Yesterday would have been lucky-number 13.
My wife and I celebrating 13 years of marital bliss.
Only we didn’t. Because we stopped at 9. In large part because the final couple of years were anything but blissful.
Also, I didn’t remember.
I hadn’t noticed until I flipped a daily calendar to today.
And all joking aside about my totally suspect ADHD calendar management, it’s significant that I didn’t remember.
Maybe some people feel completely fine and normal after getting divorced. But other people feel shitty and want to die a little bit and cry a lot more than they’re proud of while feeling like the world’s biggest loser and binge-watching a lot of shows on Netflix and assuming they will spend the rest of their lives celibate and alone while their exes are having orgasm parties with some wildly successful entrepreneur ready to sell their tech startup for a billion dollars and pretty much guaranteeing a lifetime of their children respecting and wanting to be with the other parent more than them.
I was a member of the latter group.
Even my grandma (the sweetest, most-prayerful and non-judgmental person I know) was probably like: “My #1 grandson seems extra-losery lately. If he doesn’t get it together, he’s going to die alone, because no woman will ever want to kiss him on the mouth, let alone play fiddlesticks in his nether regions. I’m demoting him to, like, #4 in the grandson ranking.” It’s difficult to know for sure how she felt and/or whether I’ve reclaimed by spot atop the family grandson rankings.
It’s significant that I didn’t reflect on my wedding anniversary yesterday, because that’s exactly the kind of thing you tend to do when you feel broken and depressed after divorce.
Every major holiday.
Our son’s birthday.
The Fourth of July (our “engagement anniversary”).
There were all of these things that triggered the most powerful and unexpected emotions for the first couple of years following the end of our marriage. If you’d told me some date on the calendar had the power to trigger something within me that would make my entire body revolt, I’d have called you crazy.
But then I lived it.
I felt in the most intense ways what a particular anniversary could remind you of. If it wasn’t something on the calendar, it was one of those asshole Facebook memories that seem to randomly pop up and try to ruin your day, or it was me driving by a particular building or location, or maybe hearing a certain song, and then I’d feel all the things rushing in again.
It wasn’t just hard because it hurt.
It was hard because it reminded me that I wasn’t fully back yet. I hadn’t recovered. I remained weak and fragile. It reminded me that I didn’t have control over emotions, which meant I didn’t have control over myself.
Once every day stops hurting after a major life trauma, the next phase involves unpredictable and intermittent flare-ups.
Rock-bottom has one perk. NOTHING scares you anymore, because (even if it isn’t true) it feels like it can’t get any worse.
But once the healing begins, some of the fear returns, because the ability to just behave normally during the day without all of the hurt and fear and anxiety becomes this really important and valuable thing that you had always taken for granted until you knew better.
So when something sneaky triggers us into a mini-relapse, it can shake you up because you don’t know if that’s ever going to stop happening.
It’s hard to feel like you don’t have any control about your baseline state-of-being. As if you don’t know which “you” you’ll be when you wake up tomorrow.
I often wondered when these triggers would finally go away.
And Then Something Funny Happens
You don’t really notice because you forget to look for it.
The same way that resentment and shit-festival rides and funnel cake booths sneak quietly into our relationships and go undetected until we finally bite into some funnel cake we overpaid for and it tastes like goat piss, and then we pop three balloons with our skilled dart throwing to win that awesome stuffed monkey, but instead of giving us the awesome stuffed monkey, the carnie gives us the middle finger and divorce papers…
The same way that happens, goodness and normalcy slowly creep in when life feels like it’s beating us down.
I wanted so badly to hack the process.
I researched whatever scientific studies I could find on happiness. I went to guided meditation classes. I drank a little more beer, tequila and vodka than usual.
I wanted a shortcut, and if I couldn’t find one, I at least wanted to know when the terrible pain and sadness might end.
What is the thing or the time I can look forward to because that’s when I’ll know this is mostly behind me?
I took comfort in some of the stories and experiences of other divorcees.
But still. When will it be my turn?
And then the funny thing happens. You wake up one day and realize you’d stopped counting. You’d stopped looking for signs. You’d stopped wondering when tomorrow will come because, holy shit, it’s ALREADY tomorrow and I didn’t even notice.
There was no magic to evoke.
There was no exorcism or major therapeutic breakthrough (not that there’s anything wrong with leaning on psych pros—I’d have done so if I was financially comfortable enough to shell out $250/hour).
There was no one thing I can point to that took me from the painful and debilitating shit-festival to today. The day AFTER a wedding anniversary (that wasn’t) that I never got around to noticing.
The path to today wasn’t complex or hard to explain even though I hadn’t realized I’d arrived here. The path wasn’t around. There were no shortcuts or helpful detours. There was only one straight path that could only be traveled at the speed with which I move.
There were unpleasant and difficult obstacles from the get-go. And it turns out, Life doesn’t magically remove all those obstacles to make the path easier to walk. Dealing with each obstacle by climbing over it, or blasting my way through simply made me good at navigating them.
