When I received the unexpected text that ended my marriage, I collapsed along with my entire world. In those moments, I had no answers, no solutions and little hope.
I felt gutted, a dry husk discarded after the honeyed insides have been consumed. And then, while my body still remained a quivering mass upon the floor, I felt an unexpected fire begin to burn deep within. In that moment, I made the rough drafts of the following five promises to myself.
It took months for these vows to fully develop and years for them to be fulfilled. Yet all along, these five covenants with myself became the guiding principles towards a new – and happy – life after divorce.
I refuse to let my ex take my future.
At first, I was completely focused on what I had lost. I felt like sixteen years of my life had been stolen while my back was turned. I became obsessed with figuring out the “whys” and the “hows,” spending more time in my head than in my life.
I spent months looking for an apology, an acceptance of responsibility or at least some evidence of karma paying a visit. Yet I was continually disappointed. I made deals with myself, “I’ll let this go after he …” Yet he never did.
I blamed him, not only for what he had done, but also for what was continuing to happen. Resentment filled me as I continued to wear the guise of a victim. After all, I wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for his actions.
And then, it slowly began to dawn on me that I was the one who was allowing myself to continue to have my expectations dashed. I was the one who was more focused on what was lost than on what remained. I was the one willingly handing control over my life and my happiness to this person who didn’t exactly have a great track record of looking after me.
I couldn’t alter the past. I had no control over his actions (or inactions). But I could put my foot down. I could draw a line in the sand. I could refuse to allow him (or my feelings about him) to steer my future.
He had taken enough. I wasn’t going to allow him to take any more.
I will not allow this experience to define me.
I remember the first time I had to check the “divorced” box on an informational form. I felt a sudden, and surprising, flush of shame rise through my body. “How did I end up here?” I wondered. “What’s wrong with me?” I questioned, feeling like a failure.
For much of that first year, I was my divorce. It was the first things friends asked me about and the first thing on my mind every morning. It stained every area of my life, a scarlet towel thrown into a load of white laundry. I contributed to this attention through my need to obsessively talk about the situation with anybody and everybody. I needed to vent, to process, and wasn’t yet able to control the verbal emissions.
I became curious about dating, but was also hesitant that I would perpetually be viewed as damaged goods. After all, if one man deemed me as disposable, why would another view me any differently? When one man at the gym, with whom I had only exchanged the requisite exercise-related small talk, expressed his interest, I was stunned. It was the first inkling I had of a future that wasn’t stipulated by divorce.
I may have been divorced, but I was more than just my marital status. That experience and designation would always be a part of my story, but I didn’t have to allow it to define my entire life.
I refuse to allow one person to determine my worth.
In communications with his attorney, his other wife (yes, he followed the leaving-via-text with bigamy) and my mother, my ex made some outrageous – and outrageously awful – claims about me. When I first heard these assertions, I was horrified. And also terrified. After all, what if they were true?
After so many years with my ex-husband, I had learned to value – and even absorb – his opinion. He expressed his hatred of mums every fall when the flowers began to dominate the displays and I soon decided that I didn’t like them either. He conveyed full confidence in his ability to build his own design company and I allowed my faith to follow.
And so when he decided that I was a terrible, no-good, very bad person, I went along with it. Until eventually I realized that, if my ex was simply a stranger that I had a brief encounter with, I would not respect or value his opinions based upon his decisions and demeanor. So why should I listen to his views at all?
I made the decision to allow the preponderance of evidence to reflect my character, rather than the perspective of a single – and deeply flawed – person.
I haven’t come this far to only come this far.
This vow was my carrot when I was feeling hopeless and my stick whenever motivation waned. When I started to feel like it was all-too-much and I simply couldn’t take another step, I would take a moment to assess the progress that I had made thus far.
I may not have been able to sleep through the night unaided by medication, but at least I was no longer as plagued by nightmares. I may not have been able to think about my financial future without an emotional reaction, but at least I could find comfort in the fact that I was granted Innocent Spouse Relief by the IRS.
As I reflected on these baby steps and the enormous effort required to make them, I became determined to not call it quits only partway up the mountain.
I will find a way to see the good in this situation.
This was the only one of those rough-draft vows that I verbally expressed when I was lying prone on the floor. And it was also the hardest promise to myself to keep as the bad news continually threated to overwhelm and drown out any attempts at gratitude.
At first, like with many things, I placed the burden of an agreeable outcome on external factors. I would feel vindicated if the courts came through and justice as I saw it was served. I could be happy if someone would swoop in and rescue me from this mess. I was hopeful that I would be free if I somehow found financial success through the situation.
Yet, as is always the case when relaying on outside circumstances to provide satisfaction, I was disappointed. And so I began to look inward for the gifts hidden beneath the tragedy. I started to list the positive outcomes that only occurred because of the divorce: I found who my true friends were and discovered just how amazing they were, I felt a sense of peace and power after surviving the worst that could happen, and I was given an opportunity to learn from this experience and to share my lessons with others.
Marriage begins with your vow to another.
When marriage ends, it is a time for promises to be made with yourself –
I vow to live the life I have, not the life I lost.
I vow to allow my character to shine despite my experiences.
I vow to see the value I provide to others and demonstrate kindness towards myself.
I vow to recognize my accomplishments and also demonstrate perseverance in the face of adversity.
I vow to always strive to the see the sun behind the clouds and to express gratitude for every gift.