Last weekend I went to a conference on working with traumatized children. The presenter made a remark that struck a chord: she said that people who have suffered repeated trauma, and spend most of their time in therapists’ offices or mental health facilities, tend to identify with their diagnosis. They don’t develop a sense of self. They become their disorder and, consequently, don’t know what they think or feel.
I didn’t suffer major trauma growing up, but my experience of being adopted had a profound impact on my psychological development. I always thought of myself as an orphan and felt hollow inside. I looked to others for signals as to how I should be, what I should do. And because I didn’t form a solid identity, I was always searching for where I belonged.
It’s no surprise that I married into a family so powerful that they’re a brand. I now knew what I was supposed to think, what my values should be. I finally had an identity.
We all know how well that worked out.
When I got divorced ten years ago, I was faced with the task of figuring out who I was. It was all the more daunting because I was told repeatedly by my ex-husband that I was an inferior person, a terrible mother, someone of no value. Now I was right back where I’d started from.
* * *
One of the few through-lines in my life has been writing. From age seven, when I started scribbling stories in a little black journal, I dreamed of being a writer. I never really wanted to be do anything else, and it was one of the few things I did that I felt good about, that I knew I did well.
I had stopped writing when I got divorced because I simply didn’t have the time. I was too busy starting a new career, raising children solo, and putting the pieces of my life back together. But during my first custody battle, I sat down to start this blog, really as a way to keep from losing my mind.
When I wrote my first blog post in February 2011, I was a terrified, powerless woman. At least I thought I was powerless. What I discovered was that writing helped me regain my power because it allowed me to create a life narrative that made sense. And when I gained an audience of women who were having the same experiences, and came to my blog for support, I felt, for the first time, that I had a purpose. I certainly wasn’t a famous writer, but I had something to offer.
Writing this blog helped me understand why I wound up in a second marriage to someone who told me what to think and feel, and why I needed to leave that marriage. It helped me make peace with my decision to give up custody of my son. It allowed me to celebrate the return of Luca, the repair of our relationship, and it gave me the strength to undergo a second custody battle — and win.
What it didn’t do was provide enough income for me to survive financially. Even with the reinstatement of child support, I don’t make enough to cover my monthly nut. I’ve made up the costs by dipping into rapidly dwindling savings, and by the gifts of an incredibly generous friend who has helped me pay the rent in what is one of the most expensive cities in the country.
The past few months have been terrifying. I looked ahead to the end of the year with dread: without a new influx of cash, I didn’t know how I would support myself and my kids.
* * *
There have been some truly dark days the past few months, days where I was utterly devoid of hope. But then I would force myself to stop focussing on all the single mom horror stories I’d heard, and focus on the successes.
One person who has inspired me is Kristy Campbell, a single mom of five children who was left penniless by her second husband. Kristy now has an executive position in Silicon Valley and is the sole supporter of her family. When my second marriage ended I e-mailed Kristy and told her how terrified I was. She wrote back something I’ve never forgotten. She told me to suspend all disbelief that I would end up destitute — not a far-fetched destination — and tell myself repeatedly how fantastic I was, that I could do anything.
As dopey as this sounded, I used this mantra as often as I could muster it.
* * *
In June I went online to look for writing jobs. I found one that seemed perfect: a full-time web content writer for a large mental health corporation. It was a perfect combination of my mental health expertise and my writing skills. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better job if I’d tried.
I sent in my resume and was asked to send writing samples. But I never got a response, even after following up several times. I was disappointed, but I didn’t let myself get too down about it. Something else would come along.
Last week, I got an e-mail from the media relations director. The company needed a freelance web content writer right away. The income from this job would almost double my monthly take-home pay: exactly the amount I needed to survive.
I banged out two articles and was told yesterday I got the job. The timing is nothing short of miraculous. I’m not a religious person and I don’t believe that thinking positively brings you riches, a la The Secret. But I do believe that, often, success is a matter of not giving up.
* * *
After I regained custody and child support last summer, I felt that I’d said everything I needed to say about divorce. The gestalt of my personal divorce story was complete. Now that I have this freelance job, in addition to my full-time job and raising two kids, I wouldn’t have time to keep Divorced Pauline going, even if I felt I had more to say.
When I look back on the scared, still unformed woman I was three-and-a-half years ago, I don’t know who that person was. I have become the empowered woman I always wanted to be, and I would never have had this personal growth without my blog and my incredible community of readers and other divorce bloggers. I would never have had the opportunity to spend three years honing my writing skills, to learn how to pitch topics to other web sites, to gain the prestige of becoming a HuffPost Divorce writer. I would never have gotten the job that will allow me to support my family. I would never have felt confident enough to call myself a writer.
This is my last post for Perils of Divorced Pauline. It has been an incredible ride and I am profoundly grateful for each and every reader, for everyone who contributed to my legal fees, for everyone who e-mailed me, and for the lovely reader who sent me cookies and a Starbucks card for my birthday. And I owe huge thanks to the Divorced Moms team, especially to Cathy Meyer, for all the support they have shown me.
I hope that my story will help other single moms believe in themselves. If I could get through an apocalyptic divorce and come out on the other side more empowered than I ever thought possible — well, so can you.
I’m closing up my blog shop, but I’m always available my e-mail. Anyone who wants to reach me can write me at [email protected]
Thank you, everyone, for coming along on my ride. What a long, strange, but ultimately victorious trip it’s been.