Family, Musings

Silence & Noise

Words by my man Leonard Cohen, picture by Free People

When I first wrote about what happened, it took me three full days to push publish. This hesitation was borne of many different tangled threads, but one of the strongest was the fact that I felt a deep sense of shame. It is one of the strangest things to explain, especially because given the events, this shame was better suited to someone else’s shoulders. Nonetheless, I felt it so acutely that it hurt.

I felt ashamed when I had to call each and every one of my five siblings and explain that my marriage was over. And despite the circumstances, I still felt as though I was letting them down somehow. I am the older sister to four strong, fierce women, and when I suddenly found myself face to face with the reality that I will be divorced before I turn 32, it didn’t feel like I was offering them much of an example to look up to anymore.

I am the younger sister to one logical, has-his-shit-very-much-together older brother, and having my life thrown violently back into flux after just finally getting settled felt like an embarrassment.

Having to tell my Granddaddy, whose marriage lasted more than sixty years, that my own was ending after only five – I could barely stop crying long enough to get those words out.

And to you guys, and those beyond the close inner circle who knew what had been happening, I was simply ashamed to admit that my marriage was over. I took my marriage seriously; words are important to me and I felt my vows deeply. My parents divorced and although it wasn’t traumatizing, I still swore up and down that I would never allow that to become Olive’s reality. I felt ashamed that I was suddenly part of a climbing statistic, ashamed that those who don’t know me might lump me in with those who didn’t work hard enough, try long enough.

Nothing felt further from the truth.

There was a lot of shame in those early days, and a huge part of this healing/growing process has been realizing that it’s not serving me to carry any of it.

There were several things that helped me come to this awareness, and mass quantities of creamy sheep’s milk feta ranks embarrassingly high on the list, but I realize that’s a somewhat personal taste so I’ll skip straight to the things that may be relevant to you, too. I heard from many of you who have gone, or are going through, very similar situations. It’s heartbreaking that there are so many of us out there living this, but it’s also very exciting, as weird as that may sound.

I have been absorbing so much lately, so much information and experience, and the conclusion I keep arriving at is that this can only be a very, very good thing. First, because in the words of the lovely Louis CK, “Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce. That would be sad.”

This can only be a blessing. I know this to be true, and I think you do, too.

Second, because there have been an odd amount of references in my life lately to brokenness having a greater purpose. This idea is quietly singing to me from all sides, and I am trying to listen.  I don’t buy into the idea that you must suffer to create, or that sadness is somehow more meaningful than joy, but there is intrinsic value in the shadow side of life. Immense value. Rather than pushing this experience away simply because it’s painful and I didn’t want it, I’m trying to see that.

Secrets exist because of shame, and shame can only survive in silence. All of it fell away as soon as I began to speak.

My family has been so incredible, and I sort of wish I could rent them out to others going through similar events, everyone should be lucky enough to have their words and their wisdom (if you are going through this alone, please email me and I will share them with you.)

They are a powerful bunch, a force to be reckoned with.  And at the end of each of those five heart-wrenching conversations in mid-December, I sat for a few moments and absorbed the individual reactions of each of my siblings. The emotions ran the gamut from anger to protectiveness, disbelief to raw, scraping sadness, but in no conversation was there even one ounce of disappointment. Not one.

Talking to people has been an incredible thing. It’s allowed me to push my way out from the sometimes-strangling weight of this, and laugh instead.  There is nothing better than simply being able to laugh – there’s nothing my family does better than untangle a situation with their enviable wit. It is immensely healing, and thank the lord for that.

For anyone who finds themselves standing beside me here: We can’t swim upstream on this, you know? Life is happening the way it’s happening. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but it’s here. You’re living it. So let’s stop looking behind us at the smoking rubble, and start looking ahead and realizing that we are free.

I know it might not feel like it. We don’t typically think of freedom as feeling scary, painful, or overwhelming, but there’s nothing more comfortable than a cage. And I understand that the cage was something you wanted and actively helped create – I did too- and its time will come around again, if you want it. But right now, you are free of something that was not good for you. Truly.

