I have been admiring Samantha Ducloux Waltz’s fine writing and life wisdom since we read together from our work in A CUP OF COMFORT FOR WRITERS nearly a decade ago. Here she generously shared insights about her divorce experience with us.
- How did you know your marriage was over?
When I was teaching at Sunset High School I was sent to a training to learn to help students transition from drug treatment back into the classroom. We learned a lot about dysfunctional families. I studied the characteristics of a child of an alcoholic and saw clearly that my husband was one. We had always known his father was an alcoholic and my then-husband had been sent to various relatives when his father had periods of drying out. I went home so excited. We had always argued and I had looked for twenty-two years for ways to change the dynamics in our home, including marriage counseling, but nothing had made a difference. Now I saw a way for us to get help. When I told my husband he said, simply, “My father’s not an alcoholic. He might have a drinking problem but he’s not an alcoholic.” He then read the classic book on children of alcoholics and made notes in the margins of ways he wasn’t one. I knew I couldn’t fight the denial and change anything at home, so after twenty-two years of marriage I went into individual and group counseling and within six months left and filed for divorce.
- How did the needs of your children impact your decision to divorce, and/or your experience of divorce?
When I realized the marriage couldn’t work, I couldn’t actually get myself out the door for six months and a lot of individual and group counseling. My daughter had been crying every night for a year and my youngest son was deeply disturbed by my husband’s verbal abuse of him I knew I had to get them into a more positive environment. The night my then-husband pushed our youngest son into the kitchen cabinets I told my husband I wanted a divorce. Still I stayed. Then my daughter asked if she could go live with a girlfriend whose mother would welcome her. I said I’d leave and arranged for us all to move in with a friend for a while and filed for divorce.
- What inner resources / strength / courage did you discover through your divorce process?
Ack! I was clinically depressed and worked a twelve-step program for adult children of dysfunctional families — ACOA. I don’t know that I had any inner strength. I think I borrowed it from friends and the program. My body image was so non-existent I could not have picked myself out of a lineup. Seriously. I had codependency perfected.
- What do you wish you’d known then that you know now?
That verbal abuse is as good a reason to leave a marriage as physical abuse. That sometimes things can’t be worked out.
- How has your divorce contributed to the healing / learning / evolution of you, your children, your family?
I feel so much better about myself away from the steady stream of criticism. My ex-husband, to his credit, is working to build better relationships with his children. My daughter and younger son both have a lot more self-confidence. (My middle son was a very favored child growing up.)
- Have there been any surprising gifts for you and your children on the other side of divorce?
I was shocked by the absolute joy I felt as I drove down our gravel road away from the house. The leaves on the trees that had been a blur literally came into focus. Colors brightened. There was a physical as well as emotional change in my world. I worked hard for years to put depression behind me, but from year to year I see progress. I think there is still some damage to all of us, and I wish I had left much sooner.
- What is the strategy / attitude / approach that has served you best while divorcing or co-parenting?
The strategy that has helped me most is to focus on my personal journey and personal growth, and the nurturing of my children, rather than my former husband’s faults or the problems in our marriage. It has helped me to realize that my former husband was doing the best he could, though, granted, it’s taken me years to truly believe that. From his perspective he was providing for his family. He had been very wounded as a child which I think he still doesn’t acknowledge. But he is basically a good person. It wasn’t a bloodthirsty or greedy divorce on either of our parts. I think more in terms of values differences than verbal abuse now, although there was a lot of verbal abuse without question. Hanging onto anger would only hurt me so I worked through it with a twelve step program and counseling. I can still be triggered by him, but I wouldn’t say I am still angry. Even though our children are now adults, in a sense we are co-parenting because both my former husband and I are in regular contact with our three children. My husband has from time to time talked with me about the marriage and what he wishes he had done differently.
- How has your divorce influenced your work?
I got lots of material for personal essays. I think I have divorce stories in five anthologies. By material I don’t mean just details, but concepts to think deeply about. And not just in terms of the marriage, but, as I’ve already said, my personal journey as well.
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Samantha Ducloux Waltz offers readers inspiration, courage and a fresh perspective on life in her sixty plus personal essays published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and other anthologies. Currently she is compiling an anthology, STEPPING UP, to be released by Seal Press in spring 2015. She has also published under the name Samellyn Wood.
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