October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is for all the Trash the Dress women who have survived abusive marriages. I am especially grateful for those who spoke out about their past and shared their stories in the book. Here’s to bravery.
One year ago I walked out on my husband. I often forget this part of my story. Although I was the one to walk out first, he was the one who asked for the divorce. My relationship was a broken record of “Andrea’s fault” so, even then, I thought walking out was a sign of weakness, not a moment of clarity or strength. After I found the infamous text from the infamous mistress, I realized my relationship was over and I had been lied to and betrayed. Our relationship was long since broken, but the tipping point of infidelity started my entire world on fire.
It’s been an entire year and I couldn’t be happier. Finally I’m the person I have always wanted to be. I’m assertive. I have power and control of my life. I, for the first time in 26 years, feel pretty. My divorce was the best-worst thing that ever happened to me. Without the shit-show I wouldn’t have grown into the bad-ass lady I am right now. With that said, I still struggle.
I am a person who looks to others’ stories to find answers, meaning, or the slightest moment of solace. I suppose that’s why I chose to blog about my experiences. Recently I have been trying to find articles about healing from cheating. The only thing I really find is how to make a relationship work after infidelity. Mine didn’t work (thank goodness), but the toil is still real.
Cheating is the suckiest thing you can do to another person. It’s a betrayal beyond belief and it really really hurts. Cheating isn’t about any emotional or physical interactions…it’s about secrets, deceit, deception, and the cowardice to not deal with the problems at hand. After you get past the fact your safe person destroyed the constructs of your monogamous relationship, you are left with an aftermath of duplicity. You and your ex’s friend circle is in shambles. No one wants to get in the middle of anything, and those who do are wrought with turmoil no matter how hard they try to help both parties. As time goes by, the memory of the bellicose ninety-day-divorce-waiting-period fades and everyone moves on with their lives. It’s not the same. The couple can’t be at parties together anymore. The friend group has to figure out who they are going to invite when. And eventually, the mistress becomes apart of the group and you see that smiling photo of her, where you once stood, on Facebook. And you cry, all the way home from the Apple store.
This is my reality and I’m still figuring out how to reconcile the thoughts and feelings surrounding the fear of replacement and my inability to trust, something I’ve never had before. I’m learning that there isn’t much to do with these issues except see the facts and sit with the emotional scars that are healing more and more everyday. I was not replaced because I do not want to be that body with his arm around. I know she isn’t better than me. I often want to explain this with “well I never went after a married man” but that’s a simple thought. I have worth that is absent of any comparison to another. And I do trust people when they earn it, and it is possible to earn it.
After writing this, I still don’t have the answer to this struggle. How do you let go of betrayal? How do you trust again? How do you stop laughing at mistress jokes (okay, this one will never happen…for purely clinical healing reasons of course…)? All I know is, as cliche as it sounds, time really does heal, which sucks because it takes a lot of time. Though, each day gets a little easier. Each day I am able to laugh a little more. And each day, the aftermath smoke from the fire settles and the air gets a little easier to breath.
Before I found Joelle’s AMAZING Trash The Dress site, I was really struggling to find, well anyone, to talk to that could really relate to my divorce. All my friends were still in the dating game, and my parents have been happily married for 27 years. As wonderful and supportive as everyone was, no one fully got it.
Along my journey for my depression treatment I met a woman also going through a divorce. Someone in her circle suggested a local divorce support group at a church downtown. At first I thought she was crazy. No way would I go to a support group! First, I would be the youngest one there. Second, I would probably be ostracized because I’m 20 and getting and divorce. Like, really, what’s wrong with me? Third, I wouldn’t get anything out of it. I don’t have kids or martial property. What advice and support would I get that’s helpful?
Well, somehow I got talked into going. I grabbed myself a Starbucks and held my breath in as I walked into the church. Around me were historical and beautiful religious artifacts. I walked into the room and saw smiling faces of people much older than myself. I was told to write my name on a name-tag, fill out the contact info sheet, grab some coffee and a cookie, and take a seat. We sat in a circle and the facilitator, a licensed therapist, introduced the group, the brief rules (confidentiality, dating is discouraged, safe place, etc) and had some of the seasoned veterans of the group start by sharing their week. Then us newbies told our stories. It reminded me of groups I ran during my counseling internship in graduate school. Was this divorce AA?
