Divorce, and collateral damages.

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Divorce: v. A complete or radical severance of closely connected things.

When a marriage ends, it’s easy to put the focus on the “break up” aspect of the loss. But what is often not accounted for are the collateral damages. The fallout surrounding two people who used to walk together, but now walk apart. It’s been two years since I moved out of the home my ex-husband and I shared together… and I’m still realizing how wide my circle of fallout reaches.

Two years later and I’m only just now ready to start writing about it. And even though the meltdown of that marriage put me on the path to be here now – in the sunniest, happiest, most satisfied, comfortable and content moments of my life… working through the implications of my divorce reignites an ache deep within my heart that makes me short of breath as I sit here typing.

But I want to write about it. The fallout of my divorce took me by surprise then, and still does today. And I think probably a lot of people who go through divorces don’t necessarily expect it either.

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My ex and I got along very well on the surface. Our problems ran deep below… far enough below that, for years, we were both able to convince ourselves as much as every one else, that we were a terrific couple. Because on paper, we were. And pretending they weren’t problems was easier than confronting them. Or so we thought. But as the years went on, those deep-seated issues began bubbling up in all kinds of ways: from passive, insidious, nagging dissatisfactions to sudden, chaotic flares of emotion. The flaws in our foundation were causing the facade to crumble. Fast.

I grieved for a long time, toward the end. I grieved for the loss of our marriage long before I got up the nerve to put voice to it. I grieved over the loss of my husband, who I still very much loved as a dear friend and partner for the nearly 10 years prior. I lamented how unfair it was, to have what “should have been” such a great husband and wonderful relationship, and yet still be so unhappy, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled.

I fretted over the fact that, by leaving, I’d be letting down not just myself, but my family – who also loved him as one of their own; and the public – who’d been following our relationship through The Broke-Ass Bride for several years. I was weighed-down by staying in the relationship, but I feared I’d be completely untethered by leaving.

And I was. But I left, all the same.

I expected the emotional fallout of divorce. But I was side-swiped by the social implications, the uprooted sense of statelessness, and financial damages that came later and left scars on my heart, like the relentless waves that chip away at a shoreline after the storm.

(I)
Being the person leaving the marriage is a very tricky position. Without obvious causes like abuse, infidelity, or constant conflict, the one instigating the split is often pigeonholed as “the bad guy,” even if their courage to speak up, or move out, is better for both parties involved. In our marriage, I was often the one who took action or instigated change, and the same was true of our separation and subsequent divorce. I’m sure that people viewed me as the “bad guy” because of that.

The majority of our friends in Los Angeles were old college buddies of my husband’s who had taken us in and become our “LA family” over the 6+ years since we arrived. I really thought that, as adults, they wouldn’t be inclined to “take sides” when my ex and I separated. But life ain’t so easy. I quickly found myself being left out and left behind, and quickly realized that they were also collateral damage. It was a real shock to the system, and still is, in many ways. Looking back, I get it. Sort of. But, that doesn’t make it easier.

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A good handful of my remaining local friends were all made through the wedding industry. Ironically, I got my book deal just as I decided to move out, so I spent my days during the separation writing about planning weddings, and mining my own wedding and relationship for anecdotes. The whole process was just too painful for me to do that and stay actively engaged in the local wedding business, so I withdrew myself from those friends, and events. And when I was ready to come back, things just weren’t quite the same.

A few treasured souls made a concerted effort, reached out, and have shown me true loyalty and love in a time where I needed it more than ever. And for them, I am forever grateful. Divorce really teaches you who your true friends are. It’s a hurtful, but very valuable lesson. I’ve continued to nurture the friendships that survived my divorce, and have made lots of new friends that I treasure dearly. But that doesn’t stop the sting that I feel when I see the old crew posting pictures on facebook from events I would have been invited to in my past life.

(II)
I bounced around, a nomad without a real home, for seven months. House-sitting, couch-crashing, temporarily rooming with some of the few true friends I had left. Money was one object in the high-cost rental market of Los Angeles, but living alone was another altogether. I was scared. I hadn’t lived alone in 12 years. And I was in the darkest emotional space I’ve ever known. Being alone was really not ideal.

