The Next Time

I am one of the first of my friends to get a divorce. At only thirty-one-years-old, I told my husband I needed to leave our marriage in order to be happy again. I fell in love with him when I was nineteen, and when we said our vows four years later, I believed with all my heart that we would be married forever. As I learned, signing a marriage certificate doesn’t guarantee marital bliss or personal happiness, or anything really except that if you ever do want to leave this marriage, you will have to go through a painful legal process to do so.

I’ve learned that there is a guarantee in divorce, however, and that guarantee is that it will hurt. It will be harder than you ever could have imagined, and just when you think you’re rounding a corner, a Divorce Landmine will go off–seeing your ex’s new wedding photo, for example–and you are right back where you were when the whole thing began–crying in bed with the covers over your head, a heating pad pressed to your chest, and feeling like you need someone–anyone–to just hold you while you cry.

It’s been over two years since the initial split from my marriage, and while I am truly happy most days now, those landmines still go off, and because I loved him so deeply, the pain is still unbearable when it strikes. This morning, after seeing the aforementioned photograph on social media, I almost stopped a stranger on the street who was washing his truck to ask him to hug me.

I’m serious.

I just needed a hug. I had cried alone in bed all morning, and I needed someone to physically put their arms around me and let me cry.  I needed someone to tell me it’s okay to feel like total and complete shit and to not do anything to try to make it go away except to hold the space for me to feel that shit so that it could pass through me.

I am the only child of two parents who love me deeply, but who are not emotionally or physically present for me. This has been the case for some time now, so I’ve developed a tough skin. I’ve had to, in order to survive on my own. My husband was my family for many years, and now that is gone too.

So I have my friends. And I am blessed to have some of the most caring, loving friends in the world. But since I don’t have blood relatives who will provide that refuge I have so desperately needed amid the ever tumultuous storm of divorce, I have taken most of it on by myself because I don’t want to burden these dear friends. I have laid on my bathroom floor sobbing and contemplating ways to end my life without calling a friend to ask for help. I have spent countless hours, days–months even–suffering, and not asking my friends to stop their lives for me, because I know they are busy. They have careers and husbands and children and fun to be had.

Who wants to stop all of that to come lie with me on the bathroom floor while I cry?

The reality is that while I have the most amazing friends in the world, they are not a husband. They are not a mother or a father. They have their own families to deal with every day, and their own problems. Even if I did call them every time I plummeted into a deep depression, many would not drop what they’d scheduled that day to come help. Maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t, but either way, it’s likely that they don’t realize how serious depression can be, and even more likely that I have not made it clear how serious my own depression can be when it hits.

This is the job of family, to drop everything when one of their kin is suffering. To give them a place to live, sleep, eat, and cry until they can enter the real world again. I don’t have a family who can provide that storm shelter for me, so I must make my own.

But when my depression hits, I don’t want to get out of bed. I have no desire to eat or drink. I immediately lose weight. I am freezing cold, no matter how hot it may be outside, and I have to bundle up in sweats and press a heating pad to my chest and lie in bed until it passes.  And my chest hurts–my heart physically feels like it’s breaking. I cry so hard that my eyes are red and puffy and bloodshot, and the circles underneath are epic. I don’t feel physically capable of standing up or getting out of bed or getting dressed and trying to look or act presentable. And as such, I don’t want to leave the house and go see anyone.

In these times, I need someone to come to my house, walk up the stairs, sit on my bed and just hold me. That is all I need. My friends innocently will ask me to come out for a drink, take a beach walk, or go for a run. They only want to help. But if I took a selfie of the mess that I am when this happens and sent it to them, first they would gasp in horror, and then they would understand that I can’t do any of those things when I feel so awful. I don’t want to be in public when I feel this way, and many times, I physically could not force my body to go anywhere or do anything in this state. My life force is zapped.

Although these depressive episodes are much less frequent now, they have been happening for over two years, and I’ve rarely had anyone–a family member, friend, anyone–just come to my house and sit with me through it.

I typically don’t directly ask for someone to do this. So, the fault is mainly my own. I am embarrassed to cry this hard in front of my friends. The only person I ever felt comfortable being this much of a mess in front of was my husband. And in truth, he did come to my rescue a few times after we split, but that had to end of course, so that we could both move on with our lives.

I know I must learn to let my guard down more and be vulnerable in front of my friends, because these episodes are serious. Anyone who has been divorced, or who has lost someone they loved, or who has been depressed will know what I am talking about.

