Twenty-Nine. Divorced. The two undeniable facts of my life. No one enters marriage with intentions of it ending. You enter with overwhelming love, hope, and dreams for your future. I still remember my wedding. It was a perfect August day, and I was calm yet giddy as all of our family and friends gathered to witness our lives being joined. You can’t really prepare yourself for the end. When I knew it was really over, I braced myself for impact, convinced maybe it wouldn’t hurt too badly.
Like a bad car accident, I heard it before I felt it. The sound of screeching wheels, metal on metal, breaking glass, and then all at once, the crash. The most devastating part was that it hurt worse than I had imagined.
Divorce has the ability to engulf you, and it touches every area of your life. Family, friends, home, finances — life changed quickly, and I struggled to keep up. I am the first of my friends to walk this road, and it was isolating and confusing. I spent lonely nights googling, “How to survive divorce in your 20s” and “How to rebuild after divorce. “ I was desperate for a solution to make the pain stop.
What did I find? There isn’t one. There is no quick fix, short term solution, or pretty analogy to make it all better. It is a brutal temporary season that you can’t bypass. I often said that I just wanted to fall asleep and wake up in three years. I believed that things would eventually get better, but the emotional pain was overwhelming. The depth of pain was like nothing I have ever experienced. I had no idea you could hurt that much and actually survive. Sister, all I can offer are the tangible things that helped me during this season. They’re more like pain management than a cure.
You’re going to have to eat, sleep, shower, and go to work. It’s all going to feel too hard. I remember the inability to get out of bed, walking in a fog, and the exhaustion. I believed that if I were coping in the “right” way, I should feel happy. A perfectionist by nature, I just wanted to get it right so I could get on with my life. This is a misconception. Coping has nothing to do with how you feel. If you wake up, get dressed, go to work, eat dinner, and go straight to bed, you’re coping at 100%.
I shamed myself into believing that I could do better. I thought I should go to that bootcamp class, curl my hair, impress my new boss, meet my friends for happy hour, and cook healthy meals. All I could see were the areas I was failing, and I was unable to give myself grace for the small victories. I mean, come on, I didn’t quit my job or move home. I didn’t cut myself off from relationships or stop going to the grocery store. What I did do was forget to shower, snap at my coworkers, cry at my desk multiple times a day, and eat popcorn for dinner. But guess what? That’s all I could do for months. On some hard days, it’s still all I can manage.
Divorce is a full-on grief process. I wanted it to be linear and manageable. My unpredictable emotions frustrated me. I would wake up in utter desperation, spend the afternoon in anger, and fall asleep in sadness.
I remember staring in my new bathroom mirror saying, “I just want my life back.” I am not exaggerating when I say everything hurt. I understood that I had only two options: numb or feel. The easier option was to numb and to throw myself into destructive distractions. The scarier, braver option was to walk into sadness. The pain we feel over loss shows how deeply we cared. We cannot feel pain or sadness over something we never loved. If I numbed, I would have hindered my ability to love in the future. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.
I let the emotions come, and I tried to honor them. I learned that there was so much to grieve. I wasn’t just grieving the loss of a marriage, but the loss of a life. It was the sucker punch to the gut moments over groceries or television shows that hurt the most. Facing your feelings is the most agonizing part, but it is the key to moving forward.
You’re going to need your family and every single friend. I mean it — you’re going to need all of them for a different reason. I was fortunate enough to have people from every stage and aspect of my life rally around me.
I needed friends to cry with me at work, peel me up off my kitchen floor, walk with me for hours as I spoke my fears and sadness into the dark, and make me dinner because I hadn’t been eating. Friends who welcomed me into their home on my first holiday alone. Friends who packed up my belongings and the life that I loved. Friends who flew across the country, so I wasn’t alone on my first weekend in my new place. Friends who gave me their TVs. Friends who showed up at my house uninvited because I was afraid I would never stop crying. Friends who let me scream in their cars at midnight in my work parking lot. And friends who sent me cards that reminded me, “This f-ing sucks, but you’re an f-ing queen.”
I promise you’re going to need all of them, your people, your tribe to bring you back to life. Authentic friendships don’t walk away during the hard seasons. They let you verbally process all over them while drinking mimosas on their porch. If I am honest, I took these people for granted. I did not have the capacity to see how their loving kindness helped to rebuild me. So thank you. All of you, you know who you are, who have walked with me fearlessly and faithfully.
The best gift I gave myself was the help of a professional. She became my trusted companion and an invaluable resource. She validated my feelings and fears, but she tenderly pushed me to be braver, stronger, and wiser. Many times she has looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I am going to challenge you here because I care about you.” She never let me get stuck. I trusted her because I knew her motives were always for my good. I encourage everyone who is in a time of loss or transition to seek help. I firmly believe that anyone can benefit from having someone walk with them during different stages of life. She didn’t provide me with all the answers, but she awoke in me the ability and desire to fight for myself. It is going to take every ounce of bravery to walk into a counseling office, but I believe you do whatever it takes to heal. There should be no shame in caring for yourself.
Your anchor is the most personal part of your survival. It’s the thing that pulls you back when you begin drifting too far. For me, it was my faith. My faith has always been a central aspect of my life. During this season I came to the end of myself, and I needed God in a different way. I needed the God who loved me before the beginning of time, and I needed to know that He saw me.
Sometimes I was handed the platitudes of, “Don’t worry, God has a plan for everything!” or “You’re going to be fine, just keep praying!” These words make me nauseated even today. What these well-meaning people didn’t know was that I was struggling to see the goodness of God. My heart was hollow, and these words bounced around within me.
I had to speak into the sadness because God didn’t feel near, good, or powerful. I approached my faith with brutal honesty, and God held space for me. I poured out my grief, anger, and frustration. I made known my disappointment and confusion. I wrestled against the faith that I have carried since I was a teenager, and He met me in my pain and sorrow. It’s impossible to describe, but the experience changed my view of faith and my relationship with God. It has been a slow movement toward hope. I held on to fear because it made me feel safe, but I recognized that hope was the only way out. There is a direct correlation between hope and healing, and I only found hope through my faith.
Not long ago, I was at a work dinner, and a woman asked me when I was going to have children. I tried to redirect the comment and simply told her it would be awhile. With good intentions, she asked why. I have gotten used to these awkward interactions, but they still sting. I told her I wasn’t in a relationship anymore. She was utterly embarrassed and apologized several times. The next day, she told me she was divorced at 27 and wouldn’t wish that pain on her worst enemy. Both of our eyes filled with tears, and nothing more needed to be said. There was an unspoken understanding that we were in the same club. But even more, I saw right in front of me, that divorce is survivable. She did it.
Sister, I can’t sugarcoat the suck. It truly is the worst, but you’re going to make it. You’re going to get out of bed and you’re going to do all of the hard things you think you can’t. You will rebuild and change. All the pain does transform you for the better, if you let it. You’re going to learn about yourself, take ownership of your mistakes, and work hard to develop strong relationships. And if you desire to ever marry again, I believe you’re going to be a better version of yourself for the next guy. So much of my motivation has been for the future me. The one that will continue to seek kindness, reconciliation, and hope. You’ve got this. Hold on, I believe in you.