No Longer a “We”

I got married at the ripe old age of 21.  Granted, I was a pretty mature 21-year-old, but I was still very young.  I had gone from living with my parents to college, where I had two roommates, then I met my ex-husband and we married the summer before our senior year of college.  I don’t regret any of that.  However, because I married so young and never lived alone, I never really developed my own identity.  I was always part of a “we” as an adult.  There are wonderful things about that.  I didn’t flounder in dating land for years.  I didn’t get my heart broken by boys and men.  I learned early to make sacrifices for the happiness of another person.  Essentially, we grew up together.  We really began our adulthood as a couple.  We made our first major financial decisions together.  We experienced some of our greatest sorrows together.  We became parents together.  My adult life has relished being part of a “we”.

Overnight, the man who felt like half of me, vanished.  I honestly felt like someone had cut off all my limbs and I didn’t know how to walk or even move without him at my side.  That is the beauty of marriage, the whole “two becoming one”.  But when that one becomes two again, it is messy and it is like learning to swim without any limbs.  I missed the comfort of waking up next to the comfort of my best friend.  I had never made any major decisions as an adult without his input and suddenly I found myself having to make decisions for myself and my sons without him.  While I was trying to figure this out alone, he was planning his new life with her and her kids.  He jumped from one we to another we.  Even now, months later, I still talk about my life and my parenting as “we” …I suspect I will get better taking individual ownership over time, but I am not there yet.

Despite the grief over losing my partner in crime, I am finding some freedom in it.  Suddenly the future is the great unknown.  I get to do things I find fun, plan events that interest me, and spend my evenings focusing on my priorities. Other than my sons, I don’t have to consider another person when making decisions.  In just a few short years my sons will probably be on their own life adventure.  One may live with me for a while, but for the most part I get to start planning my own future.  I resume graduate school for public health at the end of the month and by the time I graduate, both of my sons will be in high school.  I feel like in some ways, suddenly the sky is the limit.  I don’t know what the future holds, but maybe, for the first time in my life, I am learning to embrace the adventure known as life.

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Boundaries

Some people talk about how they really struggle to set boundaries with their time, commitments and relationships.  Due to the nature of my job as a nurse, often my easiest “boundary” was “no, I can’t because I have to work that night or that weekend”.  So, I have never been one of those women who felt they could “do it all”.  Yes, I have volunteered for various things for my sons’ schools and brought treats for soccer games, but I have rarely been in the type of job where I can regularly commit to anything.  So, having never really needing to frequently set boundaries, the past few months I have been doing just that.

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The hardest boundary I have had to set, is cutting my ex-husband out of my life, other than contact regarding the boys.  Initially, we had agreed to remain Facebook “friends” so that he could see pictures of the boys and keep up with their lives.  For the first few weeks, it went okay.  We even had a few nice talks about the boys.  That all changed shortly after he left when, without going into the dirty details, there were some things I discovered after he moved out that disgusted and disturbed me and where he lost any right to even that level of contact.  I sent him a message and explained that we were done and “unfriended” and “blocked” him.  People assumed I would have done that sooner, but we were trying to remain amicable and this was one way we were going to try doing so.  Then, a few weeks ago, I sent him an email with the dates of the boys’ Christmas break, so he could start thinking about airplane flights to visit him.  A few minutes after I sent the email, he texted me, asking if we could talk for a few minutes.  I foolishly assumed that he wanted to talk about the dates I gave him, so I called him back.  He then started talking, not asking one word about our sons, and said “well, I just wanted to call and let you know my wedding date before you heard it from someone else”.  This conversation took place weeks before our divorce was even finalized.  Admittedly, I lost it.  I yelled at him and cried and told him how dare he call and talk about his wedding to another woman when he was still married to me.  Shortly after that conversation, I sent him a text telling him not to contact me at all unless it involved the boys.  After I told him that, not only did he not contact me, but he also refused to have any conversations about some health issues the boys were facing.  I resorted to emailing him and leaving it there.  On Friday, July 7th, the paperwork finalizing our divorce, was submitted to the judge.  Monday morning, he emailed, called, and texted, at first asking, then demanding that I make him copies of 6 years’ worth of financial records so that he could get a loan for the house he was buying for his new family.  Initially, I started to help him, then it hit me that I had told him to take care of all of this before he left, but no, he had spent two to three hours a day on the phone with her and had gone shopping for stuff for his new home rather than make copies of our joint financial records.  So, after stewing on it for a few hours, I emailed him and told him “no” and that I wasn’t his wife anymore and under no obligation to help him, so he needed to figure it out himself and reminded him to leave me alone.  There is part of me that wanted to help, but I really had to think about my own motivation for helping (like him thinking of me kindly).   It would have been one thing to help with something for the boys, but why on earth should I be expected to assist him in buying a home for the woman he left me for?  No, no, and no.  I also realized that by dialoging with him regarding these records, I was allowing him to violate a previously established boundary.

