After seven years navigating our way through cross-country moves, building businesses, and designing our dreams hand in hand, at the age of 32 I asked my husband for a divorce.
For years I prayed in earnest, begging some greater force to never let me hurt him. I cared for him so profoundly, so fully—I was always afraid of breaking his delicate, almost juvenile heart. We had sacrificed immensely for each other: He took on the larger part of our financial security; I steered us through his deepest depressions, edited his novels, encouraged his best business ideas on his darkest days, and cooked, cleaned, and cared for him in every way I could.
I cleared gutters, shoveled snow, cut his hair. I didn't mind the sacrifice; at the time I believed it was in support of something greater than me, his artist within. I thought then that I knew love. I thought then that I was happy.
But I was living my life raising a grown man. I was not a wife but a mother, a maid, an editor, a business partner, a handyman. I gave all of me away, hinged upon my fallible belief in some godly ability of his to write. One day, though, betrayal struck, and I realized he might have never loved me the way he had once promised to.
The thought of life without him was terrifying. He was my every day—my meaning. His family was my own, his friends, his dreams. I had nothing. No savings, no network, no real career, or backup plan. As discussions began and we considered amicably parting, I journaled furiously, begging for some salvation. I would search for a job with a steady income, likely moving far away from the place I had come to call home. We would divide up our meager collection of furniture and home supplies. And financially, I would be on my own.
He wanted nothing to do with taking care of our rescue dog, instead offering up some small financial support to pay for Waylon's special food and medicines. I begged the universe for some financial rescue, some way of steadily supporting my sweet pup and myself.
I'd be remiss not to acknowledge that there was some rush at the range of possibility that was now before me. But after years of building our own small businesses, achieving financial stability felt like some Everest-like endeavor, challenging—nearly impossible, even.
I sometimes don't know how I made it here. For years I fell into a tailspin of meaningless relationships, too much partying, and flailing about as if I didn't want actual happiness. I say I took the long way, the scenic route. I regret none of it, but I wish it on no one. These days, as I finish my 37th year, I embrace the happiness, the peace, the love and purpose I have excavated in my life. As I see other 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings going through their own heartbreaks, I want to save them from some of what I went through.
So, here's a guide to surviving your divorce when doing so seems like the hardest mountain you've ever had to climb:
1. Find a practice that connects you to yourself.
For some it's a runner's high, a perfect yogic inversion, a meditation, a poem, a painting, a day of volunteer work. Whatever it is that connects you to the person you always thought you were, find that practice, and commit to it as if your life depends upon it. For me it's writing and teaching Kundalini yoga. The former I didn't let myself do because I thought that in comparison to my novelist husband my talent was nil. And Kundalini was a style of yoga I had not yet discovered.
I wish now that after my divorce I would have run away—if only for a weekend. There is a reason Eat, Pray, Love resonates with so many enduring painful breakups. Our sense of normalcy has been shattered. So, why not run away—even if only for a weekend workshop—in an effort to come back with tools for starting from the ground up? It's far easier to rebuild a life when you know who you are and what you want.
2. See a therapist.
Seriously, this is vital. I was fortunate to know an intuitive healer, but her modalities were for the physical health, and her emotional maturity was far too advanced for me in my broken state. For the first year after my split, I spoke with her and took her advice to heart, studying archetypes and trying in vain to be some near-enlightened version of myself.
I had to tear down what I used to believe before I could rebuild a new belief system. It was the day I found myself snooping through the phone of a very wrong-for-me older boyfriend that I realized I needed help. I carefully searched for the right therapist for me, one that insurance would cover and that my friends agreed sounded right for my personal quirks.
In year two I completed our work and was told I was ready again to live in the world without twice-monthly check-ins. I had a toolbox of sorts, acronyms and practices. And there was a sense of accomplishment in knowing I had graduated from therapy, in seeing that I had worked hard and was beginning to resurface.
3. Rely on family and friends.
Allowing myself to rely on my family was not the easiest of transitions. But then again, it was much easier than I could have ever imagined. Being open and honest with my family, long-lost friends, even strangers who would become friends, opened me to the love and support that all were waiting generously to offer.
Admitting the pain you are going through and the challenges you face in your day-to-day endeavors takes courage. Allowing others to be there for you with friendship, job referrals, and even to take you out for a dinner or yoga class takes downright fearlessness. But you've already had your world shattered, and you are still here. Allowing others to be of support is vital to recovery from any of life's great losses.
4. Identify your relationship type.
For the first year and a half after my divorce I dated the same wrong-for-me sort over and over again. I left a string of three-month relationships in my wake, and every man in them was emotionally unavailable and still had deep self-work to do. I get now that I was in need of personal growth, so I was attracting men to date and female friends who also had some growing up to do. But as time wore on and I recognized and grew weary of my patterns, I was able to prevent those ill-suited relationships from continuing.
And once I found myself, I finally found the man I wanted to build a family with. Had we met a few years ago, the relationship would have floundered due to our old patterns and self-destructive behaviors. We were both still sorting out our true identities. Only after finding them could we find each other.
No one tells us how to be human beings, adults, romantic partners. And every loss is incredibly unique and personal. That is why I can never pretend to understand what another couple has experienced in their own breakup or makeup. But if there is one thing I recommend to everyone, it's to do the things you have to do to know that you are you. Find the things you're passionate about, and—even if only in the evenings, on weekends, or over your lunch break—do those things. Because only when you know and love who you are can you know and love another person.