By Tammy Burdick
Just recently, I hit what I dubbed the “I don’t know how you do it” trifecta: a divorced unemployed single mom. What. The. Heck. Younger me would never have thought I’d end up here. But she also had no idea what kind of strength life’s trials would build up inside of her. It’s not the label that makes me a unicorn. It’s the transformation and journey that came after life as I knew it first fell apart.
How Did I Get Here?
My marriage ended shortly after our 10-year anniversary. I felt like I was grieving. Being half of something for so long, the gaping hole in my life ripped through everything. In the few days after I left my home, I remember sitting on the floor in the hallway of a friend’s house, where my son and I stayed until I could figure out the next step. I must have been crying. She sat down next to me and said, “I just realized… your whole life is here on this floor.” Which wasn’t far from the truth. There were clothes, some paperwork, notes on what to do next, my Kindle, and my Bible. In survival mode, I’d focused my attention on just getting through the day. I would soon have to start thinking about my tomorrow.
That’s how life went for a little while. Push and pull from lawyers, emotional phone calls, all of the mess that results from a marriage ending. We eventually brokered an uncomfortable truce for the sake of our son, who at age 6 understood just enough to upend his world. I did everything I could to keep his life as normal as possible. He played rec sports and saw his friends. We went to church. We were able to stay in the only home he ever knew, with his beloved dog and cats.
Things settled into a new normal. Now splitting time during the week and on the weekends with my son’s father, the newfound free time gave me a chance to become reacquainted with myself. I spent time with friends I’d barely seen over the last few years. I traveled. I went to concerts. Hiked trails. Joined a book club. Binge watched shows and developed a preference for BBC programming over the long American tv seasons. I rediscovered my geeky, nerdy side that I’d pushed down for so long in an attempt to fit in. By embracing what I loved, I found my tribe.
To my bewilderment, I found myself battling a deep sense of loneliness despite the time I spent with my friends. It gripped me with a pain similar to the pain I felt when my marriage ended. I’d attended church as a child, and had made it a part of my life again when my son was just a toddler. While I continued to attend weekly and my son and I were both involved in activities, I didn’t want to give up the fun I was having with my newfound freedom. I liked going out and drinking a bit with my friends. Enjoying a bottle of red while I watched old movies on my child-free evenings. “Blowing off the steam” from years of being at home all the time, it felt like this was totally fine for me to do. Expected. What I found however was that I was drinking more than I anticipated, spent more time sleeping on friend’s couches that I planned. After a celebratory night out, a close friend confronted me out of love and concern for my well-being. He knew I struggled with loneliness and had suffered greatly. He also knew that I was only numbing myself and not actually dealing with my pain.
How. Dare. He. I was fuming. While my anger swelled, a part of me said, “No, you need to listen. It took courage to speak up.” So I did. It sunk in. Truth was being spoken. I wasn’t dealing with the hurt. I was running away from years of pain. And I felt the disconnect between what I was reading in scripture and how I chose to spend my time.
Confronting hurt takes a lot out of you. The pain and loneliness got worse. I turned to my faith to get through. I was all in, as if saying, OK God, I give up. Let’s do this. When my heart ached I turned to scripture, music and prayer, which sometimes turned into angry, ugly tears. “Why did this happen? Why isn’t it the way I wanted?” Well, what did I want? I wanted peace again. I wanted to provide a good life for my son. I wanted to feel loved and feel worthy of being loved.
In time, the loneliness pulled away. Instead of feeling it every night after the day was over and I was alone with my thoughts, it came a few times a week. And then maybe every once in a while. In the place of loneliness, I felt more peace and contentment.
A Positive Outlook and An Amazing Future
I’m still doing the divorced single mom thing. I have my faith. I have my friends. Since then, we lost my son’s father in a car accident and grieved his death. Followed by another blow that came with getting laid off. However, something felt different each time I went through my grief. I found myself more ready to tackle each new life-altering struggle head on based on what I’d discovered over the years on how to deal with, well, life.
There are still moments that are hard. But now I know that with the struggle comes strength. With that strength comes hope that tomorrow will be better and that I’m not alone in this. Life, once broken, is indeed now more beautiful.