Healing in the Aftermath of Divorce

10/27/2017 .
Dawn Maxwell  .  Guest Storyteller

I walked down the hallway of the church offices, visibly distraught. I had just finished volunteering in the hopes that my busyness might provide a distraction from my worries. A pastor turned the corner, and I tried to smile as our paths crossed. But my eyes betrayed the pain I felt. He stopped and asked if there was anything he could help me with. That was all it took. I was broken deep inside and this pastor saw my distress.

I began to release the pent-up feelings that anguished my soul and self worth: I had loved my husband for 24 years. I still loved him. But our marriage was over. I wasn’t sure who I even was anymore. We were married in college and spent our entire adult life together. Now, daily routines felt impossible. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn for help. I thought I was going insane.

The pastor patiently listened and let me process my grief. When I finished sharing my story, he explained that the pain I felt was normal. When my relationship was severed, half my identity disappeared. He understood that so much of my life had been shaped around another person, but now I was trying to function by myself. I didn’t know how to fill that emptiness.

People often take sides during a divorce. I was just trying to figure out where I fit in again, but well-meaning Christians, trying to encourage me, often added to the shame and pain I felt. I was told that I was wrong because I had filed for the divorce. I already felt wrecked from our failed marriage, I didn’t need to hear it from everyone else. That pastor was the first person to allow me to process my grief out loud. He didn’t judge or condemn me. He listened and tried to understand what I was going through.

In that moment, my long journey toward healing began. And I realized that I would need a lot of help.

At first, I had packed my schedule with activities but nothing drowned out the emptiness I felt inside. After my conversation with the pastor, I knew I would need specialized care and a community of support. I had been attending Celebrate Recovery® to address my codependency issues for several years. And while that was helpful, it was only one night a week. I wanted more — I needed more.

Around that time I found the DivorceCare® support group at Saddleback. I was a little hesitant to give it a try. The first night I took my workbook, wrapped my arms protectively around it and told myself that if anyone said anything to hurt me, I was out. I had reached my breaking point. Once the people at my table began sharing, I realized that this was a safe place. And most importantly, I wasn’t alone.

I told God that I wouldn’t hold anything back. I wanted the full healing package. No matter what it would take, or how hard it would be, I was going to get healthy again.

Our group facilitator, Kathy, helped us all walk through the process together. She was great at giving everyone an opportunity to speak. Every one of us had issues we were dealing with. One person at our table had just checked out of a hospital after suicidal thoughts had overtaken him. Another confessed that she had felt a murderous rage toward her ex-husband.

We began checking in with each other throughout the week. When another woman in the group needed to go to court and fill out paperwork, I went with her. Another woman lost her house. Our group showed up every weekend for nearly a month to help her pack and move out.

The week after Thanksgiving, I noticed everyone in our group seemed a little down. I had heard that divorced people often feel isolated and alone through the holidays and I made the decision that wasn’t going to happen to us. A few weeks later, we found ourselves gathered around a table at Claim Jumper for our own unique version of family Christmas. We spent the whole evening together — laughing, chatting, and having way more fun than the other families in the restaurant that night. From that night, we decided to spend our holidays and birthdays together, which allowed us to build great friendships and a life-changing support group.

That first year was the most difficult, but in our DivorceCare community we were able to get on a road to healing. We spent the next three years together in a DivorceCare group, going through the curriculum several times, and learning something new about ourselves with each lesson. I had to relearn how to get my value and identity from God, not from myself, my ex-husband, or anything else. It was a long, difficult process but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the freedom I have now.

I’ve recently graduated with a Master’s degree in psychology and I have the opportunity to counsel others who are hurting. Having gone through so much pain myself, I can easily identify the hurts in others. I don’t want anyone going through their problems alone. People often assume that time heals, but that only happens if they put in the work. I don’t know how long God plans for me to be on this earth, but I’ve filled up my tank and want to remain useful with the time that I have and pay forward God’s healing to others.

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