Updated: Jul 11
When I was 29, I started a divorce that would drag on for a year, and in the process I had to completely change my belief system. Coming from a religious upbringing, I had always believed that marriage was meant to last a lifetime. My parents stayed together until my father's death. All my aunts and uncles had lifetime partnerships, and so did my grandparents on my dad's side.
My dad had been divorced before he married my mom, but the way he explained it, that wasn't his fault. He had been deployed in the military, and was served with papers as soon as he got back. He lost access to my half-brothers from that marriage for many years, and I saw how healing it was to reconnect with them as adults, when my oldest brother found him.
My grandpa, my mom's dad, was also repeatedly divorced, but found a life partner that he stayed with for almost 40 years, and he never remarried after she died. I grew up hearing stories about my mom's horrible step-mothers, and I never wanted an experience like that for my daughter.
After seeing the scars that divorce can leave, that was never something I wanted for myself. I got married too young, to a man that I saw red flags in from the beginning, because I had a child with him, and believed that a child should have a father. Our marriage was never great, it was fraught with arguments, cheating, drug use, abuse and multiple break-ups over the years. I wasn't happy, but I tried to make it work.
Towards the end though, everything just became too much. We fought and argued too much, and I got into a viscous cycle of leaving, him begging me to come back and offering to change, coming back, losing my self-esteem, trying to commit suicide, rinse and repeat. I was at a point where I knew if I stayed it was going to kill me, and I realized my daughter needed her mom alive.
Weirdly enough, I made the decision based on Phoebe from the TV show Friends. Phoebe's mom had killed herself, and Phoebe and her twin sister ended up living on the streets. She always talked about the scars that her mom's suicide left, and that wasn't something I wanted for my daughter. I felt like she needed a mom, to be the one good influence in her life, instead of abandoning her to her dad's influences alone. So I left.
Changing my Mindset.
In order to leave my marriage, I had to make a huge mindset shift. I had to start believing that I deserved to be happy. I had to learn to tell people that I deserved to be treated with courtesy and respect, set boundaries, and let them know that I was unwilling to accept being treated like I was nothing. I had always felt like I was a meal ticket in my marriage, supporting my ex-husband in the way that he needed to be supported, and it was never enough.
I spent so much time, energy and effort trying to make him happy, but nothing made him happy. I realized, I was just enabling him, not actually helping him, and it was time to stop. If I couldn't make him happy, when I gave him my everything for 10 years, he was never going to be happy with me. And I was miserable.
Everyone deserves to be happy.
We deserve to live a fulfilling life, with people who are nice to us. I decided that in my next relationship, it wasn't going to be about excitement or special occasions. Those always got my hopes up, and seemed to fall flat. I wanted off the emotional roller coaster. I wanted to be with a partner who was nice to me every day. Someone consistent that I could count on. I had never had that, and I didn't know if it could exist. But I knew that I would rather be alone than be with someone who was mean to me.
I sought fulfillment in my alone-ness. I spent a lot of introspection on how I wanted my life to be. I over indulged in my 'single girl' time when my daughter was at her dad's house. I went out all night dancing and drinking, reviving a lost youth that I never had. I took my daughter swimming all day on the weekend. I worked to get my finances in order. I started playing in a band, which I had always wanted to do. I wrote angry girl poems that turned into a song, and I swore I would never get tied down with a house or marriage again.
When my daughter was with me, I devoted all of my time, energy and effort towards her. We watched kids movies, we swam and went to the water park, we went to museums, the zoo, and ice skating. I let her have sleep overs with all of her friends at my house. Her time was 100% her time, and I devoted myself to her. She got more attention the half the time she was with me than she had when I was taking care of a giant man baby.
What I learned right away.
Right away after my divorce, I learned several things:
The importance of setting boundaries
I am worthy of happiness.
I can devote more time to my daughter
A relationship needs more than love to survive
I can be responsible with money
I can keep a job and get promoted
I need to surround myself with good people
Music heals your soul
I was lucky to have a good job when I got divorced, I had recently started as an admin assistant in a new field when my ex and I sold the bar that we owned. Being at the bottom of the work totem pole surrounded me with people who had PhD's and a wealth of experience to share. It was healthier for me than being in the bar and being the biggest fish in a small pond, I became the small fish in a much bigger pond. It taught me a lot, brought me good people, and helped me broaden my worldview.
