This bonus chapter is sort of like “the director’s cut” in a movie. I originally intended for this to be the first chapter in the book. When I was thinking about writing “Falling Apart” I knew that a lot of people would think my story didn’t count, since I had a big career and financial stability. I mean, what could possibly be hard in divorce for me if I wasn’t going to be in financial ruin at the end of it all? But that was just the point: I had it “good”-with a spouse who was trying to be kind most of the time as he ended our marriage, with a job that afforded (and actually required) me to have a fulltime nanny, with supportive parents and friends. But that’s exactly the point: I’d had it good, and even I was totally surprised and undone by the hurt and pain and confusion of it all. And, more important, that by making divorce all about money and who’s “right” and “wrong”, we are actually hiding the stories of loss and grieving and heartbreak that would help us all move through divorce without creating damage that lasts for years after the relationship is long gone.
So originally, I thought I would greet my readers and potential naysayers with a disclaimer, that I would just go ahead and list all the reasons people might say my story shouldn’t count, just to get it out of the way. (Careful readers will recognize some of the sentences and paragraphs that made it into the book.) Here’s that chapter:
My divorce hurt. I am sure your divorce hurt more. I was lucky. I made all the money. I had financial independence. I had confidence. I had a secure career (if not a secure job). I had a husband who wanted me to understand, even as he took the air from my lungs. I had friends. I had parents who could help me fix up the house I had to sell. I had parents who could loan me money to fix up the house I had to sell. I had brothers and sisters-in-law who gave me love and support and who tried to help me make sense of it all. I had my education. I had a plan. I’m an adrenaline addict and so I have an unusually high tolerance for stress. I can keep 37 thoughts in my head at the same time and not get overwhelmed.
I had a job where I could cry the days I needed to. I worked for a company that trusted me to be in charge. I had three of the best girlfriends a woman could ask for in my office every day, who let me live the pain out loud when I needed to. (And let me ignore it the days I couldn’t.) My ex didn’t walk away from our son. My ex didn’t use our son against me. My son was so young I didn’t have to try to find words to explain to him the terrible thing that was happening. (My son was so young that every time I thought about it, I became nauseous that my ex could walk away from him, so tender and new.) My ex didn’t abuse me. My ex didn’t taunt me. My ex didn’t stalk me. My ex didn’t steal from me. My ex didn’t cheat on me. My ex didn’t make up a hundred bullshit reasons for why he left. My ex didn’t want to make it all my fault. My ex didn’t marry 6 months after he left. My ex didn’t fall into a new relationship 6 weeks after he left. My ex didn’t use a new woman in his life to simply erase all that we didn’t understand about what went wrong between us. I got to ask questions. I got to share years of hidden pain with him as it surfaced. I got to call him, screaming and crying, the nights I was so stricken with grief and anger that I thought I would have to throw myself out a window, the night the cat we adopted the week after we married peed on all my old college photos, as if making the point that any dream I’d ever had back then of having a happy life was a miserable joke.
I am freakishly resilient. I am a relentless optimist. I always think the glass is half full, even when it’s empty.
In other words, I had everything.
Nothing can compare to your pain. Nothing can compete with how much everything hurts for you right now. The details of your breakup will always be worse than mine. Because it is yours. I don’t want to be an example. I don’t think I did it all right. I made mistakes, I was weak, I was mean, I screamed and yelled, I had two days when I really, truly wanted to be dead rather than feel what I was feeling. But I made it.
And I didn’t make it by feeling nothing. I made it by feeling everything.
So know that I know I had it good. But also know that I didn’t write this book because of that. I wrote it because the night I was laying on my kitchen floor, wailing the primal wail that comes from a place deeper inside you than you ever knew existed, I knew I was alone in a way that terrified me. I knew my friends and family, with all their love and best wishes, couldn’t help me. All I wanted was to hear from someone who knew, really knew, how dark and hard and scary it can get. And I want this book to be that for you. Because I was there. Because even now, four years away from the shock of it all, [ed note: seven years now] I still can’t quite compute how terrifying it all was. And I made it. And you will too.
I hope this book gives you comfort when the fear is so big you think you will cease to breathe.
I hope this book gives you comfort when you think your entire sense of self is falling apart. (Because it is, it is—and there is nothing anyone can do to help you with that. Not even this book.)
I hope this book gives you proof that, as impossible as it may seem, you can actually come together stronger and more sure of yourself after you fall apart. I remember the agony of feeling like my life (just this life, just this life I am living right now; there is another life waiting for me—I might not want it, but it’s coming for me anyway) was ending.
This story isn’t because I’m right, because I was hurt the most, because I’m so bleeping smart, because of anything. This story is because I believe, I really, truly believe, that anger—at your ex, at life, at g-d, at the house that leaks, the dishes that are dirty, at the lying liar and all the lying lies he told you, at whatever particular, unspeakable details make up your own divorce story—will keep you from feeling everything you need to let go of anger and be free.
That is just one of the lessons I learned on my journey through divorce. I stumbled across these lessons like so many river stones tossed on the shore, quieting thoughts coughed up out of the endless roil and thunder that filled my head in those two dark years. I picked them up and played with them in my head, the way a hand will worry stones in a pocket, their gentle weight keeping me earthbound when I felt my entire identity was exploding into the air in a jillion pieces. Even though they give me comfort, some of the lessons aren’t easy. When I found myself for the fourth or fifth time lying on my kitchen floor, crying away another night at home trying to figure out how I was going to start over, I realized that no army of friends was going to be able to meet me in my alone.
Slowly it dawned me that I didn’t need an army, no matter how many ways our world wants to make divorce the ultimate battle. Because what I wanted on the other side of all this pain wasn’t to win, to be “right,” to be the one who was “wronged”; what I wanted was peace. I decided I was going to use all this terrible learning to start to understand who I really was, to love and forgive myself my failures, to move beyond the crushing heartbreak of dashed dreams to trust myself again.
That is why I wrote this book. To meet you on the kitchen floor. To look you in the eye and say, “I know.”
I hope this book gives you hope. And faith in love. Love in yourself most of all.