Me? Well, I was caught off guard yesterday when I stumbled upon my divorce certificate while hunting for other documents.
Maybe it was because I’d been having such a delicious weekend. On Saturday I’d done a wicked Bodypump class, met up with an old friend and gone window shopping. Sunday morning I’d hung out with Steve drinking coffee, talking shit, and having a laugh. I’d just been saying how happy I was with life right now when it struck.
It wasn’t at all the memory of the divorce itself. At the end of the day that was just a bit of paper that landed through my door one morning without ceremony. No, it was the memory of the years of empty Sundays that had preceded it.
You may well be thinking that this is not the kind of experience that you’d associate with generally upbeat and positive me? And perhaps that’s all the more reason that I want to share it with you.
See, I’d got married when I was 24, right after my mother died. I’d undoubtedly confused love with needing security, but after the frenzy of organizing the wedding, life began to feel flat. Of course, I was mourning the loss of my mother, but everyone else had moved on, so I imagined I should have too and blamed it on my job at the time. Andrew was also bored, so we hatched a plan to get ourselves “down south” and into more exciting jobs. He ended up getting work near Horsham, where we bought a house: I joined Amex in London and began commuting.
Last week I was writing about stories. The one I’d written for that part of my life was more like a fairy tale. Poor orphan girl is rescued by her knight in shining armor who carries her off to a foreign land where she has a wonderful career, owns a detached house, has two cars on the drive and takes a couple of foreign holidays every year. To the outside that’s probably how it looked. But, as Roxy Music says: “In every dream home, a heartache”.
For a start, Andrew was no prince charming. Far from being my hero, he leached me emotionally and financially. Monday to Friday he was a catering manager. But most weekends, even in the depths of winter – in fact, especially in the depths of winter – he was at some windsuring meet-up in some or other part of the country. I’d tried to join in with that crowd, but it wasn’t my scene. There is nothing more boring than freezing your face off for hours watching small dots on the horizon; or standing in bars all night getting off your head drunk watching men in their twenties and thirties acting like school boys.
So, increasingly I spent my weekends in this odd situation where I was married, but was always alone. From time to time I’d touch my sense of isolation. I’d feel sorry for myself and wonder what I was doing. I’d consider how my reality didn’t fit my fantasy. But for the most part I avoided really looking at it. It was easier to hold things together than to confront things and kick-start a chain of events that might lead to God knew where.
I escaped to work as a way of numbing out
Yesterday as I sat there awash with all those feelings again, and the sadness for myself that I’d had to endure them at all, I asked myself “How? How did I do it? How did I get through these awful days and survive?”
I suppose I’ve known this for some time, but yesterday it came home to me with more felt force. I’d completely numbed myself out on what was happening. And work was the key thing that allowed me to do so. Although it was always a shock to the system when the alarm went off at 6.00 am, Mondays were always a relief. At work I knew who and where I was. I felt confident and capable there. I could throw myself into deep waters with a strong degree of certainty that I’d find my horizons sooner or later. But the same was far from true in my personal life.
It’s ironic that I chose to work in Human Resources. I like to think that I did so from a very caring perspective and that I was a good leader. I certainly had a lovely team of people around me, and some great colleagues; people who felt like family. But there was safety in that too. I could give all of myself Monday to Friday and withdraw on the weekend. At a level, it didn’t have to touch me.
Of course the whole thing fell apart. It was always going to. The first domino went down on discovering that Andrew’s playboy motto – “windsurfers do it standing up” – was now referring to more than just his sailing pursuits. I’ll spare you the detail of the battle for my sanity that went on around all of that for another day. Suffice to say that my corporate career was at its peak as I went through a painful and protracted divorce on grounds of infidelity.
Why am I sharing all of this? What’s its relevance to the blog?
Well, work can play a hugely important role in our lives. When we put who we are to the service of the world the sense of engagement and satisfaction can be enormous. But it’s also possible to use work to vicariously meet needs in us that we’re currently unable to address elsewhere.
I’d love to tell you to stop doing so and to concentrate more on what’s really going on. But I fear that’s coaching bullshit, and that, if you’re pouring yourself unduly into your work, and avoiding your self in the process, it’s because at a level somehow you need to right now. For me, finding my way back to my self was not a decision, but a process that took time. Indeed, it’s one that’s ongoing. Instigating divorce proceedings was only the beginning of me doing my own different kind of work; an inner work that would allow me to resurrect my soul.
And yes, I’ve done a lot to get to the point of having a very rich and happy life. But even now I have days of being drawn down into my feelings and wanting to escape from them. It’s just that, this time I decided to share it.