I read my text message and laughed out loud because my ex-wife wrote something funny.
One of my friends at the office asked what I was laughing about.
I told him. He smiled.
“You wouldn’t believe what a difference nearly a year and a half makes,” I said.
Sometimes my ex and I laugh about stuff.
There was so much darkness after she left. I freaked. Big-time.
Partially because something radical and different was happening, and change scares me. Partially because my little son wasn’t home all the time anymore and it feels like a piece of your soul is missing. Partially because the wounds of rejection run deep and can feel exactly like betrayal.
I was broken. Dazed. Crying, sometimes. It wasn’t pretty.
I have never gone back and read anything I wrote a year ago. But I think it’s all there.
Growing up, nothing extremely horrible ever happened to me. My parents’ divorce was the worst thing.
I grew up in this safe little Catholic school in this safe little Ohio town and had a safe little non-scary life.
Life had inadvertently pulled the wool over my eyes.
Then she left and started seeing someone else and I felt like dying.
Sometimes, I intentionally try to recreate the feeling because I don’t want to take for granted the peace I feel today. I NEVER want to forget how uncomfortable life can feel inside your own skin when you’re broken. Because that’s the fuel I need to build my new life.
The feeling is unmistakable and all-consuming. And you only know it if you know it. If you don’t know what it feels like to not be able to breathe because everything you ever thought was true just crumbled, then I really want you to keep your loved ones close, because you’re going to need them when it finally happens.
It hurts more than anything you’ve ever experienced. When you break on the inside. And the wounds are so deep they take an excruciatingly long time to heal.
But they do heal.
Sometimes my ex and I laugh about stuff now.
Clocks, Calendars and Fear
I was 34 when my wife left after a dozen years together. Mid-thirties with a son in kindergarten.
A single, graying, average-looking dad who just got dumped. My entire social network, altered overnight. My home went from a steady, warm, safe haven, to a quiet prison that felt much like a tomb.
I was (sometimes, am) afraid of so many things.
Who will ever want me?
How can I set a good example for my son?
What’s my purpose in life now?
Am I going to survive, financially?
Will I ever feel like myself again?
I watched a bunch of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.
I went out with friends.
I kept waking up each morning and breathing.
The clocks ticked.
The calendar pages flipped.
The sun kept coming up.
I don’t think so, anyway. I don’ t think there’s any way of cheating the process. When we lose things, we grieve. And everything I understand about grief and loss is that we all deal in different ways, but we all go through the same stages. Some of those stages take longer than others.
The five stages of grief are:
5. Acceptance, and Hope
I wasn’t shocked when she left. The shock happened a long time ago when the marriage went bad. The denial, too. She’s not leaving!
I was wrong.
But I didn’t have any trouble being angry and feeling like a victim. That part’s easy.
In the bargaining phase, you long for the past, forgoing the present by focusing on what might have been.
Then you get depressed.
I got totally depressed.
I wasn’t moping around, like how I imagined depression to be. But just a deep emptiness and sadness. You tend to not give a shit about a bunch of things you used to. Simple things, really. All my old hobbies—my favorite sports teams, poker, cooking, etc. I just didn’t care anymore. They feel so insignificant after something monumental happens.
And it turns out this is completely expected and normal. And there’s no set amount of time. Everyone has to walk their own path. And it’s important to remember that when you’re feeling so shitty. The depression IS the path. It’s the way out of all the suck. Keep moving forward.
And finally, acceptance. Hope.
This doesn’t mean you’re all better. Woo-hoo! I accept it! I’m totally healed now!
I don’t think that’s how it works. At least not for me.
My world ended on April 1, 2013.
A life that only exists now as a high- and lowlight reel in my memory bank.
And now I have to build a brand-new life.
With new goals. New dreams. A new script. A new supporting cast.
And you know what? I’m going to.
It’s not like I ever had much of a choice, but when you’re walking through all those phases of the Grief Path of Suckage™ you don’t feel much hope or really anything at all.
When I felt like dying, the thing that made me feel best was connecting with people who understood. Via this blog. Via real life. Crossing paths with people with the same wounds and scars. Crossing paths with people who had been through the exact same things and would pat me on the back, reassuringly.
“It will get better.”
And if you’re still in agony, it’s hard to hear. It’s tricky when other people seem happy or peaceful or unaffected.
Don’t they know the sky is falling? Don’t they know the sun might not come up tomorrow?
They walked through fire.
And they emerged stronger.
And I know there are millions of people out there now. Having trouble breathing. Crying and terrified.
It makes my entire body hurt to think about because that feeling is still like muscle memory, just below the surface. It can still be recreated in short bursts. And it’s horrible.
But it doesn’t last.
It can’t anymore.
Because one day you look in the mirror.
Hey! I know that guy.
And someone else makes you smile.
And your child fills you with enormous pride.
Because real healing has taken hold.
Because you kept breathing.
Because clocks keep ticking.
Because the sun is indiscriminate and it won’t stop setting, rising and dancing across the sky for anyone.
Because sometimes my ex and I laugh about stuff—strangers, but strangers who don’t hurt each other anymore.
Because everything is going to be okay.
It really is.
It might even be amazing.