chronicle. She has also covered health and other topics for Glamour, Ms., Heath and Parenting, among other publications.

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