Can divorce cause PTSD?
Does the trauma experienced in a divorce ever really leave you?
I think divorce can indeed bring on a PTSD-like reaction.
Post-traumatic stress after divorce
And that feeling is exacerbated over and over for single moms! In doing some initial research, I found that symptoms like night terrors, flashbacks, and troubling thoughts about a divorce or marriage are real. These symptoms can become intensified by reminders that occur in our daily life. I know for a fact that I have experienced and still do to a certain extent, a PTSD like response to things or reminders that bring me back to that dark space I found myself in many years ago when my husband left me, our baby daughter and our toddler son for another woman.
You never really know a man until you have divorced him.
The PTSD I experienced was directly related to the fact that I was married to a man I had known since college but found that I was now divorcing a complete stranger.
Someone who had been living a secret life and whom I had never met before. When my husband left me, I had just given birth to our second child who was only 4 weeks old and we had a 4-year-old son too, so I was learning not only how to be the mother of two children, but I now found myself learning how to do this as a single mother.
When I found that my husband had been having an affair the entire time that I was pregnant and well before, I not only couldn’t recognize my life any longer, I found that rest and peace of mind completely eluded me.
I was of course feeding an infant during the night anyway so feeling exhausted went with the territory. When I was able to sleep, I would have horrible nightmares. I have had one nightmare for 20 years now. I have this recurring dream whenever I am under a tremendous amount of stress due to finances. In the beginning, he left me in the middle of a home remodel, and I was left to complete the project alone.
I had a lot of financial stress weighing on me along with my broken heart. When I have this recurring nightmare to this day, I always wake from it by hearing my own voice trying to soothe myself. The theme of the dream is always rejection and betrayal. It sounds silly that I still experience this I know. But, for some reason, that dream has played out in my sleep probably 200 times in the last two decades as I worked to raise a family alone.
I suppose in retrospect it all has to do with my fear of failure, abandonment, and loss of my life as I once knew it. The woman he left us for is more or less a Phantom in my dream because to this day, I have not met her. In addition, triggers of just life going on can cause it to happen too. I had just had a baby when my husband left us. And now with my nieces and nephews all starting to have children, I have found that every time I see their babies, it brings me back and I experience dreams about my children at that time. I am usually losing my kids in crowded and confusing places in my dreams and I am feeling utter despair. And… I usually wake up crying.
These dreams have stayed with me over the years. Having now experienced a pandemic this past year and having taken a substantial pay cut, it has caused me to have the dream once already this year. But, I know the origins of the dream and I am able to shake it off much faster and recovery is within seconds rather than the days it felt like before.
After examining my own PTSD, I was curious to see if this was just my own experience or if anyone else had experienced this too. This is what I found.
An affair is an attempt to escape from the reality of one’s self.
One woman I interviewed also experienced divorce as a result of infidelity. She shared the following with me.
“I still do suffer from it! My biggest fear is money. Whenever a large bill comes in, I have trouble catching my breath. Even though I have since remarried, I still get this terrifying feeling of not being able to pay it. My ex-husband was an attorney who made a lot of money. After he left, he made sure that I was responsible for half of every bill. Even though I wasn’t working and had not in many years…I had no income of my own coming in.
When our children were born, we had decided then that I would stay at home and so I left my career. Soon after he left us, “his” bad choices soon became “my” financial problem. Every time my daughters needed a costume for a dance performance or clothes for school or money for something special, I felt sick. I was lucky in that I had friends who took the three us out to dinner and literally fed us…or who loaned me money…which I always paid back! I also was lucky enough to have a wonderful family who supported me. My initial PTSD is always money. It makes me sick even to this day 25 years later.
My second PTSD reaction is when I run into the woman who he had the affair with. She still gloats over breaking up our marriage. However, karma is…well… you know. He has recently now left her and is engaged to another woman whom he cheated with, so his cycle of discontent continues. My daughters are grown women now. But when I think back on those days, I physically get sick remembering that this man left his wife and two small children to be with the law firm pass around! A woman with a reputation and who he sacrificed everything for. And now, she suffers what I had to. Though I have to say she had far more information on his character than I had. So, she shouldn’t be too surprised at the place she now finds herself in. Personally, I don’t think PTSD ever goes away!”
New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.
Recognizing that PTSD after divorce is real, is the first step.
You are not crazy either. We all carry a lot and we truly are the sum of our divorced life experiences. But as long as you know where it stems from, then maybe that’s where the healing can begin.
The feelings of PTSD may never completely leave us, but how we react to those feelings is what changes….and as time goes by it does get easier.
As a single parent, my life still has its challenges. But I keep moving forward. Always forward. My old struggles have just switched places with some new ones. I still carry a lot as I continue to raise my family alone. I have gotten one child through college and I still have one more to finish in two years. My struggles are what they are. But, in the end, I couldn’t have received a better return on my investment than the two exceptional people I am honored to be the Mother of…to be the Single Mother of.
Life is like a camera. Just focus on what’s important and capture the good times…develop from the negatives. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot!
All the struggles, challenges, kicks to my heart, and sleepless nights have all been worth it. I am lucky. My kids have ridden this wave with me and also championed their own self values…their own PTSD too. How I see it goes like this…
You can leave something for people or you can leave something in people.
I chose to leave something in them rather than just for them. Something that they will take with them every day of their life through the stuff they may have watched me endure. I hope they always hold close to their vests, self-respect, self-love, and love for me. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
I am a proud single mother who, over the years has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress (after) Divorce. But I’m still standing. I’m still smiling. I’m still me. I’m a survivor and I am my own personal cheerleader. Every single mom has earned that right. Sometimes divorce can feel like a battlefield. It’s hard. It’s cold. And it’s all about conquering the unknown on foreign territory. And to me, every Single Mom is a Hero.