Recovering from Divorce and Overcoming Fears
Twenty-something years ago, I bought the greatest pair of heather gray sweatpants.
They were perfect for the grocery store, road trips, yoga class, nearly everything! Think the LBD of uber casual–they fit great, feel super comfy, and are almost always appropriate lounge attire. I bought them at The Limited for $29.95 with a little matching zip-up hoodie (additional $29.95), and resembled a diminutive boxer wearing the whole getup. I remember wondering if this was an impulse buy and a shopping move I’d regret if I didn’t wear it enough to justify the purchase. I bought it anyway.
My single-gal weeknight ritual went something like this: kick off heels, hang up work clothes, throw on perfect gray sweatpants, pour conservatively-sized glass of wine, and read or watch Ally McBeal because who didn’t love that dancing baby?
So I still have them…and they look like they have been through a war.
Each year I clean out drawers, making my obligatory Goodwill pile, and guess what I found in the shorts drawer? Yep, little gray sweatpants! I thought, “I don’t really wear them anymore unless I’m the only one at home because those suckers are obscene!” The waist elastic emerges through a 3-inch hole on one side, there’s paint all over the rear end from 15 different projects, and I made them into shorts at some point, which was admittedly a bad move but made sense at the time given the threadbare wear on the knees. Why in the world the sweatshorts were still taking up residence in my chest of drawers defied all logic. I’ve had them so long that they could walk around by themselves.
I tossed them in the Goodwill pile.
Then I took them out of the Goodwill pile and folded them neatly back into my drawer. Why? I just couldn’t throw them away! After all, we’ve been through a lot together, the gray sweat pants with phantom legs and me. They waddled with me through two pregnancies until I traded them in for a pair of men’s XL far inferior sweatpants. They climbed something like 37 collective flights of stairs with me moving into my first on-my-own apartment. Then the wearable security blanket moved into two more apartments and three houses. They downward-facing dogged with me in my first yoga class when I couldn’t touch the floor. We got a new ACL, and the stretchy saviors actually fit over OR under the great bionic-looking knee brace without irritating my incisions. Their soft cotton absorbed a few tears when a separation and then a divorce became a reality, and I could get them dirty when I buried my daughter’s cat in the yard and held her little shaking body while she said good-bye to her best furry friend. I’d forgotten until sitting down to write The Life and Times of the All-Knowing Sweatpants that I was wearing them when I got engaged and when I drove myself to deliver my first child at the hospital. (Another story for another time…)
The pants have traveled some serious mileage with me. My sidekicks. Like the clothing version of Tonto.
Now before the psychoanalysis begins, let me say that my attachment to the things isn’t really all that complicated. They make me laugh. Those suckers would get me arrested if I sported them in the grocery store–they aren’t even Wal-Mart appropriate! But they do remind me of how much I’ve grown up, softened over the years. The pants and I have lived a lot of life and have the rough places to show for it. At least I still have my legs, which is more than I can say for the pants. I can’t really wear them anymore, but I giggle when I open their drawer and see them in there, tired from what I’ve put them through.
Why am I writing about an old pair of sweatpants? In all seriousness, I did some thinking about why I’ve kept something with no redeeming purpose. I landed on just because they remind me of what life was like at 22, my wide-eyed view of the world, and the many adventures I’ve traveled since. They remind me of conquests, defeats, dreams, failures, and do-overs that led to new challenges. For some reason I can’t explain, those beat up britches make me feel proud.
So I’m keeping them. How a pair of pitiful pants that would live a more productive life as a dust rag encourages me defies any level of reason, but they just do. I look at those hideous things and I see a Wonder Woman cape because I know with utter certainty that I will survive whatever comes my way, that difficult situations provide opportunities to grow, and that I’m stronger than Ally McBeal and that dancing baby ever dreamed.
I think it would be beyond weird if I framed the pants, so they can stay in my drawer. #pantspower
When I opened my at the time husband’s laptop to get a jump on Cyber Monday, I somehow got lost in the settings and found some information that would forever change my life. Yes, I was actually wearing the sweatpants. My mind circled, swirling with questions and explanations designed to stay in the outer rings of the whirlpool, giving him the benefit of the doubt. There had to be an explanation, right? But the more I looked for a reason to pardon what I found, the more clear the truth of the situation became, and I found myself in the center of the swirling water, going under with no hope of being pulled out.
There was no way to ignore the truth of the facts and no sugar-coating that we were not who I thought we were.
Had things always been perfect? Of course not. Had we both made mistakes and hurt each other in the years before? Definitely. But several years earlier, we had hit the brakes and made a life-long commitment to each other that from then on, we would leave all of our past sins there, forgive each other, choose love and our family, or die trying.
