Fear of The “D” Word

 

Divorce! We’ve all heard so many horror stories about the “D word;” it is similar to the cult classic Candyman; feared, hardly ever spoken about at dinner parties, and never repeated three times in front of a mirror! Candyman, Candyman….I still can’t do it!  And if the movie reference misses you, I’m sure an older or younger sibling could fill you in, depending on your age bracket.  Listen, I admit, for all the workshops, trainings and speaking engagements I’ve done on different subjects, my divorce was probably last on my list to discuss.  There was an overarching feeling of shame behind me speaking about my divorce, as if I was unique.  In my journey I’ve been fortunate to have shared with people some of my life story which has included some not so proud moments.  These experiences of sharing honestly has connected me to the human spirit as well as my own humanness.  It has also been the precipice of my continued journey of self-improvement and helping others build a legacy in life that they are proud of. However, something about discussing my divorce made me feel like I had violated some unsaid code of the streets.  This made me realize that the “D” word in society is rarely ever discussed in a constructive way because of the emotional connection behind it.  Ask anyone, and I’m sure they will have a strong opinion, one way or another, on marriage and divorce.  It is usually because divorce all too often is discussed in absolute terms where there has to be a good guy and bad guy.  But this isn’t the movies and there isn’t going to always be a hero and a villain, this is life.  So why can’t we talk about it?  Even as I write this, the little voice, that committee in my head, whispers “do you really want to share this?” So I’ve given the committee the day off and have decided to speak on this subject that is all too often left for people to navigate in silence.  Through my own hesitation I’ve decided to shed my light and experience on the subject with hopes of giving someone the courage to do the same.  I will not minimize the emotional, mental, and financial toll this process has taken on me but at the same time what I have gained from this experience has been priceless.  While this makes it easier for me to broach the subject with you, I know it’s still a risk.

So where did all this shame, guilt and remorse come from?  The reality is that over 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce and over 75% of military marriages end the same way.  In many ways, these feeling stemmed from the sense of being a failure, inadequacy, disappointment, hurt and powerlessness.  Feelings that are to be expected and ones that I have felt before.  But there is something about a divorce, and the process, that reverberates in your spirit.  At times it felt like life as I knew it was over and there was no light at the end of the tunnel (unless you are counting the lights on the 240 ton train).  But in many ways, life as I knew it was coming to an end and what was to follow were experiences that have forever changed my life course and perspective for the better.  Yes, perspective, a gift that this process has given me.  You may be asking yourself, why would this guy want to write about this subject?  Am I a glutton for punishment? Do I like reliving trauma?  Not at all! I know that whenever I invest my painful experiences, and show people how I got through it, it subconsciously gives someone else permission to have the courage to do the same.  So my hope is to provide some hope and to give a voice to someone who may not have spoken about their pain until they read this.

The stages of my divorce often imitated the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and hopefully acceptance.  I also experienced stages of fear, bitterness, selective memory, despair and dis ease.  It was a stressful time and as a matter of fact, any medical research team will tell you that divorce is the second most stressful life event after death.  Now that’s some serious company to keep, death and divorce; they make strange bedfellows.  In 1967 Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5000 medical patients as a way to determine if stressful events might cause illness.  Patients were asked to make a list and tally 43 life events based on a relative score.  A positive correlation was found between their life events and their illnesses.  Their results were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SSRS) known more commonly as Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.  Subsequent validation has supported the links between stress and illness.  Holmes and Rahe concluded that divorce was second only to death of a spouse on the most stressful of life stressors that negatively affect health.  Many people I’ve spoken to on the subject reported having experienced health issues such as: heart attacks, high blood pressure, anxiety attacks and array of psychosocial and medical complications due to the stressors of their divorce.  I have found that most people (especially men) would be more forthcoming disclosing a medical issue such as high blood pressure rather than expose the psychosocial stressors that had affected them.  In my discussions with them, it seemed that the psychosocial stressors felt more embarrassing and shameful to them then the medical ones.  These stressors could include: inability to see their child; false allegations; job loss; restraining orders; and inability to co-parent.  Because of this guilt complex and “keep your problems to yourself mentality,” many people suffered in silence.  This is some serious stuff that could literally kill you! I’ve found that outlets such as going to the gym, talking with people you trust, prayer, meditation and if need be therapy were all extremely vital in helping people get through it. 

Throughout my divorce process, I have also come to experience first hand, the intense feelings of shame and guilt mentioned above.  It’s been a crazy ride, and when I received this news that my 3 ½ year marriage and 1 ½ year divorce proceedings was coming to an end, I had a plethora of mixed emotions.  While there is no question in my mind that we made the right choice, hearing the news of finalization still stirred up old feelings, mostly of sadness. These are all natural feelings that will come up, so no need to run from them. After a long, exhausting and what seemed like never ending road, the realization and magnitude of the moment had become abundantly clear.  Throughout it all, it has felt like if I’ve experienced every emotion known to man but today the overriding feeling is that of acceptance.  Acceptance doesn’t mean that I sometimes don’t have some negative emotions about my divorce. But my acceptance has allowed me to let go of wanting to control outcomes and truly want happiness for the other person.

This process challenged all that I learned, taught and believed in but at the end only strengthened my commitment to the principles I choose to live by.  It’s through adversity that you truly get to do an inventory and see if your principles are aligned with your actions.  Does your walk match your talk? Did my video match my audio?   

Throughout it all, a lot of work was done on myself and I can say I am proud of how I handled it with integrity and maturity, even when I didn’t want to.  I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and if you’re reading this hoping to be perfect, stop that fantasy.  We’re human, we make mistakes, we feel things and we react but I am so grateful that I choose to follow a lifestyle that keeps me committed to principles.  Even those principles that I struggle with and sometimes don’t want to practice, like forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness good old forgiveness.  The principle that can be hardest to practice, especially when you’ve been hurt (and have done the hurting too).  Your natural defense mechanisms goes into effect, and protecting your own feelings takes precedence.  However, what I’ve learned is that the practice of forgiveness benefits everybody, especially yourself!  One of my favorite quotes states that “Forgiveness is not something we do for other people, we do it for ourselves, so we can move on.”  And no words rang more true than those.  Once I reached a place of forgiveness, mixed with empathy, I was truly ready to move on.  I wished my soon to be ex-wife well, made an amends and accepted that my responsibility ended there.  I have no control over whether she accepts my amends or forgives me, but my job is to do the next right thing. I’ve tried not to participate in speaking negatively about my ex-wife even with the pain and emotion of the moment because that’s not the legacy I want to have.  By not doing so, my spirit has been so much lighter.

 

My life today is beyond my wildest dreams; a journey that began before I was even married and has culminated in the present moment.  I am humbled that through all my life experiences, my set backs are often set ups for comebacks.  The reality is that what seemed like a desperate and hopeless situation has actually transformed my life, again!  Over the past few years, I’ve had a few transformations, spiritual awakenings, and life lessons.  During this process, the ability to cope with the stressors of life while trying to turn the experiences into inspiration for others has been soul satisfying.  I’ve had many discussions with people and have learned that when I invest my pain, it gives people an ability to identify and also feel empowered to invest theirs.  Acceptance of my situation has given me the ability to grieve appropriately without holding me back from a wonderful life worth living.  I now know that light at the end of the tunnel was the light of HOPE, shining bright for all to see.  Peace