How My Unexpected Divorce Cured My Fear of Change and Abandonment

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a very shaky relationship with CHANGE. A sensitive only child of divorced parents, the world often seemed like a very scary place. I always felt that my mother didn’t really understand me. Crying and complaining were big no-no’s, so I learned very early on how to suppress my feelings. I did it well.

It took me the best part of a year to fit in at high school, for no other reason than it was different – a change – from my much smaller primary school. Although I eventually made some good friends, I always carried the feeling that everybody else was coping with life a whole lot better than me. I often wondered how other people could flit from group to group, activity to activity without feeling nervous and overwhelmed by it all.

I assumed that I was deficient – a failure of some sort – and continued to do my best to suppress my feelings and emotions and fears.

I married young, I believe now in a vain effort to feel secure in the world. My long-awaited daughter (I’d wanted a baby since around the age of eight) arrived when I was twenty-four, and I was once again brought to my knees by an overwhelming feeling of fear. My psyche just couldn’t cope with the overwhelming change in my life. I’d never felt such a frightening sense of responsibility and I was certain I would somehow mess everything up. I was eventually diagnosed with postnatal depression.

I muddled my way through that first year with her, once again noticing that I seemed to be the only woman in my mother’s group not coping. When the depression and anxiety finally lifted – with the help of therapy and medication – something lovely happened. The world seemed brighter. It seemed that I’d come through the worst thing that would ever happen to me.

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I was soon pregnant again, and with the arrival of my son, I truly thought that life was complete. That I was complete. I fervently hoped that nothing ‘bad’ would ever happen again. I wanted so desperately to be like everybody else, to be normal, to keep up with the Jones’. I placed great importance on buying stuff, on trying to keep up with the other (much wealthier) Mums that I knew.

I did my best to quash the empty feeling that I sometimes felt inside. The feeling that there simply had to be more to life than this. I reminded myself that I was OK, that I had a husband by my side. That that was what was important. I had a firm – somewhat unconscious – belief that I needed protection from the world. That I simply couldn’t do life on my own.

Having somebody make the decisions for me was all I’d ever known – I went straight from living with my mother to living with my husband.

I sometimes had nightmares, dreams in which he’d either left me or died, dreams that would see me wake in a cold sweat frantically fumbling for him. The feeling of sweet relief that followed the realisation that he was still in bed beside me was near intoxicating.

Life marched on, my kids started high school and I began looking forward to the next chapter of my life – the chapter where you no longer have little kids completely reliant on you for their every need. I started planning ‘date nights’ for hubby and I. I was just about to turn forty. All was going well, or so I thought.

I tried not to freak out when I saw the first message from ‘her’ on his phone. He told me it was nothing. I desperately wanted to believe him. We’d been married seventeen years. I assumed – hoped – it was a one-off and that he had learned his lesson. Even so, I prepared for the worst. I told myself that I would forgive him even if the thing with the other woman turned into a full-blown affair. The important thing was that I keep my marriage together, at all costs.

The day he told me that he no longer wanted to be married, and was leaving, was the day the world stopped spinning. I refused to accept his decision.

When it became clear that he was going with or without my permission, I left any trace of dignity and self-respect at the door and BEGGED him not to leave me. My lifelong fear of abandonment had just been recognised and I thought that I would surely stop breathing. But off he went, and I had no choice but to continue breathing.

I somehow knew that I would have to continue living and functioning for the sake of my kids, but the idea that I would one day be happy again – happier in fact than I’d ever been – was laughable.

I spent the first six months after he left soul-searching. I spent a lot of time alone. I read a lot of self-help. I grieved. I CRIED. I went deep inside of myself and examined my wounds. I somehow knew that the time of suppressing myself – my feelings and emotions and everything else – had to come to an end. I was forty years old and was sick of changing myself, my true self, to make others’ more comfortable.

I spent the next six months overcome by an intoxicating sense of freedom – a freedom unlike anything I had ever experienced.

And one day it dawned on me. My biggest fears – namely change, upheaval and abandonment – had all been recognised. And a further realisation: once our fears become our reality they truly lose their power over us. For how can we be terrified of that which we have already lived, and slayed?

These days, I do my best to embrace life and its various ups and downs. Nearly five years on, that ‘free’ feeling is yet to leave me. I ADORE being a single mother. And I am grateful to my husband for ‘abandoning’ me. I wouldn’t be the grown-up woman I am today had he not.

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