Over the past couple years I have interviewed over a hundred people for The Divorce Dress project, most of which tell me it was a cathartic experience for them.
As one of the authors of The Divorce Dress, I found it fitting to share my own story. It was not easy to get to this place, because it meant resurfacing all the pain I had felt. But I realized, how can I ask all these people to bare their souls to me, if I am not willing to do the same. The Divorce Dress has become an outlet for people to share their stories, support each other, offer resources, and heal. We laugh, we cry and we move on. We are very excited to adding the folks at it’s over easy to our growing online community. I wish I had had access to it's over easy when I went through my divorce!
At the age of thirty I was the Founder and CEO of a successful company. I had a handsome husband and two beautiful sons. On the surface, everything looked amazing. My company was growing exponentially, we had national distribution, landed the Whole Foods account and had just launched our products internationally in Korea and Taiwan.
We were expanding globally and had become a darling of our industry! Sounds awesome, right?
Beneath the Surface Everything was Falling Apart
Pregnant and overwhelmed, my assistant quit two weeks before I gave birth, leaving me stressed out and working my ass off with a young son and newborn at home. As so many women do, I felt an internal struggle between being a good mom and a successful business person.
Just before the birth of my second son, the confusion and chaos came to a head. People say things slow down when you have a baby, but I didn’t get the memo. Just two days after the birth of my son, I found myself at a major meeting with our new Korean distributor! Unknown to anyone, my mom was waiting in the car with the baby to let me know if he needed to nurse. I sat there in the meeting pretending to be fine as my body ached from giving birth, wearing an adult diaper, my breasts engorged with milk ready to burst.
Then bam! Fast forward 3 months; I found out my then husband was having an affair...again. Devastated and betrayed, feeling like a failure and a terrible mother, our relationship quickly deteriorated. Neither of us willing to do the work, after a few therapy sessions we decided to call it quits and file for divorce
A Haunting New Reality
Suddenly, I was alone. A single parent with a newborn, a 6-year-old and a growing business to run. I was now “that woman” going through a divorce. From there my life spiraled out of control. The business my personal relationships and my self-esteem all started to suffer. I fell behind in everything and became severely depressed after my divorce.
Being in survival mode can bring out a side of yourself that you thought didn’t exist. Growing up in a kind, compassionate, hippie family, my self-image was one of a loving human being who was honest, real, and secure. I could never be like “those” people who are fake, uncomfortable in their own skin and deeply flawed. But suddenly, the joke was on me.
Life had some major lessons planned and they were not gentle;I became everything I despised. A victim, a liar, a pretentious asshole drowning my sorrows on the weekend. On the days I had my boys I held it together and escaped to loving them. Our family rituals kept us grounded; days filled with reading, playing, singing songs and baking my “world famous” banana bread - I was a regular Martha Stewart.
On the days they were with their dad I fell completely apart, crying till my eyes were bruised and swollen- doing anything to escape the pain. Laundry piled up and bills went unpaid. I felt completely debilitated and unable to do the simplest tasks.
In the book, Hijacked by your Brain, (which is exactly what I felt,) clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the UConn School of Medicine, Julian Ford explains that “there is an alarm center deep in our brains... Until it gets reset, the brain is stuck in survival mode, often causing the brain's memory and thinking centers to “crash” like a computer's hard drive, and resulting in persistent feelings of stress that seem unstoppable.” I lived in crisis for two years, ruminating on my suffering; an endless loop of stress.
After the separation, things became dire. As an entrepreneur, the product demand grew and I put everything into growing my company. It costs money for a business to grow and there came a point where I had no choice but to move into my mother’s basement.
I was broke and overwhelmed and couldn’t even afford diapers. Ashamed, I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for financial help. As the child of a divorced mom, whom I watched struggle to provide for us on welfare, I had always promised myself that that would never be me. Finally I had a “come to Jesus moment”, I put my pride aside and applied for MediCal and Food Stamps. I was humiliated and felt I couldn’t tell a soul, not even my dearest friends. I was supposed to be a strong successful businesswoman, not this depressed, broke thirty year old, living in my mother’s basement who couldn’t take care of themselves.
So, I pretended everything was fine with a smile on my face. And every time somebody would ask me how I was doing? I had my canned responses; Everything is great. It was all for the best. We are still great friends... blah blah blah. It was hard to hide behind the façade of happiness and success while inside I felt worthless.
How I Survived the Divorce
When I look back and think about how I made it through my divorce, there is no doubt that my children saved me. If I had not had them to live for and the knowledge that they needed me, I don’t know if I would be here. I got through my divorce one day at a time, and I poured myself into loving them. At first I blamed my ex for everything, as I am sure he did with me as well. It is very easy to blame one another for the demise of a relationship. With reflection I have been able to see we both had a part to play and the the importance of taking responsibility for our roles. I was hurt and angry; he was hurt and angry. And at the core we both wanted to be acknowledged and loved. We couldn’t do that for each other.
A decade has passed and that chapter of my life feels like another life that somebody else lived. So much has transpired and although I have felt stunted at times, looking back I have accomplished a lot. I fell in love with a wonderful man and remarried, had another child, went back to school to get my MBA, consulted and mentored countless startups, made many new friends, found my passion for writing and photography, raised three beautiful souls and found my voice.
There was a time I felt I had to quash my voice and play nice. I tried not to offend or hurt anybody’s feeling. Now, I have accepted that I will probably say something offensive or “inappropriate” and that’s ok. Divorce killed the former me and forced me to grow, evolve and confront some hard truths. But I learned valuable lessons.
Loving Yourself After Divorce
Relationships are not perfect, whether they are with myself or somebody else. They are messy and complicated and inevitable somebody will be hurt - but we will heal. I will suffer some days and have immense joy other days. It is all a part of being a human.
When I finally decided to love myself after the separation, love came. When I finally forgave myself and others for all the mistakes and hurt that was caused, healing came. When I started to live in the moment, joy came. I can still be critical of myself but I know I will make it through and that I deserve to be loved. I am perfectly imperfect!
Kenda Hansen and Georgia Cantando are the authors and artists behind The Divorce Dress project. Two women, one dress, and an ambitious mission to redefine divorce and loosen stigmas that surround divorce through laughter, poetry, photography. You can connect with Kenda and Georgia on Instagram @thedivorcedress or at TheDivorceDress.com
Go to this page about online divorce to learn more.