OPENING LETTER FROM DAYANARA
I remember thinking, over and over again, what a shame it was that I wasted that dress. I know it was a silly thing to mourn, but it was so much easier than mourning the heavy things, my marriage, for instance. But it was a great dress. It was exactly the kind of dress I used to describe to my sister, Jeannette Torres-Alvarez, whom I refer to as Jinny, all of those afternoons after school when we spent countless teenage hours discussing weddings, boys, and bridesmaids. Of course, we never discussed breakups, divorces, or what to wear to a settlement hearing, but Lord knows we have spent countless adult hours discussing these very topics.
Jinny is a mental-health counselor with several degrees and years of practice under her belt, and don't think I didn't take advantage of all of this. Throughout my divorce, she was my stability, my best friend, and my on-hand therapist. Luckily for me, she wasn't charging—my Lord, that would have been a huge bill. Jinny is the one with all of the experience, and she has read all of the books. Me, I never made it past the first few pages. I tried, I promise you. I went to every bookstore in the neighborhood and sought out that small, sad "divorce section." Even though the last thing I wanted was to read a book about divorce, I stood there, leafing through each cold, boring, depressing book. I bought a few anyway, to show that I was making an effort, I guess. I added them to my bookshelf and then never opened them again.
All I wanted was a book that was warm, conversational, even a little funny. Something that would help lighten all the pain I was feeling. The last thing I wanted to do was open up a textbook on divorce. I needed a sort of "girlfriends' guide to divorce," that would give me mantras, anecdotes, and some personal insight as to what I would be going through...but it didn't exist. So I decided to write it. I pulled Jinny into the fray (as usual). She is the one with the degrees, and I am the one with the divorce papers—together we make a good writing team. Throughout this book, I will present you with personal situations and advice, and Jinny will give you the professional lowdown. I have also peppered the text with my favorite quotes, which I collected in a notebook throughout my divorce. We hope that through our advice, anecdotes, stories, and quotes, we can both guide and inspire you. This is not a book about encouraging divorce. It is a book about encouraging your relationship with yourself (whether that self is divorced or not). This is the book I would have loved to find between the self-help and the sociology sections! It would have been a lot more helpful and constructive than all of the countless Lifetime movies I sulked through. Ultimately, I should be grateful I didn't find that perfect book because that is what inspired me to write my own. God knows, this book was not easy for me to write. It has taken years of sorrow and triumph for me to share with you and hopefully inspire you to take control of your life, commit to yourself, and become your truest, happiest self.Always,
A NOTE FROM JINNY
Balance...Isn't that what all women want to achieve? I have felt the frustrations of not being able to find my balance, and I know that every woman I know has had similar frustrations. Achieving balance and living in harmony with our family, friends, partner, and those around us are not easy tasks. Writing this book has given me the opportunity to explore and discover what balance is all about.
There is a point in our lives when we start to juggle those glass balls—the aspects in our life that we hold valuable and do not want to let fall to the floor. We often find it hard to keep them all up in the air at the same time. For many of us, we are constantly juggling:
Motherhood—We are trying to be perfect mothers! We play with the smelly Pla-Doh. We come up with silly songs and dances so the children will eat their dinners. We make sure they don't eat too much sugar so they will fall asleep easily and give us a few minutes to relax while we take a shower. And still, at the end of day, we often wonder, "Am I doing a good job?"
Relationship—We are constantly trying to keep the flame alive. But after eight hours of work, two hours of traffic (at least for some of us), three hours of doing homework with the kids, cooking dinner (at least some of us), and trying to keep the house in order, sometimes we don't have the energy. When we finally sit down for a few moments, or at the end of the day, we often want to say, "I just want to be left alone."
Work—We are constantly trying to keep our careers moving forward. We get up early, stay up late, and skip lunch, but it seems that no matter what, the piles of paper and laundry never dwindle. And at the end of the day, we often want to say, "Am I doing enough?"
In Yari's case, these are definitely three of the balls that she is constantly keeping up in the air, but for a while, it is true, she let her career fall by the wayside. When she was first married, it was beautiful and refreshing to see my sister so in love; it was definitely a type of love we don't see every day. As her sister, I supported the fact that she dedicated herself so completely to her relationship and family; however, I was also concerned that she decided not to pursue her career at the same time. I knew it was a passion of hers and it was very valuable to her happiness. At first, it did not seem to affect her all that much. She seemed happy to focus on motherhood and her marriage. However, after a while, she came to realize that her life was not in total harmony and balance. She had let that third glass ball drop.