I know, too, that a lot of this feels like weakness – tears especially- but don’t be ashamed of them either, they are helping to cleanse you and move you to someplace better. There’s an incredible book called Women Who Run With the Wolves (I know, I know. Just trust me, Ok? It perfectly blends the worlds of feminism, academia and hippie-dippie nonsense. Read it! Even if your marriage hasn’t evaporated!) and the author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, says “Tears are a river that takes you somewhere…Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace better.”

That’s the movement to focus on. There’s so much joy to be had in this life, truly. Put your energy, as much as possible, into forward momentum. Circle the wagons, fortify yourself, laugh at the situation for the ridiculousness that it is, and forge ahead.

Lift the boat, love the cracks. Wait for the light come in.

It won’t be long now, I promise.

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  • Reply enchantedground February 18, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    Where did the “Like” button go? 🙂

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 18, 2015 at 3:16 PM

      Oops! I think we must have disappeared it in the transition. It’s back! Like away 🙂

  • Reply Brittney February 18, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    I don’t know you’re situation but it sounds like it has glaring similarities to my own and I felt exactly the same feelings of shame where no shame on my part should exist. A year later, I felt the freedom. Now, nearly 4 years later, I see SO many blessings that have come from that brokenness. Yes, I am different but I am so much better. I have a wonderful husband who I know will never break me and a baby on the way. My dreams that I thought I had to give up on have come true in their own right time and own right way. I want to encourage you but it sounds like you have all the strength, support and encouragement you need. You will come out on the other side. I kept telling myself as I went through it, imagine where you will be in 6 months, in one year. I’m on the other side and it’s so much better than I could have ever imagined.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 18, 2015 at 4:15 PM

      I am so glad to hear this, Brittney. Thank you for the encouragement and the kind words.

  • Reply Andrea February 18, 2015 at 3:28 PM

    That book has been on my shelf- thanks for the nudge to read it. I think I’ll need it given some (lesser, but still intimidating) transitions coming up. And also, you’re doing great things here for yourself and others. <3

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 18, 2015 at 3:40 PM

      It is a put-on-your-glasses-and-take-notes read, as opposed to a beach read, and I kind of had to space it out to allow everything to sink in, but I adored it. Let me know what you think!

  • Reply Allison February 18, 2015 at 3:56 PM

    I kind of hate you for saying this book is worth reading. I keep seeing it mentioned everywhere by the earthiest of the instagramers.
    The title is just so….. Ugh. Going to request it from the library now. #thanksbutnothanks

    Oh and amazing post, as always. You are winning at life with your outlook on this situation.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 18, 2015 at 4:15 PM

      I know, right? I eye-rolled my sister so hard when she suggested it to me, and then my other sister recommended it to me and it reached a critical mass of sister-recommendations, so I did it. The title feels very primal scream therapy, but I found a lot of value in the book. Don’t judge me if you hate it 😉

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 18, 2015 at 4:24 PM

      P.S. Shit, should I have Instagrammed a picture of me reading it?Hashtagged it #Wolves #Sisterhood #TooBlessedToStress etc? Missed opportunity 🙁

      • Reply Allison February 19, 2015 at 10:32 AM

        Yes. I don’t considerate to be too late though…I will watch my feed to see it come up 😉

  • Reply Lyssa February 18, 2015 at 6:04 PM

    I’m not going to lie – my heart breaks a little bit for a stranger on the internet with your posts. I am so sorry for anyone that has to experience this, and the last thing you should feel is shame for any kind of disappointment that you feel for your readers. Seriously. People need to be less judgy, and instead support others. (I also cant say that I see too many non-supporters on here, so…)
    Second, from what I read, I feel that you are incredibly strong for facing this head on. Like your baby sleep post that has brought so many of us here, your writing about this experience has the potential to do so much good for people going through similar experiences, even if its just so that they know they’re not alone.
    Just my two cents.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 19, 2015 at 8:50 PM

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Lyssa. And you’re right, there hasn’t been any external judgement – people have been incredibly supportive – the shame was just me feeling like I was letting people down somehow. I hope that my words can help others if they are experiencing this same situation – that’s my greatest hope in sharing it.

  • Reply Kate Dye February 18, 2015 at 6:48 PM

    I think you are amazing.

