I lead a divorce support group at my church. We began a new group last night. We are never sure how many people will be there. Most people find out about it from the internet. They find it the same way I did for the first time: they Google “divorce support” and add the city. Every time we begin a new group, I am always proud of the people who timidly walk into the room, knowing nobody in the room, except the voice or email of some guy named: Larry. I am deeply proud of them, because I know how difficult that step is, but also because they have decided to confront their own sorrow and pain. I firmly believe that it is also the first step on a torturous journey towards healing, and maybe… just maybe… renewed hope.
The group has two “unofficial” names. The first is:
Vegas, Without the Slots- This name is descriptive of the protected vulnerability of the group, where “What’s said here…stays here.” We work to make it a safe place, where one’s story may be unique, but the feelings are understood because most of the other folks around the table are living the same emotional nightmare. The tissue box is passed around liberally, and the statement, “I’m sorry for crying…” which comes just after the first tear, is met with, “It’s okay!” Actually, the best advice I received during the process of my divorce was: “Feel what you feel.” (Thanks, Cari; I have pass the wisdom of your suggestion to every group I have been in, and it seems to work for them, just as it did for me and as it apparently did for you.) Trying to run from the grief associated with a dead marriage by stuffing the feelings which are there, is likely to ensure that they will eventually come around again, and probably in more dysfunctional or painful measures. (Actually, I call this returning of the emotions, “God’s grace”, because the pain can help us plumb the depths of who we are and promotes self-examination which can lead to growth. Unexamined and uncommunicated pain often leads to pain which recurs.)
The second “unofficial” name of the group is:
Divorce Sucks… because it does. We came up with this name in the first group I led, and every time we use it, the heads start nodding followed by smiles of sarcasm. Humor is part of surviving. It can help us to embrace reality with indomitable optimism. However, it sometimes takes a little while to get there. Jamie, my co-facilitator, and I try to gently push this process by the use of sardonic/sarcastic humor with each other. People who haven’t lived through a crisis, might be offended by this kind of dark humor, but we have found that its use can prick the festering emotional wound and allow it to become open to the healing salve of understanding and love of new comrades. It can be a pressure release from the self-perceived necessity of being “fair.” Sometimes, having someone who allows you to be blatantly real and angry and honest, without apology, leads you to the path back to forgiveness, rather than away from it. Draining the bile of bitterness is imperative to eventually accept the healthy response of forgiving our former spouse, our self, and even God for the death of the shared dreams which began with: “I do.”
The last night of our group is a party. We celebrate the end of the beginning of healing at these parties. I have come to see the process of regrouping after divorce by using the model of disaster response. (I asked God to give me a model to help me understand how to help other people going through divorce, and God reminded me of the earthquakes in Haiti. The first responders were doing basic first aid, and trying to stablize people in horrendous pain and suffering to make sure they had access to the basics of life: Food, shelter, water, etc. Divorce support groups (Divorce Sucks) is like that first aid. The next task is to remove the rubble from the disaster. Divorce leaves rubble all around. I am working on ideas to help folks remove the financial, emotional, and relational rubble from their lives. The next phase is to rebuild. Rebuilding a life means re-imagining who you are, and who God has created you to be. While there may be some roles which are still intact after divorce, like parent; some roles are just gone: wife/husband, son/daughter-in-law, and so on. Reconnecting to who you were before the marriage, takes time and effort.)
Sometimes, the release of pain can look really strange when seen from the outside. At the party which ended our spring group, we went to a restaurant together and sat out on the deck. One of our group, a young woman now raising four children on her own, came into the party just a bit late with the statement: “I NEED a Marguerita!” Our whole table repeated the word “need” with the same emphasis she used and immediately laughed deeply. She began to laugh, too. A sight which made my heart glad. I confess, there was more than a little venting around the table that night. I remember seeing a couple of young women at a nearby table, and noticed how they watched our group and whispered quietly to each other, while exchanging “knowing” glances. In their estimation, I suppose our group looked to be bitter, angry people. I understood why they might hold that opinion. To my eyes, I saw hurting people letting off steam and clinging to each other, like as to a life raft in the stormy sea.
So how will this newest group of people ride out their individual storms? Will they continue to reach out to each other, and keep telling the sad stories of each new week’s “progress” of de-coupling? Honestly, I don’t know…
…but last night, they were courageously timid…and I am proud of them.