Gotta find our love a little black cave and dig it down deep and hope it will behave. – Clare Bowditch.
My psychiatrist once said to me that stable mental health is not about never feeling ‘crazy’, or being perfectly calm all the time – with not a single storm to buffer you. He said that you know you’re well when you anticipate stress and utilise resources to provide for yourself, and in doing so, eventually weather the storm. That’s a very sane thing to do.
My divorce hearing is on the 8th of March. My ex-partner of six and a half years served me with papers not too long ago, and the busyness of life has meant this date has come racing forth, jumbled among work and outings and relationships and friends.
The closer it gets, the shakier my tummy gets…the more tense I feel. I don’t have to attend the hearing, but the crimping closed of a vein of my life that was so distinctly important is definitely something that shakes me.
I spent the last year being an angsty-facebook-status-updating mess. I had my moments of being sorted out, but I truly lost the plot at times. Bless those that have held on with me throughout this. My little life is reasonably unimportant in the scale of things, but the connections we have make us feel less like everything is meaningless and out of control. Scattered across the country and the globe are people who have listened, given advice, given help and made me see the lighter side, sometimes by brute force that I needed.
The thing is though, divorce is just not easy. There are loads of how-to books out there, and therapists will give you much (mostly useless and unlikely to be implemented) advice on how to do it. Your friends will give you advice, and some of it will be good – and usually the good advice is the stuff you’re most likely to ignore.
Divorce sucks, because breaking up sucks – it really has nothing to do with the marriage contract. And the more enmeshed your life is with someone – the more they have carved out of and into you – the more likely you are to stand in total disbelief when it all ends. You just don’t know what the fuck your life is supposed to look like anymore.
Divorce makes you spool up songs on your playlist just so you can remind yourself of your ex and re-open the wounds. It is self destructive. It makes for benders, wailing on bemused friend’s couches, endless circular rants about the evils of your ex that tire everyone around you, internet stalking (we’re ALL guilty of a little of this…thank god for having geeky friends who block sites on my behalf!) and the clinging on to every little morsel of negative/positive information about your ex that you receive. Divorce makes you update your status at 3am with song lyrics aimed at your ex. Divorce makes you compare every new partner to your ex, in some way – and it gravely underscores your ability to believe and trust in human connection.
Divorce makes you lay awake in the wee hours wondering how they are, what they’re doing, what they had for dinner. And no matter how awful they may have behaved, it doesn’t matter. You subsume yourself in the process, you abandon yourself to it. Your friends stand by and tell you not to do it, but do anyway.
In short, divorce turns you into a self-absorbed, self-indulgent asshole.
However, very gradually, things do and will change. You find yourself interested in other things and capable of a wider range of emotions beyond “despair” and “rabid hate” and “desperate yearning”. You start to laugh a lot more and sleep better and have relationships with people where you’re not comparing, you’re just experiencing again. You get the distinct feeling that you’ll never quite do that lovely wide-eyed trust thing again, but you make your peace with that. You work, you exercise, you go to gigs, you get up and do things and the big old love is less on your mind. It feels like waking up from a week long fever, suddenly well.
And you start actively avoiding Josh Pyke, good as he may be. Just to be on the safe side.
I’ve just recently realised that I’ve moved through the bitter stage right through into the “abstraction” stage. I almost can’t remember how his voice sounds, how he smells as he falls asleep, or how I felt when we’d clean the house together, or sit and read and draw together. They’re right on the very edge of my memory now…and in the past this gradual process of forgetting depressed me, but now I welcome it with relief. It goes, gradually, and it is right and natural.
One day, my starter marriage will be a relic I barely recall. That will be a good place to be. For now, I’m happy with the greying of everything, the blurring of the edges into a mash of vague memory that my brain seems to be able to respond to with “ah, it’s ok…leave it alone now.”
I have a few friends who have had their own tilt at marriage or have had very long term partnerships which have ended in their twenties or early thirties. All of them recount tales of vivid distress that eventually cycled out of their system – this is the way of things. Divorce is like a little sea storm and while it is thundering through you it feels like nothing will ever be nailed down again – the contents of your ship’s cabin fly around in the air, everything colliding. The more complex the situation – say if there are children involved (living or dead), or violence, or property, or joint ventures – the more likely that the chaos will feel all consuming.
But like Neko Case’s ‘owl on the sill in the evening’, this vicious experience will find you in the morning still warm and breathing. There’s no healthy way to divorce, there’s just the best possible path you can cut out, with the greatest amount of grace you can manage. Sometimes you can’t manage any, sometimes you manage a bunch. If you’re lucky, like me, your community put up with your crap and wait…and wait…and wait. They’re sitting on the sidelines knowing something you can’t possibly know while you’re in it.
You get over it. That’s nature, baby.