 

Interestingly, I have also started to set some firm boundaries with the boys on certain issues.  Messi has started to push hard on attending church and every Sunday morning is a battle.  I have remained firm that we will be attending church as a family and every week he seems determined to make me regret that decision.  This past week was the worst and he threw a teenage temper tantrum (eye rolling, ear plugging, dramatic sighs) in the middle of the service, so I pulled him out to talk to him.  As I tried to talk, he pulled out a full repertoire of words meant to hurt me.  I know a lot of this was lashing out in anger over everything going on in our life, but there is a fine line between giving him grace for his grief and setting boundaries for our family interactions. Later that afternoon, when we had both cooled off, I talked to him.  I told him that I understood he didn’t want to go to church and that he was angry at his dad and angry at me, but that in our family, we do not use our words as weapons to intentionally hurt one another.  He listened and apologized.  I know we will all weaponize our words again, but I am trying to establish that it isn’t who we are as a family.

In the 6 weeks that my ex-husband remained in my home, I really struggled to distance myself emotionally from him.  Yes, he had hurt me, but you can’t just flip a switch on 14 years of marriage.  Often at night, after work, when I was tired and vulnerable, I would go up to let him know something about the kids and found myself just crying to him.  One night he just sat there rolling his eyes and said, “I am not your therapist, please get out”.  It was harsh and cruel, but true.  I hadn’t been able to build that boundary around my heart yet, and I was being vulnerable to someone that did not deserve that level of intimacy.  I am also having to work on the role he continues to take in my mind and heart.  Part of the way I chose to build a boundary around my mind is by removing things that triggered me to think on him and us – whether through blocking him on social media or removing photos of him from my home.  I recognize that the pain and anger will lessen with time, but I also know that sometimes I need to choose not to engage with those emotions.  There is a time and place for that grieving and anger to be released, but I don’t always have to be at the mercy of my emotions.  This is a hard season and God is showing me how to create boundaries which will allow for my healing.

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Healing Through Connection

Choosing to remain in Pennsylvania and not retreat to my beloved Washington State as I began the journey of single parenting, was a challenging decision.  In the two years I had lived here, I had yet to make many meaningful connections, and, while my sons were doing well, I knew that I would need my own tribe to support me.  I sat crying to God one night that I couldn’t do this alone and over the past few months he has placed some amazing people in my path who are walking along side me.  However, this has required me going outside of my comfort zone.

In the first few weeks of my discovery of the betrayal, I reached out to those “safe” people – immediate family and a few friends who I have known for over 10 years.  I had allowed some of the relationships with some of my oldest friends fall into disrepair over the past few years, but with one phone call, we picked up where we left off.  This group of amazing women have talked to me late at night and listened to me cry, rant, and process.  I also have never been super close with my sister and was very embarrassed to call and share what was going on, but she has been a rock of support during this time and has taken the boys for fun weekend adventures in Brooklyn, NY, where she lives.

The adoption community can feel like a very small world at times.  Over the years, I have kept in touch with many adoptive moms, either because our kids knew each other in Ethiopia or because our kids have similar health issues.  Most of these women are also very familiar with the often-lonely road of parenting a child with an attachment disorder.  These are the women who have helped me process the betrayal by “one of our own” and helped provide wisdom on how to help my sons cope. They cheer on my successful parenting moments and are a great listening ear when it all becomes too much.

