Recovering from the Pain of Divorce

By Kristin McDaniel

I never expected to be divorced, but when my husband of ten years told me he wanted a divorce on Christmas Eve, I had no say in the matter. I didn’t know what to do, and wondered how I would care for three young children alone. The first month I cried a lot and could barely get out of bed. I was in shock, broken-hearted, angry, depressed, and afraid all at the same time. If it wasn’t for my children, I might have stayed in bed forever, but I somehow had to keep everything together, and make life as normal as possible for them. I had to get up and get over it.

I signed up for a divorce recovery class. I couldn’t understand why people in the group were still crying years after their divorces were final. I learned it could take half as long as we were married to fully recover. That meant dealing with my divorce for five years! I didn’t have time for that and I was certain I would be over my divorce in a year, if I could just keep busy and not think about it. I went back to school, began working part-time, and reconnected with friends. Friends and family commented on how strong I was. I immersed myself in my children and filled my time volunteering for their activities and trying to avoid my ex who was always at their events with his girlfriend of the month. Co-parenting made it impossible to avoid him and we were in and out of bitter court battles where he always seemed to come out on top and loved to flaunt his successes. I was so angry with him for ruining our lives and denying our children the intact, happy family they deserved, while he seemed fine. I tried over and over to forgive him, but each time I did, he would do something else to hurt me.

I went on to get my master’s degree, and when my kids were all in school, began working full time. My ex remarried while I avoided dating altogether and was just focused on my kids, work, and our home. I couldn’t understand why in the quiet, sometimes out of nowhere, I still felt a gut wrenching, physical pain of heartbreak. I feared I would always be alone. I prayed a lot and was mad at God for a time. Why was I not getting over my divorce? I reached the magical five-year mark, but was still struggling, especially when my kids were at their dad’s house on weekends. I hated being home alone and I shopped to avoid loneliness. That wasn’t so bad, at least I wasn’t hoping into meaningless relationships or drinking away my sorrows. Each time the kids returned I heard about their life at dad’s house. I felt excluded and rejected over and over again. Just like the people at the divorce group, I was bitter and crying over my divorce even years later.

As time went on, it did get a little easier. My ex divorced for the second time. I learned to fill my childfree time with things I enjoyed. I joined a choir and got to sing at Carnegie Hall. I auditioned for a community theater and got a part in a summer play. I learned to camp and spent time at the beach. I turned to God and found comfort in prayer again. My girlfriends were amazing, allowing me to cry and vent, but making sure I had fun. We took weekend trips together and had regular girl’s nights out. Once, after losing in court my friends surprised me with a “Pity Party”, complete with disco ball, dancing and lots of chocolate. They made me put a little money away for two years so we could take a trip to Paris for my 40th birthday, something I never thought I would be able to do. We laughed a lot and I noticed I was crying less. I honestly do not think I could have made it through without their support and I believe God placed them in my life because He knew I needed them. I actually was enjoying my life as a single parent and felt hope for my future again.

Recently there was a Divorce Care group starting up at church. I didn’t think I needed it, but thought I could volunteer to help. I knew I was wrong about not needing the course when the tears began to flow at the first meeting. I realized that avoiding my feelings all these years was not helping me get over my divorce. There is no short cut and I had to finally face my feelings.

I learned that emotional healing from divorce is an individual thing. I need to allow myself the time it takes, no matter how long, to recover. Just as recovering from a physical open-heart surgery takes time and requires proper physical care, emotional healing from a broken heart is also gradual and requires caring for one’s emotions. The program was exactly what I needed, addressing a different topic each week and giving me time to process my own feelings. I cried, shared with the group, and spent time journaling. At the end of the session, I felt lighter, happier and free. Was I finally recovered?

My son just announced that his dad is engaged again. I was surprised that familiar emotions resurfaced as the kids talked about the news. This time instead of ignoring my heart, I acknowledged my feelings and allowed myself to sit for a while and actually feel them. I noticed something. I wasn’t crying. In fact, I was just fine. Getting over divorce is not a one-time event, especially because I continue to have to deal with my ex-husband on a regular basis. Healing and caring for emotions can’t be rushed or avoided and it really does gradually become easier. I think I am almost there.

Kristin McDaniel is a life long Fullerton resident. She has been divorced since 2003 and was married for over ten years. She loves being a mom to three active teenagers ages 15, 17, an 19. She is currently working as a high school Child Development teacher and also works part time at Disneyland in the Lost Children and Baby Care Center. She loves to write and has two children’s books in the works.