Dealing With Emotions After Divorce

Last week I introduced you to songwriter, producer, Terry Radigan and her new album, The Breakdown of a Breakup which captures her journey through divorce after her twenty-year marriage ended. I also had the chance to interview Terry and want to share our conversation with you:

You’re a well-established songwriter and you’ve written for a lot of other big names, but this is only your second album. Did you set out to do this album on your own, or did it just kind of evolve as you were writing through this process?

I’ve always written for myself, and I’ve just been lucky enough to have other people do my songs. I’m constantly writing, for myself, TV stuff, or thinking of other artists. When I went through the breakup, it took a while before I started writing anything about it. I think I just had to take it all in.

Dealing with emotions after divorce is hard workI hadn’t thought about how long it was before I started writing but it was probably about six months. It’s sort of like you fall off your bike and you’re stunned. Then you start to take it all in and do your inventory. That’s when I started writing the songs, and I wrote them over a couple of years.

Each song has a different mood to it, or there’s a different emotion to it. Did you write them in the order they’re presented on the record because it seems like the very last one is the optimist, “Not Giving Up on Love.” You’ve been through all the fire and the hell and all that, so did you write them in that order?

No, I think “Not Giving Up on Love” was the second song I wrote out of the batch. I’d gone to Nashville on a writing trip, that I was actually going to cancel because it just didn’t feel like I was going to do very well writing, and I was going to be there for a month. Two of my best friends, and great songwriters, said, “You need to come here. Come and hang out and we’ll write songs and we’ll eat and we’ll lay on the couch and we’ll tell funny stories.” So I did and they were great. They picked me up from the airport and took care of me for a couple of weeks.

Then I did a bunch of writing, and the three of us sat down to write that song, “Not Giving Up on Love.”  I wrote them totally out of order, and then when it came time to figure out what the story was, and the story of those songs, it was funny to listen to after the fact. I would produce each one musically, instrumentationalized, just with what I felt like it wanted to sound like, and it was funny to listen to the production, there was no real thought to anything, but it really does start out nice, somber, and pretty, get a little crazy in the middle, and then come out the other end a nice, softer, like you said, optimistic way.

Do you think they were written in the order in which you were ready to deal with your emotions?

Yeah. It’s funny because I walked around kind of like “alright, well that happened, so onward,” and then I would be really frustrated with myself for not being able to bounce back and be totally fine, and really annoyed with myself. Then every now and again I’d write a song and then listen to it and go, “Oh, I’m feeling that, so no wonder. No wonder I feel kind of shitty and it’s hard to get my act together and be okay with that, be a little kinder to myself” because it’s a lot to go through. I’m not from a traumatic family, and I’m not traumatic, you pick up and carry on, but you really do have to look at yourself and say, “Wow, you really just took quite a fall and you should make sure that you sit down and look at everything and not expect to just dust yourself off and be fine.”

 … to be continued ….

There is a process you have to work through with divorce but I agree with Terry that there doesn’t seem to be a set pattern to it and different emotions hit at different times. Sometimes it’s benign incidents that trigger a rush of emotion and sometimes your kids will push a button, you fly off the handle, blowing it out of proportion and when they tell you, then you realize it’s the same button your ex used to push. The learning comes when you dig a little more and figure out the feeling behind the emotion.

For example: I lost it a few summers ago when my kids and I were getting ready to go on a trip. I’m a frugal packer, my daughter is not. She’s a “stuff it in and sit on it” packer and even though she asks for a packing list, two pairs of pants somehow gets translated to four. I like to travel with extra space my case to bring back souvenirs and if her case was jammed packed outbound, you know where her extras would end up.

I am also a neatnik, a planner. I know it, I’m not apologizing for it but that is also why I like my own suitcase. I want to be able to go to my case, and pull out what I want without having to sort through someone else’s unfolded, inside-out jumble of clean and dirty clothes. So … when my daughter was packing at the last minute, just grabbing stuff and asking if I would put it in my case because she didn’t have room, I did lose it. She pointed out she thought I was over-reacting and as I thought about it, I realized I was reacting because it’s what my ex used to do. When he did it, it made me feel taken for granted … because he left packing to the last minute it said to me, he thought the trip wasn’t important, that there was no recognition of the time and energy I’d spent organizing the trip. That was an aha moment – I hadn’t figured out before why traveling with my husband was always so frustrating and figuring it out gave me a whole lot more patience with my kids.

What’s your emotional journey been like? Have you ever thought you were through the anger or the pain only to have an incident open it up again? Have you ever reacted to your kids because they’re pushing a button your ex used to push? What you say to someone just beginning with divorce?

You can buy Terry Radigan’s album The Breakdown of a Breakup and find out more information at Terry’s website.

Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik

  • stilllearning2b

    It took me a long time (in my perspective, at least) to allow myself to feel anything.  Then, the anger was what I was most comfortable with.  It was the first emotion I felt and the last to begin to fade.

    • Mandy Walker

      There is no “right” time – it’s all about when it’s ready for you. I can understand why anger would be the first emotion but it often masks other, much more painful emotions and feelings. Did those emerge for you as you worked through your anger?

  • T

    I love that she processed her feelings with music. Music is so healing for me. And writing, in general, helps me to process things. This is why I blog.

    • Mandy Walker

      You have to process those feelings however you can … writing about it seems to be the most common advice but that writing could take many forms. I can’t see myself writing songs or poetry so I have a deep appreciation for those people, like Terry who do. I do often find myself wondering about the back stories.

  • Nancy Wurtzel

    That is SO true: I’ve now been divorced for close to two years, but there are times when emotions come flooding back and seem to overwhelm me.  It’s great Terry can express herself in song.  It must be quite therapeutic for her and actually for others to have words and music put to what they might be feeling.  

    • Mandy Walker

      Yes, Nancy … it almost seems discouraging to tell someone who’s just beginning the divorce process that they’ll still be working through the emotional process long after the final divorce decree but not to tell them would be deception, don’t you think?