My divorce certainly did not present itself as a gift, trussed up with a big red bow like a Lexus in a Christmas commercial. Instead, it was a big ugly box, filled to the brim with explosives. It was a present I never anticipated and one I never desired. But, as it came with a "no return" policy, I was determined to make the best of it.
I was with my husband for 16 years. Sixteen good years. Little did I know a tsunami was forming beneath the placid surface of our marriage. A tsunami that reached land one afternoon when I received the following text message:
"I am sorry to be such a coward leaving you this way but I am leaving you and leaving the state."
The warning sirens never sounded.
That was the last I ever heard from him. The knot of marriage untied with the swiftness of a guillotine, leaving me afloat in a sea of despair and confusion. My body and mind revolted from my new reality. My limbs were racked with tremors, my mind torn asunder with the pain. A shock and awe attack coordinated and executed by my husband.
Instead of spending that weekend at the coast as we had planned, I spent the weekend honing my Internet sleuthing abilities, discovering that he had accumulated unknown debt and wiped the accounts clean and committed felony bigamy just six days after abandoning the marriage. I lost everything with that text message. I was without my husband, my dogs, my home, my savings, my health, my sanity. I was facing the reality that the man I had loved for half my life was a stranger. A stranger who had kept me calm through carefully crafted deceptions, soothing me with velvet-trimmed lies told with soft breath into my trusting ears.
For a time, I raged. How could he do that to me? How could he try so hard to try to destroy me? Telling me how much he loved me while buying a wedding ring for his wife with my paycheck? I felt victimized. Betrayed. I looked to the courts for vengeance and justice and felt anger when it did not materialize.
The divorce was an unwanted gift, sitting unopened in the center of my life. I realized that I could either leave it there, a big ugly box blocking me from moving on, or I could unwrap it and find a way to make it beautiful. I chose the latter.
I began to unwrap that package, tentatively at first, becoming bolder as time passed. He may have sent that present to disguise a bomb, but I would be damned if I let its detonation continue any further. I looked for purpose and meaning in each item as I pulled it out. Where at first I felt grief and sadness for all that I had lost, I began to appreciate what I had. I had amazing friends and family that rallied around me, even provided me with a home for the first year. I had to work to regain my health, giving me gratitude for each weight lifted, each mile run, as it brought me closer to regaining my strength. I looked at all of the "I can'ts" that used to fill my life and hold me back with fear. They seemed so silly now. It turns out I can do so many things I was afraid to attempt before. I examined all the long hours I had logged at work over the years. Time I could have spent with friends. With my husband. I vowed to find balance in my new life and not be a slave to the job.
I learned that a hard edge and stubborn spirit can only get you so far. I began to see the wisdom in acceptance, surrendering to discomfort. Softness is not in opposition to strength; it supports it. Where I used to see my ex as some malevolent demon, "el esposo diablo," I began to see him as a hurt, fearful child cowering in a corner. Compassion seeped into the anger, softening its edges and allowing me to downshift. I learned to breathe, finding air through meditation and yoga. Anxiety, which had been a constant companion, was slowly replaced with a calmer mind.
I have had so many new experiences since my marriage ended. I took advantage of my surprise singlehood and spent a whirlwind three months playing Match Madness, learning about the dating world from scratch. I made new friends, learned how to cook and ran my first race. I learned to enjoy watching sports (it turns out a baseball game is good for more than just getting a tan) and ride on the back of a motorcycle (sorry, mom). This gift has allowed me to see the world anew, childlike eyes in a 34-year-old woman.
The hardest part of learning to see my divorce as a gift was letting go of expectations. I thought that I would be married forever; I fully bought into the whole "till death do us part." Finding myself parted and nowhere near dead, I had to release that assumption, that dream. I have learned that happiness is found through acceptance rather than control and that letting go of the past and imagined future makes today a better place to be.
I could have easily crawled inside that box and lived the rest of my life defined by its walls, staying hurt and angry. No one would have blamed me for that. I had no choice about what he did, but I had the power to not let his choice control the rest of my life. I chose to see my divorce as a gift, a present that has allowed me to live my life with purpose and joy. I have decided to own this unwanted gift, using my story to help others along their own journeys. It is a present that I would like to regift to you.