Soul Journey – Turning the Corner

“Just because the past didn’t turn out like you wanted it to, doesn’t mean your future can’t be better than you’ve ever imagined.” – Unknown

It’s been a little more than a month since I became unmarried. Single. Unattached. Solo. Ms. not Mrs. Strange to say that. The idea is still foreign to me.

But even so, I feel like I am closing the door on that part of my life and opening another. Or like when the season changes from a once-lush, deep green to muted browns mingled with vibrant golds, reds and oranges. Or like turning a corner onto a road you’ve never been down, and the place before is no longer in view. 

Nostalgia. We think of it as some romantic or sentimental notion of fond memories and experiences that mark the milestones or cherished moments of our lives. And that’s true, but nostalgia, in its real definition, doesn’t exactly lend itself to such pleasantries. It’s much more grim than that. It’s a Greek word meaning homecoming (nóstos) and pain or ache (álgos). In a word, homesick, or a longing for what used to be.

I had been longing for what used to be my former life these past several months. The lifelong marriage and family dynamic I used to have. But now that’s all gone. Instead I find myself standing at an unexpected place full of unknowns and uncertainties. I am at the crossroads of Nostalgia and New Beginnings. 

Looking back at Nostalgia, I see it’s lined with painful memories and regret. Brokenness, heartbreak, disappointment and grief. That gaping maw of black abyss lurks there, too. It’s cold, dark and soul depleting. It’s enervating. But there’s a mist, a fog that’s beginning to roll in clouding my view as if to blot out those painful memories. The features are beginning to obscure from sight. 

Turning and looking forward at New Beginnings, I see it has a very different feel. Nothing is familiar but there is something inviting about it nonetheless. There’s a newness to it. Bright. Clean. Fresh. Hope and prospect line the street, beckoning me forward. It feels like breath. It feels like Life.

Words like Inspiration, Adventure, Happiness, Promise, Restoration and Purpose grace the bright-white doors lining the street, and all are waiting for me to burst through each one.  I may not know this new street I’m on, but I do know from where I came. And while that dark, murky place may be my past, it is not my permanence and it certainly isn’t my future. This New Beginnings is.

I also know who I am and who I am not. I am cherished. I am valued. I am worthy. I am important. I am talented. I am rescued. I am protected. I am strong. I am hope-filled. I am optimistic. I am inspired. I am resilient. I am beautiful. I. Am. Enough. No longer am I in the shadow of someone else’s identity. No longer am I disregarded. No longer am I considered insignificant. No longer am I less than.

Pastor Andy Stanley once said storms reveal our foundations. That statement struck me, and while I got the general premise of it, I didn’t fully appreciate what he meant. I had no idea at the time I would face my own storm, my own hardship, my own tragedy, and that it would reveal my foundation. Reveal it, it has. My storm ripped away whatever structure I had built there of a life that I thought was sound and strong. My storm revealed the truth and fragility of that life. My storm revealed to me that I wasn’t impervious to tragedy and its effects. But my storm did reveal to me, remind me, who is truly there to shelter me in the midst of it all, and to take on the pain of my suffering and heal me. And it reminded me who I am and what I am. It reminded me I am God’s and He gets to calm the storm.

I have a new take on life. While I will always carry the scars from all that’s happened, and I may feel sorrow and grief from time to time, I am beginning to see things in a whole new light. I am learning the limits of my finite self but trusting in the infinite grace and love of God wholly and completely. I am learning I don’t have to know the answers before I begin, I just have to step forward. I am learning I can be and do without fear of failure or disaster. God won’t let me fall. I am learning I have something to offer and something to gain. I am learning that God truly makes all things new, and He is making me new.

One last thing. In one of my previous posts, I had shared with you a list of songs that expressed the deep pain and grief I was experiencing. It was my Anthem playlist. I have a new playlist, Promises. These songs help to remind me that God promises to comfort me, heal me and win the day for me. I pray these will do the same for you.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19

Soul Journey – My Sojourn Through Divorce: The Road Ahead

“Everything I was I carry with me, everything I will be lies waiting on the road ahead.” ― Ma Jian

The divorce became final a few weeks ago. It still took me by surprise. I think it was the finality of it; that it’s now the end. And what’s been strange about this whole process, is I feel I’ve been corresponding with a faceless person who was so well known to me before but now is a complete stranger. There’s a disconnect. Like a loose end or a story that just stops suddenly without a sufficient ending. I suppose that’s to be expected in divorce. It just doesn’t lend itself to having closure. Not really. We don’t always get what we want, I suppose.

