Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The death of a marriage

I felt it for a long time before I identified it. Even longer before I accepted it, and longer still until I decided to deal with it. I’m speaking of the end of my marriage. And honestly? I believe I felt it before we were even married. People close to me have said, you must have loved him to marry him, you couldn’t have known it was doomed and gone through with it, could you? And I say to you that yes, I could, and indeed, I did.

I was a young, naïve, hopeful girl who desperately wanted to be loved and cared for. Silly now, but at the time I felt slightly panicky at 23 that I was not married, not anywhere near having kids. I harbored the same deep anxiety back then that I do now about the passage of time, the brevity of life. But I didn’t know yet that you couldn’t rush life, that it would eventually unfold on its own, however it was meant to. I wasn’t yet all that interested in my career; while I derived some satisfaction from it, I could have given it up in a heartbeat. I had this romantic notion that being married would fill that deep hole of insecurity I felt. I thought it would finally make me feel safe and cherished. I didn’t know that it would instead make me feel trapped and suffocated.

I could go on and on about the rationalizations I made in my head in order to marry the absolutely wrong guy. But here I’m writing about the end, not the beginning.

I’d often heard it’s the communication that is the first thing to go – maybe that’s true in relationships where the people have been communicating. In our case, we existed under one roof, completely emotionally detached from one another; one of us increasingly needing and taking more, one of us progressively needing and wanting less. Then there was the growing annoyance — he couldn’t do anything right. It felt like he existed just to suck my energy, to hold me back, to depend on me as much, if not more than, I couldn’t depend on him. But when annoyance turned to disdain, that was when the last, struggling bit of blood supply was cut off. And the heart of our marriage — it simply stopped beating.

Somewhere along the way, I had shut down. While in retrospect, I don’t think he ever knew the “real” me (how could he, when I didn’t?), what little bit of myself I had shared with him I took back, when the disdain set in. I distinctly remember the first time I acknowledged that low-grade feeling of dread in my belly, that constant bolt of tension buzzing through my body, frazzling my nerves, keeping me in a constant state of irritation, ruining my concentration. And the depression, it was almost crippling. My therapist called my state “hyper-vigilant.” And oh, how right she was.

Contrary to what my ex believed (and probably still believes), my therapy was not the cause of our divorce. It was, however, an amazing, painful, gritty journey inside myself. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and definitely the most worth it. Without that careful, safe, unbiased guidance, I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to snap out of my complacency. Who knows how long I could have gone on existing in that void, with my heart shut off from my mind and my mind struggling to suppress reality. Because reality? It was damn hard.

When I began the journey, I felt hopelessly stuck. I was being crushed by horrible, debilitating guilt — I had not yet thought of myself and my own survival. At that time I could only focus on the pain and disappointment I would cause other people. What they would think of me, what they would say about me. I worried about deserting a person who needed me so much — too much. I worried about his feelings, his well-being, his survival. I worried about my family being shocked, because I’d never let on to them that we were having problems. I feared their resistance to accepting what I knew to be true. I dreaded the long, draining explanations I’d have to give, defending whatever decision I made. But not once during this period did it occur to me to worry about what was happening to me and my well-being.

My therapist summed it up right from the start when she told me I seemed like someone whose soul was dying. With a lot of hard work, I began to understand. My light had been dimmed for so long that I hadn’t even missed its warmth or glow. My feelings were so deeply and carefully buried, so long ignored, that I was having trouble finding them. I was numb, had been numb, for years. With help and support from my therapist and my dear, dear friends still with me today, I began the slow process of excavation. And I don’t think the process will ever stop, it can’t stop. I think that when one ceases to question things, ceases to feel or hope or dream, ceases to smile, ceases to love — well, that’s death, to me. And at 27, I was not ready to die.

It took a while, but when I was able to glimpse myself again, when I felt that old spark of hope, when I started to remember the girl I used to be and what I had wanted — that is when I ended my marriage. It was not healthy for me, or for him, to remain in that relationship. I have never regretted my decision, and I have never looked back.

It has taken me a long time to be able to say this, to myself much less out loud, but it was not the fault of one of us over the other; it was simply what had to happen to move us on to the next stages of our lives. I believe we were not meant to be together forever. We were in each other’s lives for a distinct purpose: to teach and to learn, in the little time we had. While there are definitely times when I still mourn those “lost” years, I know in my heart — my living, beating, feeling heart — that that experience was absolutely necessary to get me to where I am today. I would not be the same person without it, and while I’m still getting to know myself, I like who I’ve become. I sincerely hope that one day, he will feel the same way, that he can let go of the anger and the hurt.

Leaving was not something I did to him; it was something I did for myself.


Steph. said...

Wow. I know this was a deep thing to blog about, but I wanted to tell you how beautiful it was, to read and hear about this journey you have taken. As your friend, I have felt I've taken some of it with you--at least hearing about your experiences and thoughts. But, after reading this, it makes it so clear how much work it really was and how far you truly have come. I admire that a great deal.

Lisabell said...

Thank you so much.