I was picking at my cuticles, tapping my feet, and feeling the churn in my stomach. Was I next? I took a deep breath and the plunge and spoke. I told my story, in all of it’s honesty, good and bad, and waited for reactions. What was everyone going to think? The group smiled. The facilitator thanked me. A few people interjected and told me their relatable stories. They all said, “we are so happy you are here.” A wave of relief crashed over me. My body calmed and my heart rate lowered. I smiled. I was accepted. When group wrapped up, multiple people came up to me and thanked me for being so brave.
Since, I have gone to the group weekly. It’s my safe haven. And, although, many group members don’t know what it’s like to divorce so young, every divorce is different and every divorce is the same. We all have stories of betrayal, heartbreak, grief, anger, triumph, and healing. Although we all experience these facets, they are all slightly different for each of us. But we can attempt to make sense of it all and take baby steps towards healing by sharing our stories. So go for it. Find a local support group or join one online (shameless TTD plug). Tell your story. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 or 60, divorce sucks and somebody somewhere knows what stage of suckiness you are in.
It’s really late and I still can’t sleep. My doctor would tell me to put down the coffee and stay away from the laptop screen, but the silence of sleeping scares me and my bed is big and empty. I scroll through pages and pages…young and divorced, divorce in your 20s, I do. I did. I’m done!…and on and on. There are two types of articles I stumble upon: 1) I’m an old blogger who writes about the downfall of the sanctity of marriage and how the internet and instant gratification is ruining America’s youth and 2) Badass chicks who found themselves, learned who they really are, and got sassy tattoos and epic vacations when their husbands peaced out. But there’s no articles about me, a 26 year old girl struggling with depression as long as she could remember whose husband left the marriage after two years telling her he never really loved her, and was having a relationship with a woman 20 years his senior. Where’s that damn article?
My ex and I met when I was 18, he 17. We actually met in study hall and went to prom together. After meeting him, for the first time, I felt love and worth. See, my entire life I’ve felt like nothing. I’m not sure when it started or where it came from. Nobody abused me. Nobody touched me. I suppose a combo of genetics, personality traits, and never feeling good or loved enough lead to a long history of mental health challenges.
When our relationship went full steam ahead, a whirlwind of co-dependency, jealousy, and control came forth. I needed him to silence all the self-abuse my mind hammered into me daily. You’re ugly. You’re fat. You’re stupid. You aren’t worth a damn thing. No one will ever love you. Oh wait! He does. Maybe you are okay. But neither of us recognized either of those issues because we were kids going on 40, moving into our apartment together after high school graduation and starting a joint checking account. We justified the insanity by saying how mature and ready we were for adult life. We didn’t need to make friends in college. No, no, we had each other and that’s all we needed.
Our marriage proposal wasn’t even that. I told him I wanted to get married so we went to the jewelry store that afternoon to purchase a ring. Now, the non-traditionalist in me said fuck norms and I can pick out my own ring, but that had nothing to do with it. After 5 years of dating, I needed marriage to bandage all the self-hate. We got married. It was everything I wanted. On the outside it looked perfect. But behind closed doors no one knew that I wrote my and his vows. He refused to write them. He never told me I was beautiful on our wedding day. On our wedding night we didn’t have sex. I came up with so many excuses…he was nervous, he’s shy, he doesn’t know how to express his emotions, it was a long day…but they were just that, excuses.
We went on and continued as a married couple. We moved 3 hours away from home to start our big kids jobs. Our first year in the new city was great. We explored and experienced a diverse and liberal culture we only dreamed of. But once the exploring stopped, we looked at each other and no longer saw a married couple, but roommates. I asked for marriage counseling to help get that spark back. He refused and said nothing was wrong. He said he was just stressed with work.
And then everything stopped. No longer did I hear I love you. Affection was obsolete. Negative and hurtful comments were made about my weight, appearance, and above all things, my running routine and schedule. No matter what I did, I could never be good enough.