And for those who don’t understand this deep pain, I used to be one of you. I never used to understand depression. Despite all of the heartache I had experienced in my life, I was, for the most part, positive and happy and looking on the bright side! I didn’t understand people who could be sad over and over again about the same problem! Get over it already!

I am still a positive, happy person for the most part, but divorce has taken me to the dark side, and since I am one of the first of my friends to go through this, I think that many of my dear friends don’t comprehend the depths of it, which is not their fault.

So, today, I have written a poem for those who have someone in their life who is going through a divorce, who is depressed, and who needs your help. You may not be sure what to do for your depressed, divorced friend, but I hope this poem will help you understand us divorced messes a little better, and to know what you can do to help.

The Next Time

  The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Act as if she has just told you that the dearest person in her life, the person she has loved for sunrises and sunsets, for starry nights and stormy skies, and every moment in between…Act as if she has just told you that this person has died…

Because that is what has happened.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Act as if she has just told you that the dearest person in her life, the person who has loved her at her best and at her worst, who has held her up and torn her down, who has been her everything for too many days to count…Act as if she has just told you that this person has died…

Because that is what has happened.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Act as if she has just told you that the relationship she thought would last forever, the relationship that sustained her, filled her up, tore her down…Act as if she has just told you that this relationship has died…

Because that is what has happened.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Act as if she has just told you that she is about to enter the most intense grieving period of her life, and that a part of her has died too…

Because that is what has happened.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Know that she will need your support more than she will ever admit, and even if she smiles and says she is okay, please know that underneath that smile, your friend is suffering, your friend is drowning in loss, your friend needs your help…

Because she is grieving a death

A death she may have chosen

A death he may have chosen

But it is a death, nonetheless.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Know that it may take years for her to feel better, it may take years for her to feel joy every day. Know that she will be so tired of this grief that she will try to hide it, but it is still there…

And she needs your help.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

Know that depression may set in, and depression is a beast, it’s a killer. And when she reaches out to you, you must go to her. Drop your plans, get in the car or hop on a plane…

And go.

Go again, and again, and again, because she needs you, even if she doesn’t want to admit it.

Because there are days when she doesn’t want to live, even if she doesn’t want to admit it.

And because one day, you will lose someone you loved more than you loved yourself, whether through a divorce, a death, or both…

And you will need her too.

The next time a friend tells you she is getting a divorce

The best thing you can do is hold a space for her to grieve, without telling her why her life is so fabulous and why she should feel good.

The best thing you can do is hold her and let her cry until the storm passes.

The best thing you can do is be there for her

Always and forever

No matter what.

*A modified version of this piece was published on The Huffington Post on 11/2/15.

The role of a writer quote

The Journey I Never Expected To Take

As a writer, I am obsessed with journeys. Sure, I love a good fictitious romp–I’ve been making up stories since I was young enough to string a sentence together. But it is in recent years–the years where I said goodbye to my marriage and started anew, anti-depressants in one hand, wine in the other–that I’ve become enamored with true stories written by real people. As I mentioned in my last post, these are the stories that have comforted me in my most difficult moments post divorce. These are the stories that have told me: Someone else has been where you are, and they made it out alive. These are the stories that have encouraged me to keep going.

I started this blog as a way to stop hiding behind my fiction, as a way to tell the true story of what happens when a romance novelist loses her happily ever after, and as a way to reach out to others who may be going through what I’m going through, and to let them know they are not alone.

At the New Year, when I wrote my last post, 37 Extraordinary Dreams ~ One Extraordinary YearI had it in my head that I needed to go do something extraordinary!, use it as a way to work through my grief, and write about it along the way. Much like Cheryl Strayed does in Wild and Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, I wanted to go somewhere exciting or do something huge to, once and for all, shed my wretched divorce baggage and move on with my life. But instead of coming up with one big journey to take, I came up with thirty-seven!

I have been hard at work on making many of my dreams a reality–I’ve spent two weeks in France (out of the four I promised myself), I’ve seen my books on the shelves of bookstores, I finished my screenplay, I’ve been dancing as much as my busy schedule will allow, and I can almost do the splits again!

What I didn’t realize when I made this list, though, is that I have already been on an extraordinary journey, one that is worthy of writing about. One that I hope will inspire others. One that I desperately want to tell.