But after I hit my emotional bottom, and started to swim back toward the light, I realized that some alone time was the perfect next step. So I set about finding my own place to live.

I thought downsizing was a great idea. I didn’t need material possessions, right? I had already given my ex all of our furniture and most of our belongings when we split, since I had no home to furnish (and he did), and I didn’t particularly want to carry the energy of so many reminders of my past life into my next. I was eager to strip down to the bare necessities and really “find myself” as a single adult, starting over from scratch.

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So I found a 300 square foot converted, pre-furnished garage/studio for $950, and moved in with my few remaining boxes of belongings. It was only just a little bigger than my college dorm room had been. I told myself it was “charming” and “quaint” and the perfect place to have my renaissance.

It was also inadequately heated, and not zoned for living. My landlord lived above me, and verbally abused me at every opportunity she had, suffering some kind of mental illness that was not apparent until after I moved in. My shower was so small I couldn’t bend over to shave my legs in there, and the light circuits shorted out every few days.

It was hell.

I met Paul just as I was about to move out of there, having found a one-bedroom in a nearby suburb for a few hundred dollars more per month. I had taken on some part-time freelance work to help me pay for the upgrade. He came over to help me pack, and was truly horrified to see what a hovel I’d been calling home.

We laugh about it now, referring to that time as “when Paul found me, I was living in a tiny garage…” like I was some rescue animal. But that sentiment actually rings of truth in more ways than I care to admit.

(III)
When we decided on divorce, using LegalZoom for the paperwork was the obvious choice. We didn’t own any property or have any children, so it was mostly a matter of signatures and beaurocractic processes. And it was fairly simple, and affordable. I think all told, the whole shebang cost about $1,000. But that doesn’t account for the peripheral financial losses – deposits on apartments, assuming sole responsibility for previously shared expenses like utilities, insurance, rent, and groceries. It doesn’t furnish your new home after giving everything to your previous partner. It doesn’t pay for the many social outings you agree to, in an effort to not be eating dinner alone night after night. Indeed, divorce is wrought with expenses that you’d never expect from the start.

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And for us, the legal paperwork to end our marriage was a separate transaction from me buying my ex out of half of our business. Though I had built The Broke-Ass Bride on my own, we had split the business 50/50 on the incorporation documents because… heck, we were married. It just made sense And he did help with the business in lots of ways, though I would never have classified his “time on the clock” or contributions as being anywhere near equivalent to 50% of it’s operation. So when the time came to change the business paperwork to reflect me as sole owner, I was quite surprised to find that this negotiation was the biggest struggle of our divorce. It took twice as long, and cost me many, many times as much money. Money that I didn’t have. Money the business never made.

A lot was revealed in the process of buying back full ownership of my brand, and there were some very ugly moments on both sides. If nothing else had convinced me that, without a doubt, ending our marriage was the right decision – this process confirmed it over and over and over.

So, two years since I moved out of my marriage, and the grief has finally relented. It took me longer than it should have to be able to settle in at Paul’s and view it as my own home too. To trust that I had landed, for good, and allow myself to relax and feather my nest. But now I have, and feel firmly and happily rooted once again.

I’m happier and healthier now than I ever was in my previous relationship… but only because I made it through the flames of depression, disappointment, fear, and isolation that plagued me for so long. I realize how lucky I am, and yet wouldn’t wish the path I took to get here upon my very worst enemy. In finding myself, I lost almost everyone and everything I had.


That time I won the lottery

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Back in January, I was mid-way through “the worst of it” in my depression when I won the Listserve Lottery. The Listserve is a daily email service wherein one subscriber each day “wins” the opportunity to write (up to 500 words) to the whole community of subscribers. There are currently over 23,000 subscribers in countries all over the world.

I signed up for it last fall, and have really enjoyed the snapshots into people’s heads that come through: inspiration, ideas, experiences… all kinds of people share all kinds of things when “their number comes up.” Sometimes it’s crap. Sometimes it moves me to tears. I never really thought I’d be chosen to write. Until I was. 3 days before my 35th birthday. And many, many moons since I’d done any personal writing.

