Rowing to Emotional Recovery

Late summer of ’92. Bent over, arms on knees, resting, trying to recover from a long hard row against the tidal current. Pleased with this not-so-easy accomplishment. Too bad there wasn’t an audience, someone to do the clapping, to deliver accolades. She is no longer here, my wife.

Perhaps she is with him right now. Having a morning coffee, or sharing a shower. Back then, before the recovery, I was adrift and afloat in self-pity. Wondering for the hundredth time. What did I do to deserve this? Why me? Why did our friends abandon me too? The questions unanswered, just floating out to sea, then sinking.

It’s was like this for a while, owning this deep feeling of loss and hope. Still expecting her to just show up at our favourite dock-side restaurant, her smile radiating, her arms open. At home the deck lights were always on, waiting her return. Sitting at the window, watching the rain, waiting for the taxi.

The emotional steps leading from the first shock of betrayal to the cleansing action of divorce is similar to the steps dealing with death. And in the early stages I sometimes preferred death. Friends tried to help with their professional advice, mostly they said it will get better with time. “You’ll be fine.” “You just need time to heal” That was a good one, like if it were only as simple as a broken leg, or hole in the hull. Those I could fight, those I could understand. Friends told me about:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Resentment and fear
  • Withdrawal and grieving
  • Acceptance
  • Action

Did I listen then? I said I did, but in the early stages it’s impossible. Months later, visiting a friend in a hospital room I found myself saying the same things. My words sounding terribly false and hollow against his real pain, his discomfort and fear. “You’ll be fine” In his case, like mine, it was true, we both recovered.

I remember my anger, experiencing it as feeling down or depressed. Left unresolved, this anger could have ruined my career, business opportunities and my health. All of these feelings lowered my sense of self-worth and self-esteem. At this point, motivation and drive to try new things disappeared, resulting in less and less confidence in my abilities.

I began to worry and over-think, creating feelings of anxiety. I worried about many things, especially not ever letting anyone into my life. I could justify being a castaway, safely at anchor, alone. I continued to have work problems and developed a sleep disorder. I found comfort in plotting fanciful revenge. If left unchecked this pattern would continue into a downward spiral, creating more fear, more anger or depression lower self-esteem and more worry and anxiety.

The simple truth is that I had a good marriage with a good wife. She left. Yes I had generous feelings of betrayal; how could she do this to me? I had constant feelings of loss. Driving our car, turning to see the passenger seat empty would fill me with unseen tears. Somehow things changed for me; sure the counseling helped, but mostly the change happened when I finally gave myself permission to move on. To accept things for what they are, to accept the new opportunities, to see the door open, not closed.

I dreaded the thought of divorce. I had worried about divorce for a long time before I had the nerve and courage to take this final action. I spend many nights saying it was OK to do it, then I’d put it off for one good reason after another. I told myself the money was too tight, knowing the lie. I told myself I would do it after the holidays, or maybe next month, or next week.

Intellectually I was aware of the immediate benefits of getting divorced and since there was nobody seeking my hand I kept postponing, procrastinating. The day I filed my divorce papers was a day of discovery. I discovered relief from anxiety and a freedom I did not expect. The day I filed was a day of new beginnings, a day of new life.
Copyright 2004: Colin Kennedy, a sailor, author, parent, lover, and a divorce specialists helping people with divorce. You can reach him at

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