“Growing up, I always thought my destiny and purpose was to be a wife and a mom. I’d work hard, use my college degree to get a really great job, we’d go on Disney vacations and host dinner parties with all of our friends, and that’s how it would be.
New Year’s Eve 2012, I had locked myself in a room at my mother’s house where I’d been living, wrangling a screaming, teething 1-year-old and my 5-year-old on the bed with me watching cartoons. My husband partied the night away somewhere that I was told was none of my business. He would not be coming home. I vividly remember this being the moment I truly believed life would not be worth living, nothing could ever be good again, and I would have no identity if I wasn’t his wife anymore.
A few weeks before this, I had discovered hard evidence of infidelity, threw what little clothing he had into a few bags, and tossed them onto his parents’ front yard. Six weeks before that, Hurricane Sandy hit our town and left us without a home to return to, and most of all our possessions ruined. Infidelity, gaslighting, parenting, separation, heartache–it’s all very traumatic. But combined with a natural disaster? If it weren’t for my responsibility to my children and some really good therapy, I don’t know if I’d have survived.
I had white-knuckle-gripped the life I thought I was supposed to have: the husband, the kids, the dogs, the college degree, literally the white picket fence. Deep down, I hated myself because I didn’t feel fulfilled. I hated myself because I was supposed to be okay with infidelity. I was gaslighted so hard, I believed I was crazy and paranoid all the time. If I wanted this house and this family, then I’d better sit down and shut up. I couldn’t chase my career dreams because I was ‘stuck’ working whatever got the electric bill paid that month, and I had kids to raise. My worth was in how clean the house was after working all day and taking care of the kids.
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be good enough? The back and forth between his mistress and I was enough to kill me. I was served divorce papers literally at my therapist’s office, two weeks after we had last slept together, with no discussion of divorce between the two of us. That was it. My self-worth was nonexistent and I was left with no choice but to figure something else out.
I went to a new church and strengthened my faith muscle. I continued therapy and started mood-stabilizing medication. I got a waitressing job. I made new friends. I bought a car. I took online classes. I eventually was able to move into a third story, one-bedroom apartment. Nothing matched, our beds were all in the same room on the floor, and it was a toss-up on if we’d spot roaches or mice that night. Vut it was finally some privacy and a place for me to feel like I might be able to survive.
Then we moved down to a basement apartment, two bedrooms this time. This was the first space that was MINE. I decorated, learned how to use power tools to hang curtain rods, and we made this our home for 3 years: just me and the 2 kids. I got a 9 to 5 job working in my ideal field and had health insurance, but my take-home pay was not enough to make rent so I racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. I had this newfound freedom and was ready to let loose. I went out every night that the kids were with him, mostly because I could not bear the deafening silence of being home alone. I surrounded myself with people who enjoyed me being the life of the party and ate up the attention I hadn’t gotten in over a decade.
At this point, we were legally divorced and trying to figure out what that looked like while co-parenting and trying not to screw our kids up too badly. The problem was, we hadn’t learned boundaries. When you’re with someone at such a young age (we began dating at 15), you know each other so well that codependency is a given and cannot be broken without some serious self-work and boundaries. I still wondered in the back of my mind if I just kept up what I was doing, he would find me worthy again and we would be one big happy family by next Christmas.
It wasn’t until I quit my full-time job, started my own company, began yoga, and made the commitment to learn how to love myself for ME and discover who Leslie actually was, independent of anyone else, that I was able to hold those boundaries and see a different future for me. It wasn’t the hopelessness and despair and loneliness. It wasn’t cutting myself in my mom’s bathtub or drinking until I blacked out and didn’t know how I got home. It wasn’t living in constant anxiety because you owe so many people so much money and will never live an abundant life.
Last night, as my ex-husband dropped the kids off, he got out of the car and carried a giant tub of photographs he found to the front door. He warned me that there were wedding photos in there and I laughed. I looked through the photos, the stench of mold wafting out of the tub, and cried tears of gratitude. Not only do I have a healthy friendship with my ex-husband, but the life I live today would not be possible had I not gone through what I did.
My past seems like an alternate reality. I’ve found myself in a wonderfully supportive, mutually respecting, and loving relationship. Our children are thriving. I have embraced my flaws and imperfections, both physical and mental, and help others do the same. I write this from the couch in a house that I could not even imagine living in, in my wildest dreams. I’m chasing my dreams, sitting in an uncomfortable period of growth, and expressing gratitude to every painful lesson. Divorce seems like a death sentence when you’re in the thick of it. Those 3 years of separation and back and forth seem like an alternate reality now. Divorce was my liberation and I didn’t even know it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Leslie Jespersen of Atlantic City, NJ. You can follow her on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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