Abstract image of large male hands covering a young woman's mouth

Far and away the most painful experiences of my life were my marriage falling apart, separating from my husband, and being asked for a divorce. Saying that it turned my world upside down is trite, but at the same time accurate. Nothing made sense for the last two and a half years and I lost my damn mind.

I am one hundred percent sure that because of things I said and did during my divorce I lost friends and lost contact with people whom I considered family. It turned me into a wild animal and I lashed out and hid from the world because I lost all sense of self-respect, dignity, and without even need of a sea witch – I lost my voice.

I talked A LOT. Like a whole lot. My mouth was constantly running, trying to convince my mind not to unravel and I talked circles around my heart to try to close the hemorrhage that daily threatened my life. But the important things? I didn’t want to say them and I couldn’t say them.

If I had to talk to my now ex-husband I turned into a wild cat and snarled and hissed and spit and couldn’t say anything positive. If I had to talk about my divorce, I built a huge wall of words around myself so that I was protected by a rehearsed script of exactly what to say so that I didn’t melt into a puddle right in front of whomever was asking about it.

I said a lot and nothing at the same time. I couldn’t even journal regularly because it meant being alone with my thoughts and even that was too much.

I wish I could have said, “I don’t understand.”

I wish I could have told friends and family:

“I feel like a burden, please tell me if I am.”

“I need you to hug me.”

“I don’t believe that anyone loves me anymore.”

“I am not strong enough for this.”

But I couldn’t. Instead I tried to make myself small. I tried to make my pain small. Even though it was all I talked about and every pleasant conversation inevitably turned toward my pain it didn’t feel like enough because I wasn’t saying what I needed to say.

       “Do you love me still?”

       “Will I ever be okay again?”

       “Can anyone love me?”

Instead I just played the trauma over and over in my mind and let the confusion and feelings of wrongness chew me up and spit me out.

Because divorce told me four things:

1.       You do not have value.

Divorce made me believe that I was disposable. It made me think that it didn’t matter how hard I tried or how much I gave in a relationship that it would never be enough and by extension, I would never be enough. The power of this lie and all the other lies came from the fact that it scraped together every instance of “proof” from other failed relationships and threw it in my face and said,
“SEE!? This is the truth! Look at all the people that you have already failed and all the things that you have failed at.”

The worst was, “If people wanted you around, they would have kept you around.”

So every time a friend let me down? Boom. Confirmed worthlessness.

Every person who stopped replying to messages? You aren’t worth being in their life.

So it wasn’t just the divorce, it was being set up for a million other little cuts that added up because I felt like they “proved” why my marriage fell apart and why it felt like no one wanted to be around me.

I told myself to not say what I needed. That I was already asking too much just to be in someone’s life. I was already working with a deficit because I had no value. If the person I worked to dedicate myself to thought I had no value, if friends and family used this as a reason to abandon me, then certainly I was worthless. Anyone who told me otherwise must be lying to make me feel better.

2.       You are incapable.

At the end of the day when I closed my eyes, I didn’t think that I added anything to anyone’s life. I felt like the world would be fine without me screwing things up all the time and hurting people and making messes and being in the way. I felt like I was just wasting everyone’s time because if I had no value, then certainly I couldn’t hope to achieve anything. I wrote things, but I didn’t hit publish because what did it matter? This is the information age, someone prettier and more eloquent and with more social media followers already wrote something better. My voice didn’t matter to the conversation. I was just going to make extra noise. Without value, I can’t add meaning to anything. If there was some kind of plan for my life, I wasn’t capable of following through with it. I couldn’t help someone I loved so how could I help even myself? It was like my list of goals turned into a list of things that I was cute to think I could accomplish. A total belief that I was incapable of anything good swallowed me up and kept me from doing things that could actually make me feel better like sharing my story, continuing the work of Rethink Trauma, or even just making art.

3. You are powerless

A lot of things were said about me and said to me during the process, not just by my ex-husband, but from people I considered very close friends. I was told awful things; that I was lying about the state of my life and relationship, trying to tunnel my way out of my marriage, that I was toxic. I was even told that I needed to entertain the idea that I was possessed by demons.

It didn’t matter how loudly I shouted back. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to disprove what was being said. The narrative was totally out of my control. I couldn’t even change the minds of people who had known me for a long time, people I thought loved me. Their love just evaporated and I couldn’t do anything about it. So, what was the point? It changed something inside of me. I decided that if that’s what they thought I was, they must be right. So I behaved like it. I did things I regret and made mistakes I can’t take back. Because I believed a lie that I was powerless in my own story. People could say and do whatever they wanted to me so why not just bury my need for love and not connect to anyone? I’m still working on digging myself out of that trap.

