When the End is a New Beginning
How I Bounced Back After My Divorce | #3
In this month’s issue, I wanted to shift to the personal development side of my interests to share my experience and learnings on how to bounce back after the end of a marriage or significant relationship. This was hard for me to write and share in public but I knew that I needed to tell this story one day.
When I first realized that my marriage was over, I remember going to a bookstore and scanning the self help section to find a book about how to get through this. I was surprised that there was not more books written about this topic. Writing about this very personal topic is my way of finding a silver lining out of a very painful experience.
I was with my son’s father for a total of 16 years with 13 years of that being officially married. My world came crashing down on April 1, 2016, ironically being April Fool’s Day and about a year after I lost my dad. Having two major back to back losses of significant men in my life impacted me tremendously and threw me into several months of despair and depression. Even today, I find myself getting emotional thinking about that not so distant time in my life.
It all started on that first day of April when I had just returned energized from a work related conference in Denver. I had taken the red eye flight back and was exhausted that morning as I greeted my 9 year old son and husband. I had gone to lay down in the bedroom intending to rest, when my husband came in and said that he wanted to talk. This was rare coming from him since he’s never been the best communicator and so I sensed that something was a bit “off”.
Just to backtrack a bit, prior to this day, we had been having a rough patch in our marriage and had a significant disagreement right before I left on my trip. At that time, I didn’t realize that it was all leading to a discussion of the end of our more than a decade long marriage.
Things were a bit of a blur after that for me personally for about 3 months. Someone in my neighborhood told me that they saw me walking down the street one day and felt “sorry” for me as I looked like a ghost of myself because they barely recognized me. I had lost over 15 pounds due to not having an appetite for several months.
I remember going through the motions of making sure my son was fed, bathed, and clothed, while doing the back and forth commute to his elementary school. I don’t remember anything else except that my husband slept in my son’s room on the top bunk, and we did not interact during that time unless absolutely necessary. He stayed out of the house as he prepared to move out by that July.
Looking back, I realized there were many signs leading up to the end but I was in extreme denial that our marriage was in such disrepair. We had gone to 4 sessions of couples counseling and tried to revive date night but it was just too late. I found myself going through a tornado of emotions as I tried to come to grips with this new reality.
Emotions & Stages of Grief
The ending of a marriage or relationship is a loss and in some ways can bring out similar feelings as when you lose a parent or family member due to death. I say this because I experienced the death of my father and ending of my marriage very close together and felt very similar as I grieved both losses. When it comes to a divorce there is this immense feeling of loss of the family unit which involves losing your plans for the future, holiday family traditions, family vacations, and just an overall sense of security and safety.
The five stages of grief was studied intensely by a Swiss-American psychiatrist who wrote the book, On Death and Dying. The theory is also known as the Kubler Ross model, and what is important to note is that the stages are not linear and that not everyone experiences every stage but they can repeat at times as well. I definitely remember going through every stage of the process and am documenting here how that played out.
Denial: This is the stage when you are not facing reality and think it’s all a dream and not real. It’s a time when you are going through your daily life and then have to remind yourself what is happening. When I found out that my husband wanted to end our marriage, I did not want to accept it even though deep down inside I knew it would have been hard to stay married after what had happened between us. There were things in our marriage that were very unhealthy for both of us but the denial that I was experiencing kept me from accepting that the marriage was over.
Anger: This is a stage that I regretted staying in longer than I should have. I remember being full of rage and unable to manage this emotion of anger that I’ve always been able to handle in the past. That anger manifested in ways that I am not proud to admit, and I know now how damaging that must have been during the time for my husband. He lost friends, and his reputation suffered due to my inability to manage my anger towards him.
It did take me several years to get over my anger but eventually I was able to do that once I moved towards the path of forgiveness. I do think the key to letting go of anger is being able to forgive someone no matter how much you were hurt at the time. I am grateful to have been able to work through my anger because now I have an extremely healthy relationship and friendship with my ex-husband. I do believe that our post-divorce relationship has helped our son acclimate to his life of having two separate homes.
Bargaining: This is the time when people bargain for what could have been or ask themselves what if they would have done something differently so that this outcome could be different. I definitely went through this phase as I overanalyzed our marriage and wondered how could I have prevented this. What if I just had stayed silent? What if I had spoken up sooner? The what if’s were never-ending.
Depression: I fell into a deep depression during that first year and mishandled it with alcohol and running away from my feelings. Over time, the depression became less, especially because I was in both individual and group therapy and was able to work out a lot of my feelings.
