We at DivorceForce first became aware of Leslie Shriner by serendipitously landing on her article, "I am Full of Joy," on her blog, MyBeautifullyBrokenLife.com.
We found a person with strong religious conviction, one who provides great wisdom, even for those who are not religious. Leslie speaks with pure honesty and rawness—no façades. She is inspiring.
DivorceForce: Divorce came as a shock to you? What happened?
Leslie Shriner: The divorce was a shock, but it wasn't the first shock. The divorce came 18 months after the nuclear explosion—the shock of an arrest (of my ex), and then finding out that my husband of 25 years was not the man I thought he was.
I married my high school sweetheart at 23, and we have four beautiful girls together. I thought we were building a life of love and faithfulness—a life complete with a house, two dogs, a garden, two careers that I thought we were passionate about, and a vibrant social and church life. It was traumatic to find out in the space of a day that the life I had been leading was coming crashing down around me. I am sure it's the same for anyone who finds out their spouse has been involved in some secret life—whether an affair or a life of sexual addiction—the trauma is incredibly painful and disorienting.
I never once thought divorce would be part of my story. Even after the shock, I walked with my ex-husband and tried to move forward into healing. I was a child of divorce growing up. It was a word I hated. I wanted with all my heart for my children to have two parents who loved each other for all time. My ex-husband and I used to talk about how lovely it would be to be that old couple, still holding hands and playing with the grandkids. Having to divorce this man was the single hardest thing I have ever done. Walking through the wreckage of divorce, the painful separation of what has been so incredibly painful...but it was the utter shock of discovery and finding out about all the secrets that almost crushed my heart and soul.
I thought we were building a life of love and faithfulness—a life complete with a house, two dogs, a garden, two careers that I thought we were passionate about, and a vibrant social and church life.
DivorceForce: Can you explain the different phases of your emotions after your marriage ended, and how long each emotional period lasted?
Leslie Shriner: To be honest, the very first emotion after filing for divorce was relief. I had been walking a long and difficult road through a trial, and through the discovery of more and more secrets. I was exhausted mentally and physically, and to finally have reached the place of peace—to know that this was the course of action that I needed to take—felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders. After that though, reality started to sink in. You head into the holidays, or you come across your wedding dress in the back of the closet, and your heart breaks again, over and over. So many little deaths take place as you walk through a divorce and the division of a life.
Each year since, I have had memories to process and emotions to sort through. It didn't happen all at once for me. The first year after the divorce was final, I was still somewhat numb. I cried about packing up his things and putting them in storage since he was in prison, celebrating holidays without a father, and keeping my children stable when their lives had fallen apart.
The second year, I settled into concentrating on healing. I knew I needed to face those nagging questions of "What did I do wrong?" and "Why wasn't I enough for him?" I began seeking out healing in books, through prayer, through friends, by going to counseling, and by writing. I needed to process a whole lot of ugly, and do it in a way that felt authentic and real to me. I didn't want to move forward into a life where I just repeated the same mistakes over and over. I needed to learn from this, whatever I could. I was determined that this would not become something that just moved my heart to bitterness.
Year three has been one of mixed emotions. I am starting to feel stronger and able to handle life again, but I am also aware that there is more grief to walk through. I will probably never be completely done grieving. I have faced the fact that I loved my husband. I loved my family and my life. I wanted to have a life free from divorce, and I did not choose to break my vows. But I have also come to realize that every little milestone will now have a shadow—he will not be there for graduation; he will not be there when the girls get married; he will not be there when the grandchildren are born; and he is not there in church or at school or at the play or the track meet. There are no more family photos with a mom and a dad—and there can never again be a man who knew me at 17, who was there when my girls were born, who knew me as a young bride, a young mother, a woman growing into her role as wife and mother. There will always be this hole, this sadness.
I am also coming to see that, through this, by making the choice not to be bitter, I can love that man—his memories, my life, me and my girls—in such a way that life can all be made beautiful again. I can move forward and possibly have a new relationship that is even better than the one I thought I had. I can move forward and become someone more loving and more capable of living an authentic life because of this trauma. So I am excited for year four. I can feel joy waiting right around the corner, mingled with sadness—but what joy would be complete without it?
DivorceForce: You have started to write and share very personal feelings. What made you decide to be so open?
Leslie Shriner: I grew up in a very closed family, emotionally. My mother and father went through a very bitter divorce when I was only three, and no one ever talked openly about their feelings. I had only my mother's anger toward my father and the divorce to show me how to express emotions. So, in my marriage, I tried to be more open. I tried to pick a man that I thought was working toward a lifelong marriage, and I tried to be emotionally open with him.
I failed miserably. I didn't see how high my wall was and how completely unable I was to really tell him how I was feeling. It wasn't until I started going to counseling that I found out how all my growing up trauma had set me up to never voice my feelings—my negative emotions—and how I would always try to be kind, instead of truthful. I would always give, and always make everything my fault for not loving enough—because that was what was expected of me growing up. So this is my penance, I guess.
