As I've gotten older, I've come to realize there is a lot that I don't know. One thing I do know is that you don't know until you know.
It's likely that I have said the wrong thing to a friend who has lost a parent or spouse. I don't know that, I haven't lived it. How I went about helping a friend whose child is struggling may have been entirely unhelpful. I don't know their struggle, I haven't lived it. The dinner I sent and the offer to take a walk around the block might have been the opposite of what my recuperating friend wanted. I don't know her pain, I haven't lived it. Those words of encouragement I offered to a friend who lost his job -- comforting? Not sure, I haven't lived it.
Have I been well intentioned? Yes. Have I always hit the mark? No. That is precisely why there are support groups for loss, addiction, cancer... These groups offer people a chance to be with others that know what they know.
Divorce, I have lived. Divorce, I know. Some things pass. Career crisis, bed-wetting, a terrible 4th grade class, a bumpy patch in an otherwise healthy marriage. One thing that doesn't pass is divorce.
There are emotional phases of divorce that vary depending on what "link" you click on. Betrayal, shock, mourning, anger, re-entry, denial, acceptance and sadness. Take your pick, enjoy some or all. The problem is, once you have passed through the stages and made it to the other side, if you have kids with your ex, you do not get a diploma with a handshake, set out free into the world. Set out, yes -- free, no. You're still and forever semi-stuck.
When I went through it myself I didn't have any close friends who had divorced. I was one of the first and with me came a wave of friends. And a wave of realization. As exhausting as my ex and my drama are to me, it is 1,000x more exhausting to those around me.*
See that teeny asterisk? That symbolizes the few people to whom my dramas, big and small, are not exhausting. Well, they probably are, but nevertheless these few friends always answer texts, emails and calls. In return, I do the same. Never with an eye roll, never annoyed. These friends do not care more than my other friends or family. But, as with career troubles, health crisis and loosing loved ones, you don't know until you know.
My tribe and my family really care. But many have not lived it (yeah!) so they don't know. They have never had their spouse get up and go get their own home down the block. They have never been home alone with their son when his fever reached 106.7. They have never been scared five nights in a row by the creepy noises outside. Have they been miserable with a terrible cold and just wanted to get into bed at 7PM and stay in bed till the next afternoon but can't because they're the only adult in the house? Maybe they have lived some of these scenarios. But on the whole, mostly, the days their other halves are gone are limited to three days at a time for a boy's weekend.
When you've gone through divorce you know. You know how it feels to be truly alone.
And yet, at the same time, your ex doesn't totally go away either. The daily dramas do turn into weekly ones, and no one, including yourself, wants to hear your same old s**t. But there are times when you need to talk it out, you need a dose of sanity from a trusted source. Usually as soon as humanly possible so you rapidly fire off a few texts. Flipping that on it's head, the good days bring even more moments of desired urgent sharing. When something great happens to you or your kids, you want to share the pride, joy, relief and success. So you email this one and call that one. If they haven't lived it, if they sleep next to someone every night and have that guaranteed daily source of connection, it's likely that this one and that one won't respond with any urgency.
It's the ones who have been through it who know exactly how it feels to be untethered. They know that being on your own is liberating and scary. These are the few who respond each and every time. It's not because they care more than everyone else. It's because they have lived it and they know. And when they see my bat signal glowing in the sky, they respond.
To my DIY, rag tag, haphazardly assembled yet tightly bound "support group," I say thanks.