Here is what I know: I would not have survived my divorce without sobriety.
When I say that, you might think it means that I would not have survived my divorce if I had been drinking. But what I really mean is that I would not have been capable of facing the hell of infidelity and abandonment without all of the lessons I learned on the path toward getting sober.
Before my husband left me, if you had asked me my greatest fear, the one thing I did not think I could overcome, it would have been losing him. And when it happened, it destroyed me entirely. But the lessons of recovery were universal; time and again in those first days and weeks I would pull open my journals, old quotes and poetry, mantras and readings, and find some solace. Recovery literally gave me the tools and skills to face anything. Sometimes I think maybe I was meant to get sober just in time to survive this.
I learned most of these lessons through participating in what is now called Tempest Sobriety School (formerly Hip Sobriety School), created and led by Holly Whitaker. The course, plus Holly’s voice in the HOME Podcast, forms the basis for the lessons below. Other teachers and resources are linked throughout.
Lesson 1: You can’t get to the ‘bless you’ without the ‘fuck you.’
I said horrible things to my husband when he left me. Terrible things. I told him that there was no one on earth whose life was better for his existence. I told him he was a bad person. I wanted to make him hurt how I hurt. I wanted to get him to react instead of sitting there cold and calm as if the world wasn’t crumbling down around my life. Of course what I said hurt him, and I felt regretful later.
But you know what? He did horrible things. He lied and deceived and pretended to be a man he wasn’t. Does he deserve the cruel words I spoke? No. But I also didn’t deserve what he did to me. Only Jesus and the Buddha can react to that kind of betrayal with equanimity.
A lot of people will tell you to be bigger, to move forward, to release your anger – they say things like “holding onto anger is like holding a flame – it only hurts you.” And that’s true. There is value in releasing anger, and left unchecked it will harden into bitterness and cynicism.
But anger is a part of healing. It is a natural reaction to divorce, infidelity, abandonment, and rejection. My husband’s actions completely upended my life. I had to start from scratch, and all of the dreams and plans I had were no longer within reach, or even possible. I felt demeaned, betrayed, and terrified. Other people would tell me not to be bitter, to “be the bigger person,” and that I wouldn’t move on until I forgave him. This is bullshit, and its spiritual bypassing. Not only did I have every right to be really damn pissed off, telling me NOT to feel it and to let it go only brought feelings of guilt and inadequacy, as if I wasn’t doing this whole divorce thing correctly. I already felt like shit, and now I was being made to feel guilty for my anger? No thanks.
Episode 48 of the HOME Podcast with Seane Corn taught me that you cannot skip the “fuck you” to get to “bless you.” What that means is that anger is a part of life, and its a part of recovery, and its a part of healing. The shit that brought you here – on your knees and dying – it’s okay to be angry at that. It’s okay to feel rage. Pushing away your anger or pretending it does not exist only builds resentment and contempt and bitterness. All of that rage inside of you that was not expressed at the moment will come out later, whether you like it or not. Anger, like happiness, peace, jealousy, or love, is just another emotion. Accepting our emotions and allowing them to be fully expressed is critically important to healing, whether that be from addiction or heartbreak or trauma.
Of course, I did not want to spend the rest of my life thinking about my ex and being pissed at him. But the only way to get over my anger toward him was to experience it, to let the rage flow freely through me, until I was ready to release him and get to “meh.”