After Bob deserted our marriage I "heard" a constant buzz in my brain. This “noise”, as I called it, was the result of the fears that crowded my thoughts during my waking hours. At the most difficult and emotional time of my life I had to focus on things that mattered, but often I couldn’t. Too many people were giving me advice and my fear of the unknown - of aging alone, of having to find a job, and of taking on Bob's responsibilities as well as my own - added to the confusion.
I simply had no energy left to take on new and daunting tasks. There was the constant pressure I felt from Bob, my counselor, the lawyer, and my family to make quick decisions. I recall losing my ability to take in one more piece of advice during a phone conversation with a loving aunt who would not stop talking. I begged her to stop but she simply kept going. The noise in my head crescendoed and I hung up on her. I had never done that before.
Few spouses in a successful and long-term marriage prepare for divorce ahead of time. We might prepare for the death of a loved one and vaguely think up a Plan B in the event that something unexpected happens, but we simply cannot anticipate all the awful events that unfold after a spouse leaves. If you were unfortunate enough to experience such an event, chances are you were caught flat-footed and disbelieving that your cozy life had vanished.
After I saw Bob drag our guest bed out of the door, my mind went into a constant state of panic, grief, sadness, and worry. I suffered anxiety attacks and didn’t even know it, confusing the pain in my chest for a physical illness or upset stomach. I was forced to make long-term and life altering decisions when I was at my most vulnerable. Recently in Elle Magazine, Reese Witherspoon called her divorce isolating and humiliating. "If it's not painful," she said, "maybe it wasn't the right decision to marry to begin with. Those are the appropriate emotions." Because of the emotional pain, which feels like physical pain, most abandoned spouses switch to survival mode. For me, nothing I did – not sleep, work, exercise, or being around people - allowed me to escape the worries and emotions that cluttered my ability to think straight.That’s why I needed a rational but choice group of relatives and friends in those first few crucial months to do my thinking for me.
Months after I signed the divorce papers and after I had regained the ability to think on my own, I started to live my life again. I realized that so many items that I had accumulated during my marriage were still cluttering my house. Bob had left abruptly. Oh, he'd come once or twice to collect items he wanted, but he left me to deal with the detritus of our 26 years of marriage. I tackled these duties only when I had the emotional strength, and I am still dealing with the junk to this day. Just two weeks ago I ran across an old Valentine's Day card from Bob. "I love you, forever", it said mockingly. Hah! I tossed it promptly in the trash.
Lately I've been facing a different kind of clutter - the clutter that accumulates from simply living one's life. Daily post mail, email, tchotchka gifts from friends, old clothes and ancient possessions, and mementos and souvenirs from trips. All these combine to complicate one's life, take up precious spare time. Clutter tends to get in the way of remembering where important things are stored, like one's passport, will, or car keys.
I've been sorting through my possessions in order to simplify my life and to help my memory, which is not the same as it once was. My new routine has some structure to it so that I can find my purse and cell phone at a moment's notice. I maintain my car to keep it in tip top shape and save money to pay important bills like real estate taxes. This is saying something, for I am a head-in-the-clouds "creative" type who has always depended on my family to keep my life in order. But let's face it, after nine years alone, I can no longer depend on the 'kindness of relatives or strangers' to keep me going. Each step makes me more powerful and in control of my life. It hasn't been easy. One of these days, when I'm 75, I'll get the hang of being organized and staying on top of my daily routine.