Feb 1, 1987 is the date I left my first marriage. I’ve written parts of this on here before. But here it is on the date my new life becomes of age :) :
When I first left my marriage, I was convinced it was the right thing for about 24 hours. I had been very unhappy for a long, long time. The fights were unbearable and I was fairly certain that he was cheating on me as he had done before. For a long time he criticized me constantly, and I felt as if I could do nothing right. This was made worse by the fact that I had lost my job that month and the fights became particularly vicious. I felt anxious and upset all the time. He was upset that I wasn’t finding work right away and yet upset that I wasn’t spending all day cooking and cleaning. It had been a nightmare for months and I had been unhappy for much longer than that.
I knew it had to end. I had known it for about four years but had never been able to really pull the plug. We had broken up time and time again since before we were married. But something in me needed it to end. and end now.
One night after another brutal fight, I told him it was over and he had to leave the next day. Instead he went to work in the morning and came home that night as if nothing had been said. For the next few days he did the same, not really speaking to me but acting as if I had not told him to leave. Finally I had enough and packed a box of his things and left them on the kitchen table for him with a note that he needed to take his things and get out. He came in that evening, glanced at the box and said, “This is it? This is all I get?” I said we would work out the details later but for now, this is all he needed. He grabbed the box in anger and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Sinking into the living room chair, I listened to the silence of the house and felt such a sense of relief. The screaming was over. The criticisms were over. The walking on eggshells was over. The feeling that I couldn’t do anything right was over. It was all over. I could go on now and pick up the pieces. I could make a life for me and the kids and not be subject to his constant harangue. I had big plans to make and big things to do. I smiled as I fell asleep in the big king bed no longer subjected to someone who tossed and turned all night and threw the blankets on the floor.
I woke up the next day not feeling quite so strong. I was stung by an emptiness I was not prepared for. I felt mildly irritated and more than a little sad. I tried to get busy quickly and brush off the feelings. I expected he would call or come over and harangue me or argue with me but he never called and never came by for the rest of his things. In the face of the silence, I was gripped by an unexpected fear that he was gone for good. I was looking forward to this breakup for a long time. Why was I unraveling?
The third day I felt even worse. I could not sleep and I could not concentrate. Everything felt foreign and confused. People would talk to me and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I was anxious and every small sound made me jump. He didn’t call and didn’t come over and I felt gloom and dread closing in on me.
I couldn’t sleep in the king-sized bed. It felt too big and lonely. I stared out into the night, hearing every car pass by, thinking it was him. Where was he? What was he doing? Who was he doing it with?
On the fourth day I knew I was unraveling. I was plunged into a darkness I had not known before. I couldn’t understand it, my brain felt scrambled and I felt anxious and tearful. I tried to shake it off and turn my attention to my kids and my house but my hands started to shake and I couldn’t seem to sit still. At one point I tried to lay down but felt this huge darkness descending over me. What in the world was going on?
After that first long week, things only got worse. I was plagued by anxiety attacks, acute depression and waves of indecision. For weeks, I walked the floors at night and had no energy during the day. I was in so much emotional pain that I had moments of feeling unable to breathe. For a while I was convinced that if I was dying, that would be a good thing.
I called a therapist with the goal to save my marriage. No longer was I thinking of building a new life. I obviously couldn’t go on without him. I was hysterical inside…about to implode or explode. The separation was simply unbearable. I had to stop the emotional bleeding and the only way to do that was to win him back…to get him back once and for all.
What I did not understand was that all I was feeling was not just the end of my marriage but the grief of every loss I had ever had and not reckoned with. The aloneness triggered my fear of abandonment which is not just “if you leave me I will hurt badly” but “if you leave me I will die.” I felt like I was dying. I was also feeling the unfinished business of so many relationships and times in my life when supposed caretakers walked away without blinking an eye.
Our separation and his silence during it touched on all my fears that I didn’t matter to anyone anywhere and never would. The end of the relationship swept all these horrible thoughts and feelings and unfinished business into the vacuum he left behind. And now I was face-to-face with things that were too big to deal with. What I failed to understand was that for months before the split I had been moving toward this time.
I had been in a dysfunctional, chaotic relationship because it is what I had known. It is what was comfortable for me. It also kept me from looking at the emptiness and hurt inside. Being in a chaotic relationship, actually a STRING of chaotic relationships, kept me from feelings as bad as I felt underneath it all. I could keep the hurt and the pain outside me and not deal with other hurt and pain from other times. When the chaos ended, I was left alone with a stinky pile of unresolved garbage. And it overwhelmed me.
What hit me at the end of my marriage was a lifetime of not dealing and not coping and not working through. It was not the loss of this one crappy relationship. Yes, I had to grieve the hopes and dreams and having my three children grow up in a house with a mom and a dad. Yes, I had to give up the dream of him finally seeing how good I was and treating me like he loved me. Yes, I had to give up my house and my dreams. I had to break it all apart and that was hard.
