There will always be holes in my life. I feel them, yes—holidays, family reunions, looking through old photos, even when I use the coffee pot we bought together—but that doesn’t mean I haven’t moved on. It doesn’t mean I dwell in those holes.
I spent 31 years—exactly half my life—being married, and those years shouldn’t be erased, so I try to remember the good times fondly and learn from the not-so-good times. I want my adult daughter to do the same. It would be nice if my ex did, too.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Ways to Look at the Past
Dwelling on the past isn’t healthy, but remembering it is. According to psychotherapist Christopher Cobb, “Good mental health is feeling and behaving appropriately to your current situation in life. It IS NOT about feeling good all the time (this is called addiction). For example, if you lose someone close to you, then feeling sad and grieving is appropriate and considered good mental health—even though you do not ‘feel good’ at this time. It is the right set of feelings appropriate to your current situation.”
He goes on to say, “Conversely, someone who is chronically depressed or anxious—without a here-and-now event that invokes these feelings—is not exhibiting good mental health.” To tell the difference, Cobb recommends, “…checking in with yourself, meaning at some point every day focus inward and conduct a general inventory of how you are feeling and behaving. If you are not sure, ask another person whom you trust for their observation and opinion. See if you are generally aligned with mood, thinking, and behaviors with current situations you are facing.”
I have a need to write about my life—past and present. It’s therapeutic for me, and I encourage others to write, too. It can be a private journal or it can be something you share with others. Besides blogging, my medium is poetry. I wrote a whole book of it during my separation and divorce (Untying the Knot), and still divorce themes pop up in my new poems from time to time. Sharing my story helped me process my feelings and heal, and my poems help others so that’s part of my happy ending.
Children of Divorce Who Are Now Adults
A writer friend of mine, Tina Barry, recently published a book that contains lots of family memories. While my parents were happily married, hers were not, and that hole in her life still shows up in her writing, especially when she writes about growing up. Here’s something from her poetry and short fiction book, Mall Flower. It’s a poem about a moment we all might remember: answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Barry’s father, divorced from her mom, ends up in the last line of the poem, as well as in other pieces in this compelling book.
What We’ll Be
– Tina Barry
In Mrs. Kelly’s fifth-grade class: six firemen three teachers four housewives the first female President two policemen and engineer (the kind that drove a train) twin veterinarians who liked birds but would specialize in horses one fashion model I was the only hippie
I described a wedding I witnessed in a park the bride wore a black dress: hundreds of pleats, an embroidered field of poppies The groom donned denim After the vows, the guests tossed brown rice
I imagined the hippies’ lives: a million sunflowers and three pink babies Their family nothing like mine: One housewife One daughter One salesman long gone.
Here’s what Barry told me when I asked her about her parents’ divorce when she was seven years old: “I rarely think about it; it happened decades ago and was bitter and ugly, full of blame and financial struggle. And yet, when I sit down to write, that time pops right up, as if it’s been lurking under my skin waiting for a chance to surface. I think that kind of submerged experience is true for a lot of children of divorce. We don’t dwell on it, but acknowledge the time and recognize its wounds and how they’ve shaped us.
“In ‘What We’ll Be’ there’s the dichotomy of being a child, with the idealized version of the hippies’ marriage: ‘a million sunflowers/and three pink babies,’ as well as the reality of the not-so-happy ending: ‘One salesman long gone’—children of divorce understand how the two can co-exist.”
Barry went on to tell me something that described my helplessness in the days after my husband left me and how writing helps now. She said, “When my parents’ marriage fell apart, all I could do was watch. Writing, or rewriting my history, gives me the ability, at least on paper, to alter that time, to control that moment. That’s powerful for me.” My feelings exactly.