You survive divorce, but there’s always a little bit less of you

Not many people know I was married once before.

Whenever it comes up in conversation, I usually get reactions ranging from mildly shocked to hugely incredulous. My husband and I have been together for a long time now – 15 years – and it’s hard for people to imagine me with anyone other than him.

I get that. It’s hard for me to imagine myself with anyone but him. Nevertheless, it is a thing that happened.

Once upon a long time ago, I felt like I loved somebody enough to marry them, and so I did. It lasted less than two years. Sometimes I call it my “starter marriage”. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

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The details really aren’t the important part. Maybe we just grew apart and I was the only one willing to say the words aloud. Maybe we were mismatched from the start. Maybe, probably, we were young and dumb and idealistic, playing house and playing at being adults, not seeing the ugly life lessons that were about to punch us directly in the heart.

Maybe we just wanted something that doesn’t even exist. Who really knows why we do anything we do when we’re blind to hindsight?

So, there we were. The courthouse first, a party after, dancing to Hotel California while our friends pinned money to our clothes. Falling into bed at 3am, waking up five hours later on separate sides of the bed, me wondering even then what the hell I’d just done.

My family was furious but resigned, our friends mostly bemused. It was one day out of one month out of one year. I didn’t see what the big deal was either way, but I learned that you can’t live with a person, share a bed, share a life, and not have that not be, well… kind of a big deal.

You survive divorce, sometimes even celebrate it, but there’s always a little bit less of you, a piece of yourself you can’t ever claim back as your own

The longer you’re together, the more difficult it is to pick apart the threads of “you” and “me” because they’re being consistently woven into an “us”

Your worlds are intertwined. The longer you’re together, the more difficult it is to pick apart the threads of “you” and “me” because they’re being consistently woven into an “us.”

The days passed, and I don’t really know what happened. I thought I loved him, and then I didn’t. I was on my own for the first time in my life, living in a city far from my tiny hometown, and it was an exhilarating exercise in getting to know myself.

Sometimes who we end up being is a long way away from who we were when we started. And by extension, who we started out with sometimes ends up being a long way from the person we end up needing.

Things began to fall apart in a hundred small ways. We were walking home one day, and tears began to flow from me as effortlessly as exhaling. I didn’t even realise I was crying at first. Every aspect of my being was simply, thoroughly overwhelmed.

He looked down at me, and it wasn’t concern that creased his face, but disgust.

“Why does everyone else get the good you, and I get the broken-down you?” he asked.

As I plucked each word of that question out of my heart like arrows, I began the slow, painful process of pulling those threads apart and saying goodbye.

The thing about divorce is that it’s a wilful severing of a connection you once held sacred. Even in my case, even when I woke up the next day and knew it was a mistake, there was still a part of me determined to honour the bond to the best of my ability.

Once that word starts clanging around in your consciousness, you steel yourself for the inevitable emotional amputation you know is coming. You bite down on the leather strap and wait for the first cut.

That’s what divorce is like.

Sometimes who we end up being is a long way away from who we were when we started

Any kind of freedom comes with a cost

I didn’t have to wait long. Within a year, the divorce was done and dusted, the months in between an endless ocean of ugly words and threats, the good times tossed overboard and sinking to the bottom of the sea to lie with all the other lifetimes of forgotten treasure.

Any kind of freedom comes at a cost, whether you longed for it or ran from it. Any amputation leaves you with a phantom limb. You survive divorce, sometimes even celebrate it, but there’s always a little bit less of you, a piece of yourself you can’t ever claim back as your own.

But you learn to own that absence, and you learn to grow around it. Even when we’re missing pieces of ourselves, we can still be whole.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.