It started again. He was slowly tearing away the bandaid he once put on my self-hatred. Blood began to ooze out, so I put on more gauze, more excuses for the shitty behavior. One night, when I came home from work, his phone lit up with the words Love You! on the screen. I confronted him. He ripped the bandaid off, no warning, no soothing gel, no comforting phrases. A relationship was happening with this woman and he said he didn’t love me and never really did. After a few weeks of separation, accusals, fighting, screaming, begging, pleading, he asked for a divorce. The blood came.
My wound was gaping and each day he was gone salt was thrown into it. I couldn’t sleep for days. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t laugh, or even crack a smile. I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. My mind wouldn’t stop. Why wasn’t I good enough? Why is a woman, 43 fucking years old, better/sexier/prettier/smarter than me? I mean he’s in his early 20s and she’s married with kids! I’m worthless. I’m stupid. I have nothing left. My life is over. I’m nothing without him. I don’t want to go on without him…
An unexpected, dear friend came to my side. He ended up moving in with me for a few weeks, living out of a backpack and laundry basket. We binge watched American Horror Story and cooked fancy dinners. He taught me to crochet and I made way too many scarfs. More importantly he was there to hold gauze over the wound until I saw the doctor. He never taped the gauze down, but held it until I could stand on my own feet and get the help I needed. And in all actuality, I did see a doctor. I started receiving intensive treatment for my depression.
Eventually my hopeless thoughts stopped. I started eating. I slept. I learned that my pain was two fold: a grieving cycle over the end of a long term relationship and my self-hatred. During times of high distress I wasn’t able to distinguish the two. I would often think, my relationship ended because there was something wrong with me. But that isn’t true. My relationship ended. It just ended. It ended because it was a co-dependent abusive hot hot mess (and let’s be real…it wasn’t hot). It ended because he chose to start a relationship with another person before he ended the one with me. And more important than all that bullshit, I have so much worth and beauty that is completely separate from that relationship.
So what did I learn from my divorce? I suppose that’s how you are supposed to end these things. I learned that my worth isn’t defined by another person, but by what I believe and do. My beauty isn’t defined by a number or silhouette, but by my kindness, womanhood, smile, and eyes. If you look deeply in my eyes you’ll see flecks of gold embed in the brown. You’ll also see a story of a girl who is so very privileged, yet handed struggle after struggle to only learn she can and will overcome anything. Although I can’t find a 20-something divorcee article that I can fully relate to, and have yet to get my freedom tattoo and vacation, I’m on my way. Maybe in a few months I’ll be a badass chick who found herself, but until then, I’m me, and I’m pretty fucking great.
Last year on New Year’s Eve, I wrote myself a letter to be opened on December 31, 2014. I was curious to open it this year, because I honestly do not remember large portions of that time period in my life. I had been kicked out of my apartment with my ex-husband at the beginning of October, and rented my first apartment on my own. I lived there for six weeks before I could even afford to buy a mattress to sleep on. I was deep in the throes of depression, and I was barely functioning from day-to-day. I went to work, came home, watched TV, and slept. I think I was an actual zombie for a few months.
New Year’s Eve this year is completely different for me. I sought out counseling early this year and began to get my life in order. My divorce was finalized a few months ago, which is the thing I thought would break me most. Instead, it’s set me free! I am healthier, happier, and more me than I have ever been in my life.
I wanted to share an excerpt from my letter to myself last year, and one from the letter I wrote today. I’m putting both in an envelope to read next year on December 31. It’s my new post-divorce tradition! If you are struggling today, I pray that this post will bring you some hope. These are the kinds of changes that 12 months can bring, if you have the patience and the courage to muddle through.
