A vertical header photo of Ashley Anderson.

You might think you can’t find your way back to happiness after the heartbreak of divorce, but relationship columnist Ashley Anderson says you can. She talks about the watershed moment that gave her peace of mind and direction.

By Ashley Anderson | Photo by Kylene White

“Mommy, you’re sad. Why are you sad?” 

That was the moment I knew I had to leave. When my then three-year-old, Atlas, grabbed my face and asked that question, something clicked inside of me. At that moment on the floor of his bedroom, I started asking myself a flurry of questions I’d avoided. What was I teaching my sons about love? About marriage? About family? What picture of normalcy was I creating for them that they’d grow up unconsciously trying to emulate? This one hit me the hardest: How would I feel if either of my boys repeated this cycle? The line in the sand was drawn.  

Some would say it shouldn’t have taken that innocent moment to make my final decision. Those who loved and cared about me deeply thought I should have left years prior. From the unemotional and unattached place I sit today, they’re probably right but when you’re in the mess it’s not quite that easy. There are many stages we have to endure before we can wrap our heads around filing divorce papers. I first had to accept that the fantasy I thought I was living wasn’t real. My marriage wasn’t what I thought it was. My ex-husband wasn’t who I thought he was. Essentially, my life wasn’t what I thought it was. This stage alone made me question everything. My foundation was shattered.  

Sometimes I didn’t know whether I was going or coming or whether I was a good person, wife, or mother. I questioned my sanity, my worth, if this was my fault, and whether or not I deserved it. I spent days and weeks living life like a deer in headlights — physically present but mentally absent. I was processing all I’d heard, all I knew to be true, and all of the different things that could happen.  

I’d venture to say that was the darkest time of my life. Even though I knew it was time to go, the deepest desire of my heart was to save my marriage. I already told you how much I loved my ex-husband. Beyond that, as a Christian woman, I firmly believed in honoring the covenant of “until death do us part.” I felt torn, literally in half. I became a shell of myself willing to do anything to make him happy. Anything. I shrank until I no longer recognized the person I’d become. No matter how much it hurt, no matter how deep the emotional wounds cut, I kept trying. I even said no initially when he said he wanted out. Trauma bonding is real.  

But at some point, even the strongest of us break. It is said that a diamond is regarded as the hardest naturally occurring material in the world. It is the hardest substance to break or cut, but if it’s hit just right with something as light as a household hammer, it will shatter. While I believe that women are real-life superheroes, we are also fragile. Everyone has a breaking point, and until your back is against the wall, you never know what that is so be gentle with yourself.  

I flooded myself with many questions. What about the children? What about the family? What about our shared assets? What will people say? What about the extended family we’ve created together? What about our plans for the future? What about the legacy?  

I cannot tell you the number of times I asked myself each of these questions, but as I lifted my head with tears in my eyes to take that beautiful diamond ring off for the last time, I consciously made a few choices. I chose me. I chose my peace. I chose my sanity. I chose my health. I chose my children. I chose my legacy. I chose freedom. It took me a long time to look myself in the mirror and proudly tell myself I deserved all of these things, but I did … and you do too. Choose you.

Read Ashley Anderson’s Divorce column, “The Burning Phoenix”.