Finding Your Way Financially Through Divorce

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This post is in collaboration with TIAA to empower women experiencing divorce, encouraging them to take control of their financial future.

I grew up watching my mother on the news. She was a VP at the local hospital and would regularly be featured on the news talking about renovations or goings-on there. We were a two income family, but I was always impressed that my mom was “handlin’ her bidness” like a girlboss.

When I graduated college and went directly into magazine publishing in Manhattan in 2000, I guess I considered myself a second generation girlboss. I got married in 2004 and had kids in 2007 and 2010 and in the 10 years that I worked in publishing, I became the breadwinner in my own household. Living on Long Island, the 3 hour round trip daily commute took its toll and in 2010, I stopped working outside the home.

When I left my job to stay home with my kids, I was earning more than my husband would earn for years to come. A great deal of pride accompanied that income, not because of the number, but because I’d earned it. It was ours, but I’d earned it. I’d contributed to our family financially. When I stopped earning, I stopped being involved in our family finances at all. My husband had a stable, tenured teaching job in a great district. We never lived lavishly, but we didn’t need for anything. Everything on that end was under control and taken care of. By my husband. I had no interest in being involved because I didn’t think I’d ever need to be.

That is, until last October, when I was blindsided by my husband’s request for a divorce after 13 years of marriage. Having not worked outside the home for over 7 years, and having not contributed to any kind of retirement account for myself for that long, now I was faced with taking on a hefty monthly mortgage payment, the bills that accompanied that, and oh, the rest of my financial future. Alone.

The whirlwind of divorce is all-encompassing, especially when you’re a mother and you have kids to tap dance for. We spend all our time convincing them that “mommy’s fine,”, “everything’s fine” and “everything’s going to be OK,”, when we know most of that is largely untrue.

Then the process of emotional and mental healing begins. We put all our energy into getting on with our lives. For me, a writer, financial planning is the 400th thing on the list of 100 things I’m trying to avoid. And it stresses me out. A LOT.

If you find yourself in my situation, I urge you to take action sooner rather than later. TIAA offers excellent tools that will help you take control of your financial future whether it’s saving for college or managing your retirement plan. Without their help, I’d still be terrified of where I’ll be 20 years from now.

I am constantly kicking myself for not taking a more active role in my own financial future. Educating myself on simple things like managing budgets and putting away money, even in small amounts, that would add up to big time self-support if I ever needed it. I wish someone had sat me down as soon as I graduated college and told me to get a financial planner. Even if it was just to learn the basics. I’d have been so much better off last October.

The good news is that I’m a fast learner and the very good news is that there is help for women who find themselves in situations like mine. When TIAA contacted me to speak about my experience with the financial fallout of divorce, I learned that there are tools available out there to lift some of the burden of this tough time for me and my family.

Not only am I certain that I will be able to achieve financial independence by giving myself the knowledge and power to manage my money, I’m looking forward to it. And I’m looking forward to the confidence I’ll regain when I do.

For Now. Maybe Forever.

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I stopped drinking. For now. Maybe forever. I’ve made every attempt to believe that my relationship with alcohol was casual, but in this season of uncovering, I get to be honest with myself. About everything. Before I can fully step out into a new life.

I’ve been numbing myself with alcohol since I was 17. When my brother died and my life cracked open, I didn’t have the tools to cross that crevasse, so I fell in. No one had the tools. My parents and I, we all fell in, one way or another.

In high school, the numbing was disguised as fitting in. In college, the numbing was disguised as having fun. In my marriage, the numbing was disguised as being social.

Every day I gained new reasons to numb myself. Every day the crack opened a sliver more and I willingly wedged myself down into the darkness, into the shelter of those shadows because heading up and out into the light of a life feeling the pain seemed impossible.

And I stayed there. Until 3 months ago.

I don’t want to be numb anymore. I want to feel everything from back then and all of what’s happening now so there won’t be any more fear. It’s happening. And I’m strong. And proud. And I’m starting to feel strong and proud.

