I never knew that the ending of a marriage and the breaking of a family would be so silent.

I never knew I would lie in bed by myself crying while my four children and their father shared Thanksgiving dinner without me for the first time in 22 years. I never knew later that day, I would show up to my parents house alone trying to hide my brokeness behind pretty makeup and a cute dress so that my family wouldn’t see the me I see now. The me with a vacant face, empty eyes and lips that lie to tell everyone that I’m OK.

The breaking of a family, it feels like a shame and a secret. It feels like being lost on empty in a dangerous place without navigation to get you back home again. Because home, the home you knew . . . it’s gone. It’s an intangible place right now, a fleeting dream and a memory of days gone by.

I didn’t know that the last Christmas would be our last as a family and that the back-to-school pictures I took in August would make me indescribably sad because looking back, none of us understood right then that everything was ending. I wish my kids could go back to being those kids they were before, but the old me, I don’t know how to want her back right now.

And as far as the right now me or the new me . . . no one knows who that is either, because she doesn’t exist yet.

Right now, I’m someone who hides in my closet to get away from the world. I sit there alone in the dark and I start to believe if I don’t find a way out on my own, there is no one left to come looking for me. I yearn for what is lost and long for a new beginning and something steady to hold onto. Sometimes, I clutch my husband’s shirt at my chest, the one he wore the last day he lived here, so I can have something near me again that was real.

The thing about life is sometimes the people who come looking for you aren’t the ones you thought they would be. It’s friends who walk through your front door and carry you to the couch and put a cool washcloth on your forehead while she takes care of your kids, cleans your kitchen, and stays long enough that she’s the one who later puts you to bed, too. It’s your family, your mom and dad, your in-laws, and sometimes it’s even the man who won’t be your husband for much longer.

I know now that I can’t do this alone. That divorce isn’t a failure, a shame or a secret and that I don’t have to hide myself from those who love me.

My husband and I, we didn’t do everything we should have for each other, but we did do everything we could. We went to counseling, we talked, we tried again and again and again until finally, we realized there was just nothing left inside of us to give to each other.

Right now, every single day is just me putting one foot in front of the other because the kids and I, we have to keep going. I know I can’t stay like this for long or we will all lose. I can’t let the loneliness that shakes me to my core rule my life. I can’t hold onto the past like a lifeline because it’s gone, and the future I believed in for more than two decades isn’t mine anymore.

Soon, I will have to learn how to love myself again and make the best of what I have left.

Soon, I will have to try new things because I want to, not because I have to.

And soon, I hope I will be able to say that even when I didn’t know how or even if I actually could, that somehow I made a good new life and that everything, even though it was hard, was for the best.

You may also like: 

I Was Better Off Divorced

An Open Letter to the Heartbroken

Embracing Life After Divorce

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Kristin Dougherty

Kristin Dougherty lives in Oklahoma with her four children, two big dogs and a gray cat named Sprinkles.  She's just a momma trying to make a new way and a new her.