Thanksgiving, a time to take stock of our life and find gratitude in all of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. When it comes to the ugly, I would say that for many of us divorce is, at best high on that list, at worst top of the list. I recently took a mental inventory of my own divorce, which probably ranked somewhere near the 50th percentile when it comes to destructive divorces. Not horrible, but no walk in the park for a stay-at-home mom of three with no family nearby or even in the same time-zone for that matter.
Here is the truly amazing thing that happened, once I started the list, I was on a roll and nothing could stop me. With just a few prompts and mindset shifts, I was able to find silver linings from the obvious, to the more unexpected. If you have faced a less than desirable change or circumstance such as divorce or separation here are some ways to examine the last year and extract gratitude.
In what areas did your divorce bring freedom?
They say the truth will set you free. They are right. While I may not have the financial security or luxurious lifestyle I enjoyed while married to my ex-husband, I live an authentic life that is true to my value and belief system. I spent many years walking on eggshells, trying to keep the peace, all the while suppressing my truth. Overtime, and as our children grew, I felt more shackled, torn between keeping a harmonious home yet also demonstrating what it meant to assert myself and be respected as a woman. I was trapped, wedged into a corner by my own doing.
The final demise of our marriage swiftly took care of that. I was forced to examine what I had been tolerating and how I had been contributing to a life lived completely out of alignment with who I wanted to be. Divorce was the vehicle that set me free, and that alone is worth a lifetime of gratitude.
How has divorce forced you out of your comfort zone?
Prior to my divorce, being financially savvy meant one thing, save as much as I can and spend as little as possible. Beyond that any other discussion around money I found mind numbingly boring, uncomfortable and downright intimidating. I happily relegated all this to my ex-husband, a numbers genius, and ran a mile from any discussion involving phrases such as “creating wealth” or “financial planning.” Our marital settlement agreement severed that umbilical cord, as assets were efficiently and equitably divided, forcing me to finally face the reality that I am a grown up that needs to talk about money, invest money and make money.
While I am far from financially astute, I consider myself at least a degree or two more financially informed than my previous self. Concepts like who claims the children as dependents are palatable for me; concepts like estimated tax payments are not. I never said it happened overnight, but facing my discomforts and fears has come with tremendous, albeit long-overdue, growth.
Who have you become in this process?
Divorce, or more specifically its aftermath, has often been compared to a rebirth, a catalyst of sorts, or a new chapter. For me, divorce has been a bit like going off to college or university except instead of being woken by a drunken roommate, I am woken by one of my three children needing milk or water at various points during the night. Whereas in college the decision of what to do with my life was informed by credit requirements and course descriptions, I now have half a lifetime’s worth of experience and wisdom to carve a path forward.
While I am a far cry from my 20-something self, I have undergone a mid-life metamorphosis. I may be older, scarred and somewhat jaded; I may be the absolute oldest student in my classes and I may feel a pang of nostalgia when no longer carded at bars. But overall, I like who I am becoming in the process and what is not to appreciate about that?
How have your relationships changed?
As the dust settles it becomes apparent which relationships are worth your time and effort. Divorce is a time to not only take stock of your relationships but to also consider how you, as an individual, relate to others. Let’s be honest, unless you are one of the very lucky few, divorce comes with years of built up conflict and unhealthy interacting. It would take someone seriously lacking in self-awareness and reflection to not consider their contribution to the demise of their marriage.
It took herculean effort for me to put my ego aside and own up to my half of the wreckage, but once I did, I began approaching other relationships with greater care and awareness. In particular, I am very aware of toxic patterns between my daughters and myself and chose to intervene early. Thanks to my divorce, I approach my close relationships with more ownership for the role I play, willing to make corrections and adjustments as necessary.
Finally, how has this encouraged you to regularly examine your life?
Everything about divorce requires serious examination, from the tangible 401k split to the not-so-tangible question of what truly constitutes the children’s “best interest.” Divorce shone a light on the fact that the way I spend time with my children has to change, too burnt out and too stretched thin to enjoy their little lives. Now, when an opportunity arises for them to spend more time with their dad, I happily take it, realizing that it will ultimately benefit them to have a renewed mom. Regular examination of what is working in my life and what no longer serves me has become more common practice as a result of going through a divorce.
It was the ancient Greeks that said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” If you take the time to truly examine the impact on your life of divorce or other challenges, you may just be amazed at what you overturn. I, for one, am going into this season of Thanksgiving with immense gratitude for my divorce and a second chance at a life worth living.