This story is a continuation of Life After Divorce Part I – The Uncomfortable Truth
Year by year, my life after divorce started to fall into place. It took a tremendous amount of reflection, self-care, trust, and belief to get there.
I re-learned how to become an independent woman again after years of being codependent on my ex-husband. Slowly, I expanded my circle of friendships by forcing myself to be more social. With little previous travel adventures, I enriched my life with cultural experiences by traveling. I grounded myself financially by building up a solid career. I opened myself up to finding love again and allowed myself to date without feeling guilty that I was doing something wrong.
Each year has brought with it a varying amount of happiness layered with sorrow as my heart tried to navigate a world, bruised and battered. I’ve had to uncover many lingering issues and address those before I knew my heart would be full and ready again for another waiting on the other side.
The Beginning and Middle of Life After Divorce
The First Year of Life after Divorce
The first year of life after divorce, I moved into an empty apartment in San Diego not really knowing anyone in the city. Days would go by not wanting to get out of bed. I thought If I slept, maybe my mind would finally turn off for a blissful second. My mind couldn’t stop the ruminations of old memories. I questioned the past decisions I had made and I tried to make sense of it all. Unfortunately, I found little solace in the arms of other men.
Our dog Titan developed cancer and no longer lived as the happy-go-lucky-puppy he once was. My ex-husband and I held each other’s hands as we had made the hard decision to put him down. Slowly, the doctor inserted the medication that laid Titan to rest. We spread his ashes on top of his favorite mountain where he loved to hike with us.
The Second Year
I made new friends and learned I can surprisingly run more than one mile at a time. I took my first solo travel adventure overseas to Europe enjoying the historic sites and savoring the cultural aspects of European city life.
Little glimpses of hope to find love again appeared. I dated someone with potential who was smart, ambitious, and interesting. Unfortunately, my ‘emotional baggage’ left landmines where he didn’t know which one he was going to set off. After six months, we decided to go our separate ways. It was too early to date. I wasn’t ready, not even close.
One night, I received a random call from my ex-husband. After some small chit-chat, a long pause lingered. Then he asked me to say what he needed to hear, to say that it’s over between us so he could move on. I told him it’s been over. It had to be although I wasn’t certain 100% at that point if I truly believed it. I missed him. I missed us. Then he hung up. I sat confused.
The Third Year
I’ve built up a good career and became debt-free. It’s an amazing feeling not to owe any money to anyone. I paid off my student loans from my MBA program. I started to build up financial savings to buy a house again.
Then one day at work, I received a call from a recruiter. I turned out to be a job reference to my ex-husband who applied to law enforcement jobs back in Utah. The recruiter asked about his character — if he was trustworthy, loyal, etc. I said he was a great guy. He cared and protected not only me but family, friends, and even strangers. Our marriage just didn’t work out for multiple other reasons.
The recruiter proceeded to ask me another question, how was his relationship with his new wife. I choked up. I barely was able to respond that I didn’t know. My voice felt trapped inside, barely caring to squeak out a whisper. He’s remarried. A flood of emotions came rushing back in and tears rolled down my face as I grappled with the truth.
How was he able to fall in love again so quickly when it took us seven years to get married? I didn’t long for my ex-husband. The longing was for the love we once had. I wanted to love and to be loved again with the same passion, romance, and sweetness as once before. At the same time, I wanted a love that was different. A love that is stronger, more resilient, and richer with experiences that aligned for both of us and not just one.
The Fourth Year
I’m in an unhealthy relationship with someone I shouldn’t be with. He’s not good for me and I’m not good for him but I don’t know how to get out. I needed to get out of the abusive relationship but for some reason, I stayed in it.
During this time, my dad passed away at 65 years old. He smoked heavily and died from lung cancer. His pale, fragile body laid weightless in his bed, a glimpse of the man he once was. I didn’t truly know who this man once was anyways. This man left our family when I was 15 years old after my parents divorced.
Also during this time, my ex-husband and I decided to catch up face-to-face. We were both back in Utah visiting at the same time. At some point, the topic turned to kids. He mentioned he and his wife were actively trying to get pregnant. The color from my face disappeared as I sat in disbelief and confusion by his words. We divorced because he no longer wanted children and to hear he changed his mind, shattered my heart once again. I tried to keep my composure as best as I could. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
The next day, I sat quietly in the car as my sister drove me to the airport. She asked me if everything was okay. Before I could say a word, I broke down sobbing. I couldn’t catch my breath as the tears filled every ounce of me. My heart felt betrayed, stabbed over and over again. She turned the car around and took me to my older brother’s house nearby. I fell heavily onto the sofa and let all the emotions come rushing in.
The Fifth Year
I’m better now. I made it out of the unhealthy relationship but now have new issues to deal with.
Another random call from my ex-husband, by this time I should have blocked his number. I can’t continue to go on these emotional roller coasters but for some reason, I still put myself through them. He expressed his condolences for my dad’s passing. He understood how difficult a time this must be for me with his dad also no longer with him.
A young teenager fatally shot his dad on the streets of Oakland as he protected his friend from an armed robbery. The events of his dad’s death led him down the career path of law enforcement. He wanted to protect other people, especially children. He didn’t want anyone else to go through the same traumatic experience he had endured.
