So I'm divorced. (Well, not legally. North Carolina requires a one year separation before you can officially be divorced.) It's a taboo topic, especially when you start dating before it's "official". Still, I am sharing my story to encourage people to find their voice and talk about divorce, breakups and heartbreak and therein find their power to move forward and love again.
My saga began in August 2015, when a job promotion opened up that would allow me to implement my newly attained MBA skills within the Bank of America Digital team. The catch: It required me to move 3000 miles from Durham --- and from my husband who was only halfway through his Physical Therapy program. Since we had already weathered long separations in our marriage back when he was a baseball player, he encouraged me to take it on and agreed this new role would intellectually stimulate me. We both knew it did not, however, fit the formula for a "normal marriage". I shared my second thoughts before leaving: "I like living here in Durham with you and the routine we've created." We were confident we could stay strong, so I made my decision, took the promotion and moved to California.
Just six months later, on March 21, 2016, I wrote this in my journal:
The first day of spring is all about rebirth and hope. I'm pulling all strings right now to hold on to every piece of hope I've ever needed in my life. Tonight I was lying sprawled out on my bedroom floor - 3,000 miles away from my husband - staring blankly at the ceiling as tears slowly rolled down the side of my cheeks. I asked myself - is this what real, deep sadness feels like? I don't have the motivation to get out of bed, go running, eat any food or make friends. My comfortable world just unraveled so quickly (14 days to be exact) in front of me and now I'm trying to make sense of it all. I feel so helpless, but one thing I do know is that I am going to fight for my marriage.
Another 14 days later, on April 5th, my marriage ended, despite trips back to Durham and a couple of counseling sessions.
Have you ever experienced that moment where all of the assumptions you had about your life's future just disappear like dust in the wind? There are so many events that could cause this to happen - realizing you're gay, losing a loved one or, in my instance, getting divorced.
My picture perfect future was erased that day when my marriage ended.
Of course, there were moments leading up to the ultimate decision where I realized that perhaps the future I had imagined actually wasn't that perfect. Maybe instead of bringing the best out in each other we brought out the worst. Maybe we didn't have as deep of a relationship that we both desired and needed. Was it just better for each of us to go our own separate ways and find another person who can make our souls sing?
I needed time to come to terms with the "maybes." I needed time to understand that this was the right path for me. Most importantly, I needed time to absorb the reality of the situation, to mourn the loss of so many people who were family to me, and to begin on a path towards forgiveness and peace with myself and with my ex.
That day it ended, I called my parents, bawling that it was really over. They dropped everything and drove through the night to whisk me and my cat back to the haven of my childhood home in Southern Illinois. We grieved together as they had loved him like a son but we worked rapidly to pack what we could into their car and the remaining items into good friends' garages. I left Durham without looking back. I stayed at home for a week, ate very little, didn't do any dishes and pretended that I didn't know my mom was going outside to cry where I couldn't see her. We went to two Dharma meditation classes together and that helped my mom as much as it did me. I helped my dad plant kale in the high tunnel, where he told me "Caitlin, just get your hands dirty. Putting your hands in the soil is therapeutic." As always, he was totally right. I burned old pictures of "us" with my brother. As the huge bonfire transformed smiling images of days gone by to ashes, we both screamed primal cries. Very cathartic, I might add.
Within a week, I was ready to go back to work, to feel productive and to put roots down in California, something I had hesitated to do before. I had this intense need to invest in friends already made in the previous months. And I wanted to get that started already!
Upon landing in SFO, my Uber driver and I talked about his family and his dreams and then he looked at me through his rearview mirror and asked me why I looked so sad. I told him I was going through some heartbreak. He told me: "Caitlin, you are so beautiful. I can tell you have a good soul, you will have a very happy life with a very kind man!" It sounds so “don’t worry be happy” saying this, but in that moment, a switch flipped. He was right. I was going to be just freaking fine! I needed to believe it and I needed to be positive.
In fact, his words jolted me just when I most needed to hear them. I knew how to come to terms with the "maybes:" Begin to accept them as truths. I was on a better path, even if I couldn't see it during the break up. I had a choice. I could choose to feel sorry for myself and constantly question every single action I took leading up to the separation, or I could accept it and begin forming a new life filled with people who support and love me. I chose the latter. A wise friend, Jillian, who also recently was separated, summed it up perfectly: Love is certainly a confusing thing, especially when we confront head on the things that are missing in a relationship, even when it causes our paths to separate.
After I changed my frame of reference, I realized that it's okay to write a different script.
Suddenly being so far away from Durham was the best thing that ever happened to me and allowed me to move forward, at lightning speed. After all, none of my Cali friends knew him or had been to my wedding. I had a perfectly clean, blank slate. I didn't have to answer awkward questions of "How's he doing?" because he wasn't ever a part of my life here.
What also allowed me to move forward was the fact that I already had an established residence as well as a selfless support network who visited in April and May, some from across the country! My Charlotte friends called me constantly, providing legal, moral and emotional support. I started dancing, hiking, lifting, rock climbing --- I met so many amazing people in the process. And, of course, I ran. I didn't have a plan, I just ran with Jenna or Heather as much as I could and basically every run was a therapy session, even if we didn't talk about my separation directly.
Just having someone I could rely on every single day was powerful. Running transformed my anger into acceptance, my confusion into clarity, my pain into power.
On one particular run, it hit me: I am free. I am not only running free, but I am indeed free. Quite literally, free! With the wind whipping through my hair, the bugs drowning in my sweat, and the geese hissing at me, I had this revelation: I no longer am bound to anyone or anything in my life. I can do whatever I want. The future is entirely my own - I am no longer a shared entity with someone else. And that's a very beautiful thing to welcome.
After that wonderful little run, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. It was time for me to channel my newfound power into the challenging training regime that would prepare me to successfully cover 26.2 miles. In many ways, my life got back on track through my steadfast friend named running. (note - I'll cover that race in another blog post).
And then, just a couple months later, there was this journal entry:
June 16th, 2016: A Whole New World!
Let's change the mood of this book called life. As I flip the page from a chapter full of heartbreak, despair, judgment, pain and shame, I hold my chin up high with confidence in the full rebirth of Caitlin Rose Chrisman. This next chapter has already started full of hope, trust, warmth, laughter and acceptance! What am I really saying? I am actually beginning to live again! I've been resurrected. My past has shaped me, but it doesn't DEFINE me. Since it's top of mind now, I want to recap my past two dates because they were really fun!
I didn't expect to be ready to date, but I was. I expected that some friends or family members would justifiably be skeptical of my judgment to jump into a relationship so soon. I sensed that they were coming from a place of wanting to protect me from potentially getting hurt again. Some even questioned me point blank, and I appreciated their concern. Yet I also knew that the only person who could gauge if I was ready to date was myself. There isn't a script for falling in love that we all can follow. And so with that, I encourage you to trust your instincts and to pursue relationships that make you feel alive. ...
Just because, four months later, I'm still dating that same person. When the time is right for you, may you also be open to the same happiness and pure joy an authentic caring relationship can bring.