I felt unprepared. And scared. But, I didn’t want to shirk the opportunity. It seemed like the Universe was saying “hey. you’re a writer, right? THEN WRITE, ALREADY!”

So I listened. And I sat down, and wrote.

And this is what I wrote to an audience of strangers.

I really wanted to write some big, deep retrospective on challenge and perseverance for my Listserve contribution. That kind of thing is kind of my thing.

Well, it was.

It’s what I did, when I started my blog, The Broke-Ass Bride, which grew into one of the top blogs in the wedding industry. It earned me a deal with a major publishing house to write a book about using creativity as currency to rock bad-ass weddings without breaking the bank. (coming this December!) Born as a coping skill for life’s imperfections, my chronic auto-immune disease, financial struggles and artistic stagnation, I developed a reputation for my ability to spin obstacle into opportunity creatively and with a trademark cheeky irreverence. It seemed like nothing could keep me down.

But I guess the universe watched me leap life’s hurdles on my triumphant unicorn of resilience, turning piles of strugglesome shit into rainbows with my magical brand of fairy dust, and decided (in its infinite wisdom) to up the game and see just how much I could take. I had been focused on maintaining my success, so desperate to remain self-employed and free from corporate cubicles, that I neglected my health and personal life.

I got hit with an aggressively progressive depression, disease complications and a rare illness necessitating a flurry of surgeries, growing medical debt, and a sexual assault. And just like that, my self-destructive and addictive tendencies took control and bullied my moxie and persistence into submission like overgrown schoolyard tormentors.

I was ashamed and guilt-ridden about how burdensome I felt. Hell, if *I* was so tired of caring about me, I couldn’t imagine how exhausting it must be for everyone else. I withdrew from my husband, friends and family, in a ridiculously misguided effort to “protect” them all from my demons. What a foolish girl I was, to believe the lies my depression told me for so long.

With the help of great doctors, treatments, perspective, support, faith and forgiveness, I’ve begun to find my feet again. Reconnecting with those I’ve hurt, pushed away or neglected, and trying to make amends. Letting people love me (or not) on their own terms. Grateful for the chance to evolve, painful as it was, into a stronger, deeper, richer version of Dana LaRue: rider of my triumphant unicorn of resilience, spinner of obstacle into opportunity, going from broke-ass to bad-ass.

In an earlier Listserve email, a writer shared the phrase “ad astra per aspera” – latin for “through struggles to the stars.” This Wednesday the 23rd is my 35th birthday and I can’t wait. Not eager to see where this year takes me, but rather where *I* can take this year. To celebrate, I’m having “ad astra per aspera” tattooed on my wrist to honor where I’ve been, and to remind me where I’m capable of going.

Well, hey, how ‘bout that. Looks like I did end up writing a true-to-form deep, retrospective look at challenge and perseverance. I guess I really am back in the saddle, after all. Yeehaw.

Thanks, Listserve, for the chance to share my story. May it help someone out there through his or her own dark hour. And thanks, listserve nation, for bearing witness. Pass this on if you know someone who might benefit from it. Or share your own story with me, or encouraging words, or drawings of me on a unicorn turning piles of shit into rainbows… whatever you’re inspired to send!

I got flooded with emails in return. Emails from complete strangers — overflowing with words of encouragement, compassion, hope, support, and love. People shared their own stories of struggle. They encouraged me to keep writing and sharing my story. They thanked me for my honesty, and for casting light on an issue so rarely discussed so transparently. They showered me with compliments and kindness and enthusiasm so much that it renewed my own enthusiasm for writing (not to mention my faith in a humanity so generous).

One girl even drew me this bad-ass picture!

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I share this with you today, to give you a bit of insight into where I’ve been, and where I’m going. My Listserve experience is a huge part of what inspired this new blog. I needed an outlet to keep sharing my story, to keep writing, and filtering my experience to strangers everywhere.

Because whenever I do, good things seem to happen 🙂