One of the most valuable lessons my divorce has taught me is to depend on no one but myself. It isn't that I was a helpless female from a Disney drama before my divorce. I have always had life skills, and I am an educated woman with common sense. It's more that I had become accustomed to a life that made me feel secure. My husband was someone I loved, but he was also much more than that - he was the person who was always there, no matter what. If a friend had news, I would go home and share it with him. In a lightning storm, I could always reach out for his hand. When the car broke down, he would know what to do. He was a part of me, and I would like to think that I was a part of him, at one time. When we parted, I felt like the most important part had been stolen from me. I was alone, and I was broken, and no one could ever help put me back together again.
I used to go to bed each night and cry myself to sleep. After a few months of that, I figured out that the tears were never going to comfort me, and no one was going to come save me. Because you can't be saved from a thing like divorce. It just hurts, and then you try to recover. But all of us have a little child's hopeful voice inside us that still imagines some miraculous event will sweep us away from pain that we consider unthinkable. And if it's unthinkable, it must not be true, right? Well no, not exactly. After months of tearful nights, I saw that this divorce was something I would have to accept. I had to teach myself that it was okay to be alone, and okay to be afraid. I began a ritual of repeating to myself aloud, “no one is coming to help you.” I repeated it until the tears dried up and disappeared. And while that may sound tragic, for me, at least, it worked. I did stop crying, and I woke up and went to my job and I depended on myself to get through the day.
Far too often we let another person define who we are. But it isn't just divorce that can take that person away. There is also death, and there is emotional distance that happens whether you stay married or not. And most of the strongest marriages are made up of two separate individuals who come together to share a life, not a mind. And so, it is important to rely on yourself for your own happiness, divorce or not – but especially after divorce. It isn't a quick or easy lesson to learn if you've never had to, and not all of us have. It took me thirty years. But I finally did learn.
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There is an old saying my grandmother used to love to repeat. “If you're looking for help, look no farther than the end of your arm.” As a child, I used to laugh at her for saying that to me, after being scolded for asking if she would help me mix the giant bowl of Sunday biscuit dough my hands seemed too small to conquer. But she didn't say it to tease me, and I know now that she said it because she knew I had it in me to do it myself, and I always ended up forming the dough on my own. I just needed to see for myself that I was capable.
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When my husband left me I thought I was going to die. I thought I would lie down and cry and never eat again and never sleep again and lose my apartment and all my friends and never recover. But it turns out, I did. I may still be wounded, and my hands may be small, but they are my hands. And they are perfectly capable of driving me to the train station, and paying a bill, and making sure the doors are locked at night. And when I really need more than that, it's enough to know I can rely on my own voice to tell myself just what I need to hear, even if it isn't easy. Even if it has to tell me that no one is going to come around to help me right now but me, that's okay, because that's something I can count on. And I like being able to count on me.
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