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Over the past 18 months, I have run into several people from a local church.  I have run into them at my work, my son’s school, and through mutual connections.  It was like God was starting to put them into place, before I knew I needed them, so that when my world crumbled, I could find a church home for the boys and I.  Ironically, this church community has a whole ministry dedicated to serving adoptive families and has also been having some tough discussions about social justice and racial issues, both issues near and dear to my heart.  Some of my newest friends are women I have met through this church connection who are also adoptive moms.

Probably the most important connection of all, though, has been the process of reconnecting with myself and my faith.  This process is often lonely and reconnecting with my heart has been done in tears, in prayer, in walks outside, in listening to music and podcasts, in reading, and in the silence of allowing myself to feel.  Somedays the process of reconnecting to myself and my savior has left me crushed by the weight of my emotions and yelling at God for allowing this to happen.  At the same time, I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am as a woman, a mother, and a child of God, than ever before.  I will leave you with my new anthem, by recording artist, Nichole Nordeman…

They told me
I’d never get to tell my story
Too many bullet holes
It would take a miracle
These voices
Inside my head like poison
Trying to steal my hope
Silencing my soul

But my story is only now beginning
Don’t try to write my ending
Nobody gets to sing my song

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

These pieces
The ones that left me bleeding
Intended for my pain
Became the gift You gave me
I gathered those pieces into a mountain
My freedom is in view
I’m stronger than I knew

And this hill is not the one I die on
I’m going to lift my eyes and
I’m going to keep on climbing

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

I’m still here
Say it to the ache, lying there awake
Say it to your tears
I’m still here
Say it to the pain, say it to the rain
Say it to your fear

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
No, I’m not done fighting
And I am still rising, rising
I’m still rising
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

Did You Know?

Aside from the requisite “how are you?”, the most frequently asked question I have received over the past three months is “did you know?”.  The straight answer, is “no”.  No, I did not know that my now ex-husband was having a mostly long-distance affair for at least four months under our roof.  Having said that,  I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint what.

Shortly after the election, I felt like our marriage was doing better.  We were having great discussions about our frustrations with the results, but also things we could do impact our own community and healthcare in a positive way rather than just sitting back and doing nothing.  I might even say that the election was somewhat of the catalyst for my decision to go back to school to pursue public health.

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In December, the wind shifted, though.  We began arguing more and he seemed distant.  He called up my parents and asked for a plane ticket for his birthday (in July) to go to Comicon in Salt Lake City, which the happily gave him.  He made some strange comments about maybe having me do my public health internship (which isn’t for over a year) in Arizona, where my parents have a place.  I remember saying something like “are you crazy?  My home is here with you and the boys and there are plenty of internship opportunities here”.  He let it drop then, but brought it up several more times over the coming months.  Apparently, during this same time, he called up my dad and said that I was unhappy here and thinking of leaving him and the boys and moving back to Washington.  My dad just assumed I was going through some homesickness and holiday blues and didn’t take this seriously, and he is still kicking himself for not bringing it up with me at the time.

Over the course of the next few months, I began honestly begging him to find another job.  People kept quitting at his job and he was very unhappy with his director and he was “working” 60 hours a week.  He would work all day, then come home and go immediately to our home office where he would work until dinner or soccer, come down and make an appearance until the boys went to bed, then often go back up and “work” until after midnight.  When I later found out about the affair, I began going through our phone records and found he was spending 1-2 hours during the work day on the phone with her, then an additional 1-2 hours at night after I was asleep.  In February, we got into a big fight over his job and his work hours it was during this fight I finally yelled “you are choosing your job over your family. Do you want a divorce? Is that what this is?”.  He wouldn’t answer me and gave his requisite “I don’t want to talk about this now” and left.  The night I asked him if he was cheating on me was the night he finally gave me my answer.