Today, I am so happy to see with my own eyes how my sister, my best friend, has achieved her balance again. I am extremely proud to see that Yari is an amazing mother, giving Cristian and baby Ryan no less than the best of herself. She is a successful and inspirational professional, once again committed to her work and her passion. And she has once again been able to enter into a happy and healthy relationship, because she has taken the time to establish a happy and healthy relationship with herself. The fact that my sister has found the balance she was looking for for so long means the world to me!
While I was spending hours on this project, my husband asked me about the audience for this book. I deeply believe this book is directly targeted to all women. Whether you are single, married, divorced, or separated, this book is aimed at you. You may be juggling different priorities, but the message is the same for each and every one of you: BALANCE.
I wish all of you, by reading this book, can move toward finding your own BALANCE in life.Best,
Read the Introduction and an excerpt from Part One: Acceptance
In case you want to get your money back before you break the binding, I want to tell you this is not a tell-all book. Far from it. First of all, we work very hard to maintain a healthy family identity. Second, I could never make my divorce as interesting or dramatic as the tabloids made it out to be. Honestly, it wasn't actually that ugly. We didn't fight over a single kitchen appliance. That's how dramatic our divorce proceedings were.
That's not to say my divorce was an easy experience. My God, no. I just didn't care enough about the blender to spend my days fighting over it. I had other things to do, and to worry about, like my kids and my future. In the meantime, however, I spent a good deal of time crying, I watched hours of Lifetime movies, and I ate more than my fair share of comfort food. You need to do whatever it takes to get your head out of the stress, pain, and anxiety. I highly recommend losing a few hours—hell, even a whole day—to Lifetime movies. I promise you, your life will seem less pathetic in comparison. The comfort foods? Any comfort food is most definitely allowed. It's all allowed. Whatever works, whatever makes you feel any better about this mess is allowed.
Oh, and let's be honest. It's a mess. There is a reason Jinny and I didn't sit on our beds as teenagers and dreamily proclaim, "When I get divorced, I'm going to wear a beautifully cut black Armani suit, and my ‘divorce maids’ are going to wear bloodred." No, it is never supposed to end in divorce, so it's hard to recover from the blow that your love story is not going to end in happily ever after.
My love story began in 1999, when I met my ex-husband in Puerto Rico. I had been crowned Miss Universe six years earlier, and after that day, I had not stopped working, traveling, and moving around (from Puerto Rico, to LA, to the Philippines, and back to Puerto Rico). I was tired, hungry for some stability, and ready to be swept off my feet. My ex-husband came along at just the right moment. We seemed to share all the same values and dreams. He wanted to settle down, start a family, and share his successes with someone. I felt exactly the same way. We started dating, and it was only a matter of months before we were engaged. I could not have been happier.
We were married on May 10, 2000, in a civil ceremony in Las Vegas. Two years later we renewed our vows in a grand fashion in San Juan, where I finally got my dream wedding. After four years we decided that we no longer shared the same values and dreams. We finalized our divorce in June 2004, and my fairy tale came to a screeching halt. I could not have been more devastated. Purely and utterly devastated. You see, I'm a fairy tale kind of girl. I've wanted the happily-ever-after since before I can remember. I had already envisioned our entire life together: the anniversaries, the vacations, the birthdays, the children, and most of all the weekends. When I was a child, Jinny, my brothers, and I would pile into my parents' bed on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We would stay there for hours, talking, joking, and laughing. As I grew older, I held on to the image of those mornings, and I always thought that I would share these same kind of moments with my family. I wanted my children to have the feeling of love and security and joy that I felt during those times. And I wanted them to have the same kinds of holidays I remembered too, with both of their parents there to photograph the opening of the gifts and the cutting of the birthday cake. I wanted them to have both of their parents standing on the Little League sidelines during every game. I wanted the holiday cards to show a perfect family unit every year. The problem, I realize now, is that these memories were all rooted in happiness. In order to give my sons these memories, I had to be honest with myself and admit that I was not longer happy in my marriage.