I wanted it to be easy and fast. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt torturously slow.
But as I look back today? Four wedding anniversaries (that weren’t) later? I don’t know where the time went.
But I’m here now. (Hi!)
The path was hard. But then it gets a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then you accidentally get so busy living again that you forget to measure the difficulty.
Hope is the carrot at the end of the stick, and it’s worth walking toward. When you’re emerging from divorce or some other awful life event, how much better tomorrow can be than today is so incremental, we’re unlikely to notice it. But it IS better.
And when you wake up and breathe enough times, you stop, look back, and really see how far you’ve come.
The only path was through.
Never easy. But always worth it.
20 thoughts on “The 4th Wedding Anniversary (That Wasn’t)”
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I can definitely relate to feeling mopey and depressed sometimes when certain dates/events pop up. My ex and I have been separated for a year and a half and the divorce is almost complete (probably as of next week). Despite the fact that I’m the one who wanted this, I can’t help but feel sad sometimes. Certain things will remind me of the good times or of the good things about him and I will miss it. For the most part I’ve been handling the whole separation/divorce thing better than I anticipated, but the last couple of weeks, as it gets closer to the end of the whole process, I’ve been getting a little bummed. I have friends who have gone through divorces the past couple of years and several of them celebrated when they got their papers in the mail. I feel like I will be expected to do the same, but I don’t feel particularly celebratory. :-\
I’ve never understood the divorce “celebration”. When people initially married, they presumably did it with the expectation that it would be forever. Things happen, stuff goes wrong, and sometimes things go horribly off the rails. Sometimes it’s best and healthiest for both people to go there separate ways.
At the same time though, I would suspect there is an underlying sadness for what perhaps could have been.
I’m in the process of a divorce, and my soon to be ex did some terrible things, the make it very difficult for me to even be in the same room as her. I have no interest in a life with her moving forward (hence the divorce), and there is damage there that can never be undone.
Still, we did have some good years. We do have children together. And although I will feel a sense of relief when it’s all done (as I will finally be able to move forward), that doesn’t mean I’ll celebrate it.
In a perfect world, we would have raised our children together. we would have grown old together. Don’t misunderstand – I absolutely do not want that now, and I’m at peace with where I am. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish things had gone differently.
Matt, this is a great post and I totally understand it as I’ve lived through the same thing here. My wedding anniversary (thanks for the reminder) is this weekend and I hadn’t even thought about it now 3 years later. We separated in 2014 but divorce wasn’t final until recently which was a long time through many unseen factors. But you are so right in all that you said and explained. It is only through the mess that we can become whole again. It’s nice to hear a guy’s point of view as many women blog about divorce, but few men do with the authenticity that you have. Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad that you’re doing ok. Good for you! It is absolutely worth it when we get to the other side. 🙂
Geez, Matt! You totally nailed what it’s like to suffer trauma and the aftermath! It took me a long while to come to terms with the fact that you can be healed and still occasionally get kicked in the gut by a trigger. I’ve accepted that this just may be as good as it gets and I can still be grateful for all the times I *don’t* get triggered, that life has returned to normal.
Yeah, it happens from time to time, but I know what I need to do to process it and return to normal…and I can be grateful for that, too.
Needed this one today. Thanks
We have the same anniversary but it was 24 years ago and 15 since we divorced. Although I’ve been in a new great relationship for 11 years, not a day goes by that I worry about my relationship with my now 21 year old son. It has deteriorated lately as he doesn’t really like my new partner. It sucks for sure but I am grateful for my new partner and her kids treat me like a king. People tell me my son will come around some day. I did everything for him, taught him to ski, swim, ride a bike and taken him all over the world yet I didn’t get a card for Xmas, my birthday and Father’s Day. I am grateful for my life and yes divorce sucks but it does get better. Thanks for writing what you do, it helps. Since I read your dishes article, I’ve given my partner flowers every Monday for almost 2 years!
Ahh, sweet post, Matt. There is always hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is NOT just another train coming down the tracks.
I’ve always thought it was strange how we can live in the moment when our lives are miserable, almost unable to even imagine the future. And yet when life is good we have terrible time just living in the moment and enjoying it! Always off to the next thing..
A bit cynical of me,but one of the best ways to learn mindfulness and focus is excruciating pain. We need to reverse that behavior, set our eyes on hope and the future when everything hurts. Live in the moment when everything is good.
Your timing ?
Interesting post after I’ve spent the day in a funk after unusual dreams populated by ghosts of “our troubles” We have been on an upswing of late and today I’m a little off kilter and can’t explain why to him as it brings up a lot of guilt and shame that he’s working hard to get past.
Thankfully I have an appointment booked with my counsellor and you to remind me that emotions are just clouds – they blow in and blow away out of our control sometimes and all you can do is go through them.
