During this time of uncertainty, we’ve all been afforded either the luxury or the burden of time with our thoughts. We’ve been forced to turn our attention from an external environment of constant movement to an internal state of solitude reflection. Most of us have built up piles of old thoughts, beliefs, and ideas that may or may not be of any value in this new normal way of living. I had to define a new normal way of living many times including life after divorce.
Over the years, each small piece transforms a speck of sand into a towering mountain. The pieces that have nourished us continue to add beauty to the mountain. The pieces that deplete us carve out flaws in the mountain. I consider the time of solitude as a gift. It’s a raw opportunity to sift through the clutter and leave the past behind while still carrying forward the lessons and releasing the old burdens.
So I sifted and sorted. I hated it. It was like finally taking a peek under the safety blanket I wrapped around myself long ago — a blanket I thought was protecting me but had weighed me down for years. As I explored my feelings, emotions, and desires I felt strikingly anxious and fearful. My past continued to haunt me and not fully owning my experiences and shutting down my voice added to the suffering.
All I wanted to do was distract myself from my shadow side, to run far away from it instead of facing it. My tiny legs could only run so far before I realized to truly heal, I no longer could hide. I needed to go through the memories, experiences, and pain. Here is my story about my life after divorce.
Life After Divorce: The Calm Before the Storm
It was a peaceful fall day in October. The autumn leaves fell gently from the sky as I stared outside the window from inside the lawyer’s office. The leaves looked so calm, whimsical, and light. We sat quietly. This would be the last time we would be in the same room together as husband and wife.
As I held the pen in my fingers, I wondered how many marriages had been struck to their end with it. A simple signature on a thin black line and our marriage was over after eleven years together. Life after divorce ticked its first second. It was a strange feeling to know this man who had been a part of most of my life would no longer be a part of the rest of it.
We walked out of the office holding each other’s hands, now facing life after divorce. We still cared for each other deeply but could no longer love each other. Our core differences surfaced over the last couple of years of our marriage and we agreed it was best to walk away now.
My First True Love
I married my first true love. The innocence, excitement, and passion behind our conversations were nothing I’ve ever felt before. Being in his arms felt like home. Comforting. Warm. Loving. We fell in love with each other instantly.
Our first date involved grabbing late-night food on a Saturday at a Wendy’s drive-thru. I may have double-booked that night and already had dinner plans so he ordered for just him. As we drove up to the window, the cashier handed him his food. He set his drink down in the middle console. I unwrapped his straw and slipped it into his soda.
For a brief moment, he looked at me with his soft brown eyes. I asked what he was staring at. He shook his head, smiled, and said nothing. This was the moment he recounts he knew I was different. I did the small things that mattered which meant more than the grand gestures we idealize in all the romantic movies.
We took the food back to his place and sat close on a wooden bench overlooking the city night skyline. He noticed me shivering and grabbed a blanket to cover me up. This was the moment I knew he was different. Gently, I rested my head on his shoulder. The radiant moon turned into a beautiful sunrise as hours passed by in minutes as we talked the night away.
The Beginning, Middle, and End of Us
The First Year in a Relationship
The first year, we moved in together into a small one-bedroom apartment outfitted with hand-me-down furniture. We learned how to adjust as best as possible to living with another person. We lived in a rough neighborhood because that’s what we could afford. Police sirens were a familiar sound echoing around our place, day and night. Even though we had very little, we were very happy.
The Second Year
We scraped up enough money and bought a three-bedroom house together in a slightly better neighborhood. We both worked hard and made the finances work although money was tight. Naturally, we didn’t look for help from our families although they would have helped without hesitation. We wanted the place to be our own and wanted even more than that. So we extended our love and welcomed a boxer dog named Titan to the family. He added chaos, character, and laughter to our household.
The Third Year
He landed in a horrible motorcycle accident and was life-flighted to the hospital. I received a heart-wrenching phone call from the doctor as I was at work. I stood in disbelief and confusion, unsure what to do. My co-workers had to tell me I needed to go to the hospital to be with him. I walked into the hospital room and hardly recognized him with the stark white neck brace, both arms in slings and legs as well. With tears rolling down my cheeks I softly hugged and kissed him. Our love pushed us through the challenging days, nights, and weeks of recovery. He recovered but never fully.
The Fifth Year
We traveled to Vietnam together where both our families are from. He swerved in and out of traffic on the Honda motorcycle with me grasping his waist. My eyes were held tightly closed to avoid witnessing any of the craziness of cars, Hondas, bicycles, and pedestrians trying to navigate around each other.
We talked more seriously about getting married and starting a family. I was accepted into law school at Seattle University, but after many restless nights decided not to go. Honestly, I didn’t know if our relationship could survive the long-distance and I was afraid to leave him. I waited so long for him, how could I let him go? How could I let myself go? My love for him won out over love for myself. There’s no doubt that I wonder about how different life would have been if I did become a lawyer. There are some things I will never know and that’s okay. This is one of life’s important lessons I’ve learned.
The Sixth Year
We were engaged. It took him a second or two to finally pop the question. He had the perfect place picked out but I had other thoughts. We enjoyed a nice meal at a restaurant overlooking a beautiful view of the snow-capped canyons. As we walked out towards the car, he wanted to check out the gazebo with a view of a waterfall. I shivered in my dress in the brisk cold and refused to go. I could tell he was disappointed but I just wanted to be warm in the car. He said he would carry me. I still refused. Looking back, I wish I wouldn’t have been so stubborn about something he wanted. This was another important lesson. Eventually, he gave in and we walked back to the car.