I don’t want to be numb anymore so that when I get to the beginning again, I’ll take that first step out into the light and everything will be new. And I’ll feel it all.

No Rules For This

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I’ve decided that you can be two totally different people at the same time if you need to be.

There are no rules for this. There are no lines to be walked when you’re punching your way out of a life-eclipsing situation. You make the rules for your own survival.

It’s okay to be excited and be devastated all at once. That’s part of the grace that you get from growing through this. You go in as one person and you come out as another.

While you’re fighting through it, you’re going to be all kinds of different people. Once the bomb detonated, the old you was history anyway. You may as well be all the people and all the things you need to be while you’re plowing through.

Be the angriest you’ve ever been and then be elated when you come down. You’re growing. Be patient for a new beginning and be impatient for an end. It’s happening. Be weak and strong and right and wrong and needy and indifferent and all the things and none of the things you need to get yourself out.

There are no rules. The only thing you have to be all the time is a believer that it’s FOR A REASON. Be a devout parishoner in the church of BELIEVING YOU’RE ON YOUR WAY TO A BETTER PLACE. Go there every minute of the day. Live there. Let every moment be shrouded in respect for all of your selves. All the selves you are right now and all the selves you’re going to become.

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Perfectly Content Heart

Stinky morning

This is the most pure love of the day. It’s not always pretty, but it’s beautiful. Waking up slowly in a little pile of smelly human love. My perfectly insane, small humans.

Permanent damage to my vertebrae is a small price to pay for waking up with these two midnight marauders. I go to sleep alone and wake up as the sugary goodness in an offspring Oreo.

Everyone’s breath is awful, someone’s always farting, and inevitably, there’s a short commentary about morning wood. We giggle and snuggle and talk about nonsense. It’s before the day’s frustrations have set in and we’re all still hazy with the soft happiness of sleep.

I never want to stop waking up with them. I never want these tiny moments of raw togetherness with them to end.

They are what tethers me to the planet most days and I don’t want them to grow another minute older.

I want to freeze the three of us in this stinky pile of love so the only thing that continues to move and grow is my perfectly content heart.

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A Dress I Have Every Reason To Wear

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Back in August I went away for a 40th birthday weekend with my best friend and I put this dress on and went to dinner. We had a great night. I was 30 pounds heavier then. And I was happy. I felt a light inside.

I got home from that trip and I wrote a blog post about wearing this dress. That post went viral and opened the door to what I now consider to be my burgeoning career. And I didn’t look or feel the way I do in this same dress today.

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August 14, 2017

In August, I was struggling to believe I was beautiful. I wanted to say that if I could wear the dress the way I felt in it, if I could believe I was beautiful, then anyone could. My message of positivity was shared by thousands of people. My light was shining.

Then, specifics aside, in October I learned that I was living in a lie and didn’t know it. For a long time. And things that no woman should ever have to hear were said to me, by someone I loved. So much.

I heard things that I’ll never be able to un-hear. Things that made me realize why I was struggling to believe I was beautiful in the first place. Things that made me realize why I was having a hard time loving myself. Things I’m left with now to rattle around inside my brain. But there’s still a brightness.

I look the way I do in the dress now because of a broken heart. And that’s okay. I mean, I choose to believe that it’s going to be okay. As hurt as I am, I still have happiness. My mind and body and heart are healing. And I’m thankful for that.

NOW I KNOW that it’s never been about my body anyway. I don’t think the first post was about my body and I don’t think that this post is about my body.

I think it’s all been about spirit. It’s all been about strength and self-love and the struggle to save myself. From myself and from others. From outside forces. To preserve that little flicker of light that I’ve never let go out. A constant promise that’s always lived in me to stay bright inside to survive. As bad as things have gotten in my life and as hard as things may get for me, I know that the dark is no place for me to live. And I will keep this light on to lead me out.

