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The day my divorce became real

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Here's how you, as a divorced or separated woman, can tell that you've slogged through the stages of grief and into a peaceful future.

sad woman with tissue

Photo credit: Stockbyte/StockbyteGetty Images

I can't help but smile when I look back on the morning I woke up to the distinct smell of burnt rubber and rotten onions. By the time a delightful little family of skunks took up residence in my home, it had already been a harrowing few months. My marriage was over, and I carried with me the sting of betrayal and unmet longing for a relationship that was more than smoke and mirrors. I sold my beautiful home and moved into a tiny, drafty guest house with atrocious popcorn ceilings. The king-size bed that I shared with my ex was now shared with my precious two-year-old, who had a habit of peeing on my sheets immediately after they were washed. Not only that, I had transitioned from a comfortable double-income lifestyle to being the sole provider as a single mother. Needless to say, there had been better years.

And then, at 5:30 in the morning, a family of skunks traversed the improbable divide between my house's crawlspace and my closet. If you've never experienced the joy of skunk spray in your freaking house, there's nothing quite like it. The smell is so strong and so terrible that you feel like your nostrils will explode into flames. When I realized that my house wasn't on fire and that, in fact, I was entirely alone to deal with my rodent infestation, I burst into tears. Where is my husband to deal with this problem? And then a tiny voice popped into my mind and said: He's not here. He won't return. And girl, you've got this. Within an hour, I called Animal Control and my landlord, and started the process of cleaning my house. The problem was handled, and I was OK. And that's when the laughter began.

Looking back, I realize that the morning of the skunks was the morning I woke up on the other side of my grief process. From a psychological perspective, human beings must endure the five stages of grief following a profound loss, and the process of grief is really no different for divorce than it is for a death. In case you're not familiar with the process of grief, here is a quick run-down:

Denial and isolation

When faced with loss, most people block out the immediate wave of pain by denying that it exists. This is a temporary coping mechanism that usually passes quickly.

Anger

Grieving people may rail against others as a way of hedging against the vulnerability of deep sorrow. In divorce, a grieving person may feel hatred and fury towards an ex.

Bargaining

In this stage, the depth of loss starts to become more real, and people may try to bargain with God or others to try to avoid the pain. A divorcee may beg her ex to change in one last-ditch effort to save the marriage.

Depression

During this stage, a grieving person will feel a depth of sorrow that seems so intense it may never go away.

Acceptance

In the final stage of grief (which is a stage some people never approach), intense feelings are replaced with calm and peace. A person who accepts the loss may still feel sadness, but also recognizes that he or she is OK.

For anyone who experiences a profound loss, I want to post an addendum to the "acceptance" stage of grief. Acceptance, ultimately, can start to look an awful lot like empowerment. When the skunks decided to bless me with their presence, for instance, I realized that I was not only OK with being alone, but that I was capable of staring down challenges with resilience. I realized that as a survivor of divorce (which really and truly is a terrible thing), there were very few experiences left to rattle me and render me helpless. Ultimately, I became trustworthy in my own eyes. I was free to laugh with the knowledge that I could handle anything, even a rodent infestation.

After your divorce, when did you first realize that you were free to be OK?

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