Aside from the work hours, there were also many subtle clues that something was seriously wrong.  I remember being in the kitchen making dinner one night and Messi was helping and he came in and dropped a few groceries on the floor and tried to go to the office without a word.  I asked him to help put things away or something like that and he barked some harsh comment about how demanding I was at him.  Messi, who idolizes his father, piped up with “that was really rude dad, all she did was ask for some help”.   We had multiple encounters like this, which were out of character for him. I also noticed he hadn’t been wearing his wedding ring and asked him about it and he said “oh, I keep bumping it at work and I was worried it will chip”.  I should have been very suspicious with that because as a hospice nurse, he was way less hands on than in other nursing jobs and he had always worn it.  He also didn’t wear it when we went out as a family and one day in February, I noticed a dust circle it left on the dresser.  In all fairness, I wasn’t always wearing mine during that time, but that was because I gained weight when we moved and it was a little too snug.

As the March date approached of his trip to Comicon, I found myself inexplicably panicked.  I chalked it up to being worried about having the boys alone for 4 days (funny to think of 2 months into being “alone” with them).  I remember bursting into tears at a soccer game because I was trying to figure out how to juggle the boys, my soccer volunteer mandatory commitment, and a big grad school assignment I had due.  This was extremely out of character for me, but I remember sitting on the bleachers crying while feeling this deep dread about the trip and feeling guilty for not wanting him to go, when he hadn’t gone away alone since we adopted the boys.  The day he left for the trip, he hopped in the shower with me and gave me the most amazing head massage and then we curled up together and took a nap before I brought him to the train station.  As he was leaving, I asked him to put on his ring and to be careful and protect our marriage, which he agreed to do.

That weekend went very smoothly for the boys and I and they were well behaved.  We saw Beauty and the Beast and went out to eat.  The soccer tournament had been cancelled due the big snow storm earlier in the week.  During that weekend, though, I believe he only called us once and Mr. Social Media, did not post a single picture of this big event he had been so looking forward to.  When I later asked him about it, he said “oh, it was just kind of low key and I just wanted to save my memories for myself, but I sent you and the boys a few pictures”.  He returned home on a Sunday afternoon and immediately my peaceful weekend with the boys was brought to a halt.  He walked in the house and began stomping around complaining about the mess of boxes (an Amazon delivery had come right before we headed to the train station) and was very short with the boys and I.  It would be 5 days before I would ask him the conversation that would shatter my world.  And yes, that trip to Salt Lake City for “Comicon” (planned in December), was the trip where he met up in person with her for the first time and they spent the weekend together in a hotel.

So, the answer to the question people have kept asking is no, I did not know, but I knew something was wrong.  I falsely attributed most of it to his job and I did try and address it and I tried to fight for my marriage by asking him to find another job.  Should I have pushed more, and sooner?  Maybe, but I had nothing concrete to push him on.  You know, the old saying “hindsight is 20/20”.  Friends, my reason for telling you all this is that if you think something is wrong in a relationship, it probably is.  Don’t be afraid to ask those tough questions, but be prepared for an answer that might threaten to swallow you whole.

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Darkness

I have been thinking about this post all week.  I know it needs to be written and to be honest, because that is who I am.  However, I don’t want to come across as bashing my ex-husband.  Having said that, this post may come across slightly bitter and angry because the time I am describing is full of those emotions.  Read with that disclaimer in mind.

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I am a homebody at my very core.  I love coming home and a lot of energy has gone into making my home a safe place for myself and my family.  After the details of the affair came to light, overnight my home went from being a safe place to being a battleground.  I remained in the master bedroom and my ex-husband moved up into the office, but every other room was shared space.  Over the course of the next six weeks I begged him repeatedly to leave and he adamantly refused.  He continued carrying on with the affair, now just openly, while I struggled to process and grieve without having a safe place to do so.

