How to Overcome Abandonment After Separation and Divorce
Last year, I wrote an incredibly hard post on my personal blog.
It was not a piece that I thought I’d ever write or even think about writing.
After I hit “publish” and took a deep breath (yes, I took a breath after publishing), I quickly received an outpour of support and private messages from spouses that had stories similar to mine. These messages also included many “thank you” sentiments for telling my story. They said it helped. They said they felt less alone. They said to keep speaking.
So, I am re-posting the piece today because it’s important I share it here, too. It’s important to share that if you’re in a similar situation, you are not alone in the grief and mountain-climbing that abandonment, separation, or divorce brings. It’s brutal. It’s a slog. It’s life-changing.
The article is below, but before you read it let me tell you this…there is sunlight on the other side. I promise there is. ✨
On December 1, 2017, I was a wife of 19 years and mother of two boys, 17 and 9.
On December 3, 2017, I was suddenly a single mom of two boys, 17 and 9.
In one day’s time, my life was completely flipped upside-down. It was swift and quick, leaving me in confusion and denial.
It was a few weeks before Christmas and my youngest son’s 10th Christmas Eve birthday. And a few months before my oldest would graduate high school and move out of state to college.
In fact, I had just booked a last-minute family trip to Disneyland for the family a week before. Exactly one week before. I stretched my finances to make that trip happen, too. That same week before, it was Thanksgiving and I made our family of four a turkey. One week before.
But there I was on December 3rd, left with the responsibility of raising my sons solo, financially supporting the three of us and our family home, a trip to Disneyland that was too late to cancel, a MAJOR holiday quickly approaching (I hadn’t purchased one single Christmas gift yet), and a big birthday milestone coming up for my youngest son.
And that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
What was coming next would be way worse. Way, way worse.
I didn’t know that I would soon be crushed under the trauma of abandonment and grief.
The details of that day and what has transpired since are a lot. Today’s story is about the abandonment itself, which was the most difficult hurdle for me to jump over. Because you can’t jump over it at all, you gotta climb.
I am not sharing this story in an attempt to gain attention or sympathy. My intentions are far from that. I believe in the power of learning during times of extreme circumstances and using that education to help others during their time of grief and pain.
The lessons I’ve learned in the last 6 months did not come to me in vain, but instead to protect and assist others who are living in hell right now like I was (and still am on some days).
I am grateful that I have the platform and voice to speak these words. And I also understand the incredible responsibility I have to use it for good.
Earlier this year, my friend Alex wrote a post that touched on the trauma (physically and emotionally) that her sudden separation brought. I remember the comfort I felt reading something so close to my personal experience, as I was literally living through it.
Everyone experiences trauma differently. This is only my story. Some of it may relate to you or someone you love going through abandonment and comparable trauma. If so, please know that you are not alone and there is hope.
Here are some of the symptoms I experienced early on after abandonment.
I couldn’t eat.
Like, I didn’t have an appetite at all. No hunger pangs, nothing. I lost 30 pounds in 4 months and still struggle with making sure I get enough food in my body because I’m now in a daily routine of just not eating as much as I once did.
I couldn’t stop shaking.
You know that feeling you get when you almost get into a car accident and your senses are all hyperaware and you can’t stop trembling? That was me, but ALL day and night for weeks. I would wake up shaking. I still battle with this on days where I experience a trigger, flashback, or just plain “vibrating” on a high level.
I would have panic attacks so extreme that I couldn’t feel my hands and feet.
There was so much crying that happened, but the panic attacks and breakdowns were downright scary. I had had a few major panic attacks in my lifetime, but nothing like this. I would cry so hard from deep down inside my gut that I couldn’t get enough air to breathe. My hands and feet would start to tingle, and I knew that I needed to take some deep breaths, but the pain was too great to stop. It was terrifying.
I couldn’t sleep through the night.
Falling asleep was never a problem, as I was so mentally and physically drained by the end of the day, but sleeping through the night was nearly impossible. It was always 3 a.m. Every. Time. 3 a.m. = wide awake. My brain would plug in and remind me that I was alone. Alone with a massive load on my shoulders. Alone with a fragile heart. Alone. And it was dark and quiet. There was nothing I could do about it.
I isolated myself.
I became really quiet around those who loved me because my full-time job was simply getting through each day. When I did reach out to others, I could feel their confusion and trepidation. I could feel their questions of “Is she just whining or does she really need help?” and “Is she asking me to take a side?” Of course, it was my own insecurity that told me that because it wasn’t in my nature to ask for help (more on that later). So, I withdrew to be alone in my shame and loneliness.
