Burning Down the House
Updated: Oct 5, 2019
In a dream last night, I opened the door to enter my bedroom. The room, though, combusted. Fired air blew me to the floor, and I scrambled to close the door I had opened, seeing flames licking up walls and across my beloved king-sized bed. Once closed, the crackling of burning wood of my dresser--all my good lingerie incinerated--shushed to a muffle. Smoke tendriled through the closed door. I called 911.
I had to flee my house because the entire thing ended up in ashes. By this point in my dream, my parents had arrived, and I stood, blanket draped over my shoulders, watching curling smoke reach towards the sky as if dancing a hallelujah. I turned to my mom and pleaded, "Can I move back to Boston now?"
After all, my life as I knew it, even in my dream, was smoldering ash. I knew what that felt like, at least on the metaphorical level. I am, after all, a divorcee, which means my life as a married woman eventually blazed into an inferno of hurt. I could see the moment of my leaving coming long before I walked out of a 10 year marriage; still, when the fire caught me, I could do nothing but writhe.
This is Divorce
Just get a divorce. I can't say how often I've heard this over the years. I've lost count how many times I've said it when I was married and listening to tales of a long-suffering spouses. "Why don't they just get a divorce?"
This is how the innocently un-divorced or the loooong ago divorced think of it--routine and not a big deal at all. Those of us who are divorced know better. However, like all the advice that is left with the thrown rice at a wedding or the cigar wrappers after one becomes a parent, there's a shit ton of stuff no one tells you about it.
Divorce turns your life upside down. It rips your heart out, but other people expect you to march through one of the most awful periods of life with a stiff upper lip and dare to say how beautiful life is despite the crappy time you face. You have to be brave, graceful, and tearless. After all, it's just divorce. It's only court and custody and the literal breaking up and redistribution of marital goods. No vulnerability is welcome here.
At least, these are the messages that were directly or indirectly communicated to me during my marriage's engulfment. So, I had to hide my pain as much as I could possibly stand. Though my closest support system would argue they saw me at my worst, I know they didn't. I never let them. I didn't want to hear the rally cry of "This will all be over soon."
Besides, I lived through every, slow, painstaking moment.
No one else saw my kid snot cry when he finally gets to hug me after two weeks apart. No one else knew the terror of hearing the person who used to be my spouse threaten to sue for full custody. No one else knew what it felt likes to sit in family court, worrying if a judge--a person I've never met or talked to--decided if I was fit enough to keep my kid.
So, yeah, why not just get divorced?
Run into a burning building while you're at it.
Feel the Burn
Not only did I feel super alone when going through my divorce, I became hungry for information as to how to navigate one. I've read articles that gave a nod to divorce's awfulness, but spent most of its page space declaring how one day, in the-not-too-distant-future, you'll look back at your divorce with a perspective of pride. It seems no one wants to talk about how awful divorce is, even the divorced. Here's one example of what I'm talking about. There's good advice in most of what I've read, but it all sounded as the same advice my support gave me: time heals, you will not feel like this forever, just wait--you'll be thriving before you know it. Blah, blah, blah.
Do I believe the pacifying Magoo advice? Absolutely. But I wanted, for one article or two, for someone to say, "Yeah. What you're feeling--it's normal. You're good. Be mad. Be in pain because this is a crazy and painful time. You can't heal without recognizing the hurt."
I couldn't find that message anywhere. Instead, I heard over and over how I shouldn't cry over this or that, how I shouldn't be angry when my ex said this or did another petty thing because to feel any sort of negative emotion meant he was controlling me. Getting the better of me. Therefore, I was encouraged to not feel those emotions at all.
Yeah, that never worked. What I eventually did was I stopped crying and whining and vocalizing anger in front of those giving such bad advice on what to do with my emotional state.
It took a long time to realize getting permission to have emotions--no matter what they were--was something I didn't need. If I felt like shit, I let myself feel like shit. I just promised not to delve into bad habits along with my bad emotions: no drinking, no texting, and no drowning into pints of ice cream.
I told myself over and over I have a high pain tolerance, then I'd crumble into pieces. I made myself feel everything because if I pushed it away like so many told me to, what would I learn?
Most importantly, if I listened to the well-intentioned advice from my support system rather than authenticate my feelings 1) I'd be on "happy pills" and 2) I would not have forged my own backbone.
My spine can take more hits now, let me tell you. It's been forged in fire.
One thing my divorce taught me was something my ex alluded to several times: I'm not normal. I don't look at the world the same as everyone else. Rather than run screaming from vulnerability as so many tend to do, I open my arms to it. Being vulnerable as often as possible breaks open your heart to yourself and, most importantly, to others.
Besides, I hung up being normal long ago. I let my need for normalcy and a typical life melt away when I closed the door to the marital home for the last time. I now was me, doing my thing my way, and I knew I would never bow down and apologize for it.
My entire vision of how my life would turn out burned until nothing remained. It's only been 2 1/2 years since I walked out, and I'm still forging new goals and a new vision. It's hard work, but it's my work. It's fire work.
After all, the person I am after another fire walk will be stronger, more powerful, and brighter than the one who entered.
After all, I have been in the belly of the pressure cooker of living how others wanted me to live and acting how they wanted me to act. It caused me to seethe and gnash my teeth most of my life. That is why, when my life combusted, I let it burn, baby.
Because when the match has been lit and dropped into the gasoline, there's nothing to do but walk through the damn fire.