follow

Read the Blog

CONNECT

NAVIGATE

EM SEXTON

I’m Divorced. And Here’s What I Want You to Know.

May 28, 2020

Filed in: Uncategorized

I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor on this page for the last few hours.  It’s quite representative of the life I’ve been living behind the scenes for the last 16 months.  A blinking cursor.  Wanting so desperately to share something so personal, but not knowing how to start.

This post has been something I’ve wanted to share for so long and yet also intentionally put on hold for so long.

The starting and the pausing.  Like the blinking of a cursor.  The knowing that I had so much to say and also the knowing that I didn’t yet know how to say it.

In fact, I’m still learning how to put everything into words.  Maybe you can relate?  Have you ever gone through something so shitty and hard that your mind was like a blinking cursor when it came to talking to a friend – or maybe even a therapist – about all that had occurred?  

At times, that blinking cursor has even backtracked into me feeling…. Numb.  Speechless.  Almost lifeless.

If you’ve ever felt any or all of these things as your head has laid feeling like a ton of bricks on your pillow while what seemed like empty tears rolled down your cheeks…

…you’re not alone.  

It’s my hope that in sharing part of my story today that you’ll feel less alone, but that you’ll also feel (and know deep in your deepest of knowings), a few even more powerful truths.

I remember hearing about people getting divorced when I was growing up.  This *very rare* occurrence in small town America was met with audible gasps and the shaking of heads.  I remember the feeling in my body of shock when I would hear about someone’s parents getting divorced.  And then I remember the thought that would immediately accompany those feelings: “Gosh, how did they fall so far from God’s plan + intention?”

In my adult years, I carried an edited notion in my head.

And – this pains me to admit as someone who seeks to live a life fighting for a woman’s worth – but whenever I would hear of a couple getting divorced, I would always – *every single time* – immediately default to just knowing it must have been the wife’s fault.  I would think “If she had just tried x, y, or z, then they would have made it out okay.”

It hurts to type that out for all of the internet to see.  But that is, well, the truth.

Years later, I now know why that was my line of thinking.  It wasn’t that I actually thought every divorce was the woman’s fault.  It was something deeper and way more personal.

Here’s what it actually came down to: I was wearing a little thing called self righteousness like a plate of armor to protect myself.  

Because, you see, if the statement “If she had just tried x, y, or z, then they would have made it out okay” was true…

…then I could save my own failing marriage.

It’s a humiliating and humbling experience to realize that we are not in control of everything in life.  That x, y, and z input doesn’t always equal the exact output we’ve worked and prayed so hard for.

I remember the day my therapist looked me in the eye with deep love and care and asked “So, are you done throwing spaghetti at the wall?”

She was right.  Nothing had stuck.  All the pieces of spaghetti were laying there splayed out on the floor where they had fallen.  I needed to acknowledge that the pot was empty of pasta, but the water was still boiling, about to bubble over and make a mess all over the stove.

I guess now’s the part where I’d insert “Here’s what happened.  Here are the details of how our marriage turned into a separation and our separation turned into a divorce.”  But, I won’t be sharing those details.  

To be frank, it wasn’t the separation and divorce that almost killed me.  While losing something and someone so sacred to me was unbelievably devastating, I have seen God’s redemption so clear in both of our lives over the last year.  Even on some of my hardest days, I have still felt compelled to declare the evidence of God at work to my friends, my team, and anyone who will listen.  

That does not mean that it was easy.  It was the opposite.  It was so hard and so, so awful.  It felt completely unbearable most days.  It was some of the darkest days, weeks, and months of my life.

I know you, like me, have been a bystander, in person and online, to other women who have gone through hard things and had the same thought as me: “Wow, she navigated that really well.  I wish I could have her strength and resilience.”

I want you to know that in so many cases, women who have gone through hard things can’t share the hard private details because they are just that: private.  So it may seem like we’ve trudged through the hard quite valiantly.  

As I’ve been an outsider to these women’s stories over the years and subconsciously “ranked” my strength and capabilities lower than theirs, I knew I wanted to share a few parts of the inside of my experience so you wouldn’t walk away from reading this post and think less of your own capabilities to navigate struggle.