I could not muster an ounce of joy.
Me. No joy. This was not me. At all. I couldn’t find anything to be excited about or, at the very least, be content with. Work was the biggest struggle of all because it required creativity and objective thinking. I had to push myself to meet deadlines because I couldn’t risk losing a contract. I didn’t want to smile and smiling is one of my favorite things. Laughing was rare. It was like I was a shell of a human being.
I wanted to lay in bed all day.
I didn’t necessarily sleep while doing it but found myself in bed way too many times, mostly when the kids were at school and the house was quiet. Cleaning the house became a gigantic chore when it would naturally provide me pleasure and satisfaction. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything beyond what was necessary. Or go anywhere that wasn’t required for that particular day. Again, not me at all. Not even close.
My blood pressure was high from anxiety.
When I feared that I had real depression that needed attending to, I made an appointment with my primary care physician. When the nurse took my blood pressure, it was surprisingly high (when it’s normally low), and she attributed it to my anxiety skyrocketing. I didn’t even know that was a thing, and likely another reason why I was always shaking.
I thought my body would break.
I said many times to loved ones that I felt like my body was breaking down. I was fatigued, mentally foggy, and felt like I was walking through sludge. I thought I was dying.
I fought hard to fix it.
In spite of the physical and mental breakdown that was happening in my life, I fought with every ounce of my being (or should I say 30 pounds of my being) to make things right and good. I turned every stone, resource, and any possible option I could to bring about a solution. But I was fighting alone. Again, alone.
So, what did I do to help? At first, not much because I had no bearings on what was up and what was down. And I also made many mistakes along my healing journey, too.
Here is what I suggest to heal the pain.
Talking about it.
One of the important elements of healing is talking about the pain with people you trust. Who are people you trust, you may ask? You’ll soon figure that out after you reach out, and do not think for one second that you reaching out is immature, dramatic, or fueling the fire. Your cry for help is not a smear campaign, it’s a cry for help. Sometimes the truth coming out of your mouth sounds like an outrageous situation because it really is an outrageous situation. That’s why you’re in pain. Not everyone will understand that or listen, but those who matter will.
I was very fortunate that I had an established therapist of four years when this event happened. I upped my visits to weekly (from my usual bi-weekly to 3 times a month) during the most painful weeks following. If anyone was a safe person to share my pain with, it was my therapist.
Leaning on your village.
As someone who is typically supporting someone in the village, it was very difficult for me to ask for help. It still is. I had to learn how to undo that. I didn’t have to be alone in this dark place and the more I reached out to my village, the more I was able to start rebuilding joy and gratitude again.
As I mentioned earlier, I went to my primary care physician when I found myself having trouble staying out of bed and finding joy. She was able to monitor my weight loss, anxiety, and depression, and was honestly another safe person to confide in. NOTE: If you have feelings of injuring yourself or others, please seek medical care immediately.
For weeks, I stayed off of social media and had trouble even watching tv. Everything was a trigger. Families, couples, any kind of happiness…it would send me spinning into self-loathing and hurt. When I took the kids to Disneyland, it was a huge struggle for me, as the parks were full of real-life families, kids, couples, and happy things. Faking my way through that trip for my kids was extremely difficult. When I returned home, I knew I had to be more careful about putting myself in triggered situations like that.
I’m a research queen when it comes to anything and everything new I discover, and it was no different with this experience. It was comforting to read books, articles, and resources from women who had lived in similar situations. This comforted me and affirmed that I was NOT alone, NOT crazy, and NOT hopeless.
A few resources that helped me through my pain:
- Runaway Husbands
- Tips for Surviving the First Weeks of Separation
- Affair Recovery
- The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
- Judgment Detox
- Braving the Wilderness
You may be wondering how I am today, 6 months later. I’m happy to report that I’m in a really good place. I have grown tremendously this year, learning so much about myself, my children, and my village. I would be crazy not to recognize these gifts I have in my life. My cup of gratitude is overflowing.
Oh, and my oldest son just graduated from high school. And my little guy finished fourth grade. ❤
There are many more life lessons I have yet to share with you here. Follow My 40 Life Instagram page to be on the lookout for updates.
I am grateful that you took the time to read this. If you would like to reach out to me privately to chat about the topic of abandonment, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love & Peace.
disclosure – the books I linked are affiliate links.
Founder of Mom Spark – a lifestyle blog for moms.