All the divorce books I purchased during my divorce were (insert your favorite derogatory adjective or four-letter word).
Honestly, I think the problem I had with the divorce advice books I bought was an emotional one. If the book didn’t resonate EXACTLY with my situation or pay at least a little lip service to what I might be going through, I wanted none of it. So, even though I think I tossed them with extreme vigor into the trash at some point in time and therefore cannot check my hunch, it could be that these books were not so bad. It’s just that if the author began with something like, “I am at peace with my divorce, blah, blah, and my ex and I work well together to create a blah, blah, blah and we even vacation together blah, blah, blah…” then I just had to stop reading at that point and go have a glass of wine.
Likewise, if a divorce how-to guide began with an 8-page checklist of all the tortuous things I had to do to “be thorough” in my preparation for meetings with my attorney, then I just felt overwhelmed and bad about myself because I knew right off the bat that there was no way in hell I would be that thorough at that particular point in time. It was all I could do to get up every day, sort of brush my hair and teeth, sort of remember to put on deodorant, and sort of make breakfast for the kids–or at least show them where the breakfast foods resided.
The first book I was able to read, cover to cover, was Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger. This book is written for people who are, or have been, living with someone who has a personality disorder. As per my usual, I opened the book with a pen in hand (this is just a habit of mine when reading, I read better with a pen). By the time I finished the book, 1-2 hours later, I flipped back through it to see that I had underlined almost every single sentence, made stars in the margins, drawn exclamation points and written the word “Wow!” everywhere.
The reason I got the book was because after confiding in a few people about what was going on and that my marriage was over, two people within 24 hours mentioned this book. I know when that kind of synchronicity happens, I need to pay attention. And I am so glad I did!
Of course this book would only be useful to those divorcing moms who were married to someone with an array of behaviors that placed them on the personality disorder spectrum (which is wide and has lots of gray areas…). The biggest flags for me were the following:
- Feeling, literally, to the point of using the phrase without any knowledge of the book, like I was “walking on eggshells” all the time
- The other phrase I used often was, “I feel like I have to tap dance around him all the time,” meaning that I felt I carried the burden of “making him feel good.” Like that was MY duty. I felt that he thought it was my duty, as well.
- Feeling like no matter what I did, I did it the wrong way
- Like I could never make him happy, no matter what I did (which is always true about anyone, because we can never assume that burden for another)
- Feeling like he had another life (I felt this way from the beginning and talked myself out of it by telling myself that this feeling was my fault, that I was overthinking it and too suspicious, even paranoid)
- Feeling like he had another personality, or several personalities
- Feeling like I “covered for him” all the time (even though this was difficult to define or pinpoint)
- Feeling fearful of what his reactions would be to just about anything (I notice now that the kids will say things like, “I better not because dad will be so mad…” or “you better not because dad will be so mad…”). By the way, it is my fervent belief now that I will never make decisions based on how mad someone will or will not be
- Feeling sickened by how he berated his mother when she was old and weak
- Feeling sickened by how he would turn on the kids and berate them for silly things, like sitting sideways in a chair or speaking too loudly at the dinner table (this led to very somber meals with lots of weird rules)
- Feeling like something was really wrong, but I didn’t know what
The confusing thing, of course, was that this man was wonderful in many other ways. He was very lovable and also a good father in many ways. He was a good husband in many ways, too. That was so, so, so confusing for me.
What also was confusing was that in the list of items above, you might have picked up that I was complicit in many of them (read: codependent). I allowed his behavior and played into it. I knew this about myself and knew I had my own work to do to get right with myself and with life. I needed to get healthy MYSELF!
Which leads me to book number 2:
“Steering by Starlight” by Martha Beck. This book sat on my nightstand for, I am not kidding, three years before I finally was able to pick it up and begin the work on myself, in earnest and with joy. I highly recommend it whenever you are ready for it. And you will know when that moment is. Do not feel bad if you are not ready for it now. This is not the kind of work you can do in that early phase of separation and divorce. You need a little distance on the worst of the divorce to have head space for this kind of thing. Just keep it in your back pocket until you are ready. Then, I sincerely recommend this book (and author) or some other self-helpy kind of author who makes sense to you.
But, as for actual divorce advice and help, what I found most useful was connecting with other divorced women and going to the message boards of our local Meetup group for divorced men and women. There was all manner of practical advice on the Meetup message boards. And the personal connection with other women (and men) proved invaluable to me. I think getting one-on-one, or group, support is vital. At least it was for me. These women proved to be lifelines for years. They still are. So, reach out to new people!
Books are great. You may find one you love. But other divorced people are there with you in the trenches and can be so “to the point.” If they don’t share your exact story, they may well know someone who does. Also, personally, I wish I’d known aobut the DivorcedMoms site much sooner! This forum is priceless.