A few weeks ago I took a big step outside my comfort zone. Worthy just launched a podcast, Divorce & Other Things You Can Handle, and they’d asked me to contribute. I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, and I’d never contributed to one before. I had no idea what to expect. Would I say, ‘um,’ or ‘like’ too much? Run out of things to say?
Sitting at my kitchen table, with my headphones and mic plugged into my laptop, Audrey and I chatted for about an hour. It was fun and, turns out, I had plenty to say. At one point, near the beginning, I commented, “Ugh, I hate how my voice sounds!”
Audrey broke in and said something profound, “Don’t say that! Your voice speaks up for divorced women everywhere! Your voice tells stories that other women need to hear!”
How many of us “hate” our voice? Too high-pitched, too much vocal fry. Someone once told us that we use too many filler words, or upspeak, so now we’re self-conscious every time we open our mouths in stressful situations. But I think that very push to silence our voices comes from an implicit acknowledgment of how powerful they are and that learning to express ourselves post-divorce is part of the healing process.
Even if your marriage wasn’t verbally abusive, it’s common for women in bad marriages to start modifying their voices. We’re often trained to be conflict-resistant and to be the peacemaker. So we say, “Oh, have fun!” when our ex tells us he’s leaving us alone with a young baby to go to a Superbowl party. Note that he didn’t ask if it’s okay that he go and it’s been weeks since we’ve had a break. We agree to spend an unaffordable amount on a wedding gift for one of his family members. To spend our vacations with his family instead of on a beach. And somewhere along the way, we lose ourselves and our ability to raise our voice.
Tune in to hear Dena discuss the stigma of divorce on “Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle”
The process of divorce and recovery is a long one, full of discovery and reinvention. It’s about improving your mental health, whether through therapy or meditation. Starting a new fitness regimen or career, making new friends, going back to school. In the midst of learning to embrace and choose change, you’ve probably started to discover your voice again without even realizing it. As you identify where you want to make a change, or how you want to respond to unwanted change, you’re articulating your values, your wants, your needs, in other words – exploring your voice.
In March I moved into a new apartment. On our move-in day, I went to open the closet doors in my bedroom and it fell on me! When they’d re-painted, they’d re-hung the doors wrong. I called down to the service desk and they sent up a handyman to fix it. But he didn’t check any of the other doors. A few hours later my son opened the coat closet door…and it fell.
Luckily, the door was stopped by the narrow entryway’s wall before it could hit him. But my son was surprised and frightened. I called down again.
“Oh, the handyman’s gone home for the day and he doesn’t want to come back,” the man at the service desk told me. “Is it alright if it waits until tomorrow?”
Social conditioning is such that the expected response to “is it alright?” or, “That’s okay, yes?” is “Of course!” or “No worries!” Make nice, be amenable. I looked at the door now blocking my front door, a fire hazard, and my scared kid and took a deep breath.
“Actually, that’s not alright. I’d like it fixed tonight. And, when he comes back, I want him to check all the doors in the apartment,” my voice was strong, firm and clear. It didn’t waver. And the handyman came back that night to fix the door.
It’s not world peace, but it was speaking up for – and getting – what I wanted. And sometimes starting small builds the courage to raise your voice when it comes to the big stuff. While you’ve probably already been developing your voice unconsciously, I’d urge you to start thinking about and noticing it in the midst of your post-divorce life. Consciously identify, and celebrate, your new strength and ability to own and tell your story.
I’ve always been a storyteller. I wrote my first novel in third grade and sold a book at age twenty-two. But my writing was one of many things that fell by the wayside during my marriage. Post-divorce, I began seriously writing again. For me. Not for a hypothetical bestseller for a partner who only valued my writing if it made money. I wrote to process and understand my marriage, my experiences and my life now. And I rediscovered my voice. Stronger, clearer and more focused.
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