Now I find myself standing on a road I didn’t plan. I have no idea what lies before me or what to expect. I only know what’s been behind me. There isn’t a single memory of my life without him in it. It’s all very surreal to have a life with someone and then suddenly not. And now it feels strange to move forward without him. All my memories going forward won’t have him in them. Again, it’s that strange disconnect, like trying to remember something that’s lurking in the back of your mind. Or trying to take hold of something that is just out of reach.

I still can’t get used to the new norm that is my life. Sleeping in the bed alone. Making dinner for only one. Coming home to an empty house. Managing the bills and finances by myself. Not wearing my wedding band anymore. Just being alone. Being alone is still hard. Most days I’m just going through the motions, like on autopilot. I keep waiting for someone who isn’t there.

I think it’s different when you choose to live alone. You have some idea of what to expect, like the fact that it is just you in the house. But when it’s been forced upon you, it’s unsettling. It makes you feel vulnerable; exposed. You have a strange sense that something’s wrong or off kilter. That something could just spring itself on you and you wouldn’t know how to react.

The uncertainty of things is unsettling, too. I don’t know where my life is going now. I know where I want it go and how. Some days I’m hopeful about my future and the prospects ahead of me. Other days, I’m at a complete loss. The trouble is I doubt myself. I doubt my ability to do what’s necessary in order to keep moving forward. I worry about making the wrong decisions, or even the right ones. Worry and doubt seem to have moved in. (I don’t recall asking them to be my roommates. Rather presumptuous of them). I used to have him to talk things over with; to make decisions together. Now I don’t. I had him to lean on and walk down life’s road with. Now I don’t. It’s a loss to be sure.

Loss of any kind is traumatic, and divorce is no exception. And what one experiences afterwards is post-traumatic. Trying to move forward from that trauma is difficult at best. It’s bewildering and daunting. I think it’s because whatever you had, whatever you were, or whomever you had is suddenly gone without your choosing and you are left with complete instability about your life going forward. Your physical and/or emotional well being are threatened by seemingly unknown forces causing tremendous stress and insecurity.

So far, the one thing I keep coming back to or it keeps coming to me (ahem, Divine Intervention) is resilience. Being resilient actually. Of everything I’ve read or listened to from experts and those who have been-there-done-that all point to being resilient as a means of coping with post-traumatic stress. And those who develop and embrace resilience bounce forward, rather than bounce back, finding they are capable of far more than they would have imagined if their lives had stayed the same before the trauma hit.

Resilience then begets post-traumatic growth. The concept behind post-traumatic growth, according to psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, who created the idea, is that people who experience a traumatic event can come out better for it; they become a better version of themselves. They improve and they take on a more positive approach towards life.

I think post-traumatic growth is actually hope. Hope bestowed by God that we don’t have to stay and live in our trauma; in despair. That’s not what He intended for us. We are wired for purpose, happiness, peace, joy and love. But when something (or someone) gets in the way of what God has intended for us, when it goes against His desire for our lives, trauma occurs. But it’s not permanent. It’s not forever. It will leave scars to be sure, but those scars are only reminders of where we came from, not who we are.

So I stand the beginning of a new road, an unfamiliar one, with scars from my experiences. But I don’t walk this road alone. I don’t face this life without hope. God is taking my hand and walking alongside me, guiding me. He wants the best for me. He has a purpose for me. He has happiness, peace, joy and love waiting for me. I am not my past. I am my future. I am what God says I am.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Soul Journey – My Sojourn Through Divorce: Anger

Fait accomplinoun: a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.