But the grief and the emotional reaction was so much more. I had to look at my life, my entire life, and see ALL of the abuse and ALL of the abandonment and ALL of the blame by others.
It was hard. It was horrible. And it hurt a lot. Whenever I thought of most of my childhood, it was like putting my hand on a hot stove. Deal with all that pain plus the end of my marriage and my dreams??? And what would take its place?
I had no idea what to do with all that I was uncovering AND the uncertainty of the future. What would become of me? Of my kids? For so many years, I was told how I couldn’t do anything right. Now it was time for me do something alone. Would I screw it up? How could I not?
With all the sorrow of the past and present and a future so unclear, no wonder I felt crazy all the time.
I did feel crazy and upset but I pushed through it. I journaled, I cried, I went to support groups.
But it was not all horrible. Early on, I learned that we had been involved in a very crazy relationship and that our marriage had been one of action and reaction. For the longest time we had the same arguments and the same deadlocks and the same deadends. He criticized and accused. I bargained and defended. It was the same old, same old all the time. We never got anywhere.
One of the things he did was tell me, constantly, what I had done wrong. I would defend myself or vow to do better. My support groups and therapists wanted to know why I kept explaining myself to him. They also wanted to know why I didn’t know who owned what.
I was exhausted after weeks of still jumping up and down. One day he called me because the kids had not been to visit his grandmother. He started in on me almost immediately. I stopped and said, “They are your kids and she is your grandmother. You take them to see her.”
I learned how to step out of the crazy dances we had been locked in. I was learning who owned what. I was learning not to listen to his negative opinion of me. Although a large part of me wanted the marriage back, I still wanted to survive in the interim. I couldn’t listen to his constant barrage of criticism. I believe he was just doing it to justify his relationship with someone else. I think he needed to keep putting me down to prove what a mistake I had been. But I didn’t need to keep hearing it and it took me a few months to realize it. Listening to him and staying locked in the games was just keeping me in pain. My therapist said the only way to win was not to pay the game and I had to remember not to play.
It became fun to respond in a different way to my ex, someone who had been so controlling and critical. I learned to think instead of react. I learned how to be alone and even how to like it. I learned how to date and how to say no. I learned how to have friends and interests and how to be okay with just me. I also learned what worked and what didn’t. I found out that I was dating too soon by dating. People told me to slow down but I wanted validation that there would be other people who wanted me. Although it would have been best to take the advice of everyone and not date, I started dating about 6 months after my separation which seemed like an incredibly long time to me. It really wasn’t that long and it certainly wasn’t long enough.
I did enjoy a few nice liaisons but I found that I was still very emotionally raw and small things confused me. I was told that water seeks its own level and that in my state I would be attracting guys who were equally confused/not ready. Of course I didn’t want to hear it and forged ahead anyway. Some of the experiences that followed were downright unpleasant and some were extremely painful. I was caught, for a short time, between trying to “have fun” and being miserable in my contact with men.
The upside was that I was exercising and eating right and making sure I spent time with friends and family. I was learning how to balance my life and though it would get out of balance, I was learning to learn. I would rush pell mell into a situation only to find myself completely over my head. I would back out, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not so gracefully, but I was allowed to make U-turns and I did.
I started to set goals and try to figure out what I finally wanted to be when I grew up. I learned to be a mother, to take up hobbies, to be okay with time with my friends and time alone. My time alone and my time just dating and my time trying a relationship or two was not always terrific but I was learning and I was enjoying the learning.
Eventually I found a new life that was mine, that was a treasure. I learned how to raise my kids in a healthy environment. I learned how to be alone. I learned how to just be friends with men. I learned how to date and have fun. I learned how to end relationships early when things were not going right.
I learned about my fear of abandonment and my fear of intimacy…two things that caused me to cycle wildly through relationships and friendships. I had to come to terms with each and figure out how to heal them and how to make them work for me (as early warning systems but without the paranoia that each triggered.)
I also had to learn to keep myself out of pain. My therapist told me, when I ended my marriage, that I didn’t know how to move away from hurt until I was hit by a board. She said healthy people moved away when they were pinched. I learned to move away when I was pinched. Later I learned to move away when someone just looked like they were going to pinch me.
I finally learned to be alone and love it. I decided, unequivocally, that I would rather be alone than put up with any garbage. I learned to love myself unconditionally and demand that from others. And I found it. And the irony was that when I was satisfied with being alone and loving my life, I met a man who had a nice life and also rathered being alone than putting up with any garbage. We’ve been married 11 years and it’s a true partnership of two whole people.
After my first marriage ended, it wasn’t easy and there were times when I felt like I had no idea what I was doing…but eventually I found a life that was second to none, full of love and loving people. Eventually I plowed through all the bad stuff to make room for the good stuff…and the good stuff came flooding in…
It wasn’t easy but nothing that is easy is a treasure. Treasures are hard won.
It’s 21 years since my life began and today, it is a treasure.
Thank you all for being here.