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

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.

 

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