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Breaking Open

Today I realized that there’s something good about breaking. It creates cracks for the painful things to flow out. Things that have been poisoning you inside and you didn’t know it. And if you want to, you can choose to try to replace those things with joy. With things that were once healthy and happy and good. I hope.

This is me in a past life. Maybe 12 years ago. Before I was a mom. Dancing in the dark one night with my friends and a sweet, sweet beer buzz. I love this picture. There’s joy in me in this picture. Before I started to close myself in.

Now that I’m broken open, I’m going to try find that joy again. The joy that was inside this girl. Some days I don’t know if I can, but I know I’m going to try to make this breaking count for something good.

I’m going to try to replace this betrayal with a million tiny beautiful, brave things. I’m going to try to replace this heartbreak with hope. I’m going to try to replace this disbelief with dancing. And I’m going to try to stay so beautifully broken open that I never get closed in again.

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GTFOH With Your Cauliflower Pizza Crust. For Real.

I’m going to just come right out and say it. Everybody needs to take it down a god damn notch with the cauliflower. I mean, sweet and sour Jesus, this has gotten out of control. Growing up in northern New York in the early 1980s, if my mother had told me that one day people would try to convince me that mashed up and flattened out steamed cauliflower would be an acceptable base for a pizza, I would’ve packed up my Pound Puppies and run away from home to join the circus. Ain’t nobody messing around with cauliflower at the circus, I’ll tell you that much right now.

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I’m out.

Full disclosure, Michelle Obama’s Cauliflower Mac & Cheese recipe is one of my favorites. And I’ll sit right down and eat an entire head of roasted cauliflower in one sitting. Don’t you think I won’t. I’ll give you and your cauliflower ricing comrades kudos on roasted cauliflower until the cauliflower cows come home, but don’t be comin’ up in here with your cauliflower brownies and thinking that I’m going to let you sit on my couch and watch Fixer Upper with me. UH UH. Not happening.

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“That’s a negative, Ghost Rider.”

Ok, I’m sorry for what I said about riced cauliflower. I take it back. I’ve made Tasty’s Cauliflower Fried Rice recipe a few times, and, it’s really good. I was fine with that, but YOU HAVE CROSSED A LINE with your Cauliflower Eggs Benedict. Benedict Arnold or whoever Eggs Benedict was named after is probably rolling over in his yolk-soaked grave right now.

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Eggs-cuse me?

I know you’ll have me believe that carbs are the enemy. I understand that you want me to think that potatoes and flour are for heathens and mole people. But, let me tell you something. If you DARE show up to my house warming brunch with Cauliflower Everything Bagels, I will literally fist fight you in front of the quiches and then I’ll call your mother AND your grandmother and I will tell them what you’ve done. If you can live with disappointing your Mee-Maw like that after she worked her fingers to the bone knitting mittens for you that you probably lost at a frat party in college, well then that’s on you, Allison.

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It’s your life, Allison. You animal.

And then you’re going to post on Facebook that Cauliflower Nachos are better than old school nachos? ARE YOU WOMAN ENOUGH TO COME OVER HERE AND SAY THAT TO MY FACE? Yea. I didn’t think so.

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GTFOH with that mess, Allison.

I’m all for eating healthy and trying to sneak in some veggies into recipes here and there so my kids won’t notice, but for the love of all that’s decent on this great green earth, some things are sacred. And if you think I’m going to let you desecrate my turn to host book club with a Cauliflower Cheesecake, you’re obviously not the person I thought you were.

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The Little Girl Watching Me

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All of the important messages of speaking out impacted me at last night’s Golden Globes, but there was a line in Oprah’s speech that resonated with me the most. And in a different way.  Really, just a fragment of a line.

She said, “In 1982, Sidney (Poitier) received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.”

Something there spoke to me unexpectedly in my new year of trying to be brave. I mean, I don’t think I’ll be winning any awards in the near future, but what I do know is that “at this moment, there are some little girls watching.” In my case, one little girl. My 10 year old daughter, Ollie.

