RECENTLY DIVORCED AND COMPLETELY LOST

I’m 52, and recently divorced after being with my husband for 28 years and I now realise I married totally the wrong person. He had an affair years ago and our relationship never really recovered. After that I stayed for the sake of the family – I have two lovely children – and poured all my energy into them but my youngest has now left home for university so I’m living alone for the first time. I know I’m drinking more than I should, feel adrift and basically am disappointed with how my life has turned out. I feel like I should be enjoying myself but I don’t seem able to and am at a loss to know where I go from here.

Anna

I get the sense that because you had been unhappy for so very long, you left your husband without anticipating any major fallout. It doesn’t quite work that way – however much you wanted this to happen, it can still be a shock when it does. You have been through two or even three major life changes (divorce, children leaving home, house move) all of which are seismic and can leave you reeling. Now you are in the position of asking yourself what you want from the second act in your life and you are not quite sure of the answer.

Frustrating as it is, that will take time – maybe more than you expected, often longer than other people feel comfortable with (because, annoyingly, they generally are in a hurry for you to ‘be OK’). Your reaction sounds pretty typical considering your situation and you are at the very beginning of reconstructing a life – yours – which can only be done at your own pace. Accept that you’re not always going to feel amazing on the way but stick in the back of your head the idea that, as Einstein was fond of saying, In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity. Being ‘disappointed’ suggests you want something you don’t have. Only you know what this might be. You don’t mention work but this can be something to hold onto when life is up and down.

Of course I would suggest therapy because I’m a therapist but honestly it would help (see box below) to look at long-term issues, such as why you married someone who was ‘wrong’ for you in the first place and also why you let your family eclipse everything else for so long. If you have another relationship (not that I’m suggesting this – diving onto Match.com could rocket you into total despair at this stage), you need to straighten this out first. Talking will certainly help your drinking too, which could be a result of boredom or resentment. You could even still be feeling furious with your husband over his affair or behaviour. Trying to suppress anger is often a reason to head for the bottle.

In your circumstances – a newly-divorced woman – there is pressure to ‘start a new life’ which is a tall order (you’re the same person underneath, after all). However, tiny shifts can dramatically alter how you feel day-to-day, so try to rediscover what gives you pleasure (eg, seeing friends, work, travel, sport), often activities that get submerged or sidelined by the energy drain that is family life. Breaking Upwards by Charlotte Friedman is a practical guide to kick-starting life post divorce that you may find helpful.

After almost three decades it might be an unnerving – even utterly terrifying – idea to start putting yourself first but sometimes purely one that takes practice. Congratulate yourself on successfully navigating the first – and most difficult – step, which was getting out of an unhappy marriage. Now is the time, very much at your own pace, to rediscover the person you were before being a wife and mother and to start gently pushing your life in a different direction. And the exciting point is that you are free to choose wherever or whatever that might be.