I am a fighter.  I could say that I got it from my Irish-Catholic side of the family, but, in reality, I was born this way.  Throughout the course of our marriage, if I had an issue, I wanted to talk about it, hash it out, and fight if necessary.  I thought my ex-husband was a good fit for many years because he would allow me to do so and rarely get angry.  In hindsight, and even over the past year or so, I realized that this was hurting us.  He wouldn’t fight – not with me and not for our marriage, but rather internalized his anger and frustration and used those pent up frustrations for an excuse for his infidelity.  As you might imagine, the period between the affair revelation and his moving out was full of arguments.  I was angry and hurt and many issues kept coming to light as the web of lies unraveled.  In my fighting nature, I confronted him on many of these things and looking back, I probably should have just let it go.  I fought because I wanted him to apologize and feel guilty.  The closest I ever got to an apology was “I am sorry for hurting you”, not “I should not have had an affair, I should have talked to you, I should never have lied to you, etc.”  These were not pretty arguments either, they were full of me yelling in between sobs, cursing (something I rarely do, but apparently my inner sailor emerged), and struggling to put my feelings and frustrations into words.  The thing about me is that I can be articulate on paper, but struggle with it conversation and even more so when fighting.  I am not proud of these fights and these were me at my very worst, but even as I was fighting with him, I was begging him to leave so that I wouldn’t have to be constantly confronted with the pain of what he had done to me.  Shortly after he moved out, I found out he had been recording me during these fights and sending the recordings to family and friends.  He recorded me at my most ugly and vulnerable and sent those recordings to “show how crazy she is” and to “get people on his side”.  In many ways, I am struggling more with the fact that he recorded me as I grieved and yelled through the end of my marriage, than by the affair itself.

In between the fights, there was also the very real things that had to be done.  I retained an attorney and found a therapist.  My weeks became full of appointments and paperwork and trying to sort through our finances and the logistics of divorce.  I found myself sitting in Planned Parenthood one day (as my OB-GYN couldn’t get me in for 2 months), waiting to have STD testing done because in our fights I found out that this was just one of many affairs that he had over the years.  So, not only had he hurt me emotionally, he had put me at risk for a sexually transmitted disease.  I also had a graduate school class to finish (and I did, with a solid “A”).  Oh, yeah, and I still had two sons with school and soccer, who needed me to be mom and to feed them and check homework and help them process what was happening to our family.  I was also busy applying for new jobs as I knew that I could not continue working 11 am to 11 pm as a single mom.  Surprisingly, I got it done and managed to work full-time as well.

This six-week period was extremely dark and painful and still kind of a blur in my mind.  I talked to friends and family constantly.  I went on lots of long walks with my dogs.  I exercised every day and did lots of yoga.  I listened to podcasts on my walks and read some books.  I began the process of letting go of my future and grieving.  I vacillated between the stages of grief on almost an hourly basis.  He finally gave me a move-out date and I approached that day with dread and hope that I could finally move on.  Then, the night before he was scheduled to leave, I came home from work and took the dogs on a long walk so he could have some time with the boys.  I came home from the walk and began getting ready for bed when I heard him say “I am heading out”.  I peeked around the corner and said “oh, are you staying at a hotel tonight?”.  He responded again with “I am heading out”.  I looked at him confused.  He then said, “I am headed to Tennessee tonight” and he turned around and left.  I don’t know what I expected, but this is not how I envisioned our goodbye.  I thought maybe I would give him one last hug or shake his hand or something.  Instead, he lied to me about even the day he was leaving, took my cats, and headed out without even allowing me a chance to say goodbye.  Nearly 14 years of marriage and he didn’t have the courage to look me in the eye and say goodbye.

Transitions

Yesterday morning I sat in my car outside my attorney’s office, wiping the tears off my face.  In my purse, were the signed documents ending my marriage effective today.  There is a sense of relief to put some closure on the emotional hell of the past few months, but there is also a sense of loss in the finality of its end.  For all the anger, I have towards my ex-husband, it is made sadder by the loss of my partner, my confidant, my lover, and most difficult of all; my best friend.

From my lawyer’s office, I drove to a jewelry store where I traded in my rings and had the diamonds removed to create a ring representing the most important thing I took out of my marriage, my sons.  The tears threatened to fall at various moments, but I didn’t want to get rid of these rings in bitterness and anger, I wanted to repurpose them into something beautiful.  I look forward to sharing the result!

This week is a week of transition for myself and for my sons.  As I close the door on my marriage, I also close the door on my career as an ER nurse, a job I have proudly held for the past 9 years.  My last day in the ER is Sunday and, while I may remain in a per diem status in the ER, my actual career is changing.  In just over a week I start a job as an RN Case Manager for a major insurance company.  I am nervous, but excited.  Also, this week will be marked by what would have been our 14th wedding anniversary and the arrival of two of my sisters-in-law for a visit. It is such a strange series of changes, in many ways, but at the same time, it feels right for the wind to be shifting in so many directions at once.  Bear with me during this time of transition.