This time, this divorce, as hard as it is on me, is having an effect on my kids. I can’t tell fully yet what it is, but I know it has to be. None of us can suddenly be thrust into this and be able to make sense of it, especially not my kids. Their dad moves out and their parents no longer speak. I think that’s enough for gravity to let go of all of us and let us float off into outerspace.

What I realized, though, is that she is looking at me and looking to me. Watching me, to see how I recoil from this. I’m her compass. She’s looking at me to show her the way. And she’ll follow. Every tear I shed affects her. Every time she catches me lingering in bed a little too long scares her. Every reaction I have everyday informs her on how to feel.

So I have to fight. Not even for me. For her. So that if, when she grows up, some man does this to her, she’ll have a map on how to get herself back. She won’t define herself by the love of a man or the pain that he can cause. She won’t allow her self-worth to be compromised by staying with someone who is indifferent to it. She’ll look back at this time and remember watching me fight my way back to earth and she’ll know to do the same.

Right now, the most important little girl is watching me. I’ll be composed on the outside and I’ll be clawing my way back on the inside because someday I want her to want to be like me. And that can’t happen if she watches me disappear.

If you’re struggling in a way that threatens your survival – put up a fight. I don’t mean struggling to make ends meet. I mean if you feel yourself spinning out to space. If you can see your whole self disappearing – fight like your life depends on it. Because there’s someone who needs you to come back. And they’re watching.

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Bravery in 2018

I had to be brave today. I didn’t believe I could do it. My mother looked at me and said, “You’re going to breathe through it and the message you’re going to send is that he can knock you down but he can’t keep you down.” I said to her, “He doesn’t care either way.” And she said, “But you do.” So I did it. I was brave.

At the end of my reiki session last week, the therapist asked me to write down an affirmation to take with me and told me to put it somewhere that I could see it all the time. She told me to write “I AM COMPLETE. I AM ENOUGH.” I cried. I couldn’t write it. Because I don’t believe it. YET.

2017 has been 100 years for me. I was stretching my tentacles for much of it. Reaching out to myself and out of myself. Embracing the experience of writing and making people laugh with 8 open arms. I was coming back from a dark place I’d put myself in and I was beginning to reclaim a little bit of my power. Until October 6th when I was shot down out of the sky by the person I loved the most and who I believed loved me the most. All three of my octopus hearts, broken.

Now, the thing I’m believing in the most is bravery. Hoping I can believe bravery into reality and back into my hearts. Bravery to face betrayal. Bravery to face the pain. Bravery to believe that I’ll get to the other side of this. Bravery to tell myself that the happiness ahead will be what I deserved all along. Bravery to allow myself to believe that one day soon, I WILL BE COMPLETE and I WILL BE ENOUGH.

Wishing you bravery so big it fills all three of your octopus hearts in 2018.

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Transitioning

full time freelance

This is the face of a girl who has one dream dying and another dream coming true. How can this be possible? My marriage is over and my heart is broken, and yet somehow, my dream of being a working writer is suddenly sprawling itself out in front of me like a brand new lover in my bed.

I’m going to take it as the most glorious sign and be gracious and be thankful and be present and make love to it in every possible way.

I lived “happily” in such a state of SAMENESS for so long. Every day was the same. Every conversation was the same. Every person was the same. Now, I’m faced with newness in every single minute. In my brain, in my heart, in my experiences. Everything is the first time for my new normal, but now I have this little gift of self-worth that I’ve created. I have something new that’s bringing me this crazy joy of self-fulfillment, in one of my darkest times.

This little dream I suddenly started believing in again last October when I started my blog. Maybe I knew this storm was coming and I grew the blog from my heart like a little life preserver for me to cling to. Just in the nick of time. HOW LUCKY AM I FOR THAT?

Keep your eyes open and your heart open and be willing to hurt and feel and change and be scared and take chances and look at what can happen. Grow yourself new dreams so that if one dream dies, you’ll still have magical things to cling to.

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