This is the story of my divorce anxiety.
I was living my dream life, complete with a husband who supported my blogging and freelancing work even though it wasn’t bringing in a ton of money. We had just closed on our dream house, paid for with cash because I’m a frugal living ninja… and we were in the middle of our second round of fertility treatments. I was so happy that I had a hard time relating to my favorite artist’s sad music.
Life was good. Until it wasn’t.
When I got the call that my at-the-time husband had been arrested for breaking into a “young, pretty” co-worker’s home, I was in shock. The pieces I remember of the next few weeks were moments of paralyzing numbness, the vacancy of a walking coma, wondering if I would ever feel like a person again.
For the first time in our marriage, the “d” word loomed over me, and I struggled to deal with it.
Months passed while I waited, the weight of separation and an unknowable future pressing in on me. I was caught in limbo about what his sentence would be and what our future would be. I visited weekly and wrote letters, all while researching tracking apps and devices that would help me make sure this didn’t happen again. On one hand, I was naïve enough to imagine a future nearly identical to the one we had planned, and on the other hand, bitter enough to know his word would never be enough.
A few months ago, I sat in the driver’s seat of our car and remembered how he used to “burrow” his right hand under my left thigh while he drove (and he always drove). At first I smiled at the memory. But then I realized that in order to remember, I first had to forget. Suddenly, our marriage felt so far away.
It had taken months, a decision to leave, and a decision to stay, but that day, I realized our marriage had somehow ended itself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be his wife. It was that I didn’t even feel like I was his wife anymore.
Overcoming Divorce Anxiety
Realizing that our relationship was over didn’t automatically end our marriage legally. It’s quite the process to get divorced, and the process overwhelmed me. More importantly, I felt the need to hold onto even a shred of marriage rather than be alone, because the idea of ALONE terrified me. The moment I realized our relationship couldn’t be salvaged, I was filled with divorce anxiety. I guess last year me said it best:
“I am terrified of being alone. I can’t even imagine starting over – of being so close to realizing all of my biggest dreams and then landing right back at the beginning.”
Managing the weight of life is much easier when you can share that burden with someone. One night, I almost had a panic attack talking to my mom. I was crying about how hard it would be to be on my own, how I would be the only person responsible for all the bills and obligations in my life without a husband to help. “you’re already the only one responsible for those things,” she said. I realized she was right. It took me MONTHS of hard work to overcome the depression caused by his incarceration, but I was finally in a place where I could pay my bills with the work I was doing.
But fear of financial responsibility wasn’t the only thing that gave me divorce anxiety. I struggled with feelings of obligation. I watched as the justice system failed to move his case along, worried that the courts would fail his mental health needs, and listened to him tell me about the time he heard a man hanging himself in another cell. “I know what it sounds like to hear someone hang themselves,” he said. I almost threw up as I imagined a different body being cut down just in time, or worse, not in time. So obligation overrode my own needs and desires. Because someone had to help him, and I didn’t trust that anyone else would be able to see the good in him after what he had done.
When I realized the anxiety this obligation was causing me, I knew something had to change. I took a step back and stopped visiting him. I knew I needed to separate myself from him, to recognize that he is a grown man who is responsible for his own feelings and well-being. I needed to realize that taking care of myself isn’t selfish, even if it causes him pain.
Eventually, I found the courage and strength to file for divorce. As I walked out of the courthouse, I felt free for the first time since this nightmare began. My life is nothing like I planned for it to be, but I’m finally realizing that’s okay. For now, the future is unwritten, but I have faith it will be even better than I imagined it would be.
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