A few non highlight reels:

  • The first few weeks of my separation, my friends took turns traveling into Raleigh and staying with me.  There were days when my friends had to brush my teeth for me because my brain couldn’t tell my hand what to do. They put on my clothes as I stared blankly at the wall.  They served me mashed potatoes in a bowl that I ate laying on my stomach on the bedroom room floor of an AirBnB because in my grief, I could not roll over to sit up.  Those first few weeks were traumatic not only for me, but for my friends as well.
  • Months later, on April 8th of last year, as I went live with our announcement for our big “Move to Martin” for The Flourish Market + the launch of The Locality, I answered my phone for my first interview of the day with a reporter.  About 5 minutes into the conversation she said “This must be such an exciting day for you!”  She paused and waited for my response.  I started bawling uncontrollably and told her I needed to end the interview.  I cancelled the other 3 press interviews for the day and laid on the floor of my temporary apartment, alone, feeling like I had let down my team and all the women behind our products who had overcome things much harder than what I was going through.  I felt so much shame about my lack of resilience.  I watched as more than 150 women hit the link at the bottom of our press release that day to sign up to volunteer with our move.  I felt so undeserving of that love and support, and completely isolated, despite a whole city of women raising their hands to stand with me.
  • More months passed and still – the PTSD would sneak up on me, seemingly out of nowhere.  I’ll never forget a day this past August when I felt that all too familiar feeling of my chest closing in on me one morning when I was taking a shower before a fun photo shoot we had planned with our team and a group of customers for a special project.  My sweet friend and make-up artist had to whip together my look in minutes at the shop because I had texted her sitting on the floor of my shower that morning as the streams of water washed over my head and said “I’m going to be really late.  I’m fighting off an anxiety attack.”   It was the first time I hadn’t been able to put on a “brave” face for my team and customers as they watched me sit in the make-up chair with tears coming down my face as our photographer rubbed my shoulders and whispered “breath in, breath out” over and over again in my ear.

This is just a small smattering of the dark days I have walked through.  Hear this: I do not share these memories in hopes that you will feel sorry for me.  I have found that pity is the last thing I need, and the last thing that ANY woman needs.

There’s a fine line to walk when it comes to processing grief vs. falling into a trap where you feel sorry for yourself, and want others to feel sorry for you too.

One side of that fine line contains holy and healing power, and the other side of that line feeds you the narrative that you’re helpless.

Here’s the deal: I don’t want your pity.  

I want your power.  

The world needs it.  The world needs less women who believe the narrative they are helpless and stuck and voiceless and powerless and that pity is the medicine they need, and more women who know the power they stand in, simply being created in the image of their maker.  

Pity vs. power.  

The last 16 months have been a daily choice for me between these two p’s.  And the more I did the hard work of processing the sheer magnitude of grief in therapy, the more power pervaded, while pity became the clear low hanging fruit that, while easy to grab, spoils after just a few days.

Let me state something obvious about power here.  Power is a dangerous thing if not stewarded well.  The daily news is full of devastating examples of this.

But here’s the thing I’ve found.  I’ve watched as it’s usually the people who have been silenced and shamed for years who, when the power torch lands in their hands, will courageously carry it with a sense of holy and sacred magnitude that shines light on injustice and calls us all to action.

But want to know what else I’ve found?  Shining that light on realities we try to keep hidden in the dark makes people *really* uncomfortable.

And what do we do when we feel uncomfortable?  We pull out our cloaks of self righteousness and armor the hell up.  We protect what we “know” is true – as to not shake up our sense of normalcy, safety, and… control.

I’ve watched the self righteous cloaks of armor come out in full force – worn by both men and women – myself for sure included – when someone does something – or says something – that goes against the perceived “safe and controlled” reality we want to continue to be true for ourselves.

I’ve watched this be especially true when I’ve seen people of color, and my friends from the LGBTQ+ community stand in their power and hold up a beacon of light.  And if I’m honest with myself and with you, I’m far from blameless when it comes to how much pain I’ve inflicted by not actively taking a stand and protecting that beacon of light they’ve courageously held up at great risk.

I mentioned above that it wasn’t the separation and divorce that almost killed me.  

So just what was it that felt like daggers pinning me to the floor????  