So, logically, being the devious novelist that I am, I decided to hide all of that juiciness in a novel! See #15 on my list:

15. Write and publish my next novel: The Places That Were Ours

Oh, yes, The Places That Were Ours was going to be a novel based loosely…ahem…on the most intense, heartbreaking, passionate years of my life. I figured that if I can’t tie up my own love stories into neat little bows of happily ever after, at least I know my characters can!

So, I wrote the prologue and the first fifty pages, and I pitched the book to my agent and to my publisher as fiction. I went so far as to place my protagonist in a coma so that even she wouldn’t have to face her demons.

Talk about hiding behind my art.

But each time I opened up the document, I couldn’t write past the first few chapters. Something essential was missing. Something monumental…

Ahh, that pesky little thing I have been going to such lengths to avoid: The Truth.

And then, before I could take this book any further, my publisher turned it down. I wasn’t too distraught, though, because I knew somewhere deep down that I didn’t want to write this novel. I didn’t want to hide behind my characters’ questionable choices, their hidden desires, their passionate love affairs, their sweet triumphs and most embarrassing catastrophes.

I wanted to write about my own.

But as it often goes in life, I had to hit rock bottom before I could find the courage to do the thing I really wanted to do. And so, when my next major writing rejection came, I finally, finally, said–and please do excuse my French–fuck it. 

If this is the only story that is surging through my veins, keeping me up at night, begging to  bleed its ink onto the pages, then just write the damn story.

If the only thing that truly matters to me anymore is being purely, unabashedly, unapologetically me, then just write the damn story.

Otherwise, what am I doing here?

As a writer, it’s not my job to write fluff. It’s not my job to keep people happy. It’s my job to tell a story. A damn good story. And so, for better or for worse, wedded as I am to my craft, I have decided to write the story in my heart.

The story that is mine.

The story that is ours.

The Truth.

And so, it is with excitement, a little bit of trepidation, and mostly joy that I announce my next book:

Meet Me in Paris

One Romance Novelist’s Quest to Write Her Own Happily Ever After

What does a romance novelist do when she loses her own happily ever after? Take a lover and travel to Paris, obviously. Or at least this is what Juliette Sobanet did upon making the bold, heart-wrenching decision to divorce the man she had loved since she was a teenager. This is the story of the passionate love affair that ensued during the most devastating year of Sobanet’s life and how her star-crossed romance in the City of Light ultimately led to her undoing. Meet Me in Paris is a raw, powerful take on divorce and the daring choices that followed such a monumental loss from the pen of a writer who’d always believed in happy endings.

I’m close to 100 pages along this wild journey, and I’m loving it. As for a release date, I don’t know yet. But I do know that I am finally, truly, following my heart.

To take a quote from my favorite truth teller…

Anais Nin Fever of Creation Quote

 

37 Extraordinary Dreams ~ One Extraordinary Year

On Christmas Day, a close friend and I went to see the movie Wild at the theater. Based on the bestselling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild chronicles Strayed’s inspiring journey from total and complete loss to healing and transformation through her solo voyage up the Pacific Coast Trail.

In her twenties, Strayed suffered the crippling loss of her mother, a devastating divorce, and ultimately hit rock bottom before she made the daring decision to hike over 1,000 miles–from the Mojave Desert in California all the way up to Washington State–all by herself.

The film is raw, honest, and so packed with emotion that I pretty much had tears rolling down my face from the moment she mailed in her divorce papers and hugged her husband goodbye, all the way through to her triumphant finish on the Bridge of the Gods.

Wild

I came home that night, ever more inspired to write the truth. The truth in this film was yet one more piece of my journey to healing–seeing that another woman can say goodbye to a husband she loves, lose everything, and ultimately keep on walking. She didn’t just keep walking, though. Through her grief, she did something extraordinary, and it was in walking this extraordinary journey that she worked through her losses, her heartbreaks, and ultimately found the person she most needed to know–herself.

And then, perhaps the best part of all–she wrote about this amazing journey and inspired countless other people to keep on walking. To do something extraordinary. To step away from the chaos and find yourself.

Eat Pray Love

Elizabeth Gilbert follows this same pattern in Eat, Pray, Love. A heart-wrenching divorce ultimately set her on a soul-searching voyage through Italy, India, and Indonesia. More than any other piece of literature, Gilbert’s memoir has given me comfort and reassurance that I would not only survive my divorce, but ultimately go on to thrive.

