“The city is being declared a federal disaster area,” the news anchor said.
Footage on the local news panned to an aerial view of my former neighborhood.
The images of collapsed homes on the television screen reminded me of the aftermath from the Barbie Dreamhouse incident. I was about six years old when my orange tabby cat, Pinky, tried to perch his chubby body on the purple roof. The two-story pink, purple, and white plastic house was no match for a 15-pound cat. It collapsed into a pastel-colored heap.
The home my now ex-husband and I used to share stood as one of the only remaining relics from my six-year marriage. After extraordinary flooding, my old house had been reduced to a pile of rubble, waiting to be disposed of one payloader shovelful at a time. Nine inches of rain fell in five hours causing a local dam to burst. A torrent of water was released into nearby neighborhoods sweeping houses off their foundations.
It’s ironic the house had been wiped off the face of the earth since I spent so much time trying to delete any evidence my first marriage existed. I removed all the pictures of my wedding off social media. Actually, any picture with my ex in it. When I moved out of my old house with my son, I took only clothes and bath essentials. A small part of me naively believed that by not packing photo albums or the mahogany lamp he built, I could banish any emotions attached to a failed relationship.
Despite not carrying many boxes up the three flights of stairs to my new condo, I unintentionally packed a lot of emotional baggage. I beat myself for marrying in the first place, and for not predicting my marriage wouldn’t work out. I berated myself for remaining so complacent through court dates, custody agreements, and parenting schedules. I felt guilty that my child would perpetually split time between two houses.
For the past nine years, these thoughts played on repeat in my head like a needle stuck in a groove of a record.
It took a natural disaster to put life into perspective. There are some events you simply cannot plan for and happen without warning. The end of my marriage was no different.
The barely 24-year-old version of myself standing in her white satin wedding dress under a cedar arbor reciting vows could not have psychically predicted it wouldn’t last until death do us part. Neither my ex or I could have known as we grew older we would discover parts of ourselves and inevitably evolve. The path we intended to walk along together split into two directions. Faced with a fork in the road, we both chose to follow two different paths.
And you know what? We chose wisely. We made a mutual decision to separate in order to continue on our own journeys. We consciously made a loving choice not just for our individual selves but for our child. We wanted our son to see two people as the best possible versions of themselves. We couldn’t be at our finest as a couple because there were fundamental differences between us which could not be altered without trying to change the other person.
The definition of divorce is to separate or dissociate from something or someone else. At some point, you may find yourself facing a choice to divorce yourself from a relationship you’ve outgrown, or one that is toxic in order to not lose your connection with your genuine self. Even though it’s in the best interest of your highest self, it doesn’t make it any less emotional or complicated to navigate.
If you’re reading this at the start of a separation, years after a divorce, or after a long-term relationship has ended, here are three tips to help you move forward:
>> Invite in your emotions. Allow yourself to sit with them. You cannot process how you feel until you accept your feelings exist in the first place.
> Write. Journaling your emotions once you’re in tune with them can be cathartic. It can also be an effective way to get clear on which ones keep resurfacing and why.
>> Talk to a professional. Family and friends can be a great support. Sometimes you need an unbiased perspective or someone to listen without offering any advice at all. Marriage and family therapists are a tremendous resource.
There’s no need to try to erase or bury the very existence of past relationships. The way to move forward is to give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel, when you need to feel it.
Doing this without judgment and definitely without blaming yourself for the person you no longer are the first steps in moving on.