Several weeks ago there was a terrible ice storm, and though I have lived on the east coast now for over a decade, I have rarely driven in such severe weather conditions.
My frightening journey home from work required navigating icy streets and a rather steep incline that proved impossible to ascend with what little traction remained on my tires. As the wheels spun, and the smell of burning rubber filled my car, I began to panic. I attempted to flag down passing drivers, hopeful someone would come to my aid and get me up the hill. When no one stopped, I started making desperate phone calls, first to my brother in Texas, then to friends seeking guidance. After over an hour sitting on the side of the road cold and scared, I pulled myself together and said these words that now also guide me through my divorce: I have to save myself.
No one is going to write a check and save me from bankruptcy or rescue my house from foreclosure. No one is going to help our children cope with the changes or tell me what to do throughout this process. Even my attorney, though amazing, has his limitations. Ultimately I control my attitude, my emotions, and my actions. I am in the driver seat and it is up to me to get up the hill or find an alternative route home.
While it may sound naïve, I firmly believe that the trials I am facing throughout this divorce are sculpting me into a better human being. Divorce has taught me many lessons and though I would not wish this on my worst enemy, I am grateful for the emotional growth. Below are three life lessons I have learned as a result of my divorce.
1. Loved ones will disappoint, but angels do exist.
Over the years, as my marriage has fallen apart, many people have stood steadfast by my side, while a handful of others have fled. I understand that my divorce may cause some great fear and anxiety about their own circumstances. Others may not approve of my decisions, while some may feel I am getting what I deserve. I also recognize that everyone has problems and obligations of their own, preventing them from being there for me. I do not hold a grudge. On the contrary, I hope that someday when this ordeal is over, the relationships that have been strained may be restored.
Surprisingly, a number of people with whom I have not heard from in decades have reached out to me as word of my trouble has spread. Many of them have shared their own difficulties with me. Their reentry into my life has been a great blessing.
The greatest shock, however, are the complete strangers, or angels, as I call them, who have been there to help when no one was. I maintain a running list of all of these individuals so that I am forever reminded of their selflessness and the goodness in this world.
2. Strength is doing what does not come naturally.
My mother recently shared that when I was a child she would occasionally try to make me cry because I never showed my emotions. Even physical expressions of emotion like hugging were difficult. Somewhere early in life I learned that crying was a sign of weakness. I believed that asking for help was embarrassing and an admission of failure.
Divorce has forced me to ask for all kinds of help. While I always imagined that during my lifetime I would volunteer to serve on various non-profit boards, I never anticipated I would be a recipient of any kind of charity. Giving charity is easy. Accepting it has been humiliating. We all need help sooner or later and the real strength comes from admitting this and not adamantly refusing to accept it. It has taken some time for me to understand this lesson.
3. Everyone has their own shit.
I tried to give my sibling a window into my life recently while visiting home, but my sister cut me short and bluntly blurted out, “Everyone has their own shit, just deal with it.” Her comment initially stung and I ceased talking with her about my divorce. I understand that everyone has struggles. Yet after much reflection I realized that I have not always been particularly empathetic to the problems of others. Sure, I cry when I see the commercial for the battered animals and I long to help every homeless person I pass on the street. I have always had sympathy, but what I lacked is empathy.
Several years ago I met a woman who had just lost her husband. His family had taken all of his money and left her and her child with nothing. I listened to her, I felt sorry for her, but somewhere inside a compassionless voice was whispering that this woman is a mess, stay away. My recent circumstances have made me realize that she was not a mess, but rather, she was coping with a messy situation. I wish I could hug her today and give her the support she so urgently needed.
Now it is my life that is a mess, but I am no longer afraid to admit it.