Life After Divorce

Fear of the unknown hinders the blossoming change can bring

Since my divorce, I’ve been using certain television shows as a form of therapy, and I can honestly say, paired with eating frosting out of a can, it’s working.

The other night while catching up on “Splitting Up Together” (a TV show about a divorced couple with three kids), I had a spoonful of deliciousness ready to pleasure my taste buds when I came to a full stop. Not much can keep me from my chocolate, but something Martin, one of the main characters, said was profound.

Katie Bingham-Smith horses around with her three kids, Addison, 15, Anna, 13, and Jack, 12. Photo by Nancy Greindl

In his effort to get back together with his ex-wife, he knew she was hesitant about trying to work things out. He told her that was because she kept thinking about the end result, about all the things that could go wrong, rather than enjoying the adventure of what was happening NOW. She was frozen and didn’t want to move forward out of fear.

Now I’m not one for being on the receiving end of mansplaining, especially about my feelings, but that hit me. When we make a big life change, this is what we do—we think of all the ways things could go wrong. We think about all the ways we will screw up and fall on our face. We put doubt front and center, rather than choosing to let go and just see what happens. There’s no guarantee that it’ll all work out, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be awful, either. This unknown is scary—and it often prevents us from making a change.

When my ex-husband and I decided to get a divorce over two years ago, my thoughts centered on the things I was afraid of: being alone, parenting alone, trying to take care of a home alone. The self-doubt chewed me up and spit me out, making me feel defeated.

How will I take care of my house and land on my own? How can I let another man see my body? Will I ever figure out how to work our smart TV?

Photo by Nancy Greindl

Parenting solo was scary, and being alone after spending almost every single day for almost 20 years with the same man felt as if a significant chunk of my heart and soul kept using its energy to fill up the massive crevice.

Scary thoughts were triggered in the most unexpected moments. Like when I was at the grocery store and realized for the first time I didn’t need to pick up his deodorant or favorite coffee any longer.

We both wanted to go our separate ways, but even so I was catapulted into thinking I was pretty ridiculous for even imagining I was capable of navigating my way through something so foreign.

Starting something new and different, no matter its significance, has a way of digging up your self-doubt; change creates frost heaves and ditches that make it easy to feel like you aren’t strong enough to maneuver the rough terrain.

But when we are able to make our way through, it’s a tremendous gift—we are able to look back and think about how much we’ve grown and feel more open to tackle change again.

“Sometimes we choose a fresh start. Sometimes it chooses us.”

I slowly began to get sick of having thoughts and feelings that were taking me down because, like it or not, I was going from being a married woman to a single woman after two decades of being partnered.

As the months went by after my ex-husband moved out, my new life started to take shape, and it didn’t feel as scary as I thought it would.

I went from cooking for five people, seven nights a week, to only feeding four of us four nights a week. For the first time since having children, I was spending almost half of my nights either alone on the sofa, eating out with girlfriends and drinking sparkling wine, going on dates or redecorating my home.

Photo by Nancy Greindl

It took a night alone, watching a cathartic television program while indulging in Cheetos and fudge frosting, to realize I’d stopped focusing on all the ways my post-divorce life could go wrong. It was too heavy to lug around with me, and that’s when I knew my new life had really begun. A life that had light in it.

My new divorced self trusted that when the struggles came, like when I found mold in our basement and my first post-divorce breakup, I’d tackle them.

Sometimes we choose a fresh start. Sometimes it chooses us. Either way, change can make us focus on all the things that feel hard. We tend to hold those things tight in our head, but that can keep us from truly blossoming with the experience and letting ourselves morph into whoever this new experience wants to turn us into.

Katie Bingham-Smith is a writer, shoe addict and mother living in Bowdoinham. She pays her kids to rub her feet and never turns down anything with caffeine.

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