I was divorced almost three decades ago. More accurately stated, I divorced by wife. I thought at the time that divorce would resolve the major problems in my family. But, the guilt that came with making that decision still lingers years after. I still see the distress it caused our daughters in their words and actions. While I have learned to intellectually parse the blame among my ex-wife and both sets of parents, the guilt still lingered for years just below the surface.
Since I pride myself on being level-headed and on letting my head rule my heart, I hoped that I could find the path to peace of mind and forgiveness when I discovered all the things I had done wrong. Yet, the guilt and hurt that comes with choosing divorce as a solution to my marital problems did not yield to all my intellectual analysis. It turned out that my analysis were not worth a “plugged nickel” when it came to purchasing me relief from my guilt. For what its worth, here is a list of some of my wrong thoughts on healing from divorce.
Understanding the hurt that comes with my divorce was essential for my mental health.
My guilt came from my failures as a husband and father.
Rationalization would bring me the comfort I so craved.
An intellectual understanding of the decisions that I had make that led to the divorce would lead to healing.
Because there was so much divorce and because so many appear to have recovered that it would not be a big deal.
Divorce was simply disconnecting a man-made artificial connection.
Divorce was simply another break-up from a romantic entanglement.
I thought a lot of things. When thinking did not seem to help, I thought some more. I was sure that I could think my way to peace and to forgiveness. I found that I could not.
I was told that divorce was similar to loosing a loved one. I was told that the grief would lessen over time. But, I had not lost a loved one. I was not grieving over an untimely passing. I was guilty because I had allowed a union of mind, body, and spirit to dissolve into distaste. Some how my feeling of love had turned into apathy at best. And, it was my fault.
I was the head of the family. I was the strong male in charge. I was the cool, level-headed, analytical one. I was the one who could make emotions yield to calm reasoning. I was the pilot of the ship that had run aground on the rocks and sunk. I was the watchman that slept while the enemy entered and destroyed the castle. I was lost in my feelings of guilt and could not find a way out.
My intellectual analysis of the situation could temporarily subdue my feelings of guilt allowing me to appear okay. I could function. I could talk unemotionally and with objectivity to friends and loved ones. Outwardly I appeared to be in great shape. I was in control. I had taken the bull by the horns only to have the horns spear me over and over when I least expected it.
The ultimate problem was not that my emotions proved superior in strength to my logical nature. The problem was that I knew despite all the culpability of my wife and our parents that I had failed. The fact that I could so easily see their parts in the failure of my marriage only increased my guilt. Why had I not seen it and compensated for it before it came to divorce? My guilt was not due to emotions. No, I was really guilty. The guilt was mine. Logically, I knew I had failed. The responsibility was mine. The problems were obvious. The need was clearly apparent. I had failed to make the corrections needed to stop the train before it reached the end of the line for our marriage.
Had my guilt been based in emotions, then as these emotions lessened over time my guilt would have lessened. Time might have healed the wound. But, it did not. It could not, because I had put myself on trial. I had judged myself guilty. The evidence was undeniable since my own words, my own actions, my own thoughts pronounced me guilty. And, I could see no basis for appeal. I had failed. I was guilty. There was no reasonable doubt. There was no extenuating circumstances. No way to avoid it. I could not run from it. I had failed. I had failed miserably. I deserved the guilt. It was my punishment for my choices. It was right. It was justified. It was fair.
Yet, I wanted forgiveness. I wanted release from this prison of guilt. I did not realize at the time that the process that would lead to my parole had begin with my admission of guilt.
I did find forgiveness. I did find peace of mind. I did find hope. I did find love again. I did find my fairy tale ending where I live happily ever after, but that is another story.