Timeline of a Divorce
I hesitated to share this. Not because it’s private. Or controversial. But I’m afraid people will misinterpret it as an absolute.
And if there’s one universal truth about divorce, it’s that there are no absolutes.
I’m sharing this because I see a need. A void. People reaching out and wondering if their feelings are okay for the place they’re in. We all want to know that we’re “normal” and we seek reassurances that we are while silently worrying that we’re not.
In fact, it makes you feel worse.
Your feelings are what they at this moment.
And that’s okay.
And it’s also okay to want them to be different and then to work towards making them different (notice the intent is paired with action!).
I am sharing the rough outline of my emotions and mindset at different periods throughout and after my divorce. Please do not use this as a ruler to measure your own progress. Just because I reached a certain benchmark at month eight doesn’t mean you should too. In fact, ban the word “should” from your mind as you read this. What I hope you get from this timeline is an idea of how healing comes in slowly, even as you’re living. I want you to find comfort in the fact that it’s okay to still struggle after X amount of time has passed. My wish is that you don’t feel alone and that you have faith that you will be healed one day.
Also, keep in mind that all divorces are different. All of us have different coping skills and support systems. A divorce is not an isolated event; your entire life and genetic make-up come into play as you move on.
My Healing From Divorce Timeline
1 Day : I don’t think I felt anything other than shock and confusion at that point. My body rebelled along with my brain. Thoughts were not coherent or organized.
2 Days: I had two main emotions on the second day. First, I was scared. I came to the understanding that he was gone for good and I learned that my money was gone too. I was worried about my basic physical needs and concerned about what would happen to the dogs. I also started to get angry – disorganized anger, but frighteningly powerful.
3 Days: This is when the tears hit. Although “tears” doesn’t begin to describe it; they were great, wracking sobs that left me weak and drained. The dogs were concerned.
1 Week: I started making plans. I had a divorce attorney. I moved into a friend’s spare bedroom. The hunt for new homes for the dogs had begun. I alternated between paralyzing sadness and savage anger. I still had not slept or eaten more than a few bites. I had lost almost 20 pounds.
2 Weeks: I finally accepted that I could not do this on my own. I got on medication to help with the sleeping and eating. I started journaling at this time; the early entries are difficult to read. By this point, I had just learned of the bigamy and the energy spent with the police and criminal justice system was a welcome diversion.
1 Month: The new school year had started and work was a nice distraction. Plus, it was helpful to have the support of my teammates. At this point I had okay moments within bad days. Some days I wondered if I would make it out alive. I started to be scared that I would never be able to love or trust again. My friends took me out for a birthday dinner with a homemade gluten free cake. I cried tears of joy.
2 Months: My new life had a rhythm by this point. I drove the long way to my new P.O. box so that I could avoid seeing my old neighborhood. I spent my evenings at the gym so that I wouldn’t be alone in my room. The meds held the nights at bay; I passed out cold within minutes of my pills and slept through everything. But I had no help through the days. And they were hard. I still felt zombie-like much of the time and I was very sensitive to triggers from the past.
3 Months: My fingers would still try to text my ex when I saw something he would enjoy. I had to fight to talk about him in the past tense. I wished he had passed. For real. The drama of the bigamy had begun to fade along with its distraction. I found other ways to try to avoid feeling too much. I was afraid to face the pain. I went on my first date. Distraction. When I kissed him, I felt like I was cheating.
4 Months: I attended a three-day personal yoga and mediation retreat. I forced myself to slow down and feel. I didn’t die. I took a full breath for the first time since the text. I didn’t feel better but I started to believe that one day I would feel better. I didn’t yet love or trust but I met someone who gave me hope that one day I could. I felt the need to talk about what happened. With everyone. Sorry, guys. Of course, it helped that the story was entertaining and shocking!
5 Months: I still carried his mug shot in my purse to remind myself that this was real. I was focused on the legal proceedings and convinced that I needed favorable outcomes to be okay. It never clicked that I was placing my well-being in the laps of the law. Not smart. The tears came less frequently but the anger over the unfairness of it all would blind me with rage. I still avoided triggers but I also started to intentionally layer memories, visiting old haunts with new people.
6 Months: I signed up for Match.com, not with the intention of meeting someone but with the hope that I would learn how to date. I think I was motivated by the passing of what was supposed to be our 10 year anniversary. I “celebrated” with a Xanax and a psychiatrist’s appointment. I grew tired and weary of the never-ending legal nightmare and his continued attacks.
8 Months: The divorce was finalized. I didn’t recognize him in the courtroom hallway. Tears streamed silently down my cheeks as I stared at him in the courtroom. I was hopeful that the decree would be followed (after the criminal case turned out to be a joke) and I thought that I would feel significantly more healed after the decree was in hand. I was wrong. I stopped taking the meds (under doctor supervision) over the next several weeks. The mug shot and all the divorce paperwork got thrown into a big plastic tub. I closed the lid.
1 Year: I also had high hopes for this landmark. Too high. I was better than 11 months earlier, but I still had a long way to go. I had many good days, but I still carried that anger closely. Too closely. I moved into my own place after making the decision to stay in Atlanta to be near one of those guys I wasn’t supposed to meet through Match. I threw myself into my new home, my new relationship and my new job. I already spoke of my “former” life, but I still carried dangerous remnants inside.
2 Years: I moved in with the Match guy and brought some triggers with me. Learning to trust again was a challenging job. I no longer shared my story with everyone and I could tell it without tears, although the telltale signs of stress were apparent in my body. I learned to drive by my old neighborhood, although it was still difficult. Little financial time bombs kept landing and each one threw me back to square one. But I was getting better at getting out.
3 Years: I was secure in my new life. I had built much of what I had dreamed of. I wrote the book. There were many tears; I felt sad for the woman I was writing about but I already didn’t feel as though she were me or I was her. My story was making the rounds on TV and online. I was surprised and elated when I found out from Jeff Probst that there was a felony warrant out for my ex. I still wanted him punished. I had to start making payments on a credit card he maxed out. I felt sick every time I made a payment. I softened that with a note of gratitude every month.
4 Years: I was living at the intersection of divorced and engaged. I felt excited for my future and anxious and triggered about an upcoming home purchase (those damn triggers again). I saw my ex. I didn’t die and I didn’t kill him. I drove by my old neighborhood without a thought. I still dreaded anniversaries.
5 Years: I feel good. Damn good. The trauma is still part of my story and I can’t assume that it will never rear its ugly head again. But I feel stronger and more capable of dealing with it now.