If these women hadn’t suffered great loss, they may never have taken these extraordinary journeys and in turn, they wouldn’t have written these incredible books which became films and have touched the lives and hearts of so many.

The losses, while painful, have turned into something absolutely beautiful. And not by accident. It happened because these women kick ass and weren’t afraid to lay their lives bare for the world to see.

After watching Wild, I went to bed that night thinking:

I want to do something extraordinary and write about it.

I want to use this journey to work through my losses, my heartbreaks, and lose the baggage.

And ultimately, I want to inspire.

The next day it came to me…I am going to make a list of 37 Extraordinary Dreams to complete in One Extraordinary Year, and I will write about it along the way here, on my Confessions blog.

Some of the dreams on my list are more along the lines of mini journeys that I know I need to take to continue healing. Some are writing specific, others are giving-oriented, and some are full-on thrills that I can’t wait to experience. Many are things I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and it’s about damn time.

All of them are extraordinary to me, no matter how big or how small.

Why 37? I have a thing with the number 37, and it feels like the perfect number to me for the awesome year ahead.

Will I write a book about it? I don’t know. If the journey is book-worthy, then yes. But since I’m starting now, I have yet to see what surprises await!

Without further ado, here is my personal list of…

37 Extraordinary Dreams in One Extraordinary Year

1. Do the splits (in both directions)
2. Spend one month in France
3. Volunteer at a children’s hospital
4. Go to a Pink concert
5. Finish my Sleeping with Paris screenplay
6. Sell my Sleeping with Paris screenplay
7. Swim with dolphins
8. See my books on the shelves of bookstores
9. Go to at least one dance class every week, all year
10. Write and publish Confessions of a City Girl: Washington D.C.
11. Write and publish Confessions of a City Girl: New York
12. Dance in a live performance on stage
13. Choreograph 7 complete dances and perform at least one of them
14. Visit all of my best friends at home in Ohio
15. Write and publish my next novel: The Places That Were Ours
16. Write and publish: Runaway Train to Paris
17. Co-write the book on my friend M. G.’s extraordinary life
18. Visit my parents in Ohio
19. Write my new screenplay, an R-rated comedy called The Divorcés
20. Ride the Orient Express Train in Europe
21. Sign my books in Italy
22. Spend time on a movie set
23. Meet Elizabeth Gilbert and thank her
24. Fully forgive myself for the end of my marriage
25. Become financially free
26. Leave at least $10 of Happy Money in random places every month
27. Give an anonymous monetary gift to three people in need
28. Set plans in motion for my “Divorce Angels” foundation that will assist women going through a divorce
29. Give a book signing and reading at NYU in Paris
30. Give my mom a new car
31. Fly in a hot air balloon over the Loire Valley in France
32. Unplug from all technology for one week
33. Spend a week writing in a cabin on a lake
34. Meet Jewel and thank her
35. Go ice skating with my love
36. Kiss my love in the rain
37. Kiss my love at the top of the Eiffel Tower

And voilà! There we have it!

Is this list ambitious? Yes! That’s the point.

This is my year to Dream Big, Take Action, and LIVE!

And when do I start?

Today!

She believed

It’s Time to Change the Data Plan

A few weeks back, I called Verizon because somehow my cellphone data was skyrocketing, and I needed to get it under control. The woman who answered was extremely helpful and walked me through a process of deleting apps I don’t use and turning off all sorts of miscellaneous programs on my phone that were taking up unnecessary space. She told me that should do the job.

At the end of the call, she stopped me before I hung up and said, “Remember, YOU are in charge. At any point, you can log in to Verizon.com, browse the various plans, and choose a data plan that works for you. YOU are in the driver’s seat.”

It wasn’t until later in the day that I realized her message had absolutely nothing to do with my data plan, and everything to do with my life.

Earlier that week, I ran into my ex-husband at Starbucks. The circumstances that led to us both being at that exact Starbucks at the same time were totally bizarre and ridiculous and certainly led me to believe that our run-in was some sort Universe intervention.

I was so happy to see him. I miss him. More than I’ve ever missed anyone in my life. He was kind, the way he always is, and we chatted for a few minutes, but he had to go. It was clear that he didn’t want to stay and talk like we’re old best friends, because, well, I divorced him. I wouldn’t want to stay and talk all night with me either if I were him.

