The Surprising Thing That Helped Me Get Over My Divorce


The abrupt end to my marriage felt like an amputation of my heart. My self worth had already been diminished for several years, but when his side of the closet was bare and all I saw was that empty soap dish in the shower as a daily reminder that he wasn't coming back and my husband truly wanted a divorce, I felt worthless and I lost my sense of purpose in life.

As a woman who was dependent upon my husband for my feelings of worthiness and value, it was especially crippling when the end of the marriage came so suddenly. Mistakenly, I made him the absolute center of my universe. Not only did that feel natural for me, it's what I'd seen my mother do for years. As a little girl, I'd watch my mother put on fresh lipstick and a spritz of her Arpege' cologne before my father came home from the office at 5:30. ... I know it's not popular to admit, but I really enjoyed taking care of the household and being his wife.

With my broken heart and an empty house, I felt I had no meaning in my life; I didn't know who I was without him. With no kids to care for, my life's daily routine revolving around my husband was a complete blank when he moved out five days after he informed me he no longer wanted to be married to me. I was pretty shell-shocked, but after a few months I came up with a plan to boost my self-worth and keep perspective on my situation by volunteering. Strategically selected volunteering.

As a wife, I enjoyed preparing meals whether it was just for my husband and me or the twenty-five guests we'd have for our annual Thanksgiving food fest. Cooking for one was utterly depressing, if I even felt like eating.

  • Did you play the supporting role in your marriage?
  • Can you relate to feeling dependent on someone else for your own feelings of self worth?
  • Are you feeling a bit lost, directionless and that your days don't feel like they have a purpose since your separation or divorce?

The solution I found was with Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, where I was able to help prepare meals that were delivered to home bound patients dealing with chronic illnesses. Chopping carrots and onions felt familiar to my old life and gave me a sense of contribution and purpose. Being around other volunteers and people in general was a welcome respite from the exhausting anxious thoughts racing through my brain.

If you enjoyed cooking in your married life, why not help at a local food bank, Meals on Wheels or even cooking for neighbors and friends?

While my ex and I chose not to have children, we doted on our nieces and nephews during our 16-year tradition of spending Christmas on the East Coast with the family. His family. In an instant, that was gone, too. That first year I wasn't sure how I was going to get through it and yet somehow in my scattered mind I came up with the idea to volunteer at an Orphanage in Romania.

Yes, it was a "flee" response for my self-preservation. I did a lot of escaping and running away because I didn’t have the skills, tools and awareness that I learned on my healing journey that I now help my clients with today. I help them practice intentional grieving and healing from the loss of their marriage and give them the guidance to prevent them from making the missteps I made.

Those sweet children saved me that first Christmas. Their kindness and generosity of spirit soothed my soul. (You can read about my experience with the children in Romania in my book, Wine, Sex and Suicide — My Near Death Divorce.)

When I returned home, I signed up with School On Wheels, an organization founded by Agnes Stevens in 1993 to serve the homeless youth and families in transitional housing in Los Angeles. I was scared to death of tutoring, afraid I wouldn't be of any value to a child. Even though I had serious challenges with fourth-grade math because it didn't look like the math I knew, the kids seemed happy to have me there and focused on them. 

It was from the children that I learned resiliency. Seeing the children face each day with hope showed me there is always an opportunity for something to change if we are willing, ready and able.

If you're dealing with split custody or an empty nest it may help you feel purposeful to be of service to children. You might find a hospital where premature babies need to be held, become a Big Sister, or offer to help your friends with their kids for a few hours a week.

The point is to keep doing the activities that in your marriage gave you a sense of belonging, value and purpose. You do the same activity, just for a different recipient.

Going through a divorce can derail us, stop us in our tracks and shatter our lives sometimes overnight. It can be shocking and cold to have a life ripped away leaving us shaking in the aftermath of confusion and unanswered questions. I felt untethered, adrift and abandoned.

You may not feel like getting dressed and leaving the house, but doing something that was similar to your 'past wife' role will create a bridge from what was familiar to the new vast unknown landscape of your life.

We can't go back to the life we had or the people we were. During the shock and awe attack on our perception of reality, we may cling desperately to the remnants of what was, terrified of the unknown. It is only with time and a practice of intentional grieving and healing with an introspective self-discovery process will we see the opportunity and the gift of being set free to fully step into who we really are at our deepest soul self.

If you're ready for support on your journey of self-discovery, check out Patty Blue Hayes' website and reach out if you're inspired to do so.