Someone asked me recently if I was ever angry enough to want to pick up a chair and throw it at the TV. No, I’ve never been that angry at the TV before. But I have been angry enough, enraged actually, to want to take that rage out on the ones responsible for my marriage ending. I have never felt such rage before. I was told it was righteous anger.

I also became angry at how my marriage ended. My choice in the situation was taken away from me. I didn’t get to have a say in the matter. It also hit me out of nowhere. I was blindsided by the decision. I knew my marriage wasn’t perfect, I just wasn’t expecting things to end and certainly not in the way they did. I didn’t want my marriage to end. I wanted to work things out. I didn’t want to just toss away an entire life together like it was nothing. I mean we experienced a lot together. We had been together for more than half our lives – 34 years. We raised our kids together. We were enjoying our grandbabies and looking forward to the next chapter of our life together. Or so I thought.

This sudden end to a marriage and the wife being caught off guard is called Wife Abandonment Syndrome (WAS) or Spousal Abandonment Syndrome. It’s a real thing. I discovered it when I came across this book, Runaway Husbands by author and therapist Vikki Stark. It was a real eye-opener.

In the book, she describes the symptoms of wife abandonment and shares her real-life experience as well as those from other women who suddenly found themselves abandoned by their husbands. Here’s a description of the symptoms from her book and website Runaway Husbands:

  • Prior to the separation, the husband had seemed to be an attentive, emotionally engaged spouse, looked upon by his wife as honest and trustworthy.
  • The husband had never said that he was unhappy in the marriage or thinking of leaving, and the wife believed herself to be in a secure relationship.
  • The husband typically blurts out the news that the marriage is over “out-of-the-blue” in the middle of a mundane domestic conversation.
  • Reasons given for his decision are nonsensical, exaggerated, trivial or fraudulent.
  • 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.
  • The husband’s behavior changes radically, so much so that it seems to his wife that he has become a cruel and vindictive stranger.
  • The husband shows no remorse; rather, he blames his wife and may describe himself as the victim.
  • In almost all cases, the husband had been having an affair.
  • The husband makes no attempt to help his wife, either financially or emotionally, as if all positive regard for her has been completely extinguished.
  • Systematically devaluing the marriage, the husband denies what he had previously described as positive aspects of the couple’s joint history.

When I read that list, the emotional rage (and grief) became palpable. I realized that I was suffering from Wife Abandonment Syndrome. I had no idea that there were patterns of behavior, or symptoms for anything like that. Who knew that was a thing? And while it didn’t make the anger or grief any easier to cope with, just the acknowledgement alone helped to make sense of what I was and am feeling.

But attempting to hold on to my marriage after being told it was over was like trying to hold sand in my hand. It just slipped through my fingers until there was nothing left and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. I can’t put into words the intense feelings of heartbreak and helplessness evoked by the realization that I wasn’t wanted anymore. That I was disposable.

I wholeheartedly loved, trusted and cherished this man. I willingly traveled down the marriage road with him, thinking that it would last forever, only to be left at the side that road in some deserted place and expected to find my way back to civilization on my own. I would have rather he’d said thank you and then went on his way early on, allowing me the opportunity to choose another path if this is where things were headed. As it is, I feel like I’m now running to catch up to the life I should have had.

Hindsight is 20/20. So is experience. Rotten. To look behind and see all the things that led to my marriage ending. Now they become clear but in those moments, not so much. Funny what you get used to and dismiss as some random or trivial things that eventually become turning points that lead to the end. The outrage comes when you finally figure it out after the fact. Hoodwinked!

I look back and can’t understand why I didn’t see the red flags, the warning signs. Why? Was I really that blind? Or was I only willing to see what I wanted for the sake of holding things together – or thought I was holding things together – so we could be the family I always wanted.

And now I’m angry because I can’t get back what was taken from me. I’m angry because the life and family I wanted – had- is gone now. I’m angry because I was left scrambling to pick up the pieces. I’m angry because I’ve been thrown onto an emotional roller coaster ride that I didn’t want to be on in the first place and now I have to ride it all the way to the bloody end. I’m angry because he moved on with his life long before I knew anything was amiss. I’m angry because my kids and grandchildren have been cheated out of the family they should have had. I’m angry because he made a selfish, self-serving decision. I’m angry because this was not what my life was supposed to become. I’m angry because now I’ve been forced into a situation I never asked for or wanted. I’m angry because I wasn’t given a choice. I’m angry with him!

