The Jewish holiday of freedom is upon us and I’m typing to you from my sterile high-tech office in Lod, quite enslaved to making money, and yet free in my ability to do so. The paradox of slavery vs. freedom, and obligation vs. choice has always spoken to me. I suppose I have always struggled with the idea of committing or aligning myself with anything completely, because the thought of being enslaved, to an ideology, felt like a possible loss of self. What a vast and endless philosophical topic this is for human beings! I can only speak for myself, based on my own experiences, so bear with me while I try to share a little bit of my own enslavement, exodus, and the beginning of my personal freedom.
I am lucky. I am blessed. I am grateful. I don’t always feel positive and pumped and happy, but my good fortune is abundant. I have parents that love each other and my siblings and I fiercely, and have always made sure we know it. That in itself, is a freedom. To be born into this world with parents who give you confidence, strength, and the ability to love, is a treasure that I become more and more grateful for with each day that I’m alive. At age 19 I was a new olah, I was excited about life, and I was passionately religious. I don’t want to write a blog post about religion though. I think religion can free you or enslave you – like many powerful ideologies that exist. Torah is often compared to water, and the metaphor rings true to me still. Water can quench your thirst and save your life. Or it can destroy cities in the merciless waves of a tsunami. When I got married, religion was very much a sweet, fresh water spring for me. I was rejuvenated by it and I am grateful for it.
Divorce sounds scary. It sounds messy and sad and dreadful. And it was. There’s no easy way to admit to oneself that almost eight years of work, children, laughter, tears, and everything in between, has resulted in a nightly routine of whispering into your pillow, “Is this it?” I was enslaved. Not to my then husband, or to any one person, but to myself. I was so terrified to look at my reality objectively and evaluate if it was what I really wanted out of my life. I don’t want to share the details of the end of my marriage, because I respect my ex-husband and we are (luckily) able to co-parent amicably, which was of course my biggest fear when I started contemplating divorce. But it got messy.
I had spent my whole life working to create this SELF that was squeaky clean from the outside. And my inside had become a mess. Then we were divorced, and I was free, but I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t know how to suddenly be someone that wasn’t a wife. I am sharing this because I think it’s an experience that many people can relate to, but doesn’t get discussed openly because it’s considered “airing your dirty laundry” or somehow sharing your weakness in public. I am not interested in embarrassing or exposing anyone, and I am not looking to endorse divorce as a solution to all problems. But let’s be real – divorce happens – and maybe if the response isn’t always “Shhh!” when it’s discussed, we can cultivate healthier relationships and individuals instead of stigmatizing a reality that isn’t disappearing on its own.
When my marriage ended, everyone around me was rocked. We had friends who had become family, all in the context of our shared experiences, and suddenly, those experiences weren’t able to be shared anymore. Now as someone who has immense compassion and empathy for others (sometimes to a fault), the guilt of knowing how hard it was for everyone around me was almost debilitating. In fact, I jokingly told my sister that I was going to write a book about my divorce and I was going to title it “I’m Sorry My Divorce Was So Hard For You.” But accepting that I was a mess, and that I needed to rebuild myself, from the INSIDE, was the real freedom that I was seeking. Nothing less would work. I learned that the hard way. I tried to make everyone around me happy while neglecting my broken self, and I just fell deeper into the hole of WHO-THE-F&*$-AM-I.
To make matters worse, and far more complicated, my divorce coincided with the divorce of close friends, and I was relating more to the “wrong” person in the couple. Hurting someone sucks. Devastating someone is the worst. I was finding love, deep friendship, vitality, and renewed dreams in a man. But it was drama. I regret my own ambivalence in how to communicate what was happening. But I forgive myself too. I forgive myself for being too depressed, broken, confused, and lost, that I was not being able to take care of everyone else’s feelings while I figured out my own. And I forgive them for dropping me. They had their own marriages, children, traumas, and struggles to focus on.
I lost a lot last year. I lost financial stability. But mostly, I lost a community. I meet other divorced people who say “I can’t believe you stayed in your neighborhood when you got divorced!” But it took time to gather the courage and motivation to get up and start over. Even when people I had known and loved for years looked through me in the grocery store like I didn’t exist – it was hard to admit that it was time to move on! I have never been a messy person. I have always been on the outside of mess. To be in the center of it was not something I wish on anyone, but man did it teach me a lot. Only when I had lost my image, and was forced to admit that other people were looking down on me, was I able to honestly ask myself: “So who do you want to be? Who do YOU want to be?”
I had to let go of friends who were disappointed by my decision to be in a relationship with my current boyfriend. I had to value myself enough to decide that I was deserving of a partner who shared so many goals and beautiful qualities with me, and be OK with losing the people that wouldn’t get it. Together we found the strength to laugh through the pain, ALWAYS encourage one another to prioritize our children, and leave the past. The friends who stuck by me through the last year and a half are gold. I have been admittedly, a really bad friend. I have been consumed by this internal work, by trying to keep my three beautiful and innocent children shielded and safe from the fallout, and by the financial struggles that often come with divorce.
A year ago, I wasn’t making enough money from my makeup business to pay bills, and I was cleaning a friend’s house for work. I was scrubbing dishes and tears started streaming down my cheeks. I scrubbed and I sobbed. I cried for the straight-A high school student who wanted to be a psychologist. I cried for the tzanuah kallah, who thought she was looking at her life partner when her chatan lifted her veil at her wedding. I cried for my past selves, and I cried hard. And then, in the most cathartic way, my crying turned into laughing. And I let myself be a crazy crying laughing lunatic who was washing dishes to pay the electricity bill that month. Because somehow in those moments, I realized that I was free. The world was just one open door, and no matter how many Pinterest quotes I read, I was going to have to learn those lessons for myself, one failure at a time, one success at a time, one day at a time.
So here I sit. I am typing these words because they are selfishly part of my own journey and healing, and also hopefully, they will reach other people who are enslaved, or are breaking free, and we can find comfort in knowing that it’s part of the human experience.
I hope that you find freedom internally, and it permeates outwards into every aspect of your life. Pesach Sameach and L’chaim!