4. There is no hope

I thought about quite a few suicides during the last few years. I planned one in the fall of 2017. Finally, I had given into the belief that there was no hope. I looked around and felt like everyone I loved, save a select few, didn’t want me around. I was just taking up space and getting in the way. It seemed like no matter what I did to be small enough, to make my agony quiet enough, to do enough to earn the love of the few people I had left, it wasn’t enough. And those who loved me unconditionally somehow didn’t count in my mind. I felt that I was a burden to them and that their love wasn’t a good enough reason to stay alive and face the pain of living.

I wasn’t enough and I never would be. I believed the full weight of all of these lies. I was worthless, talentless, powerless, and hopeless. Seeing the debts piled so high and feeling as if no one wanted me I thought the only story worth telling was one without me in it. All my strength to fight was gone. If I could have simply closed my eyes and ended it without a mess I would have.

So how could I get my voice back?

I wish I could say that I just snapped out of it one day, but that’s not how this works. You don’t wake up and feel better. You don’t just want to get out of bed one day.

My pastor used a metaphor a few weeks ago about spiritual growth that I think applies a lot to mental health and the health of our hearts in general.

You don’t wait until you feel warm to go stand by the fire.

If I’m outside freezing my ass off and you come out and say, “Cathy, why don’t you come in? We’ve got a fire going.”

and my response is, “I want to wait until I feel warm before I go stand by the fire.”

You would look at me like I was insane.

How am I ever going to feel warm by standing out in the cold? I guess I could wait for the warmth that comes from hypothermia and death, but that’s a one time only solution.

This is how it works when we’re recovering from a trauma. Often we wait to go out and do something fun until we feel like it. Which we won’t.

We wait to eat right until we feel like it. We wait to see a therapist. We wait to exercise. We wait to journal our feelings. We wait and we wait on something that never comes. So we get colder and colder and beat ourselves up for not feeling warm already.
We look through the window at our happy, toasty, friends and think, “Why can’t that be me?”

But in the same way as we don’t warm up instantly when we go inside, we need to be graceful and patient with ourselves. We can’t compare our warmth to anyone because that just makes us colder.

I say it like it’s easy but it isn’t.

Tiny steps are key. Try to think of something nice to say about yourself. If you can’t do that then reframe it and be grateful for the people that love you despite the fact that you’re a miserable old hag right now. If you can’t think of anyone that loves you, close your eyes and picture yourself as an animal and then picture that animal as sad as you are. That could help you have some compassion for yourself.

Walk around your house for five minutes.
Listen to a song that makes you happy.
Write down how you feel. Even if all you can write is, “Everything is fucked.”
Try going out in public.
Clean one thing.
Find a way to ground yourself. We tend to make ourselves the enemy in times of trauma and avoid feeling present or sitting with the terrible feelings we’re feeling.

But the truth is, unless we really feel it, unless we sit with it, hold it, befriend it, cry our eyes out about it, we’re going to stay stuck. We’re going to stay shivering out in the cold wondering why a bubble bath or a fluffy self love exercise won’t heal us.

Doing these things every day helps. Try to take part in an activity that gets you out of your head. I’ve become involved with community theater. I try to ask people about their day as much as possible so I have to listen and think about them instead.
I spent seven months in Virginia helping to take care of my niece. That probably helped save my life. Taking care of Kaya meant only thinking about her and what she needed or wanted.

Go to therapy.

If you need helping finding therapy in your area that you can afford or that takes your insurance email rethinktrauma@gmail.com and they will help you.

Make sacrifices for your health. I have sacrificed a lot to be able to afford what I need so that I can get better. I go without a lot of staple things so that I can go to therapy and put my mental and physical health first.

Go to therapy. Join a support group. Take a class on coping skills. Practice, practice, practice.

Unfollow pages that make you feel badly about yourself. Unfollow and block people who tear you down. Surround yourself with positive friends. Try not to make other people’s problems your problems. Go to therapy.

If I could tell you the one part I utterly failed at it would be that I daily chose to be bitter. I chose hate. I chose rage.
I chose poorly.
Uprooting those habits has been the hardest part.

Remembering how to speak has been the second hardest.

If you have survived a divorce, I applaud you. It is hard work. Please remember that your needs, your dreams, your story; they are all worth sharing. Don’t let your pain silence you. Scream through it if you have to.