Divorce Advice: How Optimism Helped One Woman in Heartbreak Hell

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Stacy Morriso, an author of the book Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce, describes why she decided to get past the anger, hold onto the best parts of the past, and create a more peaceful life for her son.

Q: How did you marriage end? Were you surprised?

A: One beautiful spring evening, as I was making dinner, my husband let out a big sigh. When I turned to him to ask what was wrong, he said, “I’m done.” Meaning done with our marriage. It came out of the blue, but as I later discovered, it’s hard to know which pebble that trips you up in your marriage is the iceberg, with something huge and immovable lurking underneath, the thing that can foretell the end of your marriage.

Q: Tell me about the somewhat unconventional arrangement you came to post-divorce. Why does it work for you?

A: As I write in my book, Falling Apart In One Piece, I was very focused on finding a gentle way to let go of my marriage; the shock of it all coming to an end was brutal enough. And so I tried to build what I call a “connected breakup,” so that everything I had lived and become in the thirteen years with Chris wouldn’t just evaporate into thin air, as if it had all been just my imagination. And part of that process was choosing to have my son live with me full time – partly because he was just a year old when Chris left, and partly because I couldn’t stand the thought of being away from him for a full weekend. This meant that my ex-husband was constantly in my orbit, doing his fathering of Zack in my apartment, in and out with his own key three or four times a week. It was brutally challenging to have so much contact with Chris, but it was also healing; it forced me to let go of the fantasy that anger would answer anything.

Q: Why are you proud of the way you handled your divorce?

A: I’m proud because I feel that I got away with something; my divorce did not leave deep, dark scars on my spirit that anyone can feel as soon as they meet me. I’m proud because I challenged myself to be more generous and more forgiving than I thought was in me – both with my ex and with myself. But let me clear: I’m no saint. I screamed, I yelled, I hated. It’s just that I worked very hard not to get stuck there, as if the hate and the anger were the prize, the reward. They were just moments of reprieve and certainty in a time that is all about uncertainty.

Q: How did you get past the bitterness that frequently accompanies a divorce?

A: Time does really do its work of healing. You learn a little bit more every day how to let go. I just did my best to listen to those quiet lessons, instead of getting distracted by the storms of anger and hurt. And, in the end, I loved Chris: I really did want to understand why he thought he had to go. Trying to walk in his shoes helped me to realize that the story of my divorce wasn’t only my story. It was his story, too. And my divorce made me come to terms with the fact that we don’t always get to live our dreams; we have to live our truths. That can be pretty damn inconvenient when you’ve made some long-term plans around your dreams, for sure, but I’m a better person for having learned how to let go of that.

Q: How did optimism help you cope with some of your darker moments?

A: Optimism to me isn’t about happy-happy. Optimism to me is about the simple truth that I have no idea what wonderful surprises are waiting for me. And just like a kid on Christmas morning, I can’t wait to see what’s wrapped up in that mystery box! My divorce – a hard, dark, scary thing – has ushered in so many wonderful gifts into my life that I realized I couldn’t just stay in all that it “stole” from me. I have been totally blessed by a great and warm relationship with my mother-in-law. I feel stronger and more resilient in realizing that life often has sadness in it. I got to fall in love again. I trust myself more. My son has the wonderful sense that there are many people on the earth who love him and care for him, not just his parents. So when I feel dark, I just remember that there’s something lovely coming for me that I can’t conjure on my own.

Q: What’s your advice for anyone going through a divorce?

A: The advice I believe in most is this: The only way to get to the other side in one piece is to imagine the woman you want to be. Hold her in your mind’s eye and describe her to yourself. And then walk toward her, with your actions, with your thoughts. When you do things she wouldn’t do, forgive yourself quickly. And then take another step toward her. I wanted to be whole and wise, and above all, I wanted to be at peace. And so I could set aside the short-term rewards of anger, because I knew that finally being that woman I’d always wanted to be would set me free. And you know what? It really has. I still have bad days and bad-hair days and petty annoyances, but I carry them much more lightly. I am happy to be a woman who thinks that all this is good enough, even when it’s hard. And I really think I am good enough, too. Woo-hoo!

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