I went home that night, cried in my car (do all divorced people do this??), and over the next two days, I found myself in one of those all-consuming depressive spirals. You know those ones where you question all your decisions, wonder why you did something that you felt was right at the time, but now feels so wrong.

On Day 2 of this tiring, but oh-so-familiar experience, one of my roommates gave me some advice. He asked me to list one or two things that when I do them, make me totally and completely happy.

“Easy,” I said. “Dance and yoga. But mainly dance.”

I am always on Cloud Nine during and after a dance class. It is a natural anti-depressant for me, and it takes me to another world. One that is far away from divorce and regret and guilt and all of those icky feelings. Dance empowers me. Makes me remember who I am. Where I want to go. How blessed I am to have the gift of dance in my life since I was a little girl. And how amazing my life truly is.

So my roommate told me to make a commitment to go to dance class or do yoga every single day, no matter what, and to know that the rest will come naturally. He told me to stop stressing about work and writing and missed writing days because of depression. Just dance. Just do yoga. Everything will be okay.

Did I mention I have the best roommates ever?

That night, I started to perk up. I got out my journal and made what I call “The Freedom List.” I wrote down every single thing I couldn’t do when I was in my marriage (or perhaps chose not to do because of the marriage), that I could now make a reality.

Travel to France anytime I want! Take dance class every night! Have my girlfriends over for wine and chocolate and gossip any night of the week! Watch romantic comedies all night long! Go anywhere I want whenever I want without checking in with anyone! And, there were many more…

The next day, I shook off the blues, got my ass out of the house to write at my favorite cafe, and I signed up for one month of unlimited dance at my favorite studio.

Last week was my first week back at the barre. I took five classes–a contemporary dance class, three ballet classes, and a jazz class. My muscles were sore, and I felt happy again. It was one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time.

Yes, this is me taking a selfie on my first day back at the studio. The teacher didn’t show that day, so I gave myself a ballet class. Couldn’t have been happier!

Running into my ex was the perfect reminder that it was time to change my data plan. I clearly still have a lot of healing to do, and only I can take action toward feeling better and living the life of my dreams.

Like the wise woman at Verizon told me, I am in charge. I am in the driver’s seat. I can log in to Danielle.com at any time and change my plan.

So, what’s in your data plan these days? Is it time for a change?

Soul

How Does It Feel?

So, I’m going to be honest. Totally, bluntly, I’m-a-few-glasses-of-wine-deep honest (which for me means two glasses, and no more, but if you know me, you know that’s enough to get me talking).

I started this blog in June because I was at a standstill with my writing. My divorce was final, I was devastated, and I couldn’t write. I couldn’t write anything except what was actually happening to me.

And so, Confessions of a Romance Novelist was born.

I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted to be like the writers I so admire, the ones who are brave enough to write about their real lives. Those are the writers who have helped me through my roughest times. To know that someone else has felt the way I feel, has grieved the way I am grieving, has experienced a loss so deep they can hardly breathe…and yet they have the strength to keep going, and to write about it no less, is my greatest inspiration. I wanted to give that gift to others…and to myself.

Plus, they say truth is stranger than fiction, right? Well, in my case, I believe it has been. On so many fronts. And so, I wanted to tell my story. I already reveal it in pieces in my novels, of course. But I wanted to tell my true story. The whole story.

And then, something happened. (Doesn’t it always?). I started dating someone. A nice guy. A normal guy. A handsome, sweet guy. And I really, really liked him. Early on in the relationship, I thought, okay…maybe I can be normal too. Maybe I can do this relationship thing again. But dear God, if I’m broadcasting all of my depressive divorce thoughts and wild writer ideas on this blog, he will find out, and he will probably break up with me (or at the very least be secretly horrified). And his family! What if his family sees this?!

I have to take this blog down.

So I did.

And I tried. I tried to fit into the mold. All of his friends were getting married. His family wanted to meet me. But only a few short months later, I knew I couldn’t do it. I was still having full-on meltdowns over my divorce. Missing my husband and wondering if I had made the right decision in leaving him. Wondering if I had permanently and forever screwed up my life.

Oh, and I was still pining (and mourning) over the extremely unavailable guy I fell in love with immediately following my divorce. A guy who was still in love with me too, but like any tragic, ill-timed love story, we couldn’t be together. And probably never would be.

How Romeo & Juliet of us. I certainly picked the right pen name…but I digress.

