I got off the plane and in the car with 6 other women, perfect strangers. I was in Nebraska, a state I’d never been before nor expected to ever go. I was there as the keynote speaker for the women’s retreat, Jumping Tandem. Given the nature of my previous three years, keynoting was also unexpected. Quite. My heart contained all the feels. Wait, let me clarify: my heart contained all the wrong feels…
…I am divorced, therefore horrible.
…I am dating someone new, very seriously, and I am So Incredibly Happy, therefore horrible.
…I am the only woman who’s ever been divorced & moved on quickly, therefore alone…and horrible to boot.
The 6 of us chatted for awhile and I calmed a bit. We stopped for lunch and I sat across a genuinely sweet woman. I asked why she and her husband waited so long in between her oldest teen and the youngest kiddos all under 5. “Oh,” she said with a lighthearted smile, “I switched husbands.” I squirmed a little, knowing I too, was in the process of switching husbands myself.
I wanted to stand and kiss her on the cheek for such a brave show of transparency without doing the thing a lot of women usually do. We start by berating ourselves and our horrible choices and the self-deprecation rolls down not like justice but like thick, dirty molasses to the point it’s generally uncomfortable. (Kind of like how I started this post).
I felt alone in so many ways, and then she casually flung open the door of everything that still felt terribly taboo in my soul: divorce, but mostly remarriage, i.e. switching husbands.
After I left my ex, I didn’t go to any divorce support groups. Dunno, maybe I should have. I didn’t connect with enough other women who at the time I felt understood my specific issues and the specific issues my ex and I faced. Without feeling anyone could relate (falsely) it was easy to believe no one else coped the way I did.
Surely, no other woman had left and moved on as quickly as I did, because look, I ain’t even finna hold y’all up, I shook the dust off and kept right on steppin’. I met my current husband 8 months after I left my ex and we got married 8 months after that. When I walked away from from my ex, I’d either left or been left by major chunks of three giant communities we’d been a part of: work, church, and mutual friends. I felt the compounding losses acutely. The pain wasn’t merely the dashed dreams of a failed 15 year marriage, (though that pain itself is nearly unbearable) but quite literally the loss of each giant community I’d once been a part of. I was a woman in heavy oppressive transition.
I pulled a blow torch out on my life. As my friend Jean says, “you burned that shit to the ground.” I did. I burned everything to the ground. Some of it dying, withered and desperate for the redemption of death, needed the heat of the torch. The rest of the slow burn was reactionary, fear-based and regretful. There were 5,000 angles and I couldn’t get a good grip on the torch. So I huffed and I puffed and burned it all down. Boom.
There were far too many complexities for anyone outside of my immediate inner circle to understand the what, why or how. Probably, and most notably, because I myself, didn’t even understand exactly what was going on for sometime. And still sometimes I think, what in the actual? People don’t have patience to watch you fumble with your lit torch. No one wants to be burned, I understand that.
This conference was the first time I stood in front of people to explain my part. Only my part. And only what I understood up to that point. I didn’t go into anything at all about why my 15 year marriage imploded except for the standard answer I’ve given anyone brave enough to directly ask: “We were emotionally abusive to one another in uniquely dysfunctional ways and there was not a single area of our life that had not became toxic. Not one. I was beyond tired. After several years of exasperated despair, I’d broke. There was a straw. And a camel’s back. And a broken, tired woman who snapped. And instead of just leaving, I went ahead and pulled out the blow torch, because after trying to leave peacefully for a couple of years, I suppose somewhere deep down I believed only torching it the ground would grant the freedom I desperately longed for. There were far too many years of poison to resurrect normalcy. (Not that I had an iota of patience for the attempt). For the poison I brought which added to our toxicity, I take 100% responsibility.” That’s what I would tell you if you asked me in person. That’s the simplified version.
But I wasn’t there to tell any of *that* story. I was there to tell what happened when I pulled the blow torch out. I wanted to say what I’d done and how I’d snapped and that while we were divorcing God’s grace was big, and wide and all encompassing and how it wrapped me up, held, comforted and kept me. That’s the story I was there to tell. I was there to to talk about my end of the poison.
But you can’t tell a story like that without the shame demons crawling all over your back. Even in a repentant state. It’s itchy and uncomfortable. The shame demons delight in making you feel alone. It’s probably orgasmic to them. Who on earth isn’t plagued by the shame demons, wrestled to the ground by guilt and ultimately TKO’ed by ensuing despair? No one honest.
When she told me she switched husbands I rattled off something I can’t remember, too happy to hear in this one instance I was not alone. In this one instance of my present day reality, I was not the only divorcee at the lunch table and I was not the only who’d ever get remarried.
At that moment, I wanted her to know she was not alone. She was not the only one who’d ever switched husbands or will ever switch husbands. But I said nothing of her incredibly meaningful and generous gesture of truth. I smiled. We chatted.
A couple months later, I was proposed to and then married. We are now expecting. I switched husbands in less than 2 calendar years. My time-frame was my time-frame, not an example. Not advice for other women in similar circumstances. It is nothing more than a nod and a revelation to what I’ve been through and still deal with.
I understood the nay-saying. The doubty-doubtersons. I gave time and space to each and every one who offered an honest opinion whether in person, via text, Vox or Messenger. I did what I could to extend explanation—as I understood it—at just about every point. I’ve never denied my brokenness, and I’ve never denied myself help nor hope for the 18 ongoing years that I’ve consciously wrestled with all manner of the demons.
I do not recommend switching husbands, please hear me loud and clear. This is my story. I own this narrative and do not present it as blueprint. Life happens, and after mistakes we try to make the best of life’s absolute f-ckery of which divorce sits easily in a top-ten list. We try to carve out hope for ourselves just as surely as I believe most of us are doing the best we can with what we have.
I am grateful that oftentimes there is beauty after the ashes. Life with my new husband reminds me daily of this reality.
With him, I feel our humanity deeply and beautifully entangled always beckoning towards hope. I do not hesitate to follow its lead.
[Image via: Grace Sandra]