He devalued and disrespected me. He devalued and disrespected our marriage. He devalued and disrespected our family. Where’s the remorse? Where’s the accountability? Where’s the regret?

Indifference is a methodical, silent killer. It will slip in unnoticed and begin its tireless work to destroy anything of value. It erodes the very core of a relationship until there is nothing left but the hollow shadow of what used to be. It turns the someone you knew into a stranger at best, an enemy at worst. Even now I still can’t wrap my head around that concept.

Experiencing all this anger and grief, I find that I desperately want the world to stop so I can get off. I’m so tired and I can’t take it anymore. It’s a cruel reality, that the world – people, daily life, work, bills, laundry, everything – just keeps right on going with its own version of indifference for what you’re going through while you’re crumbling inside.

I don’t have a nice, neat ending to this anger. I wish I did. Like grief, it comes in waves. They seem to take turns tossing me recklessly about, going this way and that while I fiercely fight to keep my head above water. I’ve come to realize that this anger won’t be satisfied either. If grief is a demanding companion, then anger is an insatiable one. For all the answers, for all of the remorse, for all of the reckoning that I want; that I think I am entitled to, anger will never be satisfied.

And while my anger may be a righteous anger for what’s happened, I know that my desire for a reckoning isn’t. It’s not mine to dole out. It’s not mine to make right. It’s not mine to set straight. It’s God’s. There is comfort in that knowledge, believe it or not. There is also tremendous comfort in knowing that while I’m on this crazy train, this obnoxious roller coaster ride, God is in the seat right next to me. I am not alone. For all my grief, and anger, and wild emotions, He’s right there holding onto me and isn’t going to let go. And while this doesn’t feel good, and I don’t understand why I have to go through this awful experience, I have this hope, this truth: I know God will take me through this. He promised.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Footnote: If you or someone you know is experiencing Wife Abandonment Syndrome, I highly suggest this book Runaway Husbands by Vikki Stark. (I receive no compensation for this recommendation).

Soul Journey – My Sojourn Through Divorce: Grief

Grief is a demanding companion. – Sheryl Sandberg, Option B

At first I was in a state of shock when I found out my marriage was over. If you had asked me how I was doing, I would have said I was fine because I thought I was fine. I wasn’t fine. I was numb. Everything felt so surreal and disconnected. It was if I was watching someone else’s life unfold before me, like in a movie or having an outer body experience. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

Little by little, reality started setting in. Some days I would feel a sense of freedom and optimism. But then fear and doubt would take over. Simple things felt so monumental and burdensome. I became acutely aware of negative attitudes and behaviors from everyone, even complete strangers. Going to the grocery store, for instance, was a chore. And then I had to listen to two women make snarky comments about me because I stepped in the wrong checkout line. (I didn’t go back to that store for a month). Or when some kid glared at me and made like he was going to do something aggressive as he walked in front of my car because he didn’t think I stopped soon enough for him. Stupid things like those began to take their toll on me.

There were times I felt like I would collapse. I felt used, disregarded, betrayed and abandoned. I felt the constant rush of a thousand emotions. Up, down, happy, angry, distraught, confident, sad, uncertain… Experiencing all of those emotions was like being a dried leaf blowing around in the wind.

I began to have trouble concentrating and focusing on normal everyday things. Thinking became difficult. Words were hard to form; hard to find. It was a constant effort. What used to come naturally to me suddenly felt very foreign and awkward. I also realized I had lost my sense of awareness for others, too; forgetting to ask obvious questions about their well being and such. It’s not that I didn’t care, I just kept forgetting. I began to stress over everything, afraid of what I was missing; of what I needed to do. I began to feel a sense of dread and foreboding, like I would come apart at the seams. I lost all self confidence. I was so exhausted – all the time.

