Finding Yourself After Divorce (and Other Trauma)

Comments 19
(Image by Sheilah Wilson)
(Image by Sheilah Wilson)

When you first get divorced, everything feels wrong.

Virtually every facet of your life changes overnight and your brain and body aren’t equipped to deal with it. So for a long time, you just feel different than you’ve ever felt before. Maybe some people like it. I think most people hate it.

I hated it.

One of the most-terrified feelings I ever felt was staring at my own reflection in the mirror and legitimately not knowing who I was looking at. I don’t mean like amnesia. I knew it was physically me. But I think everyone who knows anything about divorce or serious marriage problems understands that our physical realities mean just a bit less when we’re broken on the inside.

I’d just stand there, looking into my own eyes.

Who are you? Where can I find… me?

Despite not having very much money growing up (a lot of used cars and budget grocery stores and cheap clothes), I lived an incredibly charmed life for my first 30 years.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4, and I was super sad to not see my dad often, I was totally immersed in a large, loving family; attended a great Catholic school in my small Ohio town (thanks, tuition assistance) and was blessed with many friends, a handful of which I stay in touch with today.

Anyone who measures their worth by career and finances need only go from my safe and charmed childhood, to my tormented and broken adulthood to fully understand how nearly irrelevant our paychecks really are.

For 30 years. Laughter. Fun. Safety. Innocence. Security. Hope. Comfort. Everything a person could want.

And then it all died.

I didn’t have my family anymore.

It was a slow death, and I think that might be the worst kind. I became more sad. More hardened. More hopeless.

I thought it was depression but I think that’s just a word we use to lazily describe the feeling our bodies naturally feel when it’s telling us to remove ourselves from bad situations. That’s just how our brains work after a million years of avoiding predators, James Altucher says. He’s probably right.

My brain was full of all these memories. All these ideas about my identity. Who I was versus who I am. And even though I’d built up decades of stories I knew about myself—who I perceived myself to be to others, and who I knew myself to be inside my own head, heart and soul—I couldn’t remember that guy anymore.

I felt—literally—as if I’d lost myself. And I didn’t know if I was ever going to get me back.

I think a lot of people feel this way after divorce or losing a loved one or going through some other radically life-changing trauma.

It’s really scary to feel that out of control.

To realize just how fragile the human experience can really be after you’d been insulated from its cruelness for so many years.

“When were you… you again?”

That’s what she asked. My friend who lost a child and a marriage within three years. Someone who’s trying to find herself physically and emotionally.

The question made me pause.

And then I realized just a little more truth.

You don’t just wake up one day and feel like your old self again. There’s no magic switch.

It’s a moment.

At first it’s a laugh and a smile. The kind you don’t have to force.

And then a series of moments that begin to compound.

Then maybe you drive by one of your many pain hot spots—because she’s in there, or often is, or whatever. But you don’t feel the stabbing anymore. You don’t want to cry.

Then a date. Then a kiss.

I can do this.

You make more friends. Have more fun. Make new memories.

I’m alive.

And then you can just sit still. All alone.

You can just be still.

And the silence is no longer deafening. You don’t feel like you’re going crazy. You don’t over-think.

You can just… be.

It would have been sweet relief had you been able to find that peace in the beginning, but there’s no shortcut to reclaiming your life.

There’s just… the way.

Maybe it’s weeks. Months. Years. I imagine everyone’s journey is a little different, and in some respects, never-ending.

You just collect the moments and hold them in your heart.

Smiling comes easier. Peace, more abundant.

Justifying all that hope you thought might have been in vain.

You can breathe again, but no longer have to force it.

In through the nose. And hold. Out through the mouth. In, then out. Don’t forget to breathe.

But when you’re you again, there’s nothing to remember. You’re just breathing.

Because you’re back. Resurrected.

Still here.

A glance in the mirror.

I know you.


19 thoughts on “Finding Yourself After Divorce (and Other Trauma)”

    1. No, thank you. But I think anyone paying attention can tell the writing is suffering.

      It’s the paradox of healing.

      When everything hurt, the writing was easy.

      Now, that peace has set in, it has gotten incredibly challenging.

      Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a groove. Time will tell.

      1. I understand this completely. But now that I’ve shoved aside the painful blog writing, I’ve been able to focus on writing novels again – something I couldn’t do when I wasn’t me.

        1. Nothing ever moved me to write like this experience. Always loved it. But just never sat down to punch the keys like a writer should.

          Now that the anger and sadness has waned, I face a choice about whether to find new things to write about, or just sort of fade away.

          I hope I can find new things to write about. Because I like how I feel when I’m writing more than when I’m not.

          I think most of us who do this understand that.

          Nice to hear from you, miss. Been a long time. Thank you for stopping in.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth.

      I try hard to feel grateful every day because it was really hard two years ago, just to sit still and be awake.

      This is so much better. 🙂

  1. I called it ‘finding my new normal’. And yes, it is an accumulation of moments rather than “One day you wake up and. ….”
    Well done on starting to find yours again 🙂

    1. Totally. A new normal. That’s exactly what it is. And you do get used to it. I suspect we can get used to most anything. But the transition sure is unpleasant.

      I’m happy to be where I am today. Still lots and lots of growing to do. But the painful healing process is predominantly complete.

      Thank you for your note!

  2. Who are you, when you are not you?
    You are an inspiration to many divorced men and women, I am sure.
    Keep on blogging in a free world.
    – The False Prophet

    1. Some people are probably better off after divorce.

      I suspect most are not. And I think so many couples and families break when they don’t have to. People just really struggle with healthy communication when they’re sad or angry.

      Always hopeful that the sad and angry people will rethink their positions a little after participating in some of these conversations.

      Thanks for checking it out.

      1. Some people should have never got married in the first place, but that is not for me to decide. And indeed some people are better off after a divorce (for some reason I have the idea that most of the time it’s the women who are better off, but that’s probably because of the media and famous people).
        Communication is key when it comes to relationships. Any relationship. Some relationships can be saved by just learning to communicate with each other. In a nice book I once read (by Milton Erickson) a therapist asked a couple that were having problems to only use body language to communicate with each other. No words, just sign and body language. It saved their marriage.
        I will keep following your blog, even though I am not married or thinking about ever getting a divorce should I one day decide to take the big plunge.

        Have a prophet-able day.
        – The False Prophet

  3. This was really well said. It’s painful stuff, but sometimes you really have to lose yourself to find yourself. God has a way of taking all those broken bits and putting them back together in a way that makes them stronger and more beautiful than they were to begin with.

  4. Every single day we are changing…so are we ever really the “old you” ever? Tragedy and loss most certainly bring that up front and center with lightening speed.
    You will never be the old you…you will, hopefully, be a better you. A more enlightened you. A you that has taken each and ever lesson and embraced it.
    Every day is a new you, and it’s ok to let go of the old one.

    Love every post Matt. Every one of them.

    1. Thank you so much, Dawn. Awesome to hear from you.

      I know you’ve been following along for pretty much the entire time. It’s hard for me to remember myself nearly two years ago, but I hope you’ve seen the growth and healing that I feel.

      I feel blessed to be removed from all that anger. Really blessed.

  5. I loved this. After 20 years of a near perfect family life, I have no sense of self identity outside of being a husband and a father. It’s recent and I’m shattered. This story gave me a glimmer of hope for the future. Thank you.

    1. The part about not forgetting to breathe is important. It seems impossible that concentrating on your breathing could help with anything, but it turns out that it helps with EVERYTHING.

      When it feels like too much, please just breathe.

      Rooting for you, sir.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.