  • Reply SonBowen February 18, 2015 at 7:53 PM


  • Reply theentiretyoflife February 19, 2015 at 2:04 AM

    I completely identify with the shame you felt. I too wrote and rewrote my blog to try and somehow share the fact I was getting divorced rather than telling individuals. That horrible ‘how’s the husband?’ ‘Errrr….’ conversation became too much. But like you, I found that once it was out in the open, the shame fell away. Actually I’d done everything I could to make my marriage work, but it takes two people.

    I couldn’t quite agree that divorce was good…but I think sometimes it’s the only healthy option so in that way good?

    Thank you for sharing, even though I am happily single the other side, it is always good to know you are not alone. I too, had a brilliant family like you (my brother is/was my ex-husband’s best friend) and they have never once let me feel like a disappointment or a failure – my marriage had failed, I had not.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 19, 2015 at 8:46 PM

      It feels strange to say that divorce is “good”, but it’s the most concise way I’ve ever heard it put. I don’t think divorce itself is positive – the word itself is ugly, it sounds so ominous and looks it too, with the ‘v’ in the middle splitting it in half – and I don’t think anyone ever really want a divorce, but I think by the time it shifts from the realm of “things that happen to other people” to “things that are happening to me”, it often comes out as the lesser of two evils. I hope that makes sense? But yes, “good” is a bit reductive.

      I guess the other half is the part where he talks about how no good marriages end in divorce. I think there’s very few marriages that are black and white good or bad. I think most marriages will sway back and forth between these two things as the years go by and eventually settle someplace along the spectrum. Except when they break instead of being strong enough to wait for the winds to shift, I suppose. And yes, it does take two people. With both feet in.

  • Reply Jill Harrington February 19, 2015 at 7:09 PM

    Your little Olive is so lucky to have such a brave, gracious and amazing mother. You’re inspiring.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 19, 2015 at 8:42 PM

      You are so kind to say so, Jill. Thank you.

  • Reply Livia February 20, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    Madeleine, have you heard any of Brené Brown’s research/talks on shame and vulnerability? It is gold. There’s a ton of her stuff on youtube but this is her first TED Talk, which went viral: (and then she did this one: You make yourself vulnerable by writing these blog posts and sharing them with the world, but what you obviously know and Brené describes so well, is that this vulnerability actually makes you so strong. It’s what draws in your readers and makes you seem like a friend even though we’ve never met you. You “tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”, which is how Brené defines courage (cue the hippy-dippy labels, but for serious, she’s awesome). She argues that we can’t selectively numb emotion; when we resist the bad we give up the good. But with a joy-bringing daughter and a loving and lovable family, there’s too much good for you to give up! So you embrace your feelings of shame and, even more, you name them, put them in their place, and tell them to back off. Then you go on with your life and find the joys in it. Anyway, big love for Brené and big love for you.

  • Reply Edith the Merry February 20, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    I really like Livia’s comment above. It helps me understand why I have been so floored by your divorce news and am in tears with each new blog post you write. I have always felt so drawn to your writings and wished so much that I could know you in real life. And I always felt so creepy and pitiful for wanting that. But Livia is right — your raw, vulnerable words cut us to the core and make us reexamine our own lives and flaws and feelings with a new perspective and new confidence. Thank you for that. For the sake of all of us, I really hope you can keep on writing. It is what you were meant to do.

  • Reply Saffron March 2, 2015 at 6:48 PM

    Thank you thank you thank you. This post has helped me in so many ways. Firstly in knowing that I am not alone. And also in showing me that we have to move forward and be honest with ourselves about what we are going through. I have been going through an incredibly tough time with my partner (and with a 10 week old bubba!) I’m not quite sure how this is going to end, if it is going to end and what the outcome is going to be but I know I need to be strong. I also loved your comments about tears, I always thought crying was weak. I have only been reading your blog for a few weeks now but I have found it utterly brilliant and felt like many on her so sad for you and what has happened. You are indeed an inspiring lady! Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 2, 2015 at 10:09 PM

      I am so sorry you are going through this – I’m sorry we are both going through this. Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m glad you found some strength or solace in them. I hope so much that your situation turns out well – it is so hard to navigate the ups and downs of a relationship with a newborn. Crossing my fingers you are getting some sleep – everything is more challenging without it.


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