When I was three years old, I was invited to swim at my friend’s parents’ country club. While sitting on a lounge chair, a yellow jacket landed on my shoulder blade and hung out there for awhile. In a valiant effort, my friend’s dad took the towel he was holding and swatted. He missed, and the yellow jacket stung me. The pain I felt was nothing like I had ever experienced before, and I cried uncontrollably until my friend’s mom (happily) drove me home. The incident, now 42 years ago, was the first time I can recall feeling pain. It was also the first time I remember being afraid.
There would be other times. Also in preschool (these were some dark days for me), I developed an irrational fear of walking on dry leaves. And on grass. I’m not sure which came first or if they’re even related. Then, at 12, I started to fear large dogs after a friend’s bit my hand when I was there for a sleepover. It didn’t help that her parents denied the incident, describing the bite as a nip. Whatever it was, the dog had left his mark, on my body and on my mind.
What I didn’t realize was that the biggest fear I would develop, and eventually have to overcome, loomed just around the corner. On a cold winter day in the eighth grade, I got off the bus, walked down the hill to my house like I always did, and found out from my mother who came outside to meet me that my father had suffered a heart attack while I was at school and died. Death, not mine but my loved ones’, including the pain and insecurity that comes with it, moved to the top of my list. I never wanted to be left by anyone ever again. Twenty-six years later, however, my husband would do precisely that, except not by dying on me. By divorcing me.
My early fears were eclectic but bound by a single commonality – the potential to paralyze me. My mother, not wanting me to be scared walking from the front door to the car, picked me up one afternoon while I kicked and screamed and placed me squarely on a pile of leaves as well as on the grass. She also did her best throughout my childhood to keep me from getting stung by reminding me not to scream whenever I heard buzzing around me. In spite of her efforts, I wouldn’t feel confident until I crossed the lawn myself, jumped in a leaf pile, and went for a walk outside alone in the August heat when wasps and bees appear to behave most aggressively. Eventually, I did all of those things. My divorce, however, proved more challenging.
When my husband left me more than six years ago, I was overcome not only with grief but also fear. I feared the challenge of earning my own money, being able to raise my children the way I wanted to after receiving full physical custody of them for most of the year and having to do most of the heavy emotional and physical lifting alone, and the possibility no man would ever love me again. It’s what led me to get on my knees and beg my husband to stay, despite us being unhappy for years and him cheating. Fortunately, he ignored my pleas, and I had no choice but to face what made me most afraid. As a result, I built a new career, embraced single parenting, and began to date.
Make sure to tune into Stacey Freeman on our podcast “Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle”
Divorce, from the very first mention of it, through the process, and the recovery that follows, can conjure up more than a few fears in us, including the most obvious one, which is, how will I survive? At the outset, we may not know, and we may not for a long time to come. What we do know from experience is that to survive we must treat this primal fear the same as we have all the others that preceded it, which is by facing it head-on. It means staying calm when there’s a buzz around us – conflict, idle gossip, and guilt. It means jumping in a leaf pile where we may never have had to before – by immersing ourselves in documents during Discovery, becoming more social in a crowd, and cleaning up the actual leaves when we lack the money temporarily to pay a landscaper to do it for us. Most of all, it means traversing the yard because in our hearts we continue to have faith that the grass will be greener once we get to the other side.
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