I can only tell you how it happened to me:
First, I was in college when DH and I separated and divorced. It was the first time I’d realized I am intelligent; it was my first major success. He tried to sabotage it, but I knew that leaving school to follow him, when he announced his intention to leave, would have catastrophic effects on me. Deciding to stay where I was and to let him move out alone was one of the best decisions I ever made. Brutally difficult (remember, I didn’t know at that point that he was gay), but worth it.
A few years later, during the course of my job, I came across a wonderful pamphlet, “Do You Love Me?” a reproduction of a talk by John Barger, founder of Sophia Institute Press. As Barger detailed the story of the death and rebirth of his own marriage, and the death of his much-loved wife, I found that the ideals I’d always held of marriage, of intimacy, were not, as DH had insisted, “unrealistic, naive, and irrational,” but were legitimate. And, in fact, were the teachings on the nature of marriage by the Catholic Church. This one event was huge. It validated my deepest instincts and intuitive understanding, which DH had repeatedly ridiculed.
In the fall of 2005 I took the advice of some friends and auditioned for, and was accepted into, a large regional chorus. This activity placed me in the company of some very fine men and women, some of whom shared my ideals, values, and faith; all of whom were intelligent and accomplished people. The camaraderie I experienced there gave me an increased sense of fitting in among good people, something I’d not pursued since I’d graduated from college, after the divorce.
A group of us would go out for a late supper after rehearsals, and the conversations around the restaurant table moved me to shake off the residue of the attitudes I’d put on in order to try to “get along” with a man who simply would not, could not, be gotten along with. I found myself beginning to turn again to values and ideals I’d thought I’d “outgrown,” but in reality had only stepped away from in order to accommodate a difficult person and situation. As I returned to them, I found more clearly who I am, in my own integrity.
I learned through reading, studying, and simply observing what matters to me, what I find strong and enduring, and what is fleeting, artificial, and unsubstantial. I jettisoned the latter bit by bit, and reinforced my understanding and love of the former.
One lovely thing that happened was not of my choosing, but the happy “accident” of biology, I think. One morning, in my late 40s, heading into menopause, I woke up one morning thinking, I have spent my entire life being told I have to be careful not to upset or worry or offend other people. Well, it’s time for those other people to start worrying about not upsetting me!
I distanced myself from people who revealed that their acceptance of me was conditional upon my altering myself to satisfy them. I’m not talking about holding a moral line — goodness knows, those are easy enough to cross. And too often, people who are critical of some things are astonishingly tolerant of immorality (so long as it doesn’t inconvenience them) — I mean, rather, that if I didn’t alter my personality, or my temperament, or my Faith, or my interests/tastes, etc. then those things were subject to criticism. Sometimes we can’t physically distance ourselves — it’s a relief when we can – but we can mentally and emotionally draw some lines in the sand and withdraw from that point. And we can do so with dignity, calm, and clarity. It may take some practice, but it can be done.
Everything we encounter becomes an invitation to affirm our true nature: we either bend with the prevailing wind at that moment in order to try to get along, or we stand in the growing certainty of what is right. This might be a subjective right — discovering one’s proper work, for instance; I have worked as a shipping clerk and as a secretary, responsible positions that my practical family and friends greatly approved of, and I did my work well enough, but I was very unhappy with the bad fit of what I was doing and the disuse of my real gifts and abilities. Or it might be an objective moral right — the defense of marriage, of the vulnerable and defenseless among us, and so on.
There is great strength in solitude. A younger woman with children to care for might find this very difficult. A bit of quiet each day is barely enough to keep the inner batteries charged for facing the day’s challenges, much less to find solid grounding and healing. We use what we have and must trust God to provide the rest. I didn’t have money for a vacation when DH and I divorced, nor for many years after. When it came, it was like the old-fashioned “rest cure.”
The trick, however, is to embrace the solitude and its temporary discomforts, and not to try to hide from it/them with noise and activity.