The first day I found myself completely alone in the house was probably the worst day of my life. The intense reality of my situation hit me with such a force, like a tsunami. All I could do was sit in my living room and just cry. My heart was broken a thousand times over and there was nothing to prepare me for that. I had never felt such intense emotional grief before. Wave after wave of agony just kept coming at me relentlessly. It was like drowning, being swallowed alive.

The reality of being on my own was beyond comprehension. The reality of my life and my family being torn apart was beyond comprehension. The pain and anguish were unbearable. I couldn’t look at anything in the house without seeing the memories of what used to be my life. It was in that moment, in the midst of such exquisite pain, that I truly experienced grief and all its magnitude. And grief had taken a form. In my mind’s eye, I could see this image of me standing at the edge of some kind of light, and before me was a gaping maw of black abyss just waiting for me to step forward so it could swallow me. It appeared peaceful and quiet, almost welcoming. The terrible thing is, that’s what makes it so easy to step towards grief and to live in it. You can’t help it. It just seems to happen. So not only is it a demanding companion, but grief is an all-consuming one.

The next day, as I was driving home from having dinner with my daughter and son-in-law, a song came on the radio. I know without a doubt it was a total God thing. He was intervening on my behalf. I hadn’t heard the song before and as I listened to the words, I felt as though that song was written about me, for me. Every word hit home. Everything I needed to be reminded of was in that song. How God loves me even when I don’t feel loved. How I’m strong even when I feel weak. How He holds me when I’m just not making it and how I belong to Him when I don’t feel I belong anywhere or to anyone. The song was You Say by Lauren Daigle.

When I got home that night, I played that song over and over and over again. That song became my anthem. God sent me that song. He made sure I heard it. He made sure to let me know that I was not alone and that He was, and is, right there beside me, holding me up and walking next to me through this horrible experience. Not over it, around it, or under it but through it.

My friends who’ve gone through divorce have told me not to fight the grief when it comes but to just let it happen; to be in the moment and feel it. Honestly I don’t want to feel it. I don’t want be in that moment. And I certainly don’t want it as a companion. I just want to go to sleep for a very long time and when I wake up, I want everything to be over; new. A fresh start. Unfortunately, sleeping through or otherwise avoiding grief is not an option. It will have its demands met. And as awful as it is to experience, I know it’s the only way I can heal. Stuffing it deep down will only cause more harm than good. So I feel it. More often than I care to. Sometimes I just start to cry for no apparent reason. Emotional pain is traumatic.

I still have bad days. I still have bouts of intense and overwhelming emotions. But those days are tempered with God’s reminder of His promise to me, that He is within me and I will not fall. And what He says of me, I believe.

As a way of getting through and healing, I created a playlist of songs that remind me of God’s other promise to never leave nor forsake me. I call it my Anthem playlist. I’m sharing it in case you need to be reminded of God’s promises for your life, too:

If you ask me how I am these days, I probably won’t say ‘I’m fine’ just for niceties. I can’t. I’m learning to be realistic with how I’m truly feeling. I’m usually just ‘okay’. But I’m getting there. It a slow process still with a lot of pain and a thousand emotions running through. The upside, however, is I’m not alone. God is with me. I also have the love and support of my friends, my parents and my kids.

My kids. They have been a tremendous source of strength for me. They have been my rock. Even though they are going through their own grief with this divorce, they have been right there for me. God has blessed me with the most wonderful family and I thank Him for each and everyone of them.

I also still cling to God’s promises because His Word will never come back void.

For Your unfailing love is higher than the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. – Psalm 108:4

Soul Journey – My Sojourn Through Divorce

Sojourn – A temporary stay; to stay for a time in a place; live temporarily

I grew up with this idea that if I was good and did things right then my life would be good and right. Don’t sigh, you thought the same thing too. Honestly, who grows up thinking they want their life to be bad or for things to go badly? No, we’ve all had that fairy tale hope that our life will be happily ever after if we do all the right things.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t seem to go the way we think. I don’t know anyone whose life has gone the way they planned. Maybe for some, things turned out better than expected and that’s great! Yay, go them. But for me things went in a completely different direction and I discovered I didn’t get the fairy tale life that I hoped for. Instead of my happily ever after, I found myself at divorce.

