What I’m Made Of

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Art inspiration from http://www.stonestories.org

“I hope you understand that I’m not leaving you for someone else,” he said with a straight face, even though we both knew it was a lie.

Perhaps it was his attempt at self-preservation, as in, don’t go run and tell your lawyer I’m leaving you for another woman so you can bleed me dry. Maybe it was to protect his still-married mistress from whatever shenanigans I, the betrayed and scorned, might try to pull. And then there was the off chance it was actually for the sake of my dignity, as if, in some twisted way, that revelation was supposed to bring me some comfort. It didn’t.

Just a week earlier, he spilled his guts about that affair plus all the ones he’d had before. Then he packed up and left. Later, he said he’d be willing to come back and give our marriage another try if I wanted save our family. He gave me another week to think it over. Then he tacked an ultimatum onto it. If I didn’t take him back before the allotted time was up, he just might be tempted to fall back into bed with her next time she was in town.

They say you don’t really know a man until you’ve divorced him. They’re so right. I never learned so much about the person I was married to for 20 years as I did in those first few days.

But truthfully, I also didn’t really know who I was until I was divorced either. In fact, here are a few things I learned about myself:

I deserve better. As someone who had her entire life planned out and fall neatly into place since high school, the unexpected end of my marriage was not only painful, it was hard to let go of a dream that would never be fully realized. However, I immediately recognized that I was deserving of a much better marriage and a much better husband than one who’d threaten me with even more cheating if I didn’t take him back by his deadline. Thanks to his unacceptable bad behavior, I was able to redraw my boundaries and told myself that “I want what I deserve and I deserve what I want.” In divorce, I reclaimed my worth.

I am not afraid anymore. While most people rank public speaking and death as their greatest fears, for me, discovering my husband’s infidelity (nightmares had plagued me for years – go figure) and subsequent divorce was at the top of my list. But then my marriage ended and I managed to survive the worst thing I could have possibly imagined. Oh, it was a dark and scary time for sure, but it was also a chance for me to grow and to gain a new perspective. I became braver and more independent because of it. If I could face what I’d been most fearful of, there really was little left to fear.

It’s okay to take time for me. The first time my kids left to visit their father, I wasn’t able to hold back tears. I couldn’t believe our life had come to this. The silence at home was deafening and I dreaded not knowing what to do with myself. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read. I didn’t have the energy to go outside. But at the same time, I felt guilty just wasting this precious time when I had the world at my disposal. I soon realized that after 16 years of being a mom, spending time alone would take practice and that it was healthy for me and the kids to be apart. While I’ve never been great at self-care, I tried to look forward to opportunities to relearn what I enjoy and get reacquainted with who Barb is. By starting to “date” myself, I realized just what a great catch I am!

I have a resilient heart. Despite the pain and sadness enveloping it, my heart has never lost its flicker of hope and compassion. Just 48 hours after he left, my ex returned home to see the kids after work. Knowing he’d be hungry, I whipped up a sandwich for him. It might have been wifely instinct, but the gesture came from a surprising place of kindness and empathy knowing we were both hurting. That is just who I am. I am grateful that my heart never gave out or gave up on me. Even while healing, it demonstrated more compassion toward others and an even greater capacity to love those who mean the most to me. My heart never once stopped believing that I would someday love and trust again.

I am my mother’s daughter. I can’t overstate how much my parents did to support me and my kids in that first year of divorce. My mother was everything. Even though she was hurting too, she scooped us up, hugged us, fed us and comforted us;  offering gentle counsel or a listening ear, holding us together and presenting us with a welcome distraction or a helping hand. She had a calming effect on me in the midst of total chaos. I have always looked up to the women in my family as remarkably strong and wise individuals and at a time I felt my weakest, it lifted me to know that I was cut from the same cloth. The love, faith, compassion and strength of my mother helped me to rediscover my own.

Jennifer Garner Speaks (Some of) Her Truth

Jennifer Garner’s beautiful face is all over newsstands this week, as magazine headlines herald her first candid, post-divorce interview since the demise of her 10-year marriage to Ben Affleck.

I have never been a huge fan, but am reconsidering that stance after being impressed both by what the actress said and what she didn’t say here.

Conducting herself admirably, Jen does not shy away from unavoidable questions regarding the lurid details of the high-profile breakup while still upholding her ex-husband’s privacy and generously acknowledging that he too, is dealing with his shame and pain. She does, however, use the Vanity Fair interview to demystify the fairy tale of her marriage without further sullying what she still considers sacred.

As a celebrity, Jennifer Garner has a platform for spilling her guts to the point of decimating her ex, but she keeps it in check knowing that a tabloid is not the forum to express the depth of her grief and grievances. She speaks her truth, at least a well-controlled portion of it, while still taking the high road – which means choosing to do what’s right even when it’s not the easiest.

I found that out early in the legal process. When filing for divorce, I wanted an opportunity to speak my truth by citing the reason my marriage ended. Not only because it would ensure an expedient judicial process, but because I wanted there to be an honest, God-as-my-witness record of what had transpired. However, I was strongly advised against that by a lawyer who urged me to instead choose a prolonged separation and a “no fault” divorce to spare anyone, especially the children, from ever knowing the full extent of the situation.

Gee whiz, I thought, if a court of law isn’t the place to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – when else would it have a chance to be made known?

The answer, as it turns out, is never. The judge doesn’t want to hear it, your friends don’t want to hear it, your children don’t want to hear it, your ex’s new partner doesn’t want to hear it, and frankly, neither does yours.

As I came to realize, you need to make peace with the fact that the only living person who knows, and will ever know, all of the intimately gory details of your divorce is the person that you’re divorcing. I guess that’s why I found it particularly gratifying when Jen Garner disclosed that Ben is “still the only person who really knows the truth about things. And I’m still the only person that knows some of his truths.”

I read that as a wink-wink to anyone who has ever found themselves walking a tightrope between talking about the truth and taking the high road. Yes, of course there is much more I can say, but I won’t. Oh, but if only you knew.

Perhaps that is enough, then; to simply acknowledge that we live with unspoken truths that are very real, even if we are restricted from ever fully revealing them.

Celebrity or not, we may have more story to tell, but sometimes it’s best if we never do.