I’ve used that phrase often. In the trenches of college. In the trenches of figuring out my career. In the trenches of planning a wedding. In the trenches of new motherhood. In the trenches of toddlerhood.
I have never used that phrase for anything as painful as being in the trenches of going through a divorce.
I read a blurb today from one of my favorite female comedians, Amy Poehler, on the topic of divorce:
“Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading that blanket, throwing it up, watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands.”
“When you are a person going through a divorce you feel incredibly alone, yet you are constantly reminded by society of how frequently divorce happens and how common it has become. You aren’t allowed to feel special, but no one knows the specific ways you are in pain.”
That last sentence completely resonated with me: You aren’t allowed to feel special, but no one knows the specific ways you are in pain.
It’s so very true. No one will ever truly know that pain as you experience it, even if they’ve been in a similar situation. No one knows the way you loved, the passion you felt, the way you gave, the way you cried, the hurt you endured, the specific feelings of rejection and betrayal, the unique way you have self-doubted, the contents and magnitude of the arguing, the inner struggle to stay or go multiple times, the different ways of finally letting go,…I could go on and on.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the pain that you now carry for your child(ren) throughout this process. Pain of letting go of this family structure so they can have a happy, healthier mom…eventually. The pain of managing this for them in two separate houses. The pain of making them a statistic, being a “child of divorced parents”. It’s a heavy burden, this type of pain, in addition to your own pain. We can all agree that staying together for the kids is not the healthy choice to make but let’s face it, it’s the reason many of us stay longer than we should. No one wants this for their child. No one gets married and has a child to say “Man, I cannot WAIT to go through my divorce so my kid can have two houses!”. It’s the most painful part, your reflection in your child’s eyes, yet, the most calming.
Friends can listen, identify, empathize, hug you, cry with you, ache for you, but they cannot live your pain, nor should they. It’s your path to walk, your pain to endure.
“Lonely” is an understatement in these trenches.
The whole dynamic shift that occurs while going through this process is only comparable to a death. You’re missing this whole moving part of your life that you become so accustom to and dependent on. You’re in this new world of self-reliance when you never wanted it or planned it this way. You’re now missing that emotional connection that you clung to for so long: that confidant, the person that had to listen to your work rants and that person you shared your dreams with. You’re now missing that physical connection: that person you woke up to and knew their morning routine, that person that you hugged at least a couple times a day, the person you’ve been most intimate with in life. You’re now missing that “partner” connection: that person to call if you forgot to pick up milk on your drive home, that person to help fold laundry, your guaranteed social event date, your go-to person to take over the parenting responsibilities when you’ve just had enough.
Even if you’re extremely independent, as I’ve always been, these missing pieces are all exhausting, especially with a child. Obviously sad, too, but exhausting because you’re now 100% self-reliant.
So, how do you put the pieces back together? All of these things you’ve piled on the blanket and threw up in the air are making their descent and you’re watching so many of them break as they land in different places. Some stay in tact, but most are certainly broken. Everything you’ve known for however long, (in my case, 12 years), has been undefined now. Everything.
You have to clean up now and redefine.
The pieces will not fit back together where they were, it’s impossible, so you try to find where the pieces will fit now. You create this new normal for yourself and your child and slowly figure out where the pieces will fit. You sit with the pain when you need to because it’s grief and you have no choice but to look at it in the face. On good days, you say “fuck you, grief and sadness. I’m going to have a good day”, but on bad days, (and there are A LOT of bad days), you sit with it, you become ok with it…and you learn from it.
And there it is, the purpose: learning.
Throughout all of this, the only thing you’re truly gaining is an education. One that is so incredibly important. You learn about yourself. You learn that you’re much more capable than you ever gave yourself credit for. You learn that you’re a better parent because of this. You learn who truly loves you and how to give more of yourself to those people. You learn to stop giving to those that don’t. You learn how to be selfish, which is magical in it of itself. You learn how to self-preserve. You learn to see things with a fresh perspective. You judge less and love more. You learn how to forgive but not forget so you’re not tempted to go down that path again. You just learn and there is so much value in that.
And about all of that loneliness? You learn it isn’t so terrible. You start your own morning routine. You realize that the laundry can stay in the fucking dryer for 3 days. You ride your bike up to the corner store for milk, just to get in that extra piece of exercise. You go to dinner alone and enjoy people watching. You plan a trip alone, somewhere where YOU’VE always wanted to go. You find your love for things that you didn’t know existed, like Ashtanga yoga and frilly bed quilts. You spend more time with friends and family. You shop for things only you like, not having to consider another’s taste. You enjoy one-on-one time with your child. The list goes on but the point is, you’re redefining yourself. It’s an opportunity that not many people have in life or not many will take in life: making a new definition of who you are, here and now; meet yourself for the first time. How amazing is that?
Is the view from the trenches scary and sad? Yes. It’s a trench I never wanted to explore but life had bigger plans for me. It wanted me to see a new life and it wanted to teach me to let go of a relationship and a love that was not serving me anymore. I have to open my eyes and enjoy the view from here for now.
So, to those going through this process of divorce and are in the trenches, do I understand the specific ways you are in pain? No, but we’re still in it together and there is something amazing on the other side of all of this.