By Lisa Arends
Experience is quite a teacher, isn’t she? No matter how many books we read or how many pieces of advice we receive, there are certain matters you only truly understand after you have lived through them.
And, for roughly half of us, that life experience includes divorce.
The following are the lessons from divorce that I wish I had known before living it:
1. There is nothing that the courts can do to make it okay.
During the legal proceedings, I was obsessed with finding justice. I wanted consequences for his actions and validation of my innocence. I spent countless hours and even more countless dollars assembling a case. It worked. On paper, at least. But the reality was disappointing. The ordered payments never came and the impact of the words on the decree lessened every day. Family courts are just not set up to punish individual misdeeds; they punish the entire class. Justice doesn’t come from the gavel. It comes from proceeding with integrity and living the best life you can. It’s not up to courts to make it okay. It’s up to you.
2) You can face the pain and survive.
In the beginning, I hid from the pain. I distracted myself with friends and exercise and books, afraid of what may creep in if I allowed my mind to be vulnerable and unoccupied for even a moment. The pain felt too big, too horrifying, to face. Eventually, I started to leave the door open a crack, letting the heartache in a little at a time. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. Its weight was significant, but bearable. I learned I could breathe through it and survive.
3. You can bounce back.
In the letter he left on the kitchen counter, my ex wrote, “I know that you will bounce back from this and have a happier and more honest life.” I railed against those words in the beginning. I was at rock bottom, certainly, but I was doing more collapsing than bouncing. It took time for me to recover enough to push back against what happened and use it to propel me upwards. But it did happen; I bounced back. And so can you.
4. Everything changes, even suffering.
In the beginning, I embodied the pain. It was thick, viscous, its foulness touching every part of my being until I no longer knew where I ended and the suffering began. But slowly, ever so slowly, the anguish started to fade. The loss grew more distant and hope grew ever closer. I told my story until I remembered the pain instead of feeling it. And eventually, I grew to appreciate the pain. Not for the suffering it brought, but for the lessons and perspective that came along for the ride. The way you feel right now is not the way you will always feel. Everything changes. Even pain.
5. Trying to understand why is both pointless and necessary.
Trying to figure out what happened in my marriage was almost a full time job for me that first year; I was Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the biggest mystery of my life. I never really found answers, but I did find peace, the endless rolling around of the facts smoothing them over like pebbles in a stream. It’s impossible not to try to solve a mystery, but the answers are often less important than the process. Look for answers but don’t become so obsessed with finding them that you forget to live.
6. You are not alone.
I remember feeling so alone during my divorce. It was a foreign world where others seemed to always be kept behind a velvet rope. I assumed no one else could possibly understand. It was only years later, when I began to write and share my own story, when I realized how un-alone I really was. Even though every divorce is unique, there is a common language. Listen to others and don’t be afraid to share your voice.
7. You can trust again but it’s an inside job.
I remember being so afraid that I would never be able to trust again after facing betrayal. It seemed like an impossible task, even an inadvisable one. I learned that before I could ever trust another, I had to first trust in myself. To believe that I would recognize deception but, even more importantly, to believe that I was strong enough to survive anything that came my way. You are strong. You can survive. Trust yourself.
8. You’ll be okay even though your life story has been through the shredder.
Divorce steals our future along with the present. It stomps on dreams and laughs at plans. It leaves a stuttering where there once was certainty. A void where there was a path. The ellipses of a continuing life are replaced with the great unknown of a question mark. It’s easy to see divorce as the end of the story. But really, it’s just the end of a chapter. Turn the page and see where the adventure leads.
Lisa Arends works as a math teacher and a wellness coach. After using her own sudden divorce four years ago as a catalyst for positive change, she now helps people navigate their own divorces and transform stress into wellness. She loves to lift heavy weights and run long distances, and she is still learning how to meditate.
She tells the story of her own divorce in her book, Lessons From the End of a Marriage.