After a very public arrest, disclosure and trial—after my world exploded and I was completely undone—my penance was to write and open up my feelings to an audience. I couldn't keep it all inside anymore. I finally began pouring out my pain; not verbally at first, but onto the keyboard. It was a huge step for me. Every time I would write a blog, I would tell my friend, "That's it. I can't do it again!" And then, I would write another and go through the same cycle. It was terrifying to know that people I knew were reading my blog. But I found, as I wrote, that instead of making me feel farther from those people, I began to feel more connected to them. As they began pouring out their stories to me, and I poured out mine to them, a curious thing happened—I began to be able to be more open in my friendships and with my family. My working at opening up was having tangible results.
One of the biggest blessings has been the privilege of listening to men's and women's stories. I have had the pleasure of listening to other men and women tell me their story of betrayal, of secret lives that left a gaping wound in their soul, and I have gained an understanding of the horrible devastation many women and men are experiencing—the effects of pornography, adultery, sexual addiction, and hedonism that are rampant in our world today. I began to see that my story was pretty commonplace. Families are struggling to stay together, and real people are hurting. I have been able to connect with people in other states and other countries, all because I dared to open my heart and my emotions.
DivorceForce: You are a woman of strong faith and religious beliefs. How has that interfered with your divorce, and how has it helped you grow after divorce?
Leslie Shriner: To be honest, I thought that I could not get a divorce. I was raised Catholic and hold myself to a high ethical standard. I grew up learning the tenants of the faith, and one of them was that there is no divorce except in very tightly-defined cases. I grew up in a family that had divorce though. My parents divorced, my father divorced several times—and so I knew that most people don't follow the mandates of their faith.
Some people divorce because they are unhappy or unsatisfied. They find someone better, or they just grow apart. For me, I couldn't divorce for those reasons. I felt that the only reason I could divorce was if God told me to. It sounds trite—and unbelievable in today's world—but I was waiting to find out God's desire in all of this, where He would have me go or if He would have me stay. I asked my counselor, my priest, my friends...I sought good counsel, and in the end, they all told me to pray and walk faithfully and obediently with my husband until I felt I knew where to go.
And I did. One morning, after a rather difficult weekend emotionally, I knew. I felt God release me from the vows. It was a very sweet time. God spoke to my heart and told me He was going to take back those vows. No man could break them, but He could. He stepped in and told me I was done. I could walk no further with this man. I needed to turn him over to God. I was lucky enough to have a church that completely supported me in that. They prayed with me and walked with me, and told me that I was completely within God's will to follow this path.
My faith has helped me grow because, quite frankly, God came for my heart and my life. I saw my God come into this situation in so many large and small ways that I couldn't do anything but walk with Him. It was as if God was trying to overwhelm me with so much, in the face of destruction, that I couldn't possibly even entertain a single thought that He wasn't there for me. I had joy in the midst of suffering, and I look back now and am completely blown away by God's goodness and grace toward my girls and me.
Some people divorce because they are unhappy or unsatisfied. They find someone better, or they just grow apart. For me, I couldn't divorce for those reasons.
DivorceForce: Your divorce scenario had to create such emotional havoc in your life, yet you seem to be bouncing back and growing. You have really inspired us at Divorce Force. Inspire the Divorce Community—let them know what they should do to move forward.
Leslie Shriner: I have done some difficult healing work. I have chosen to walk forward and decided early on that bitterness was not where I wanted to allow my heart to go. I had seen bitter in my mother, growing up. I knew how toxic it was, and I did everything I could to open my heart to love— loving my ex-husband, my children, myself, my community, and my God.
The only real thing I can take credit for in this situation has been that I finally allowed God to come and show me just how much He loves me. I finally got to the point where there was so much destruction in my situation, so much brokenness, that I finally allowed Him to step in and give me every good thing He offered. I opened the doors to my heart and began allowing Him to heal me.
I remember one particularly difficult week when I just needed to feel loved. It was nearing Christmas, and I didn't know how I was going to afford any gifts. I was worn out and tired. I felt unlovable and uncared for, and knew I was going to miss having a husband terribly in the next few weeks as the holidays ensued.
I remember praying that day, "God, show me how much you love me in a very intimate way today."
And that very night, I redeemed a secret reward card online, and I sat there in disbelief as it showed that I had $500 to spend—on intimates. You know, underwear and bras and things women need to feel pretty. I cried, right there on my couch. How good is a God like that? I was completely undone. My God loves me in very intimate ways. He comes for my heart in very personal ways, and I cannot take any credit for moving forward. He has guided me and shown me what it means to love Him with all my heart, and love others as myself. I have learned to love myself, my family, my community, and anyone He brings into my life. He is even showing me what it means to love the man I will never be able to trust, or be in a marriage relationship with again.
Early on, I was shown some art that spoke to what He was going to do in my life. It is Kintsugi—broken pottery, mended with gold, that is even more beautiful after its repair. My God came and took all the broken and is making it beautiful, right before my eyes. And He continues to do so. He continues to assure me that someday, all of it—every last little tear—will be redeemed and turned to joy. I have to walk through the dark times, but I will look back and know that I am His Beloved and He is my God!
Leslie is a child of God, a mom, a teacher, a daughter, and blogger at www.MyBeautifullyBrokenLife.com. Her stories come from her heart with absolutely no pretense. As she is learning to be strong, she is touching others' lives with great inspiration. We at DivorceForce look forward to featuring some of her writings in the future.