It was something that I never expected living in my privileged, progressive, protected little bubble.  

Remember what I said about how I wore self righteousness like a plate of armor to protect myself, and judged women who got divorced (among other people I definitely judged too)?

Well, friends.  I got a taste of my own medicine, and it SUCKED A BIG ONE.  This time I was on the receiving end and let me tell you – the daggers thrown at me were really freaking effective. 

I had ruffled a lot of feathers by being a woman shining a light on a hush hush topic and in turn I had challenged the sense of control people I loved felt over their own lives, over their own relationships, over their narratives about how a woman should respond when going through hard things, and the loss of control of their ability to answer hard questions.

The daggers came flying at me from people in positions of power in my life – both from a religious and friendship perspective – and they worked: I went silent for all of 2019.  

If you’re familiar with the Bible passage when Jesus says “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” then you will resonate when I say this: I was in no position to pick up a damn stone and throw it back at anyone.

I’ve learned a lot in the past 16 months, but above all, I’ve learned to grieve well and move forward with power – a holy power that comes from my maker and can heal the weary and broken hearted.  A power that – when used appropriately – brings redemption to the darkest parts we’re so tempted as a society, or community, or personally – to keep brushed under the rug and under our perceived control. 

With claiming back that power, I have also learned some major truths that are not only true of myself, but also of you: 

You are not helpless.

You are not stuck.

You are not voiceless.

But this is going to be a tough race to run.  

The good news remains though: you are not alone.

Can I offer up some challenges for us?

Let us be women who surrender our self righteous cloaks and are quick to take a seat on the mourner’s bench with our sisters.

Let us be women who point one another to trained professionals who will help us process through our grief and hold us through the healing process.

Let us be women who pull out the daggers of shame, mend our wounds, and continue to speak up for what is right.

Let us be women who claim back our power and use it to help pass the peace – and pass the power – to our sisters and to those who have been silenced and shamed and oppressed and other’d for far too long.

Let us be women who see the long ass, uphill race marked out in front of us and know in our deepest of knowings that we must show up and run – for ourselves, for the women running with us, and for the women who come behind us.

And let us be women who find the inner woman who’s been inside us and waiting to come forward this whole time, who has the strength and resilience to move through anything that gets flung into our path.  

I knew it was time to press post on this blog – finally – because I can now say that I’ve found that woman inside and know how, on most days, to summon her forth.

The woman I’ve found inside doesn’t helplessly throw spaghetti at the wall and with great fear and desperation hope that it sticks.  The woman I’ve found inside knows exactly when the pasta’s ready.  She dumps it into a colander and strains out all of the boiling water as the steam attempts to scorch her face.  She takes out her biggest serving tray.  She dumps every last piece of spaghetti onto that platter and takes it over to the long and wide table of women in front of her she has the joy and honor to do life with and she says “Welcome to the feast.  Eat up, good and faithful servants.  We have another marathon to run tomorrow.” 

And that woman?  That woman I’ve found inside takes one look in your eyes and immediately sees that same strong and resilient woman inside of you – the woman who can do hard, hard things.

Thank you for running this race with me, personally + with my business.  I couldn’t tell you what was going on at the time, but you have no idea how you’ve spurred me on, sometimes grabbing me underneath my arms and holding me up so I didn’t have to bow out of the race.  There were so many times where I was close to having to bow out, especially financially.  Your impact is real.  And so is your power.  

Let us all remember the freedom and healing that can come to ourselves and to others when we use that power wisely.

Onwards we run, together.

With love,

An important P.S.

It’s okay to not be okay.  For months, I was absolutely not okay.  And you may find yourself there right now.   You may be in the middle of processing through grief or a situation that is so hard to hold and walk through.  There is help available, and you do not have to do this alone.  

A few resources:

Find a therapist: www.psychologytoday.com

Work with my therapist’s team: www.radicalwellness.co

Talk to someone immediately:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255

There will come a day when you will realize that you are, in fact, okay.  And I want you to know that even if you can’t believe that day will ever come for you, I will hold that beacon of truth for you – and one day, I promise, you too will hold it for others. 

comments +

Reply...

Follow along for motivation + (real life) behind the scenes!

LET'S BE INSTA-FRIENDS

@emgreysexton