On top of all of that, I was still losing weight. I was still pretending to be happy. I’m really good at that–the pretending to be happy skill. Many of my friends and acquaintances think I’m handling this divorce thing extraordinarily well because I’m always smiling! Always fabulous! Always pulling it together! But dear God, if they had only seen me in those moments alone in the shower, or in the car, or downing Xanax, or alone in bed at night gripping the pillow like the earth may actually collapse beneath me at any minute…

It wasn’t pretty. It was downright terrifying.

There were many a day when the only reason I got out of bed, the only reason I didn’t do something stupid was because of my giant, adorable cats who required that I get my depressed ass up and feed them.

Yup, there, I said it. That’s the truth. My cats saved my life.

I have never grieved as hard or as intensely as I have this past year. And that is not to say that I haven’t been through some shit. I mean, we all have, right? But losing a husband, a partner, the man I spent twelve years with–even though I was the one who chose to leave–was, and still is, the most monumental loss of my life.

And so, back to that sweet new boyfriend I’d met. I had to break up with him. None of this was fair to him. He deserved someone who was ready for everything he had to give.  And that wasn’t me.

So, I ended it.

Right around that time, I talked to my ex-husband* again. (*Side note: I hate calling him my “ex.” It sounds so impersonal, so full of hate. And I have nothing but love for this man. Despite the fact that I was the one who chose to leave. So in this blog, let’s call him my first soul mate. Because I still believe that is the role he has played in my life.) So….around this time, I was talking to my first soul mate again, and we were confused. We missed each other. We weren’t sure what to do next. I knew one thing, though. I knew that all this back and forth between men was not helping my writing.

And I knew that none of these men were paying my bills.

I needed to write again.

So I suggested to my first soul mate that we take two months off from being in touch. Just to have some space to breathe. He agreed.

One month later, I was out at a wine bar with one of my close girlfriends. I told her that I felt like I was in a holding pattern. Waiting until the two month “waiting period” was over, so I could see what might happen next. What if he had changed? What if the perspectives we had both gained over this past year had made it possible to try things again?

So, I asked her, “Do you think I should wait another month before moving forward? Before dating? Before trying to meet anyone new?”

She answered with a clear and firm, “No.”

She said more than that, of course, and everything she said made sense. Logically, my response was, “Let’s order a pizza.”

We headed to the counter, and while we were ordering pizza, I met a guy…

But that’s a story for another night because this girl needs to go to bed so she can write books in the morning. After all, even that guy isn’t paying the bills.

I am. And I need to sleep. Then I need to write.

Don’t you just love a cliff hanger?

I will, however, quickly explain why I titled this post “How Does It Feel?”

While drinking wine and eating a box of Trader Joe’s organic Mac & Cheese (at least it’s organic, right?), I was watching “Le Week-End,” a Paris-based film–being the obsessive Francophile I am, I love any and all Paris movies–and in this particular Paris film, the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by the Rolling Stones came on.

The chorus hit me…

“How does It Feel

How does it feel

To be without a home

Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone”

Losing my husband has felt like losing my home. I am rebuilding it. Day by day. And it is here that I will write about what that feels like. The only promise I will make is that I will tell the truth.

Hemingway said that “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And so, that is what I will do…

Hemingway quote

Silver Linings & Ridiculous Happenings

So, today is one of those days…a day where I have just wrapped up a good cry session in my car before walking into my favorite café with a splotchy face, red nose, and bloodshot eyes to begin my writing day.

Oh, these are just the best days! The Big D (Divorce) is alive and well, my friends!

In all seriousness, this was an exceptionally difficult week, and whenever I have one of these, I like to play a fun little game where I take a look at some of the silver linings and ridiculous happenings that have come out of my newly single life status. This game always brings a smile to my face, and whether or not you’ve been through anything similar, I hope it will bring a smile to yours too.

Silver Lining Quote

I’d be smiling too if I was about to break it down with Bradley Cooper. Silver Linings indeed!

Silver Lining & Ridiculous Happening #1:

I got a divorce and moved in with three guys.

Yup, you heard me. After twelve years with my ex and eight years of marriage, I now live in a big, beautiful house with three dudes. This new life situation certainly warrants its own post, or an entire series of posts, which we will get to another time, but for now, let’s just say that I’m having so much fun. These guys cook, clean, and take out the trash! They are sweet, funny, cute, and by some small miracle, they are okay with me moving in with two giant cats.