December 31, 2013:
“It’s the end of 2013. I moved into my own apartment two months ago today. When I tell people about this year so far, they are usually amazed. They tell me how strong I am, how they could never do what I’m doing or go through what I’m going through. All I can do is think that I’m barely hanging on. I’m not ‘powering through’ or being strong or amazing. I’m stumbling from one day to the next. Some days are good and I feel strong and kick-ass, and I’m angry at how [my ex-husband] treated me over the last half of our marriage. Other days I wonder what is keeping me from trying to kill myself. I think avoidance behavior is how I survive day-to-day. But I worry that I do so much avoiding that I’ll never process this or start healing. I’ve lost hope that things get better or that there is ‘more’ out there than this pain for me.”
December 31, 2014:
“This year has been amazing. It has been hard, but it has been beautiful. I have gained a lot of perspective about the things that happened. I look at hard times in new ways — I see challenges instead of obstacles. I see how things will make me grow instead of wondering how broken they will make me. I have gained wisdom, joy, and a measure of happiness — things that last year I felt were lost to me forever. As 2014 comes to a close, I am overwhelmingly thankful for the things it has brought to me. I hope and pray that 2015 is full of love, laughter, and joy. The circumstances don’t matter as much as my attitude going in.”
Cheers to 2015. Cheers to growth, to change, to happiness, and to finding hope, even in the most hopeless of places.
The tragic suicide of Robin Williams has shone on light on depression. It’s an issue that many young divorced women deal with, so don’t be ashamed if you’re one of them. Our Trash the Dress PRIVATE online support group is here for you. Some of us have even been there ourselves and can help guide you.
Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number if you are seriously in need of help. Life is worth living and though today might be dark, there is sunshine ahead.
“You have a lot of anniversaries it seems,” my boyfriend told me when I mentioned that today would’ve been my four year wedding anniversary. And well – he’s right. I have a number of days that mark both the good and the bad days that I had with my ex-husband.
Let’s see. There is (in no particular order):
- March 8th, the day he said “I can’t do this anymore”
- April 1st, our divorce date (hands down, the best day of the year this could have landed on)
- June 8th, the first time he cheated
- And August 7th, our wedding anniversary
Since this isn’t my first rodeo, I have some tips for you to get through what I’ve dubbed “awfulversaries”, because there is a widespread misconception that divorce is the end of all emotions pertaining to an ended relationship and well, that’s just crap to any of us who have been through this. Divorce is something that will always be with you and should be grieved (or when you’re ready, celebrated) as you see fit. Here are a few ideas that can help:
That’s right. Forgive yourself. You are not the same person who walked into that marriage. You went in with the best intentions, and regardless of if you left or they did, it’s heartbreaking and exhausting to have to separate your life and start all over. So forgive yourself for the nights you cry, the times you feel guilty, the moments you are happy…and forgive them too (or at least fake it until you make it).
Also? Watch this. On repeat.
Lean on Your “Person”
If you’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy, you know that Meredith and Christina are each other’s “person.” Find your “person” and book them for that night. The right friend will know to be there for you and be up for anything – because you never know what you’ll feel like on an awfulversary – sometimes you want to dance it out, and sometimes you want to cry and watch Must Love Dogs (I mean, if your ex’s name is Kevin and you own a Newfoundland dog – it’s only fitting).
Write a Never Letter or a Pro/Con List
Whether it is a “could’ve, should’ve” or a “DEAR DARLA, I HATE YOUR STINKING GUTS” type of emotion you are feeling, grab some paper or open a Word doc and let it all come out… BUT DON’T SEND IT! Shred, burn or delete it. These are called Never Letters. Getting your feelings out on paper can help you accept the reality and work through it in a way that isn’t sending you right back into a bad situation. Think of it as a self-counseling session.
If you just need a quick pick me up – write a pro/con list. It’s okay to be sad about the happy things you miss about being together like those inside jokes, but also list the cons to help you figure out why it didn’t work and why you’re better off without them. Mine was a hard worker which was great, but he was also a compulsive porn addict, cheater and nail biter – definitely things I don’t miss!
Absolutely NO Lurking
Social media makes it all to easy to see what your ex is doing these days… but looking them up comes with a cost. Studies have shown that those who look up their exes are “more likely to be hung up on the breakup, with greater distress, negative feelings, longing for the ex-partner and lower personal growth.”
So think again before stalking the ex and their new beau; it only hinders your healing and I PROMISE you their lives aren’t as sweet as they’re making them out to be on Facebook.