Hola, amiga. Feelings are not facts. 🙂 Treating them as such, which I used to do full-time and am lately trying to rewire in my head, is a serious cognitive distortion. Feeling it with you! I like that you said “go through them.” Another distortion that I’m so well acquainted with is treating now as forever. It ain’t, but I had to learn that. No, still learning that…
Bugger of it is the feelings were a result of facts and the feelings remind me of secrets and my monkey mind wonders if there are any more ……. happens rarely of late but when it does it’s like getting hit by the same truck. Much practice to step away from the feelings while still respecting them. They are valid, just not particularly helpful ?
Pain is pleasure, pleasure is pain
Thank you Matt. What you say is so real. I know it and yet I need the reminder. I get so impatient with myself for not “being over it yet” as if that helps in any way. Today is measurably better than 6 weeks ago, phenomenally better than 6 months ago and yes – even a tiny bit better than yesterday. If tomorrow is tough day again – it will still be better than 6 months ago and 6 weeks ago, even if it isn’t better than today and the next tomorrow will be better.
Matt…I can’t help but wonder if the memories that rule these feelings aren’t survival mechanisms in disguise . We all have a number of foul or tragic events that cause immense pain and heart aches . We emerge from the initial shock and horror to move forward and live . The damage caused by these creates an armour of sorts for future butt hurt but also reminds us of the vulnerability and weaknesses that began the shit show in the first place . You and so many here have come through with such newness and super awareness . …you are all warriors fighting demons of “if I had only” “if he/she would have” “if I had another chance ” and so many other things that terrorize our hearts and minds. Dealing with my issues here has been a great comfort , not in knowing that I’m not the only one who has endured what I have, but that so many people are going forward to heal themselves and join in helping others heal. There are so many triggers that keep me up nights , they come with a side of “what if?”, but that’s the healing “test”….I know I’m stronger and my marriage is now rock solid and I have a number of anniversaries to deal with . When I was asked to leave , when she almost got involved with someone else , when I had to step in that time, when I grew up and put on my man/husband pants , when she saw the man I truly was and have remained , when she asked me to come home . They are all vivid and unforgettable but exist to keep me grounded and ever vigilant . Matt and the family that reads, replies , shares, commiserates, shows compassion , welcomes….I just want to thank you for accepting me and my thoughts and stories . …..I grow a little more every time I read posts here….it helps me …it’s helping people we will probably never hear from . I have been reading and commenting for a couple years now . ..I look forward to more but for now Happy Anniversary .
I totally understand what you mean about triggers. Whether its a place or a mutual friend I saw out, the first few months were awful. Everyday is easier then the day before.
I was only reminded because I read your post…haha. Six years ago yesterday was my D-day…one day before my son’s birthday (he turns 18 today and I’m so immensely proud of him!). Today I only had thoughts of my son and his amazing milestone (until now! haha)! My wedding anniversary was May 18, and I got the divorce papers with the finality of it all 17 years less one day later…so many “happy moments” had been marred by also “less than happy” moments. Though for me to truly remember the dates, or how many years have now passed, in any significant way I really have to think about them now. I had to even think to remember if it was six or seven years ago and if the anniversary was the 18th (I actually had it typed the 17th until I thought longer about it..) I guess the old saying about time healing wounds is pretty accurate! So glad yours are healing also.
“once the healing begins, some of the fear returns, because the ability to just behave normally during the day without all of the hurt and fear and anxiety becomes this really important and valuable thing that you had always taken for granted until you knew better.
So when something sneaky triggers us into a mini-relapse, it can shake you up because you don’t know if that’s ever going to stop happening.
It’s hard to feel like you don’t have any control about your baseline state-of-being. As if you don’t know which “you” you’ll be when you wake up tomorrow.”
This describes me to a t 7 months after finding out my husband was having an affair. Trying to work through it and save what is left of our marriage..this is my day to day existence
It’s the worst.
I wish I had something meaningful to offer you.
From a divorced-guy perspective, we’re now 11 days away from the fifth “non-anniversary,” and I’m comfortable reporting that — aside from a less-balanced, less-productive, less-fulfilling existence than I had as a husband — the hurt and brokenness are mostly gone.
What you’re going through is much more difficult in a lot of ways, and likely requires more courage and fortitude than I ever needed to heal.
My admiration for your decision knows no bounds.
It takes a special love to choose the hard thing over what your baseline emotional instincts might have wanted.
I really believe it’s the love we choose to give — not the easy feel-good love that requires little effort — is the love necessary to take a couple from their wedding day to Forever.
No matter what the future holds, you will always get to be the best you, with the fewest regrets because of your selfless decision to choose the hard thing.
Rooting for you, Kim. Best wishes.
*big sigh* Yeah, and this, too: every day. Every, excuse me, f*cking day. It’s a decision. No one says that deciding for is better than deciding against. Some cases clearly call for a decision against. But the “forever” that Matt mentions only happens one day at a time. And G-d it can be so hard…
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