He planned a sled ride for us and was going to pop the question then, but I shook my head as he reached for his pocket. I didn’t feel like it was the right place. Finally, as we ended the night strolling hand-in-hand in a park, we walked across a stone bridge with a creek flowing underneath us. He got down on one knee and said he should have made me an honest woman a long time ago. He would be honored if I would be his wife. I smiled and said yes.
The Seventh Year
We finally got married. We sealed our love for each other in a wedding celebration with family and friends. He never looked so happy then in the moments after the wedding festivities came to an end. Exhausted, we fell into each other’s arms in our comfortable bed. We looked in each other’s eyes, smiled, and whispered I love you. He gave me his famous triple kiss: one gently on the forehead, the nose, and on the lips before falling asleep.
The Ninth Year
He moved to California to pursue a new career in federal law enforcement. I stayed in Utah to pursue my MBA. We navigated a long-distance marriage as best we could. After graduation, I moved with him to a small town near the Mexico border. I felt trapped in the sweltering heat, barren desert landscape, and lifeless town. We continued conversations about having a family and went back and forth on the topic if we wanted kids. Later on, the conversation would change if we really should have kids in this environment.
The Tenth Year
We laid miserable in our separate corners of the bed for many sleepless nights. Our days were no longer filled with pockets of happiness. Instead, they were full of doubts. I wondered what type of decisions we had made to end up with a life complicated by a career that served only him. So many days I longed to move back to be with family and friends. I longed to have a career and honestly a life where I pursued my dreams as well. I longed to be part of a world that didn’t always revolve around him.
The Eleventh Year
We divorced. Life after divorce never would be the same. I slammed the front door shut after a heated argument with him. We had always wanted kids – or at least that was the understanding I had. I knew I wanted kids with him because our kids would possess character within them that I admired so dearly in him. His generosity, determination, strength, compassion, and many other qualities.
He, later on, would change his mind about wanting kids. From all the abuse, neglect, and terror he witnessed in his work with law enforcement, he didn’t want to bring children into this kind of world. I believed we could raise an incredible family to make a significant impact not only on our lives but on others as well.
The argument left tears streaming down my face as I jumped in my car and sped off. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind on why I continued suffering in this hell. I had given up my entire life to be with him. I moved away from my family, friends, and career. My everything was him. My mind throbbed, grappling with this upside-down fairy tale.
I rolled down the window for some fresh air, but the air lingered with the smell of rancid sewer water from the crop field. I came to a stop sign right in front of rusted railroad tracks up ahead. A strange but comforting thought crossed my mind. What would happen if I ran the stop sign? Let fate take me in her hands. For a split-second, life had no purpose. I had no purpose. I moved out in the middle of the desert to be with him but I no longer recognized him. More frightening than that, I no longer recognized myself.
I let someone else be the source of my happiness. Without thinking, I handed the key over so easily when I should have guarded this sacred gift with all my being. I sacrificed the core of myself for someone else and lost my soul along the way. My spirit felt no longer tied to this universe. It didn’t belong. I didn’t belong. But I didn’t let fate dictate my life that night or any others, I needed to. Slowly, I lifted my feet off the gas pedal and turned around. I drove back home knowing that our marriage was over.
The Reality of Life After Divorce
My divorce has been one of the most traumatic and painful experiences I’ve gone through. The experience has ripped my heart in ways where the pieces would never seam back fully together again. I’ve accepted life after divorce, and in the process, I have learned beauty can exist in the ugliness of scars. I had imagined the intricate details of a future shared with my ex-husband and then in an instant, those dreams completely shattered.
Divorce has left emotional and mental issues of abandonment, resentment, anger, and others that leave me still shaking years after although not as much nowadays. I was not prepared to deal with the messy aftermath of facing the next chapter of my life alone. I’ve had to do a lot of internal reflection and self-care to work through these deep-rooted issues throughout the years. The fact that my parents divorced when I was fifteen didn’t help. My dad disappeared into a new life without his children in the picture. Another story for another day.
Let the Healing Begin
Life after divorce wasn’t easy at first. I sought therapy years after my divorce which I should have done soon after we signed the papers. Although therapy helped me better understand past issues, the sessions didn’t give me full awareness of ways to move forward. So I turned to a spiritual guidance coach to integrate a different approach to unblock my challenges.
Through these sessions, we uncovered the deep-rooted beliefs and issues that were holding me back. Instead of running away from them which I had done for years, I needed to face them head-on. I worked through self-doubt, insecurities, and questions to forgive others and truly let go. Slowly, I shredded the security blanket that had been weighing me down instead of protecting me. I still have emotional triggers but have learned to build resilience to not let these moments affect me for too long. I no longer allow myself to travel down the emotional spiral that once broke me.
It took time, but I found hope in the darkest of moments. It was now time to rebuild my life with my own two hands.
Read part two of this article here.
A version of this article originally appeared on www.kimntnguyen.com.
Kim Nguyen is the author of In and Out of Love (Little Sunflower Press 2020), a book of love poems for the hopeless romantics and heartbroken (but hopeful) lovers. She’s created a richer and more beautiful life after divorce full of joy, purpose, and daydreams. She is committed to inspiring others to live life with simplicity and mindfulness. www.kimntnguyen.com