real life

"Like having a limb removed." The unique grief of going through a divorce.

I went through nine long dark months of not knowing whether I should leave my husband.

I’d heard someone say once, “When God closes one door, he always opens another, but it’s hell in the hallway.” That’s what it was for me. Nine long dark months of standing in a hallway looking at closed doors.

My marriage had been ruined by an awful revelation, and now I had no idea what to do.

Watch: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow share why their first marriages were big mistakes. Post continues below.

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I couldn’t imagine a future staying married, and neither could I imagine a future being divorced, so I didn’t imagine a future at all.

Another friend told me, “When in doubt, don’t take action,” so that’s what I did while I doubted. I waited. Agonisingly. Through two miscarriages. Through two more devastating revelations.

When I’d been broken so irrevocably that I couldn’t even recognise myself in the mirror anymore, I met Simon, a man I looked at through the cracked lenses of pain and delusion.

Over a long walk, I found in someone else many of the things I’d been missing in my marriage: someone that seemed to see me. Just two days later, I realised I had a crush on him, and I couldn’t stop talking to him.

I talked to my friends who asked me questions like:

If you found out your husband was doing the same thing that you are doing, how would you feel?

Are you trying to hurt your husband or just trying to escape how you feel?

What happens if you have sex with him? What do you think that’s going to do?

I didn’t know why I couldn’t get it together. I didn’t know why I felt relief at the idea of my husband cheating on me instead of anger or betrayal.

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I didn’t know why I didn’t feel like my husband factored into this at all, that his existence, his marriage to me, was irrelevant.

And when my friends asked, “When are you going to cut it off with Simon?” I simply said, “I don’t think I will. I just don’t want to.”

Having a close relationship with a Higher Power that I turned to for guidance, I prayed. I prayed for clarity. I prayed for the willingness to do what I needed to do. I prayed for the strength to do what I needed to do. I prayed for three days in a row, begging God to help me commit to my marriage and to stop talking to Simon if that’s what I needed to do before I had a physical affair beyond the emotional one I was already having.

But, after three days, the clarity that actually came to me was that I didn’t want to be with my husband anymore. The clarity that came to me was that I was done.

I had been married for six and a half years with eighteen-month-old twins when I filed.

When I finally filed, I felt relief. I’d been trying to keep it all together, but, in the end, it had been like trying to keep water out of the Titantic after it’d hit the iceberg.

But that relief didn’t last for long.

What no one could have made me realise was that divorce is like having a limb removed without any anaesthesia or pain relievers.

I felt everything viscerally: the moving out, the splitting of items, the decrees and interrogatories and parenting plans and custody worksheets.

Everything would strike me like it was drilling straight through my flesh and nerves and into my bone.

Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation and divorce. Post continues after audio.

Sometimes I woke up in a bed I had never shared with my husband and wondered where he was and howled. Many days I curled up in one of my children’s beds, sucked in my breath, and thought that my grief would surely ravage me until there was nothing left. A searing numbness came over me for a time when I saw other married couples out with their children, and I would look for my once husband, my phantom limb.

What everyone told me to do was feel my feelings and not, for the love of God, NOT date.

“You’ll be a mess. Don’t bring anyone else into it,” several friends advised me. “You need to feel your grief.”

But Simon had been the crowbar I’d used to wedge myself out of my marriage.

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Was Simon my saviour? The love of my life I’d always been missing?

No. He was just a well-disguised rebound.

From the beginning, it seemed like we got along fantastically, but no amount of love could take away from me the unbearable grief I felt over the end of my marriage. Some days he’d pick me up off the floor or hold me in his lap while I sobbed.

I was so desperate not to feel the pain I was experiencing and so scared to be alone and stand on my own two feet for the first time in ten years that I ignored our disparate value systems, our plans for the future, the fact that he didn’t care to raise any more children when I had two young ones myself.

I tried to live in the fantasy of that relationship for as long as possible, but after three months, the bubble burst and I left him too.

After my relationship with Simon ended, I was again in another hallway facing more closed doors.

It was obvious that I was meant to be alone because my half-hearted attempts at dating all failed, and in that time, I started to learn to stand on my own, what should have happened in the three months I’d spent with Simon.

I also learned that I hadn’t experienced half of the grief I should have while I was with Simon. Being with him had deadened some of it, but the thing about grief is that you have to feel it, and you will, one way or another.

Now alone, I sobbed sometimes while shopping at the grocery store for three instead of four, while packing my twins’ lunches, while wrangling them into their car seats to take them to the zoo, while they napped, while they coloured with crayons.

I never knew when my grief would hit me, but I was helpless to stop it, so I just made space for it. When it came, I let it take me. I just knew it had to pass, that one day it would get better. That one day, I hoped, I’d be whole and healed again.

One day, I woke up and realised I hadn’t cried in quite a few days and things like taking my kids to the store didn’t feel quite as overwhelming. My life started to make more sense as a just me or a me plus my kids. I started to feel happy. Happy picking candle scents to light in my own bedroom. Cooking meals I would enjoy for me.

Today, my ex-husband goes on with his life without me, and I go on with my life without him. Once we were each other’s futures, but now we are only each other’s pasts, and today, that is okay.

This article originally appeared on Medium and was republished here with full permission. 

Tara Blair Ball is a freelance writer and author of The Beginning of the End. Check out her website here or find her on Twitter: @taraincognito.

Feature Image: Getty.

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