“But there are other words for privacy and independence. They are isolation and loneliness.” – Megan Whalen Turner
When you experience divorce and are faced with the reality of becoming a single parent, you mentally prepare for the obvious: being an adequate parent, maintaining a successful career, balancing finances, planning for the future, juggling schedules, exhaustion, stress, etc.
I beat this list to death in my head. And even though I was more confident in some than others, I felt prepared enough to take on this life. Besides, I knew I was more fortunate than some. I have a very loving and close family who stepped up without hesitation. I had the village, so I knew I would figure the rest out.
But there was one thing that I didn’t account for, and it was the one thing that took me the longest to figure out. No amount of strategizing or helping hands could curb the extreme isolation that I felt. And it hit me like a freight train.
I did a pretty good job of avoiding loneliness. I kept busy and when I wasn’t busy, there were always friends and family around. And yet, those were the times I felt the most isolated. There’s nothing like being in a room full of people and not feeling connected to a single one.
It was difficult to be around my friends and family who were in relationships without reminiscing about an identity I used to have. The ones that were single had a freedom and spontaneity that I just couldn’t keep up with because unlike them, I was also a parent, and a new one at that. But the most difficult, by far, was being around couples with children. It forced me to face the bitter reality that my family won’t look like I thought it would. And for me, that has been the ultimate heartbreak.
Experiencing a crisis or major life transition is separating in so many other ways. I felt separated from my former self- that old identity and that old life was gone. In my case, I was a no longer a wife, while simultaneously becoming a mother. My new identity was foreign and uncomfortable. During a transition, it’s normal to feel like your world is falling apart. You’re being forced to leave all familiarity and evolve- and the process can be scary and isolating.
Self-awareness is the key to crawling out of the pit of isolation. It was quite a while before I was even able to identify what I was feeling and why. But once you figure that out, you’re half way there. A tremendous sense of peace came out of simply understanding my own emotions. Then I had to learn how to cope with them.
I joined a women’s support group where I was able to talk to people who were also experiencing a period of transition, many similar to mine. And even though we were all in different stages of the process, we could relate to each other. Their stories inspired me and reassured me that one day I would feel whole again. The more I went, the less isolated I felt and the more connected I became to others. In connecting with the group, I was able to start reconnecting with my friends and family, and with myself. This is why support groups can be so beneficial in the healing process.
But just when I thought I had finally “figured it all out”, I reached an unexpected level of healing. I began to feel grateful. Grateful for my challenge, grateful for the people and opportunities it led me to, grateful for the process of “figuring it out”, and grateful for the person I have evolved into as a result.