When the Only Option is to make a Clean Sweep



The only thing other than death that cuts as deeply and devastates so sweepingly is divorce. Like artillery when it explodes, a divorce tears a family apart, splinters its cohesiveness and fragments their separate parts into shards of failed humanity. Self-esteem is destroyed. Hearts are broken. Anger disguises itself as strength and distance is perceived as protection.

I’ve heard about “friendly” divorces and “mutual” divorces, but I think they are the exception not the rule. The longer the marriage — the deeper the wounds; it’s all about investment. The more time and effort you’ve poured into holding things together, the harder it is to break the chains of co-dependency and get out of communication (or non-communication) cycles that wear down our resistance to change.

I gave my first husband 30 years of my life and bore him six children. He let me go so easily that the last time I saw him I felt a stabbing knife wound in my upper heart, and a tightening fist grab at the bottom. It took me years to realize that he’d literally broken my heart.

The moment when I knew I couldn’t live in this lifeless marriage one second longer happened over 25 years ago. I was kneeling on our kitchen floor, coughing and barfing in a waste basket. I had bronchitis and had been ill for over a week. Still, in my frumpy robe and slippers, I got up to prepare breakfast for my brood and prepare sack lunches. Who would do it otherwise?

As I knelt on the floor, my husband charged into the room shouting at the children to get in the car or they’d be late for school. Each child swept into the room and gave me a passive glance. My husband escorted them out the back door, into the car, and they were gone.

I continued to wretch and cough in the waste can, and then my mind snapped. I felt it physically, spiritually, and mentally; an audible snap.

“People treat their dogs better than I’m treated in this family,” my thoughts formulated. “What if I choked? What if the thick phlegm that was cutting off my wind pipe lodged successfully in my throat? What if I couldn’t catch my breath? I could be dead for all they care!”

No one had asked if I was all right. There were no expressions of concern for my well being. Not even a goodbye. I was invisible; a pattern that left me feeling empty and lost. Now suddenly with this “snap,” this twist in my mind like a key opening a door, I had touched bottom. I was pushing off and rising to the top. I would never again allow myself to be treated with such disdain and disrespect.

Why did I take you on this loathsome journey? To show you that when you think your life is over and you can’t go on, rebirth is possible. Today the person I am is almost unrecognizable to those who “knew me back when.”

One person in my new circle of friends said it this way: “You look so vivacious!”

My confidence is back. I’m married to a man who not only likes the way I laugh and the silly things I say and do, but he loves them. I no longer have to walk on eggs, wondering if the next thing I say will be attacked or belittled. I’m confident in his love and comfortable to be myself. Those are the kind of things that money can’t buy.

Sadly, I’m not as close to my children as I’d like. I find myself feeling like that old worn out shoe that everybody used to kick around whenever I’m with them. They don’t notice it. They grew up under those conditions and feel comfortable in the ruts of the past. It’s difficult to heal when you’re constantly being pulled backwards or under.

I tell myself it’s “in my mind.” But even if it is, the fear of losing myself again is abhorrent. When you save a life, especially your own, you realize that there’s no going back. They will have to meet me on my own terms and accept me for who I am. After all, isn’t that what fulfillment and joy are all about?

One thought on “When the Only Option is to make a Clean Sweep

  1. This is a beautifully honest and poignant post. I have gone through similar painful experiences in my past and I have learned that we cannot truly appreciate the beauty in our life without having had some of the ugly as well. Enjoy your life, protect your confidence. You’ve been led here to help others through your experience and outlook as I’m sure you are in your day to day life. God bless you and yours.


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