If you’re chronically uncertain, or stuck, or blunted, or confused, or constrained by fear, or paralyzed, or inert, or skating lightly on the surface of something you can’t seem to penetrate, or globally locked up, or white-knuckling something, then I recommend that you fall down, crack up, lose it, jump off the cliff, step into the fires, fall to pieces, hit the skids, fly off the handle, go haywire, or wig out.

This message brought to you by the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the best and worst time in my life.

When I write about divorce, someone inevitably thinks that means I’m still grieving my old marriage. No; the divorce was a mechanism, a handy label to refer to the process it kickstarted for me. If anything, as I told a friend this week, I have a heap of survivor’s guilt over how good it was for me and how much my son still struggles with it. And I’d also rather not imply that shedding the guy I was married to was responsible for the fact that these days, I can breathe. Because while our partnership had grown awfully strained in a strangled and quiet way, I don’t blame him for the colorlessness of my life in those last years.

No, it wasn’t the particular man. It was the pain, the horrible, clawing pain, and the openness and honesty that came with it. Those things work on you. They dissolve your connection to the buoys that keep you just on the surface of yourself and plunge you into the deep. And down there is where you get your choice, and it’s so faint that many are able to ignore it entirely: stay in this and let it work on you, or bail.

I stayed. Even now I’m still not sure of all the reasons I did, because I was raised from birth to bail on the more tenderizing emotions. Most of us are, I think. Losing control is unthinkable, and letting go into “feeling bad” is a sin. You must know your feelings, name them, and they must be consistent and manageable, or the lunatics would start running the asylum. So I’m not sure exactly why I handed over my life to pain and made friends with it, but I did. I do remember knowing that I had to make it all mean something, that I had to survive it and use it because I couldn’t bear any more colorlessness. That and a good therapist, anyway, who persuaded me that rising to the top too soon would only prolong the misery.

And so as awful as it was, I still think of that year with affection, and sometimes even longing. I quietly celebrate its anniversary each year with a mix of respect and wistfulness. I admit it — I even revere it as almost mystical. That’s not something a lot of people understand, unless they’ve been there themselves.

Obviously, I’m not talking just about divorce. There are lots of ways to find yourself in the deep, and they’re not all as devastating as the big D’s of divorce and death. So if you find yourself underneath for any reason, consider staying. It’s not a waste of time.

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