His voice trembled and started to tear up. A younger teenager fatally killed his aunt at her restaurant in Oakland in an attempted robbery. He was angry at himself for not being there to protect his family and prevent the shooting from happening. He lived on the east coast at the time. He succumbed to an overwhelming sense of guilt for not being there for his family. His niece and nephew now had to grieve the loss of a parent like he once had.
I mentioned he couldn’t be there, how could he have known that this was going to happen. There was nothing he could do more than what he’s already done. He has protected and influenced other people’s lives throughout his career. I reminded him of his beginnings as a juvenile youth counselor and all the youth he has helped to change their lives around. He has done his share of serving others at a young age beyond what most of us would do in a lifetime.
The Sixth Year
Dating is hard and I just want to give up on love. I wondered if I am programmed to attract unhealthy relationships since that was all that seemed to come my way. I would recognize red flags in men but for some reason chose to ignore them anyway.
Men who weren’t ready. Men who drank too much. Men who were self-centered. You name the type of man and I’ve run into him or at least know a friend who has.
So I decided to focus that effort on letting my creative endeavors get some air time. Amazingly, I felt energy rush back to me as I switched my attention into areas that brought me unconditional happiness through writing, painting, nurturing relationships with family and friends, staying active outdoors, and being of service to others.
The Seventh Year
The COVID pandemic hit. Life would never be the same as we all learn to navigate a new normal in the midst of uncertain times. I have started to realize life was pretty damn good before the pandemic. I may have taken the simple daily activities like going out to eat, out to a movie, or grabbing a drink with friends for granted. As the world changed, so did many of us in it.
I decided to leave my well-respected job and move back to Utah to be closer to family. I spent time really reflecting on what was important to me during these unprecedented moments, including living an intentional life. If I’m honest with myself, part of the reason why I didn’t move back earlier was that the thought of running into my ex-husband again would be difficult to deal with. At the same time, I didn’t want the chance possibility to deter me from being with family.
The Call that Set Me Free
Another call. This time, my ex-husband mentioned he received a transfer and was moving back to Utah. I could only laugh at the universe’s timing in where we were both are moving back home at around the same time.
We landed on the kid conversation again. When we were together, I wanted a family but I felt devastated when he changed his mind. He said he remembers my perspective differently and said I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids because I was still figuring out what I wanted in my career. Then he said that he changed his mind again during our marriage and actually wanted to have kids together. He felt like we could raise amazing children to positively influence and contribute to the world. He also mentioned he didn’t want to have kids with me and have me resent him or the kids when I was uncertain.
I didn’t remember his change of heart. It’s funny how our memories of the past differ so greatly in the one area that broke our marriage. It made me realize how much we thought we knew of each other but didn’t. We did not communicate well with each other about our needs, wants, and desires which ultimately cracked any future foundation we would have had.
After the heated exchange, we both took a moment to breathe. I knew my ex-husband would be a great father and it’s likely he is one right now. I don’t know and I’m okay with that. What I do know was that he and I shared a life together for more than a decade. We had an amazing run at it and have become better people because of each other’s love. I expressed I felt happy for him and how he finally gets to be back with his family. We acknowledged we are both incredible people who would always love each other on some level. Then, we said our goodbyes.
Immediately, I felt the heaviness release of what I carried with me for many years. I let go of the past which no longer served me. It hadn’t for so long but I held onto it because, in the familiar, I felt comfort. I walked along an unfamiliar path for years, and up until now, I thought I was lost. I wasn’t lost. Through all the years, I needed to find parts of myself that I left behind but forgotten to carry me forward into the journey ahead in life after divorce.
After seven years, I finally felt truly free.
Life After Divorce is a Life Well-Lived
Life after divorce is a long and lonely road. The amount of time we walk alone is up for us to decide. For some people, divorce is a clean and simple cut from the past. They move forward in their lives towards a new future much more quickly. For others like myself, deep internal work is required to fully cleanse the mind, body, and soul of issues that hinders us to be ready to take that first step to truly love again. Divorce is like going through hell and back. We are all survivors and a better version of ourselves has emerged on the other side.
Life after divorce is a life well-lived. We savor the moments with each other a little longer than before. We appreciate others a little more for who they are. We admire ourselves a little more for who we’ve become. We realize how delicate time is and understand people come into our lives for a reason, season, or a lifetime.
Let our Hearts Play Once Again
Many people who know me have asked if I regret getting a divorce or if getting a divorce was a mistake.
I wasn’t ready for love. My marriage followed by my divorce proved to be the greatest teacher I could ever have. Through all the heartache, pain, and suffering I have found lasting love with the only person I could. I fell in love with myself.
No matter the future relationships that come and go and for the one that finally stays, my heart and happiness no longer rest in the hands of another. It sits securely in my hands where I can protect, nourish, and love it in all the ways I only truly know how.
One day, when I meet another who has found love within himself and cares for his heart the same, we can release our hearts into the wild to run, dance, and play together. In a place where we no longer have to be scared if our hearts will get lost because they will always remember their way home.
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