Divorce. Not a word I ever thought would become an intricate part of my life. On the contrary, I thought my life of marital “bliss” would last a lifetime. And I would often marvel at couples who had been together for umpteen years only to call it quits, which I could never understand. I mean, if you love someone, why wouldn’t you stay together? If you’ve spent all those years with each other, why wouldn’t you commit to your marriage? Why throw it all away like it was nothing? But why is pretty much a relative question. Why does anything happen at all? Honestly I’m not sure there’s a good answer, at least not one that will suffice.

So to say divorce caught me by surprise is a gross understatement. I was not (still not) prepared for what happened to me; of how my kids and I have been affected; of what is now my life and theirs. It’s like I had been standing on a mountain top looking out over the expanse of what I perceived to be a beautiful landscape (my then present life). Suddenly, without warning the ground gave out from beneath me, crumbling quickly. As I desperately tried to grasp hold of something, anything, that would keep me from falling into the chasm below I realize it’s not the ground giving way. No, I was pushed and I couldn’t stop my fall. When I finally hit the bottom, I’m left dazed and confused, wondering how I ended up here and what I’m supposed to do next.

After 34 years of marriage, my life is now a tangled mess of questions intermingled with confusion, shock, anger, rage, resentment, fear, sadness, abandonment, betrayal, and depression. Even after the initial gut punch that my marriage was over, I’m still gasping for air and a way to recover.

Psalm 46_5

I have come to learn that emotional pain is very physical and intense. The best word I can use to describe it is exquisite. Every fiber of my being is under assault, like poison surging through my veins causing acute agony and torment. A friend aptly described it like an addict going through detox.

It’s unlike anything I have ever felt before, this exquisite emotional pain. It’s because it’s unconscionable, incomprehensible, unfathomable to believe that someone I loved, someone who pledged their life and undying love to me all those years ago, raised a family with me, lived life with me, did everything with me, could just up and leave me like I was nothing more than a passing thought.

And that’s where I keep getting stuck. I can’t seem to get past that unconscionable, incomprehensible, unfathomable act from someone I loved and trusted. How do I make sense of that? How do I recover from that? How do I get up off the ground? How do I pick up the shattered pieces of my life and become whole? I feel like I have been hit by a tsunami and there’s nothing but debris and destruction left in its wake.

I came across this quote by Viktor Frankl. He said, “…suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning[.]” He would have known a thing or two about suffering; he was a Holocaust survivor. It’s interesting that he suggested it’s possible to turn suffering into something that has a purpose because that’s the last thing suffering ever feels like.

Now while going through divorce certainly doesn’t compare to anything as traumatic as the Holocaust, it’s nonetheless devastating. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine that going through divorce would have much meaning. Most of the time it’s just a lot of hurting. But nonetheless, I am attempting to get through it by being proactive for myself. I’ve been listening to podcasts and messages about dealing with grief and loss. I’ve been reading books that help to explain the emotional roller coaster I’m on as well as learning to understand myself better. I’ve sought the advice of friends who’ve gone through divorce and what helped them. I’m seeking professional help, too. And I’ve been journaling and praying – a lot.

But I’m still struggling to find a meaning out of this rotten misery. So to that end, I’ve decided to write about my experience, my soul journey through divorce to try to make some kind of sense out of it. I’m writing this in the hopes that my experience will help someone else out there who may be going through this same soul-crushing, life-altering situation. Or maybe, just maybe, what I’m sharing will stop someone from walking away from their marriage. Maybe they’ll decide that that one they committed themselves to is still worth the effort; that they’re worth fighting for. Maybe they will decide to chose happily ever after rather than divorce.

My friends who have gone through divorce keep reminding me that I will get through this, albeit one awful day at a time. Their point is that it’s not a permanent place and there is life after divorce. Sometimes that’s really hard to believe because most days it feels like all this awfulness will last an eternity. Other days, I do feel hopeful.

I have adopted a life motto. It is a promise from God. A dear friend sent this to me a year ago never knowing at the time how much this would impact my life now. It’s what I cling to everyday – every heart-wrenching day.

God is within her, she will not fall. – Psalm 46:5