The Isolation Of Divorce

Even though songwriter, Terry Radigan had never had a conventional life and living in Brooklyn about half her friends didn’t have children and weren’t married, she still felt the isolation of divorce. Here’s why: 

I didn’t realize how attached I was to the idea of who I was, like my story was, “Hello, I’m a singer and I’m a songwriter, and I’m married, and this is my husband, and this is my family, and that’s who I am.” All of a sudden you go through divorce, you’re not that, so you have to readjust your story for you, who are you?

Divorce means figuring out who you are nowAbout a month after I realized I was going to get a divorce I went down to Louisiana on this Habitat for Humanity week, and people were asking me questions, or I’d go to tell a story and I’d have this choked moment where I’d realize, “Oh my God, this story involved my ex,” and I would be doing all of this editing before I could get the story out, making like it was just me or me and my sister instead of my husband.

You’re trying to avoid talking about your ex, I hate that term. I hate “my ex” or just to say “my husband but I’m not married anymore.” And who am I at that point? Did I fail? No matter what, if you end up calling a marriage off, or somebody does something where you feel like you have to, you do feel like that’s a failure.

I don’t know if it speaks to the isolation, but I know for me, it was having to reassess, readjust, changing stories, realizing that when I got to Louisiana, there was no one to call to say, “Hey, don’t worry, got here, everything is great,” or no one to call at the end of the day and say, “Wow, let me tell you what was cooking.” I’ve got some dear people in my life, but that call that I would make at the beginning of the day or the end of the day would be to my husband, and that call wasn’t there anymore.

I was surprised by how those little things were the things that leveled me more than the bigger thing of having the marriage thrown away.

Would you say you’re through your divorce now? You’re recovered from the breakup of your marriage now?

I’m in a much better place. It’s such a better place. It’s only now that I’m looking back that I realize how difficult it was, because I’m from a long line of women with the what I call “the mother Joad mentality,”  from The Grapes of Wrath. “Everything’s fine, we’re going to load up the chairs on top of the Model T and we’re heading West, and we’ll take care of it.”

That’s what I would do in my life and the kind of women I was raised around, so I seemed fine during all of this, but I really wasn’t, I was heartbroken. I am sure that there’s still more work to do, there’s more stuff to take in, and when I’m ready for another relationship, I know that there’s going to be things that I’m going to have to navigate, that I wouldn’t have to before my marriage. Now I’m going to get into another relationship with somebody and what is that relationship going to look like, and make sure there’s no do-overs and no feelings of insecurity or questioning whether monogamy is really a reasonable assumption on any given day. I’m sure that I’m just going to have more stuff to navigate. I’m going to be dealing with my divorce in my next relationship, I’m pretty certain. I just think I’ll be fairly mindful. I’m not worried about it, I just know that it’ll be there.

I love that word, mindful. Terry, is there anything else you want to share?

What really excited me about the record was not to just put out another collection of songs that I’ve written, I was really engaged, more engaged than I had been in a while musically, to want to share these songs. I know how I feel when I hear a beautiful, brilliant breakup song, instantly after bursting into tears, I feel not so alone, because you know someone else is feeling that. I was grateful to have music to write about this stuff, to get me through it, because it did, it was the best medicine ever, and then it’s another great thing to play it out, to have people feel a connection to the music and just that thing of making the world small, to feel like there’s a conversation about it. People don’t feel alone, me included.

You can read more about Terry’s trip to Louisiana and listen to my favorite track, “Not Giving Up on Love” on the Huffington Post.

Terry makes a good point about the isolation – it can be external in the sense of not knowing other people who are divorced and it can be internal because all of a sudden everything about your life has changed. That loss of identity is part of the grief you experience in losing your marriage. Not that you ever think it at the time but it can be a good thing. If you work at it, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with who you truly are, what your values are and who you’re meant to be.

When Terry talked about not having anyone to call, she reminded me of Lorraine, who moved (too soon) to Colorado from Alaska after her divorce from her air-force husband. Lorraine also talks about figuring out how to be a single person again and wondering if anybody would care if she got caught in a blizzard.

I’ve had similar thoughts too but I think it’s different when you have children. Although I was no longer a wife, I was still a mother and a large part of my day was devoted to my children. The time that felt odd in the beginning was adjusting to when the kids went to their dad. I remember not knowing quite what to do with myself and feeling panic at the thought of spending time alone.

Did you feel isolated by your divorce? What helped you overcome that?

This is the last post from Terry’s interview and I’d like to thank her both for sharing her story in song and in this interview with me. I’ve not interviewed a songwriter before so it’s been a fun assignment.

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

Photo credit: paurian