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Who Am I?

He would get these far-off looks in his eyes and he would say ‘Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan’. I just wish I’d realized at the time, he was talking about MY life.” – Lucy, referencing a conversation with her father, in While You Were Sleeping

This has been a recurring theme in my life.  I am a planner and, yes, a little bit of a control freak.  I think God has a sense of humor about this character trait in me and has allowed my life to live in a perpetual state of detour.  The last time I remember anything go according to MY plan was when my then husband and I bought our first house in 2004.  You see, grew up a “typical” white, middle class, Christian girl.  I graduated from high school, went to a Christian university, met the man who would become my husband, got married just before my senior year, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, got my “dream job” as an ICU nurse right out of school, bought a house, and got a yellow lab.

A few years into our marriage is when my life on detour began.  For us, the next natural step was children, and we started trying, with the plan that 9 months or so later a baby would emerge at the beginning of the summer and we could spend that summer learning to be parents.  Instead, what transpired was one of the darkest periods of my life as not only did I not get pregnant, but a year later found out that our only option to conceive was through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which we did, hopefully, three times, without success.  It was a brutal two years and we emerged broken and hurting and angry with God.

In 2008, about 6 weeks after our last failed IVF, in a moment of clarity, we felt God lead us to international adoption.  I did the research and found an agency to work with and chose to adopt from Ethiopia.  Initially, the plan was for a “waiting” infant and toddler (waiting, as in a child already in an orphanage in need of a home).  Oddly, our agency had recently place a lot of children, and only had two children under the age of 5 (which is what we were approved for due to our age) available.  We looked at their profiles, talked to people who had met them, and soon accepted the referral of the two boys who would become our sons, then aged 3 and 4.  We foolishly believed the process would be smooth sailing and would have the boys home around Christmas.  By the following January, we still had no date in sight, so for my birthday in February, I made my first international trip, solo, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I spent a week getting to know my sons and it broke my heart to say goodbye, not knowing when they could come home.  It wouldn’t be until September of 2009, one year after we accepted the referral, that we would travel to Ethiopia to bring the boys home.

Many would think that bringing the boys home would be the beginning our “happy ever after”, but adoption is messy and hard.  We brought into our home two boys (nicknames used), then aged 4 (Messi) and 5 (Bolt), who spoke no English, and had spent years living in an orphanage.  The first few months were exhausting, but we were hopeful that with a lot of love, we would all settle quickly.  That didn’t happen and we began the journey of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD) with Bolt.  Years into therapy, I was sitting talking to his therapist as we both began to question that we might be dealing with something else as well, autism.  Sure enough, about 18 months after that conversation, Bolt was given the official diagnosis of autism.  We then spent the next year trying to find therapists and providers to work with him and hit road block after road block.  I remember asking his psychiatrist what he would do in our situation and he told us he would relocate to another state with better services for those on the spectrum.  I spent the next month doing research and talking to people who are experts in autism and was basically told some of the best states for services, most of which were on the East Coast.  A month later, we put our house on the market and travelled to Pennsylvania to interview for jobs.  We both accepted jobs on that trip and found a house to rent the school district we had already chosen.  We returned home, our house quickly sold, we packed up everything, and began the cross-country journey in January of 2015.

As far as the move went, it was absolutely the right decision for my sons.  Both have flourished in Pennsylvania.  The school autism support has made a night and day difference in Bolt’s coping skills and social skills.  For Messi, he has developed friends and found an awesome soccer club.  I, on the other hand, really struggled with the move and found my introvert tendencies fully blossom in an area where I knew no one.  My job as an emergency room nurse was no longer fulfilling and I found myself angry and withdrawn and almost paralyzed by fear in social situations.  By October of 2016, I realized that I needed to do something for myself and began seriously thinking and praying about going back to school.  In early December, I was accepted into a master of public health (MPH) program and found the fog I had experienced since the move begin to lift.  Little did I know that while I was busy finding myself again, my husband was finding himself…with another woman.

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