“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” Theodore Roosevelt
There will never be a good time to share this news. Because this news sucks. It’s not any news I ever thought I’d have to share with my closest friends, let alone thousands of Facebook followers, fans and distant acquaintances. But, I have learned in my journey with having a special needs child, that the only way to keep moving forward is to accept what you’ve been given. To stand in the middle of the mud and the pain and the mess and say, “I’ll take it. Bring it on. But I WILL NOT sink here. I will NOT die here.” That’s what I KNOW to be true. But the mean voices are alive and loud and want me to hide. To stay safe behind the secret. But secrets suck the life right out of you.
Secrets keep you stuck.
And the last thing I want to be right now is stuck. And so, here goes.
In June my husband Jim and I would have celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Would have. But now, we are getting a divorce. Just shy of thirty years of marriage, we have decided to journey onward on this planet as single human beings instead of together. Just typing those words causes me such grief. Yet somehow, sprinkled within them are little bits of relief. Relief that you now know. Relief that it’s out in the light where it can be bathed in warmth. And relief that James, although aware that change is happening, will never fully understand the complexity and pain that his parents were dealing with when he was nine years old.
A few weeks ago, smack dab in the midst of the media frenzy and viral-ness of the story I wrote about James in the Apple Store, I realized my marriage was over. On one random Saturday night, I knew that what Jim and I had been struggling to keep together for thirty years had ended. I knew that the twenty-five years we spent in and out of therapy could not fix us. I won’t go into details, because they don’t matter. What matters is that Jim and I have tried and tried and tried to fix a broken system, and
Sometimes things are just not fixable.
We do not make this decision lightly. We believed our entire lives that we said “I do” before God and meant it. Divorce was never an option. Saying “I don’t” was never an option. But now it is. In fact, it is the best option.
If you are one of my uber-spiritual friends, please save your “But God can restore your marriage” comments for a later time. Because our marriage doesn’t need to be restored at the moment. I need to be restored. I with a capital “I” and big bold letter – I!!! And Jim needs to be restored too. I could blame a lot of people at this moment. I would most like to blame a certain religious belief system, but that is too big and too deep a wound to write about right now. Right now, I have just enough strength to put my left foot in front of my right foot and breathe in and then out. It’s all I can do to wipe tears away and get dressed some mornings. And occasionally utter out a prayer that sounds more like I’m swearing at God.
Life is hard. Marriage is harder.
What I need most from you now is love and support, and okay, and maybe some donuts. I love Jim. I have always loved Jim. And I always will love Jim. This is what I wrote in the foreword of my memoir: “To Jim: your love for our son is one of the most comforting and beautiful things I have ever experienced. Thank you for being our rock.” All true. Even now. Many of you know Jim personally but some do not. I can tell you that he is one amazing man who has so much to offer this world. And because of the bond we have with James, we will be in each other’s lives forever. And right now, Jim and I need you to be Switzerland. We need you to be neutral and not choose anyone’s side. Years ago, when a popular artist friend of mine was going through a very public messy divorce she said,
“There are three sides to every story. His side. Her side. And the truth – which lies somewhere in the middle.”
Do I wish this life-changing event would have been nicely and neatly delivered months or years after my first book was released? Do I wish I wasn’t having to share such personal news in the midst of a benefit show and a house concert tour? Do I wish the circumstances that Jim and I were married within and under were different? A resounding HELL yeah to all of those things. But as my therapist Diane said once (in regards to James but it applies here as well),
“Sometimes in life you get a steel wall. It comes in and it slams down hard and it becomes part of your being from that point on. You can’t go around it. You can’t go through it. You can’t change it. YOU can’t fix it.”
For the past month I have walked around my house in a daze trying to figure out the right way to tell you this. But there is no right way. There is no right anything when you’re dealing with broken hearts. I’m sure someone will accuse me of using such a personal message to promote my career. (Just like someone commented that I orchestrated the Apple story going viral to sell books. Yes, I willed my autistic child to run head first into a glass wall!) Or, people may ask why I just didn’t wait six months to tell the news. Because, I can’t live behind a fake smile and a lie. It has nearly killed me over the past few weeks to be out sharing my story and not telling the whole story. To have had to lie when someone asked, “How are you and Jim?” I write and share about my life. And right now, THIS is my life. The next three months are filled with public appearances, and it is not possible for me to be out in front of people without being honest. I have to be able to be living in the now.
I believe it is in the telling of our stories that we find grace and strength and healing. And when I tell my stories, you bring me all those things. And that is what I need most right now. Besides donuts. I need you. Because it is for you that I write. It is because of you that I even share my deepest hurts. So I’m standing before you wide open and vulnerable once again. And I trust you to hold me in your loving arms. To pick me up when I fall down. To give me strength to keep moving. And if you talk to God, send Her my way. I need Her to reach down and embrace me. I need God and you to remind me to not be the bitter, angry, crazy person that I could so easily be in this moment.
The road ahead for us is so winding that I feel as if I might get nauseous just looking at it, let alone walking it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I want to know. I want to know everything! I want to know that Jim and I will come out on the other side of this happy and emotionally healthy and confident that we made the right choice. But that’s not how life works for any of us.
It is only in the rearview mirror that we can see that the road we traveled was the one that got us home.
I plan on going back into therapy with Diane. I plan on staying on my Lexapro. I plan on trying to not drown my sorrows with sugar or margaritas. (Okay, maybe just a few margaritas, since we’re telling the truth here.) And I plan on trying to stay present. The past is gone, and can not be rewritten. I can not go back and fix one single thing I did or didn’t do. And the future is clearly out of my hands. All I have is this very moment, with you, to be honest. And so I have been.
Jim and I are both heartbroken and lost. We are bumping into things and each other in this house as we try to navigate around the newness of separateness. A few weeks ago we were glued together on the couch watching Making of A Murderer on Netflix. Now, I can only see the glow from the TV from the spare room.
I’m going to bed now. With the help of Tylenol PM. (This is huge, since I totally know where I can get my hands on a few Percocet.) But as my brother Lenny says,
“I over E when it involves C – Intellect over emotion when it involves a crisis. You’ll make better decisions.”
The calm intellectual part of me knows that anything external that dulls my senses right now will only be addicting and prolong the pain. Even though the emotional side of me wants to self-medicate like never before. But I must stay fully present to work through and even embrace the pain. Because that’s where the healing lives – in the accepting part. And I need to be fully aware to listen to my inner voice, to hear the quiet nudgings from God that you can only hear when you’re not screaming and crying or high or drunk.
I’m not quite sure how to navigate the transition ahead for James. But I know that both Jim and I are committed to doing the very best job we can. James will keep us present as he always does. He, and his extra chromosome, will remind us that in the end it’s all about LOVE, even if it’s not about staying married. And on bad days we will eat lots of french fries and on good days we will sing If You’re Happy and You Know It over and over and over.
As I crawl into bed I can’t ignore the fact that Jim’s side is untouched. I realize that I have slept in a 24-inch-wide space for nearly thirty years. I wonder when I will move to the middle? Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover is on now. Kind of apropos. But the journey will continue.
Thank you for listening and loving us all.