I know, I still can’t believe this happened. But I am eternally grateful because moving in with them has helped bring me back to life. And they make me laugh. Every single day.

Silver Lining & Ridiculous Happening #2:

I can eat anything I want, and I just keep losing weight! The divorce diet is magical like that.

For example, I came home on filing day and being the total divorced lady cliché that I was (and let’s be honest, still am), I ate a massive serving of mac & cheese and an entire pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream (I’ve never been able to put down the whole pint before – success!), and I honestly didn’t even feel full. Well, I didn’t feel much of anything that day….but I digress.

This silver lining means I can fit into my skinny college jeans, no matter that they are white washed and totally not in style anymore. It also means I can shop at Charlotte Russe again, even though I am probably too old for that store. But those little dresses are just so cute, and now, after months on the magical divorce diet, they fit!

Silver Lining & Ridiculous Happening #3:

I have no interest in getting married or having children right now, which means I am every man’s dream! The minute I tell a guy that I’m thirty-two-year-old woman who is never going to pressure him into walking down the aisle or popping out a million kids, I am guaranteed a date.

And while my love life currently looks like this…

Love Life

…there is a Matthew McConaughey look-alike sitting next to me at the café, so that could always change. This leads me to the next item on my list…

Silver Lining & Ridiculous Happening #4:

Dating! After twelve years with the same man, this has been quite an interesting experience. Sometimes awesome, sometimes absolutely hilarious, and sometimes not so fun at all. I have to say, even though I’m not ready for much on that front (I am still crying in the car, after all) I’ve met some wonderful guys, and I have acquired a lot of writing material.

On this front, my cousin was kind enough to send me this during one of the more difficult weeks of the Big D:

Divorce card

Silver Lining #5:

This one isn’t ridiculous, just wonderful.  I call them my Divorce Angels. These are the friends, family, readers, acquaintances, and countless others who’ve helped me get through this unimaginably difficult time.

Through this experience, I’ve realized that I truly have the best friends in the world.

I’ve realized that there is more love available to us than we ever thought existed.

I’ve realized that having animals is sometimes the only thing that makes you get out of bed in the morning, and I love them for that.

I’ve realized that everyone has been through something that has knocked them to their knees, and most are willing to help you stand back up if you just ask.

 

Redefining Happily Ever After

I take my career as a romance novelist very seriously.

First, I must show my main character bouncing through her everyday life, thinking she’s got it all.  A fabulous life, a fulfilling career, the man of her dreams. Easy so far, right?

Then, in that very first chapter comes the juicy part: ruining her life.

It sounds so mean, though! Can’t my sweet, sympathetic heroine just go on living life and pretending like everything is okay? Ignorance is bliss, right?

Well, no. She can’t keep trotting through her fictional life without any conflict because that would be the most boring novel in history. She must experience loss, heartbreak, or some other form of extreme hardship so that she has the opportunity to grow, to change, and to meet the man who is right for her (as opposed to the beau she may have at the beginning of the novel, who is more than likely the wrong man for our unsuspecting heroine).

Eventually, through all of that chaos–the highs and the lows, the romance and the loss, the murders and the time travel–our heroine finds the courage within herself to create her own happily ever after.

Hurrah!

Well, yay for her anyway.

I love my characters, and I love writing romance…I really do. But I have to say, as I was going through my divorce this past year, I had a very difficult time writing those happily ever afters. Why do they get to have theirs when I am losing mine? (I know, getting angry at my own characters? Well, break-ups–especially the big D–tend to make us all a bit irrational…so I’ll have to ask you to cut me some slack).

I began to ask the question: does happily ever after even exist? Or am I feeding my readers false hope? Hope for finding that perfect someone who we’re meant to be with, who we will spend our entire lives with. That’s a big promise…one I was justifiably questioning as the relationship I’d spent the past twelve years of my life in was now…over.

There were days when I would sit at my desk, looking at the beautiful, romantic covers of my Paris novels, saying to myself, “It’s all a load of crap.”

Those were the days when I was wasting away on my “divorce diet” which consisted of Peppermint Patties (a giant Costco box which got me through many months of staring blankly at the computer screen), wine (it’s never too early for a glass when you’re going through a divorce), Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese (I could put down a family sized portion and still keep losing weight) , more wine, and spinach omelets (I had to mix something healthy in there).