I felt like I was dying in that moment, like the world would never be the same place, and I had no place now to fit into it.
Those next few roller coaster months are a blur I struggle to remember now, but I know medium didn’t exist–I lived in a constant internal state of larger than life hope of having hope and a digging on the bottom with a spoon level of despair.
I did a few things right.
The day after the reality of my world tilted in the kaleidoscope of life, I called a counselor I knew and trusted and made a phone appointment for the next hour she had free in her counseling schedule. At the end of that appointment, I scheduled one per week for the next two months because I knew one thing with certainty–my sweatpants weren’t getting me through this. I needed a qualified, professional coach who would dig into this dedicated to the healthiest outcome for me and my kids. It couldn’t be a person who told me what to do but could guide me in making my own informed decisions rooted in truth, reality, and a positive outlook for the future, whatever that entailed.
That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
When my family thought I had lost my mind or well-meaning friends told me it wasn’t that bad, or bad enough, I could consider my decisions and actions with clarity in one hand and a solid understanding of healthiness in the other. People who loved us intervened with the best intentions, but they were invested in an outcome they could live with, not one that was healthy or helpful for my kids, my husband, or me.
In time, those close to me observed behavior and decisions that clarified for them my situation. In doing the intense work on myself up front, taking the right steps at the right time made it possible to avoid additional hurt for everyone. We avoided unnecessary fighting, excessive negotiating, and could more easily make short and longer-term decisions based on priorities (like our kids) than from a place of hurtful reaction.
I realize this makes it sound like an unfeeling walk in the park.
Rest assured, the sweatpants and I curled up in a sobbing heap of grief, despair, anger, and self-pity on a fairly regular basis. When I found myself alone, at night when I’d hear a sound and couldn’t sleep, when I would take the kids places and people we knew would smile awkwardly or ask horribly insensitive, invasive questions. My mood could swing from determined and strong to angry viper then collapse into an emotional hot mess in the form of a human mop on my closet floor. It was terrible, but at the end of that, I was left with choices. I could define what actions I took next, define who I wanted to be in this beyond difficult chapter of my life, and how I wanted to walk forward in what was a lot of life left to live.
The next year I focused on the kind of parent I wanted and needed to be to support my young children. The balance of caring for them and keeping myself in check involved planning lunches a few times a month with people I could trust to influence me in the direction I wanted to go, heading to yoga at least twice a week, and doing one thing each day to check in with myself on a soul level. This time carved out daily to take inventory of my intentions, my anger or sadness, my actions and choices, and how I viewed my role in my life kept me on track. I’m not saying I carried this out with any kind of finesse. Some days my insides felt black and cold. Some days I walked through my life like a gorilla on ice skates. What mattered is that I did my best to show up every day, own my part of things, and chose to be the best version of myself possible for one day. OK, sometimes it was more like one hour, but the point is that my mindset became a purposeful habit in thinking.
Over time, rebuilding my ability to trust people completely challenged my instincts. To say I have a hard time trusting people would be laughable! Trusting people lands up there with walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope…in very high winds without a pole. I want to trust people, build deep relationships, but it is extremely hard and feels vulnerable on a naked turtle level. Like zero shell at all. I remind myself that even if someone shows me they are not trustworthy, I probably still will survive. The size of my fear of being harmed in this way ranks up there with (something dangerous). The sad part is that people hurt people because we are people and we are really good at making mistakes, usually without intention. So I continue to work on reminding myself that even when people make mistakes resulting in an injury that feels like a breach of trust, that intention matters. It also matters that they didn’t hurt me purposefully. And sometimes people hurt others with excellent intent and precision. That’s when spinning on my heel and walking away without another thought is easy. Keeping my feet glued in relationships where I don’t know where I stand takes something out of me.
And this is my thing to own in my process of recovering from the experiences that led to my divorce. It is still hard, and I more than long for the day that it’s different. Trusting someone to be close and truly know me still feels like I’m a naked turtle at times, but more often these days, I’m comfortable without my shell. And those are the best, most precious moments. The world feels righted. Hope blooms in me.
I glow with a settled resilience I haven’t experienced as a naked turtle before.
I live days like these more frequently than I ever have, and I am so grateful for them. I also know I still have some work to do to completely eradicate the doubt that lingers, to allow the people who love me to be human too, and manage my expectations of their awareness of their actions on my lingering fears. Most times, I just say, “Hey, I need a hug.” And the world opens up, presenting herself as a place safe to explore.
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