I’ve written a lot about why I believe divorce can be the right thing to do, about why it can actually be a good, positive thing, ending with happier parents and children. And though I’ve taken pains to try to underscore just how difficult and emotionally hard ending a marriage is for everyone involved, I’ve at times been accused of painting a “rosy picture” of divorce – something I certainly never intended.
And since I can only speak of my own experience, my own split and its aftermath, I’d like to pause and address the darker side of what I’ve personally gone through, and where that’s left me.
I think about death a lot now. And I never used to.
And by “death” I don’t mean The Grim Reaper or The Great Hereafter or The Void, at least not exclusively. I was, admittedly, a big fan of The Smiths growing up, but I certainly have no plans to go all emo at this late date, in my early 40s. No, by death I mean the fleeting, ephemeral, impermanent nature of all things. The extinguishability of everything. How tenuous life and all that we hold dear in it is seems inescapable and obvious to me now. And I can’t say I think that’s a good thing.
But it wasn’t always this way for me, of course. Like most people, I’d always lived with a sense that my life – my home, my friends and family, my marriage, everything – had a ring of permanence and a solidity to it. I felt grounded, unshakeable. There were certain things that would always be true: these few people would be my dear friends, this house would be where I would grow old, my husband and I would be together forever. I wasn’t lying to myself in believing those things – this was reality as I understood it. There was simply nothing to question. And the certainty with which I thought I knew those things, and the immutable faith I had in them, made my disillusionment all the more painful when everything fell apart.
Last night I said to a friend that in many ways I wish I could go back. Not to the marriage, but to the me that was prior to the divorce, that wasn’t terrified all the time, that wasn’t always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because though I may be happier – and I am – I feel less secure and more uncertain about every aspect of my life now, because I had the experience of watching everything I believed in wholeheartedly and without question evaporate before my very eyes. That does something to you, to your ability to trust anything completely. Now, I think probably more than I should about how if X, Y or Z thing happened I would have no work, no job. I think about how easy it would be for a series of small events to take place that would cause me to lose my house. I think about friends, and know the sad truth: that some of the people who you love and trust with all your heart are more than capable of abandoning you, betraying you in your darkest hours.
It is a kind of heartsickness, this. And I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever completely get over.
Even when divorce is the right thing, even when when it’s a positive thing that ends with happier parents and children, it is a crushing experience, and there are permanent scars. I imagine since every divorce is different, everyone’s scars are different. Mine is that I have a heightened, almost relentless consciousness of the tenuous nature of things – that in the end, there is nothing anyone can count on with 100% certainty in life. Anyone’s life can be torn apart in an instant, left gutted and unrecognizable. All things go. That sense of walking uncertainly on shifting sand won’t ever leave me. And I am worse for it, to be sure.
Of course, what I’m saying here has always been true – life is change, and nothing is certain. But I wasn’t haunted by that before in the way I am now. That understanding, at most, would manifest in an occasional bout of uneasiness I’d confront when something terrible happened to someone I knew. That truth was, and I think is for most people, like a one’s sense of their own mortality – a dark thing I shoved to the far back of my mind the majority of the time. It’s something I never felt plagued by before. Now I feel sure that it’s something I’ll never be able to contain or hide from as I once did.
What about you? What scars do you, or others you know, bear from divorce? Do you think these will always be there, or that, as the cliche goes, time will eventually heal all wounds, smooth all scars? How have you, or people you know, dealt with the disappointment and disillusionment that comes after a marriage fails?
Read more from Tracey Gaughran-Perez at her personal blog Sweetney.com