An aftershock is a smaller earthquake that occurs after a previous earthquake.
I’ve felt earthquake aftershocks before. It’s alarming. After being tossed around by the initial quake, everything settles and you start to trust the ground again. You feel like the worst is over and you can survey the damage.
But then an aftershock hits and you aren’t ready. Not that you were even ready for the first one, but it seems cruel to have to relive that moment over again.
It’s the exact same process with divorce.
The initial impact destroys your foundation. You hold on while you watch things shatter and fall. Your marriage crumbles before you. Then, all at once, finances come crashing down, social pressures hit the floor and you see pure chaos. Once the ground steadies, you start to pick up the pieces. You start to figure out the logistics of rebuilding without some of those broken items. It’s hard to see anything but the mess.
Perhaps, you make a lot of progress. Everything looks tidy again, it looks whole again. But what about the aftershock?
What happens when you feel amazing, “in the clear”, but something reminds you of that initial impact?
It’s happened to me a bit more than I like to admit. In the beginning, my aftershocks were close together.
Sometimes I’d feel it when I would go pick up a bottle of wine. I’d naturally purchase a bottle of wine I liked, but, of course, AJ liked that one too… and for some reason, that would be enough to trigger an aftershock.
I’d remember that Day One really happened. I’d take note of the fact that I am alone and I don’t love the circumstances I was left with. I’d feel that initial impact emotion again, but slightly less.
Other times, I would have a bout of amnesia and forget that AJ and I were no longer together. I’d think about picking up coffees for us after running errands on a Saturday, only to be hit with the reality that he was gone. Another aftershock, but less impact.
In the past six months, I have felt a few aftershocks. Each one jarring for a different reason, but this past weekend, I felt yet another aftershock.
You may have read Traditions, and felt my excited outlook on the holiday season. I felt excited and hopeful as I wrote it. Sometimes, I hardly remember that initial impact. The pain has become a distant memory. Unfortunately, this weekend reminded me just how recent my divorce was.
My best friend, Julie, and I decided to decorate our home for Christmas. I’ve always decorated the day after Thanksgiving and so it seemed fitting. It was a tradition for me. We pulled out the many boxes of decor, bought an artificial tree and I even made some homemade eggnog. Christmas music played as we assembled the tree. I started to feel… awful.
I tried to hold that terrible feeling in. It will pass, I told myself. I pressed on, continuing to open the boxes of decor.
I opened the box that contained the tree skirt and under the tree skirt were the ornaments we gifted to each other each and every year as a part of our traditions.
The ones he gifted me included Snookie, “our first married Christmas”, and an ornament he picked up this past year while on a photography trip in the Smokey Mountains. I gifted him several as well, a Yankee nutcracker, a mug of beer, and a Santa centaur.
There they were, scattered at the bottom of the box. Little reminders of the happy marriage I thought I had. Little reminders of the confusing disconnect between who I thought I married and who he showed himself to be. Reminders of how recent my divorce was.
I couldn’t suppress this feeling anymore. I looked at Julie and muttered the only words I could.
I was trying to identify the problem. Why was I struggling? I sat at my dining table and a few tears ran down my face.
I hadn’t cried about “it” in a while. I know these tears aren’t for AJ. I don’t miss him, I don’t love him, I don’t even know him. But I knew my marriage. I knew how great my marriage was before I knew better, especially during the holidays. During our traditions.
I cried because it’s different. I cried because it is the opposite of the holiday season I anticipated having this year.
But that is okay.
Change is my new normal. Julie asked if I wanted to stop decorating. Absolutely not. I will push on, enjoy myself and force myself to handle these uncomfortable moments and see the happiness in them.
Homemade eggnog was a new tradition. An artificial tree was a new tradition. Decorating with Julie was a new tradition.
We finished, cleaned up the boxes and sat to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Looking at the tree produced so many emotions for me. Happiness mostly, but I felt a slight disappointment. I had anticipated the holidays would include AJ, not just this year, but every year for the rest of my life. That’s what I signed up for.
The next day, I woke up early, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat on the couch to take in the view of the tree. My disappointment faded as acceptance took its place. The aftershock was over. I looked around and instead of seeing a mess to clean up like all the aftershocks before, I saw hope. Everything was beautiful. No mess, no devastation.
I think the point is, this thing is a journey. Maybe you never cross the finish line. You’ll hit road blocks, Detours and feel the effects of an aftershock (or several). I have found that facing those problems helps the healing process. It’s helped me find happiness and hope in the destruction and the inevitable aftershocks.