Don’t believe me? Watch this:
Be liberal with that block button, my friends.
Make Awesome Plans
Look. If you stay in and cry all night, I am the last person that will judge you. But trust me, this tip is the best of them all.
Date yourself for a night. Clean your house the night before so you wake up feeling fresh and not overwhelmed, wear a new outfit, and go to a fancy dinner with friends or to that new movie you’ve wanted to see. Go to the Katy Perry concert and scream your guts out at every lyric that empowers you. Travel to a place that you’ve always wanted to see. Flirt with cute bartenders. Be adventurous, the world is your oyster for the night and nobody can tell you any different!
If you don’t feel up to partying, do something else memorable such as change your name back, put all photos of the two of you on an external hard drive, delete old emails; anything that helps you take back your own self and celebrate that you are a new, smart, independent woman and you will not be defined by your marital status. And then? Give yourself a pat on the back, you have now survived another awfulversary!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a massage to get to…
For ten years, I knew my then-husband was boarder line…something. I could never put my finger on it or give his behavior a name. It was frustrating, mentally and emotionally exhausting. When we separated and I was finally able to open up about my experiences I got blank stares, puzzled looks, heads tilted sideways just enough to know that they thought I was crazy. No one could grasp the idea of this man, a father of two, behaving in the manor I was explaining.
It was like something straight out of the movies– no, not a romantic comedy; not a horror film either. It was more like I was living in a fictional drama, but it was my reality. I was unaware of the hidden life, the affairs and criminal activities. I was unaware of the next bomb that was I in: my husband was a psychopath.
No, there isn’t any laughter or grins as I say this or any time in which I have said it to professionals. It’s assumed that I say it humorously, and after the short laughs and my seriousness is accounted for I am treated with disbelief. In today’s society the term “psychopath” is thrown around so often without true understanding of the definition or justification of using it, that it has become a joking matter. Many professionals lack to understand the depth of this disease or the con jaundice of it for the victims. For those who have ever experienced a true psychopath it’s no laughing matter. We are their victims.
Ironically, I was looking up books to help me find ways to cope with not only my ex-husband after our divorce but also ways to deal with my ex-husband in order to co-parent. I read books upon books but none we giving me the help or understanding I was seeking so desperately to find. One afternoon while skimming through the online catalog of digital books on tape I came across Barbara Bentley’s book, “A Dance with the Devil, A True Story of Marriage To A Psychopath.” I had the digital book mailed to me and before the six page introduction was finished I was calling family to hear it. With chills down my spine and my hair standing on end, I sat at my desk in disbelief with each chapter read. I felt connected to her story, as though so much of her experience I was reliving my own. I was in shock to hear someone else had such similar experiences and finally I didn’t feel so alone.
In her introduction she writes, “This is my story, where fairy-tale dreams, trust and hope collide with the crazy making world of psychopaths and domestic violence. I could never have imagined my recovery would be so hard won, or that a psychopath would be so hard to lose.” In that first opening line I knew this was a women who related to everything I had been unable to put into words much to do my own lack of understanding the twisted spiraling vortex that my life had become. In this Barbara Bentley gives a first-hand account of how she had been so mislead, manipulated and the attempt on her life at the hands of her own husband, John Perry- a man with charm and such achievements in his life, no one could have seen it coming. Only someone who has dealt with a psychopath could grasp the signs like the highs and lows, the acts, the claims and always the stability or lack of, that a psychopath displays.
From the excitement of falling in love to the court battles she faced this book is a MUST read for anyone who has ever been left with their heads spinning and wondering if their gut instincts were wrong. No one can imagine the toll it takes to deal with to recovery from dealing with a true psychopath. After her story ends, Bentley gives resources to further the support of recovering with emotional and legal information. Psychopaths are so good at the game that professionals over look details or the legal system fails to see the “proof in the pudding” as they say. The emotional, mental and physical recovery can begin with reading this book. It was my first step to healing and getting the help I needed. Bentley’s story is sure to be a book I refer to all divorcees or victims advocates for years to come.