As someone who studied mental health counseling and even was providing counseling services in the past, I understand depression and how it works but when you are in it, it is challenging to get out. Many times they say depression is “anger turned inward” which makes sense to me now. Looking back, I know that I was angry with myself for not being able to keep my marriage intact especially for my son.
Acceptance: This is the final stage of grief but I mentioned before that these stages of grief can be circular so sometimes you may find yourself circling back to some of the earlier stages before you get to the acceptance stage. I can say that I have now been in this stage for awhile but it took more than a year to get here. I have accepted my new reality and learned to rebuild my life around it.
I’ll add in one more stage that I went in and out of during this time, which is the stage of Guilt. I felt guilty about many things but the bulk of that guilt revolved around the fact that my son would have to live a new type of life different from many of his friends. He would forever have to explain to new people why he had two homes, and he would never have a family vacation again with both of his parents. I felt the guilt even though I knew deep down inside that this “new normal” was better than him observing a marriage full of dysfunction.
How I Bounced Back After My Divorce
Looking back now, I can trace back the steps that I took to get my life back on track and recover from my divorce. I summarized how I bounced back after my marriage ended into 5 steps below:
Get support: It’s easy to isolate yourself and drown yourself in your sorrows but if I didn’t reach out to people for support, I think I would be in a different place today. That support can come in a number of ways such as spending time with friends, seeking individual or group therapy, or even seeking out new friends who have gone through the same thing. Even in a pandemic, I have been able to connect with others in a similar place this past year through various online communities and social media groups.
Get your finances in order: Once my head was a bit straight, I dived right into figuring out how I was going to support myself. I had taken a semi-career break by being a full-time mom for almost 9 years with one toe in the career pool. I realized that my part-time work was not going to cut it since I needed health insurance, savings for retirement, and an income for my monthly costs living in an expensive city like NYC.
I was lucky that I had kept my foot in the door because I started job searching in May and started my new full-time role in July. It also didn’t hurt that I was a career coach and knew my way around the “job search” block. I wrote about my journey back to full-time work in this blog post for The Mom Project.
Recreate your sense of home: Every time I looked around my apartment, I saw my old life which depressed me to no end. I had memories of us as a newly married couple going to the Home Depot and choosing paint colors for our new home together. I ended up painting over a very “red” wall to help me change my entire home environment to represent the person I am today.
Making small changes to my home environment helped me move forward in this new life that I was designing for myself. It helped me move on from the dreams we had made for our life together as a couple.
Give yourself a full makeover: After being with someone for 16 years and being a full-time mom, I realized that I didn’t know who I was anymore, and that I could not go back fully to the person that I used to be before I was married. I needed to learn how to wear make-up again, buy myself “non-mom” clothes, and focus on my own health and wellness instead of others as most moms do. Even though it was hard to get out of bed on some days, I noticed a change in how I felt about myself once I actually focused on these changes.
Say “yes” to new experiences: I was rejoining the single life and had forgotten how to have fun and meet new people. Dating apps did not exist the last time I had dated, and learning how to re-enter and navigate this new world was both frightening and exhilarating.
As much as divorce sucks, I will say that it was nice to be able to relive some parts of my prior single life and have time to myself to do things that I thought was part of my past. I rediscovered my love for music and live shows and met new single friends who showed me a different NYC than what I had left behind or had experienced during my marriage. I even almost got a tattoo in Sanskrit related to the title of this post but glad I never acted upon that.
I also learned how to do things by myself like eat alone at a restaurant, watch a movie at a theater on my own, or travel out of the country for a solo vacation. Yes, there were sometimes tears and sadness but I had to remind myself how often I felt this same loneliness in my marriage. It made me realize that it was better to be alone and live on my own terms.
If You Want To Read More
Even though I would not wish anyone to go through what I went through, I am grateful to be where I am now in my life. Writing has been a form of therapy over these past few years. Through my research in writing this post, I discovered a few relevant posts that I’d like to share here if you want to dive more into this subject:
Lyle McKeany shares his personal journey about going through a divorce in That's when I knew there was no going back. Seeing him write about this topic inspired me to do the same.
This article from The Mom Project blog, Working Through Major Life Transitions: Divorce, has great advice on how to navigate a divorce as a working mom.
Charlotte Cowles shares her story about her marriage falling apart during the pandemic in My Divorce Is Cheap. But Self-Care Is Costing Me Thousands in The Cut in New York Magazine.
Making Sense of Your Money After Divorce By Ellevest provides a comprehensive checklist to help you rebuild your financial life post divorce.
I hope you enjoyed this latest addition of Satya Creates! I’ll be experimenting every month with different formats to deliver you practical and tactical information to support your personal and career development!