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Jennifer Gardella Headshot

My Shawshank Tunnel

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Gold seal, signed papers, judge's gavel -- no matter how your divorced is finalized, the official ends marks the start of your post divorce life. For many, this time resembles the crawl through the infamous Shawshank Tunnel.

You may know the scene from the movie: Andy Dufresne escapes from prison through a sewage pipe and crawls through 500 yards "smelling foulness I can't even imagine." This is very similar to the post-divorce proverbial tunnel. For you, it may feel dark, it may actually smell foul, you may wonder what will happen next, and often ask "when will it ever end?"

Everyone who enters the post-divorce tunnel has a very different set of tasks to complete. You may need to find a place to live, a new job and secure health insurance. All sorts of accounts will need to be separated and possessions divided. Your ex could be parading around a new significant other and that requires adjustment. You may be changing your name, opening new financial accounts and learning to cook for one. There may be substantial emotional healing to process and strength to build. There is a lot to be dealt with in the tunnel.

As a divorced mom of three daughters, I am often called upon by friends and strangers for my best advice on how to get through their divorce. And while I have helped them to see that all will be ok, I actually haven't been able give them advice on how to get through the tunnel, because until recently, I never experienced it. When I came out of my marriage, I jumped into two back-to-back relationships, each shielding me from the tunnel experience. I was not required to find full-time employment because I was working on my doctorate, and then worked for my most recent ex. I didn't have to find a place to live because when I wasn't with my kids, I stayed with my boyfriend.

But in January, my relationship ended and I found myself about to enter the Shawshank tunnel for the first time. I was devastated. It wasn't the end of the relationship that caused me pain, the end was a relief. Rather, it was a feeling of "how did I get to a point where at 43 years old, I am homeless for half of each month, unemployed (since I had worked for my ex), still have an incomplete dissertation, too much weight on my hips, and a high BMI?" Just as Andy was desperate to get into that tunnel and start crawling to a better life, well, so was I.

As I started to craw,l I was shocked to realize a newfound abundance of emotional energy. Previously, every last bit of that energy had been dumped into a relationship that hadn't been working. With that emotional space free, I found great peace, and saw nothing but opportunities. In fact, I was happier than ever, even though I was crawling through proverbial sewage.

For me, there is a beautiful simplicity to the tunnel. Your choices are limited to standing still, going forward or moving backward. I had absolutely no desire to stay stuck or go backward, so forward I moved. Some steps have been big, some have been messy, and others I have taken on blind faith. I just keep moving, focused and determined. Self doubt lives in the sewage of the tunnel and I suffocate it when it surfaces. My inner core strength and close circle of friends act as continual reminders that I am strong enough, talented enough, and resourceful enough to make it out to the other side. Armed with my newfound feeling of inner peace, my resolve is stronger than ever. I have fully embraced the process of tunnel crawling.

The tunnel allows great focus because you just can't stand up and look around, after all, you are in a tiny tunnel; if you stand up you'll hit your head. Also, there aren't many distractions in the tunnel, so I remain focused. Well that's not entirely true, I have allowed one distraction in -- hey, a girl can have a little fun, can't she?

What have I accomplished so far while crawling in the tunnel? I have found a very peaceful space to stay with two amazing friends when I am not with my children. These fabulous women have welcomed me into their families and homes and just as important as the roof over my head is the friendship they provide. I have also finished my dissertation which I will defend in early April and I am contracted to teach during the summer. When I first jumped into the tunnel, I made a commitment to eating healthier and exercising more. I've lost 15 pounds, fit into my skinny jeans (filled out better than ever due to endless squats) and my BMI is normal. Oh, and did I mention I'm launching a business? Not too bad for eight weeks.

But while many pieces have come together, I'm still in the tunnel. Next up is getting my professional life in order. My business launches in late April and the job search continues. My amazing business coach Marcus Padulchick has helped me realize that I should go in search of the right job, not just any job. I have built a diverse skill set and impressive credentials over the last 20 years and the right job will come along. I thank Marcus in my heart every day for his sage advice. I'm committed to the process of the tunnel and want the process to work itself out in the right time.

This crawling that I have done has brought fullness to my life I never anticipated. Opportunities, ideas, and most importantly, people have found their way to my path and are extraordinary additions. This stage of putting together the foundation of my post-divorce life is exciting. While I am enjoying my time in the tunnel, I am looking forward to crawling out -- but I'm just not there yet. A little more time in the tunnel will do me some good. And at the end of the tunnel is when the building work begins. Building on all of this excitement, finding the right person to share it with, and then the beginning of my journey to my Zihuatanejo.