Out of the Nest and Into the Fire

I never imagined that in my 50s I would find myself pushed out of my nest -- marriage, family -- and forced to learn how to fly.
06/11/2013 03:34 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

I never imagined that in my 50s I would find myself pushed out of my nest -- marriage, family -- and forced to learn how to fly. I thought I was flying; I got married in my 30s -- I'd been a working woman supporting myself with a solid career in television. I'd lived with loneliness in my 20s and 30s; periods of not dating, focusing on my career, becoming a runner and hiker, studying yoga, enjoying my time as a single woman.

When I did finally get married, I chose someone I love and respected who had similar values. We looked forward to creating a family that would be less dysfunctional than the families we were raised in.

We did create a family that was different -- but it just turned out to be dysfunctional in its own way. Tolstoy said it best, "all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

My husband and I tried to work on our marriage. I watched as so many of our friends' marriages ended. I saw how painful it was and I didn't want us to go through that. But something went wrong. Communication failed. Finally one day, I simply blurted out in a marriage counseling session, "I think we should separate. We're both miserable. Maybe we should just end it."

My husband said, "No! I don't want another divorce." He'd been married twice before. I know, big red flag -- but who doesn't think, it will be different with me.

I felt relief for simply saying the truth. No matter how many marriage counseling sessions we had, we weren't getting anywhere. It may be true for many marriages that if both people are irrationally committed to saving the relationship, it can be saved. But we simply weren't irrational enough.

Acknowledging this, that our souls were dying, that we weren't truly able to be ourselves and love and support each other in the ways that we needed, was the fight. Though on the outside our life looked good, on the inside it was missing an essential ingredient -- the desire to truly be there for each other. Life and circumstances had worn us out and instead of bringing us closer, it had separated us and turned us against each other. We were no longer allies and trusted companions. We were both deeply wounded and looking for someone to blame.

Divorce is rarely easy and ours was like a Greek tragedy with too many lawyers and money wasted, but I guess it was necessary. A line from the movie Greenberg comes to mind: "hurt people hurt people." We were both hurt and we needed to express it. Unable to express it directly anymore, we expressed it through the legal system. I don't recommend it, but it seems to be the way of so many divorces.

And then, eventually - there is life. Forced out of the "safety" of a nest (which wasn't really safe, it just seemed safe) -- I had no choice but to fly. It wasn't easy. I crashed. As I've written before, at the same time as my divorce, I lost my mother, my 21-year-old daughter moved 3,000 miles away, my job ended, and I had to move with two dogs - so at first, I simply allowed myself to fall apart. This is not uncommon. Sometimes we lose everything we believe is important and in the process we discover what truly is important. Grief became my companion and in the "falling apart" I began to come together. Stronger, more empathetic, more alive, more willing to take risks, to feel -- to show feelings that I once wouldn't even allow myself to feel.

I gave up control and cried, read, meditated, sat with the feelings, did everything imperfectly. My desire to look like I had it all together was long gone. I didn't have it all together and one of my most memorable moments was being taken out to lunch by my women's group for my birthday and crying throughout most of the meal. I remember how kind -- or kindly tolerant - our waiter was. I remember that feeling of love and humanity -- how touched I was and how good it felt to cry with those women who all knew about loss and sadness and grief.

Through the years of struggle to get back on my feet, I've found a spiritual center that doesn't eliminate fear, but has given me a place to come back to whenever life feels really hard. Because life is hard. You may not really know this until later in your life, but if you've ever lost anyone you really love, you learn it. Divorce, death, and trying to find myself again has been one of the toughest assignments I've ever faced, but also the most valuable. I don't have everything neatly tied up in a bow -- I haven't fallen in love again, my career is slowly coming together but not in a straight line, it's the life of a writer and a teacher -- not exactly secure, but genuinely satisfying.

Viktor Frankl wrote Man's Search for Meaning after surviving one of the more profound encounters with human darkness - being a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In this acclaimed book, Frankl says that when we identify our purpose in life and can immerse ourselves in it, we feel more positively about both ourselves and our lives. My case, while having no comparison to Frankl's, is related in the sense that I needed to find meaning in my life. Without meaning we die.

Leaving my marriage forced me into growing and writing about the experience -- which has given my life a deeper sense of understanding. It has been painful -- it has awakened feelings, from sadness to joy -- to deep connections -- and empathy for so many others who know loss and struggle, and who ultimately emerge from difficult situations -- and learn how to fly.