When I left my husband, nothing could prepare me for what I faced next: nasty rumors, money issues, a vengeful ex, romantic feelings for someone I did not expect and an overwhelming sense of grief. Divorce was new and frightening, and something I didn't know how to deal with emotionally. I was off on an adventure, but one on tumultuous seas.
But as with any great adventure, I picked up a lot of funny stories, tender moments, and -- of course -- lessons to move forward with. They are things I will take to heart as I establish myself again and, hopefully, move on to a better love. I have learned...
1. Not to care what people think. People are going to talk, spread rumors and take sides. It's the nature of divorce. But if you're going to recover properly, you're going to have to tune it out. Do whatever is right for you, even if it's not the most popular thing.
2. To put myself first. I'm a self-admitted people pleaser, but you can't do that while trying to heal, otherwise you won't recover properly. Do what you need to do and focus on you. And for those with children, if you're happy, you'll have an easier time keeping your kids happy, too.
3. Mourning is key. We may not think of divorce as a death, but it is the death of a relationship. Even if it was dead for a long time, you should do a certain amount of mourning. Grief is natural, and you shouldn't pretend your marriage didn't mean anything. It did. Process accordingly.
4. To love myself. In marriage, I forgot about me; after divorce, I had to learn who I was all over again. We need to be okay with who we are on our own. After all, as RuPaul says, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love anyone else? Can I get an Amen?"
5. To have sex again. It's scary to move on in the bedroom, but divorced sex is too much fun to pass up. I have learned plenty of new tricks and preferences to bring to a new relationship; they're things I would have never known if I stayed celibate post-split. Don't be afraid -- let loose and have fun!
6. To take control of my finances. One of the most dangerous things I did in marriage was give financial control to my ex. The result was he hid money -- a lot of money -- and overpowered me. I'm still recovering financially. You should always know where your money is and how your finances are doing.
7. The best support after divorce comes from fellow divorcees. I am lucky to have several friends who are going through their divorces at the same time as me. We prove to each other that we're not crazy and keep each other in check. Sometimes it's the only thing that keeps us sane. If you don't have divorced friends, try to find a support group.
8. Those that judge your actions during crisis aren't worth your time. I did things over the course of my split that many of my friends didn't like. When thrown into an emotional crisis, we rebel and reshape ourselves in ways that may not always be positive. Good friends stand by you. They shouldn't cast judgment.
9. Not to let anger dominate. My ex's behavior towards me during our split, like making out with his new girlfriend very publicly six weeks after I left (also known as the way people found out about the divorce) and stealing money from me, was downright deplorable. I was so mad that I didn't realize he was reacting out of anger and weakness. Anger gets in the way of your heart and mind. Don't let it take over.
10. To figure out where the marriage went wrong. If you are not owning part of the blame, look harder - it takes two to tango. I certainly made mistakes, such as trying to please everyone else so much that I didn't think about myself, picking the wrong partner and not being as open emotionally as I should have been.
11. To laugh. Whenever we start to laugh again is when we truly begin the healing process. Once you find your humor, there is nothing stopping you down the path of recovery. Find joy in everything, and things will get better.
12. It's okay to cry. Healing is not a linear process. Sometimes you'll take five steps forward, and then need to take three steps back and possibly have a mini-meltdown. It's all right to feel what you're feeling. You aren't superman (or woman) and don't need to be perfect.
13. Know when you're ready for love again. Two months after I left my ex, I realized that I had feelings for a close male friend who I suspected felt the same way. He was someone I would have seriously considered marrying, but I was too emotionally unstable and not ready yet to get involved with him. Although our friendship suffered as a result, it was the right decision at the time for me. We are the only ones who can say whether we're ready or not, so listen to your gut.
14. Love is still the most powerful thing in the universe. My friends think I'm crazy to believe this after divorce, but love is a beautiful thing. I'm not talking real love, built on respect, communication and trust. The best part is that love takes many forms, like in friends and family. Cherish the love that's in your life.
As Shakespeare said (and my father, who quotes him regularly), "This, above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."