The following is a speech I delivered to the congregation at my synagogue last night during a Yom Kippur service. I decided to post it here because I think it will truly help anyone who is newly separated.
I remember very clearly how I felt the first time I met the man who would be my divorce attorney. Really really scared. I knew I was doing what had to be done, and that it was what my soon-to-be ex-husband and I had agreed we were both going to do, but still, the idea of being at a divorce attorney’s office made my crumbling marriage a grim reality. It made what was such an uncertainty for so many months a done deal.
Sitting in his office, I felt sad, beaten down almost.
I was unsure of myself, timid and meek (which anyone who knows me will tell you those traits couldn’t be more opposite my normal personality). The temporary new me lacked any self-confidence or self-esteem.
Hiring a divorce attorney made me realize what was ahead: attorneys fees, court appearances at which time my future could be in the hands of a judge, the need to go back to work after having been a stay at home mom for over 5 years, and two precious my children—then 3 and 5—who would have to handle their parents breakup, and learn to live in two different houses.
When I left that meeting, the labels “single mother” and “divorcee” came into my head. I thought about Ann Romano from One Day at A Time, and I cried.
No one grows up thinking he or she is going to get divorced. My parents have been married for over 55 years.
A lot of self-doubt began to enter my mind. “How could I have failed?” “Why couldn’t I make him happier?” “What did I do wrong?” “Why couldn’t I fix it?”
And the biggie: Why did God do this to me?
I’ve always been a very spiritual person, and I’ve always talked to God, in my home, in my car, whenever I want. Now, I wanted answers.
As months went by, I got no answers, and things got worse. Going through a divorce really is a nightmare. There is a new problem every day: your kids crying because they miss Dad, a mouse in your house that you are responsible for getting rid of, an attorneys bill in the mail that makes you nauseous, the humiliating feeling of going on job interviews and being turned down, the thought that no man will ever love you again, and the times you miss your husband so much it aches.
You then become known as “the single mom” around school, and you swear you’re not being paranoid when you hear people whispering as you walk by. Your kids tell you they hate being the only kids whose parents have two houses.
I asked God, “When will things get better?”
More time went by and even though lots of days were still difficult, I began to have some good days. I met a woman who was also going through a divorce and the two of us became best friends, I started to go on dates and realized there are men out there who like women over 40, I began getting comfortable as a single mom, and started not caring what anyone thought, and lastly, I started writing.
Whenever I was sad or depressed or scared or worried about something, (which happened almost daily) I’d type away on my computer and immediately I’d feel better. Writing down what was bothering me was like releasing onto a sheet of paper. It didn’t get rid of the problem, but for some reason, expressing it made it more manageable.
I soon realized my writing was like a happy pill, almost like a drug. In other words, I found a passion, along with a good, productive coping mechanism.
Good days began outweighing bad days, and one day I realized that instead of asking God, “When will things get better?” I should be asking Him, “Please continue to give me the strength as I make things better.” Why? Because seeing my own strength was like a gift, and perhaps a silver lining of my nightmare.
This is when self-love began to come back into my soul. I started making really good, ethical, smart decisions that I knew would lead me to my goals and to a life I wanted.
I joined the temple. I started having Shabbat dinners with my kids. Even if there was only time for takeout, as long as the dinner included Shabbat candles, grape juice and challah, I was instilling tradition and a sense of Judaism and family.
I also started writing for companies and a couple newspapers. It wasn’t easy. The pay was so little, and I was working all day, many nights, every weekend and every holiday. Ask my kids how many stories that had to go cover with their mom. Both of my kids could be newspaper reporters today, as they have certainly had their share of training in the field. But, I was happy doing that kind of work, the pay was getting better, it felt productive and it gave me much needed self-esteem.
I also met a kind, wonderful man and found love again, which was something I never really expected.
Looking back, I made some mistakes along the way, but that doesn’t bother me so much because I have come to realize that the only way to learn is by making mistakes.
I now feel like the luckiest person on earth. I have two precious children that make me proud each and every day, I truly enjoy my career, and I even have a productive relationship with my ex, which makes our children’s lives so much richer.
Things aren’t perfect, because things are never perfect for anyone, but I mean it when I say I would describe my life today as blissful. Eight years ago, during that first encounter, I never dreamed I would ever feel this way.
Now when I talk to God, I still ask Him, “Please continue to give me the strength to make things even better.” But, I also thank Him for the blessings I receive every second of every day. The lesson I learned through all of this is to focus on having gratitude for things I HAVE, not what I don’t have. Even back then, in the darkest days, I should have been focusing more on what I had: health, healthy children, a healthy family, a home, and the ability to go out and grab the life I wanted.
In conclusion, what I want to say about my first encounter in my divorce attorneys office is that is has been a long, difficult but meaningful journey, and one that isn’t even over. And, believe it or not, I enjoyed a lot of it, even the mistakes. So now, on Yom Kippur, I ask God again, “God, please continue to give me the strength as I strive to keep making things better and better.” Remember that your strength is YOUR gift, and a silver lining not just of divorce, but of any nightmare.
What a wonderful testimony. Although I am not where you are in terms of grabbing the life that I want, I can see that it is possible. I, too thank God for the blessings that have come out of this nightmare. Keep up the great work, Jackie!
The following is a fascinating link to a very UN politically correct book written about coupling these days. It’s from the male perspective and very honest. I think it would benefit women tremendously to read it. Anyone interested can email me (email@example.com) and I will send a free PDF of the chapter “Why Women Leave.” If you like it, you will be inclined to check out the rest of the book. Write “Why Women Leave” in the subject heading.