DIVORCE
11/19/2014 11:26 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

I Made A Conscious Choice To Thrive After Divorce -- And I've Never Been Happier

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"This Is Divorce At..." is a HuffPost Divorce series delving into divorce at every stage of life. Want to share your experience of divorcing at a certain age? Email us at divorce@huffingtonpost.com or tweet @HuffPost Divorce.

If she could, floral designer Marti Heard might shout from the proverbial rooftop that she's divorced and she's never been happier. (She probably won't -- shouting from the rooftop is nice in theory, but who wants to deal with the resulting side eye from others? Answer: no one.)

But as Marti's learned firsthand, reclaiming your happiness after divorce doesn't come easy. Below, the 34-year-old mom of two tells us what it takes to move on from divorce in your thirties -- and why going through that "hot mess" phase is par for the course and surprisingly important to the healing process.

Divorce is the purest lesson of humility you'll ever experience. I know because I've been there. I would not wish a divorce upon my worst enemy. But to feel the way I do now, I would go through it over and over again to be right where I am.

I am 34-years-old. I was married when I was 21 after an accidental pregnancy. I did what most people do in this situation: I got married. I knew it was wrong from the beginning. I never listened to my inner compass. I endured a mostly unhappy marriage for 12 years, hoping things would change and improve with age. It never did. I turned myself inside out trying to do what I thought would make my husband happier -- and therefore, my life -- happier.

But then one day I realized I didn't even know who I was anymore. I wasn't setting a good example for my children for how a marriage is suppose to be. That became my biggest fear: That they would have no example of what a healthy, strong marriage should be like. I was terrified they might have the same fate as me by the time they entered into their own marriages later in life. That driving fear made me leave.

Keep in mind that I have zero regrets about my marriage. I was with this man for a reason and I learned many, many things about myself during the marriage and that's what's important. I've learned to never regret a personʼs entrance into your life. The biggest part of recovering from a divorce is grace and realizing what is not meant for you. Then you let go of those things.

Granted, all of this won't happen over night. If only! It will be a long, hard, arduous journey. In fact, I believe there are three stages to a divorce. Stage One: You will be a hot emotional mess. Crying, weight changes, depression. The works. One day I called my father for the millionth time crying to the point that he could not even understand what I was saying. With bold dad confidence, he told me, “That's enough. Quit crying. Go put your makeup on and pull yourself together before your kids get home. No more whining, Marti!” And I did just that. And he was completely right: The mourning stage can't go on forever. You have to put an end to it at some point.

Then there's Stage Two: You realize you have this newfound freedom you haven't experienced in forever. You go experience life for all it's worth-- and you just may overdo it. Let's just say this newfound freedom will provide you with plenty of courage. (If not, wine will.)

Stage Three: You realize being a freedom-lovin' hot mess is not cute and then you get your act together. All this said, donʼt even think about being in a relationship until you have completed all three stages. You will not be a useful, truly loving half of a solid relationship until you can deal with healing from divorce.

Take it from me -- life does get better. One day I decided that I didn't want to just survive, I wanted to thrive. And since making that decision, each day gets better. I have accomplished everything I ever wanted to in my marriage all by myself. I knew I was making progress when a friend told me she sensed the change. “I know you claim you're just on this whole soul-searching mission," she said, "But really, you are just becoming the person you were before the marriage. And that person was pretty good.” Best validation ever, right? Getting back to the person I used to be was the starting point for the next chapter in my life to begin.

Today, I can say this with confidence: I am 34 and divorced. I have two amazing children and I couldn't be happier

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