I also had to make a whole new friend group, because my ex positioned all my old friends against me. With the band, I met new friends who were really good people, one of whom would become my now-partner.
Both at work and with the band, I made friends with people who were an average of 10 years older than I am. This allowed me to gain new insights on life from people who had a wealth of experience to provide. My partner told me, "always surround yourself with people who are better than you are." This allows you to bring yourself up, instead of going down when you are with people where you are always the most successful in your friend group.
More lessons learned.
Since I am almost 40 now, I have learned a lot in the decade since my divorce. I have learned to be a better person, and a better mom. I have left a lot of toxic and self-destructive habits behind. To do this, it started with being around better people and in a 9-5 job for the first time. I also have gone through a lot of therapy, done mindset coaching, left behind a lot of toxic relationships, and stopped drinking and partying all the time.
In other words, I grew up, and grew into a better person.
The process wasn't easy. It took a lot of shedding old beliefs about what it means to be successful, and leaving behind other people's expectations of me. Up until the end of my 20's, I was still living by my parents rules and beliefs, many of which caused me to be psychologically self-harming.
When you are happy and fulfilled, and pursuing your own goals, it is much easier to provide happiness to others too. I spent too long trying to change to make other people happy, and having the harsh realization that no matter how much I changed myself, it would never be enough. I would never make them happy, I think that some people don't actually want to be happy, and they create misery for everyone around them. Distancing myself from those types of people has made my life immeasurably better.
Through therapy and coaching, I have learned the importance of self care, and take some time for myself to prepare for the day each morning. I do yoga, I journal, say affirmations, and get my mindset right for the day. That way, I can be more mindfully present with my kids, my partner and my job.
In the last year, I have also taken several leaps of faith, to make a life that isn't just fine but very good. I did the mindset coaching program. I started writing this blog, and I wrote two books. I am putting myself out there with life in a way that I never have before, and taking control of my own destiny. You can do that too.
I read a long time ago, always "do the thing that scares you" and since I have anxiety, that is basically everything. You don't have to wait to be 'ready' to take a leap of faith and do something new. Because the secret is, you will never really be ready. Do it anyway. It doesn't matter if you start in the wrong place, it just matters that you start. You can always go back and fix things later to make them better.
Whether it is starting a new career, a new relationship, having a child, or picking up a new creative hobby, don't let fear of what others think stop you. This is your life, and you have to live it for yourself.
Ultimately, that is why I left my ex-husband. I realized that when it comes down to it, there are many people who say they are always going to be there for you. But really, the only one who is going to be with you through everything is yourself. We are born alone, we die alone, and we alone are the ones with power to create our own happiness or suffering.
When we live our lives for other people, we can't complete them. People have to complete themselves. We can't make people happy.
When I say that, I am not denying altruism. It is great to want to help people. I do still want and try to help people every day. But I have learned in my experience, it is better to teach other people to help themselves, than to make them codependent on you. Doing everything for someone else only facilitates their helplessness and takes away their agency. We can, in fact, help people too much. That is what I did with my ex. I helped him to the point he relied on me for everything, and didn't do anything for himself. That's not really helping someone.
"Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime." - Unknown
Now, when I try to help people, I try to teach them how to fish. Sharing experiences, skills and lessons learned is my way of doing that. I really do hope that people can learn from my experiences and my mistakes, and that it will help other people from making the same mistakes and living so much of their lives unhappy and unfulfilled.
In my 30's, I have learned how to be happy and peaceful through focusing inward. I have found calming practices like self care, yoga, mindfulness and journaling that allow me to feel centered. Once you are centered in yourself, it is easier to be mindfully present with the people in your life, and to enjoy all of the beauty that life has to offer.
The more you love yourself, the more you are able to truly love others, and to give to them in a way that promotes their freedom and growth, instead of codependence.
Let me know in the comments if these lessons resonate with you, and what other important life lessons you have learned. Also let me know what other topics you would like me to cover in the future. Be well my friends.