Those were the days when tear streaks were the only form of make-up on my face. When every song EVER PLAYED was off limits because it reminded me of the days when things were good, when I was happy, when I truly believed in the happy endings I was writing. The days when I was so in love.

I knew, as I was going through the loss (and still am going through it), that it was only in those darkest of times when I would find out what I’m truly made of.

It was Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, who wrote: “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”

So, we’re not so different from the characters in our favorite novels, are we? Only through loss, heartbreak, and in some cases, total and complete ruin, do we find the courage that is buried so deep inside us, we didn’t even know we had it in us until there was nothing left to hold onto…not even one last Peppermint Pattie in that massive Costco box.

But, once we do find our courage, once we buck up and get through whatever it is that is knocking us to our knees, what about that whole happily ever after thing? Do we hang onto it, hoping we will reach the point where we KNOW we have found it, whatever it may mean for us personally: the soul mate we’ve always hoped to find, the children we’ve dreamed of having, the romance-filled marriage, the beautiful home, the fulfilling career? Or all of the above?

I’m sure my answer to this question will grow and evolve as I do the same. But today, less than two months after I sat in a courtroom thinking this is never how things should have ended between two people who loved each other so dearly, and who in so many ways, still do, I’m beginning to form a new definition of happily ever after.

It means choosing to be happy today. Choosing to focus on the love I’ve been given, rather than the losses I’ve experienced. It means finding joy in the little things: writing this blog post, interacting with my supportive readers, listening to my cat snoring next to me as I type, looking at my beautiful Paris novels and being grateful for the inspiration I was given to write them.

And if I must think of the losses, use them as an opportunity to grow, learn, and change…just as my characters must do in order to have any hope at reaching their own happily ever afters.

After all, when we’ve lost the dreams we once had, what do we have left?

New dreams.

Endless Possibilities. 

Love.

So, really, it’s still kind of romantic when you think about it…

When Nothing is Sure Quote by Margaret Drabble

The Woman Behind the Novels

Behind every novelist, there is a real person who has experienced love, loss, heartbreak, and euphoria. As writers, it is our job, our purpose, to live life so that our readers will discover truth on our pages and see themselves in our characters. Even amid the fictional and fantastical circumstances we throw our characters into, such as time travel, murder mysteries, and the oh-so-elusive happily ever after, our characters need to be real, flawed, and human just like the authors who create them (unless, of course, our characters are vampires, but even Edward’s sparkling, pale skin and sharp teeth didn’t stop him from falling in love with Bella).

I have always been in total awe of authors who write both fiction and memoirs, finding the strength to bare their true stories on the page for everyone to see, after the world already knows them as a novelist, an entertainer. Some of my greatest writing inspiration comes from Anais Nin’s Henry and June, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. To me, what these women have done is an incredible feat and took an enormous amount of courage.

There is simply so much power to be found in a true story.

I never believed I had the courage to tell my own. It’s so much easier (and more fun, I might add) to hide behind a pen name, to become her, the glamorous Juliette who writes romance novels by the beach, travels to France on a whim, experiences romance at every turn, and hasn’t a care in the world. I mean, doesn’t that just sound lovely?

While I do write romance novels, live near the beach, and travel to France whenever I can, I am also a real person who has just emerged (well, to be honest, who is still emerging) from one of the most difficult years of my life.

“But, Juliette, you’ve looked so happy on Facebook and Twitter!” you say. “You’ve been traveling, going out with friends, and smiling as if nothing could stop you.”

Yes, I have been smiling and traveling and having some wonderful times, for which I am truly thankful.

But behind Juliette, there’s me: Danielle. A thirty-two-year-old woman who has experienced quite a lot in this crazy journey of life: true love, extreme loss, joy, and disappointment. A beautiful marriage, a heartbreaking divorce, hilarious dating debacles, incredible friendships, and most recently, the death of one of those dear friends.

It’s been quite an interesting experience writing my characters’ happily ever afters while losing what I thought was my own, and now starting from scratch and building an entirely new life. It’s scary, exhilarating, and exhausting all at the same time. The silver lining is that all of these experiences–the good and the bad–are providing an obscene amount of material for my novels…but there are days when I want to sit down at my computer and write the truth.

So, as I continue to tie my characters’ lives and loves up into perfect little French bows, I will be here, attempting to create my own, messier version of happily ever after, and sharing the funny, sad, and purely ridiculous tales with you along the way.DSCN3310