stages of grief

A few days after my ex left for the first time, I created a private blog and began to chronicle all the ways in which I loved them. All the memories I cherished. All of the great times we shared together, and all of the great times I wanted to have in the future. A week later, my ex left for good. I stopped putting things in that blog.

A week and change after my ex left for good, I started therapy. The first few sessions dug up little other than panic and a generalized feeling of being completely overwhelmed. I felt defective and out of control. There was absolutely no way to convince me that anything that had just happened made sense. And frankly, none of it makes sense. Every single moment of what happened is fraught with dysfunction and selfishness.

A few weeks later, I became comfortable with the reality that my ex was cheating on me. If not in deed, then at least emotionally. It helped me separate the feelings even more. I just skimmed the fat off the top and focused on what was left. Very little.

Two weeks later, I started talking more openly about the adultery. I confronted a friend about a continued connection with my ex; it seemed unfair that my ex was getting good things of any kind at this point. The shit they put me through wasn't worth any positive connections, especially with people I cared about.

Shortly thereafter, I said that it felt like I had been grieving my relationship for many years.

Then, I said out loud for the first time that I felt like I was in an abusive relationship. Through tears and snot I accepted that my version of the story was the one I could tell; that I was allowed to write this script. And what a shitty script it was. Many years of emotionally abusive interactions with someone who claimed to love me, and someone whom I loved deeply, left me shattered. Disassociated. Discordant. In pieces. My therapist asked me how this made me feel. I said, "I feel like my ex would feel remorseful, if they were capable of seeing anything but their own damaged point of view". She said, "no, how does this make you feel?" I was racked by sobbing. It makes me feel furious. Coupled with the infidelity, there have been days when I feel like my head could actually explode. This is the second time in my life I have been left by an abusive partner. The first one? Punched holes in the wall by my head. The second? Not so physical, but just as destructive.

That said, I have felt myself coming back together for the past few months, and while these declarations are intense and overwhelming, they haven't stopped that progress. I feel tremendous shame about being someone other than the person people believe me to be -- publicly, I maintain an image of confidence, intelligence, poise, and clarity.

In my relationship, I was broken.

In my relationship, I put every artifact of self worth into a box, sealed it, and became wildly codependent. I decided it was my job to nurse -- and by nursing, fix -- my ex's troubles, biological and otherwise. The moments when I redirected energy toward myself were met with resistance and shaming. I was manipulated into believing that I was defective -- damaged by past relationships, by my parents, by myself. Physically incapable of being the kind of partner my ex needed. Psychologically fucked up.

Yesterday, I said that I was actually in a relationship with two other people. My ex and my ex's mental health. A triad. A hilariously mismanaged and dysfunctional triadic relationship. Hell, maybe there were four people in our relationship. My ex, my ex's mental health, and my ex's completely shitty therapist. Oh, and the woman for whom my ex left me. Five people. I feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for myself and the husband of this woman my ex has since moved in with. And that's about as vindictive as I'll get with all of this crap.

If there is anything other than catharsis that can come of sharing this somewhat publicly, it's a pass for people going through shit like me to be brave and take care of themselves. You are literally all you've got, and it would be a shame to waste it on someone determined to hurt you anymore than they already have. Get out, be brave. I am. I feel like I was thrust out of my marriage with no choice, but now I have more choices than I ever realized.

I've probably told you this story before: when I was a kid and I played house with my brother and friends, I was always a single matriarch. There was never a husband/spouse/partner or anyone else in my life who helped me manage my "household". I didn't need a spouse. I had maids, cooks, a limo the form of my brother with a rope tied around his waist, pulling me around the basement on a skateboard. In essence, I had everything I needed. That's how I was raised. What do you want for Christmas? Answer with what you need. What do you want for your birthday? Oh, well, it's in August so just say school clothes. It created this expectation within me, I think, to make sure my physical (read: non-emotional) needs were satisfied first. Always. And as I grew older, I only discovered the emotional needs I did have through an often rebellious and tempestuous series of trials and errors. I uncovered recently in therapy that the only times I truly got to know myself were when I was being "bad". That's a lot to unpack.

Well, I'm not being bad right now. I thought I might be; I thought I might revert to the person I was before my relationship. But I haven't. In part, because I'm older. Also? I'm tired. So I'm trying to sit, consciously, in my process and feel the things I need to feel even if they are righteously uncomfortable. It's new and challenging. Not only am I clearer about the fact that my relationship was not something I needed, but I'm also elucidating what I need from all of the people in my life. My friendships feel like they are changing, too. Why? Because I'm changing. Also, they must change. This has changed me, irrevocably. I say that "I'm just fine". I am just fine, but I'm also reassembling myself. There are weeks when I feel like a champ, moving onward and upward. And there are days like yesterday that punch me in the gut so hard I don't feel like I can get up.

The silver lining? It's over. It's completely and permanently and delightfully and gleefully over. And now I can actually go out there and get what I want. Eventually.


  1. Ug, I'm so sorry you have to work through this. I've been in a similar place where I just wanted to grieve the end of a relationship and keep the positive memories in tact and hurry up and move on but I eventually realized I had to go a lot deeper and question everything. It's scary and messy. Cheering for you! - Joanna

  2. It goes without saying (mostly because I already said it) that so much of this resonates with me. I won't write a novel, but I'll tell you a few quick things that came to mind while I read this:

    - I'M SO GLAD YOU WROTE THIS. Get this shit out of your head. It feels good to just say it, doesn't it.
    - B and I were just discussing the other day how shitty it feels to be displaced - physically, emotionally or otherwise - while an ex moves smoothly to the next chapter. It blows. I'm so happy you have a healthy safety net of people to help you navigate it.
    - This sentence rang so true: "I was manipulated into believing that I was defective -- damaged by past relationships, by my parents, by myself. Physically incapable of being the kind of partner my ex needed. Psychologically fucked up." The best thing I can say to you is that this is not true. It took me a long-ass time to figure out that I wasn't defective, and I had to really learn that people who aren't grounded in truth or reality say and do things that aren't real or truthful.
    -I'm proud of you for doing this work. It's tough, and it sucks, but you're worth it.

  3. I love you; you're a superhero.

    It's the gaslighting and projection that have hurt me the most when I have been in your shoes, and I know you know this, but NONE of the things that your ex said about you at the end were true. You know that, I know it, everyone who loves you knows it, and your ex knows it and knew it when he was deflecting from his own awful behavior by making it about you. I am so glad that you have a great therapist and a Team Meaghan so that none of your ex's guilt-projecting bullshit ever becomes part of your story of who YOU are. YOU are amazing.


  4. I'm proud of you, Meaghan, for dealing with your emotions head-on. It sucks to have to deal with all this, but you are going to be an even stronger, wiser person because of it. There is someone out there who is deserving of all that you have to give, and who can return that to you. And you deserve to receive that and more.



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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.