I wanted the sitting-in-our-rocking-chairs-with-gray-hair ending so badly. I did not want the I'll-take-this-house-and-you'll-take-that-house ending. And yet, in December 2003, I found myself in a law office in Miami, signing an I'll-take-this-house-you'll-take-that-house document. When I walked out of that office, I had no idea what to do with myself. I stood in that obnoxiously bright Miami sun and said, "Okay, now what." Then a part of me answered, "Hell if I know." Another part of me suggested, "Let's go home and lie in bed and cry for a little while." So, because I couldn't come up with a better option, that is just what I did.
Lying in that bed, I had days when I thought I would never recover from the divorce. Of course, there were friends and family members who would tell me, "You're going to be fine! This is going to make you stronger!" Oh, how I wanted to slug them. I just wanted to reel back and really slug them. If only I had had the strength. Instead, I just crawled deeper under the covers, put the pillow over my face, and wailed, "This isn't how it was supposed to happen!" Dramatic? Perhaps. Deserved? Definitely. For at least the first few weeks (oh, maybe months), I deserved to wail into that pillow. I'm sure there were friends and family members who wanted to shake me and repeat those annoying assurances: "You're going to be fine! This is going to make you stronger!" But they didn't. They were smarter than that. They saw from the look in my puffy eyes that I didn't need any of their peppy mantras. At that point, the only mantras I wanted to hear were along the lines of: "You've lost weight!" and "Your hair actually looks good when you don't wash it!"
It is only now, as I sit down to write this book, that I realize I barely recognize the girl who was wailing into the pillow four years ago. And it is only now that I can finally admit that maybe all of those friends and family members with their peppy you're-going-to-be-fine mantras were right. Yes, okay, they were right. Today, I am so much better than fine. Today, after a four-year trek from that depressing Miami law office to my happy new Los Angeles home, I can say that I am stronger than I ever thought possible.
Yes, it took me four full years to get to this healthy, happy, hair-washing-on-a regular-basis place. I did not rush myself. I took my time and enjoyed every step of the journey. A few months after the divorce, for no logical reason, I decided to cut my hair and dye it red. Red? (I thought it looked okay until I was in the Miami airport and someone said to me, "Oh, you don't look that bad with the red hair. I don't know what everyone is talking about." Oof. If you want to know the truth about anything, head to the Miami airport.) I dyed my hair back to black shortly after that, and that was when I started happily dating...my three-year-old-son. I took Cristian out for regular dinner-and-a movie Saturday nights (my sons make great dates), and I started to feel like myself again. Then, one full year after the divorce—when every holiday did not remind me of last year's holiday with my ex—I began to establish my own traditions with the boys. After that first year, once I was confident enough, I started taking steps at a somewhat quicker pace. I went back to work, made plans to move to LA, took myself on trips, etc. But still, I refused to rush myself in my recovery. I'm not ashamed to say that it took me four years to recover fully.
It took me four years before I could sit down and write this book as I wanted to write it—from an honest, healthy, happy place. My hope is that, by telling you my story as candidly as possible (puffy eyes and red hair dye included), I will help inspire you in your journey to happiness and rediscovery. Today, after a long journey of rediscovery, I am proud to say that I am committed to myself before anyone else. Yes, it took me four years, but I have finally traded in my engagement ring for a diamond-encrusted Cartier watch. It was way too expensive and all too well worth it. I see it as my engagement ring to myself, because today I finally realize that the first person you have to marry in life is yourself.
Now, on weekend mornings, the boys pile into my bed, and we talk and joke and laugh. Sometimes I wonder if we would have these kinds of weekend mornings if I had stayed in my marriage. I truly don't think we would, because I would not have been the happy, healthy, strong mother that I am. Today, I am the kind of mother who can juggle the video camera and the birthday cake quite adeptly. I am the kind of mother who proudly sends out perfect holiday cards every December, who chases after her dreams every morning, and who manages to pick up the boys from school every afternoon. The other night, as I was putting the boys to bed, my older boy began his prayers by saying, "Thank you, God, for all of the memories that my mom gives me." At times like these, I realize that I have not taken anything away from these boys at all. Instead, I have given them the kind of mother they deserve. From Part One: ACCEPTANCE
Realizing the Reality of the Situation
"You drown not by falling in a river,
but by staying submerged in it."
I was in our new house in Miami when we made the decision. We had been there a week. None of the walls were painted, and I had just ordered all of our furniture, so I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I guess I could have gone back to Long Island and stayed in the much nicer house—the house that was fully decorated, fully stocked, had much more square footage, and a real bed for me to throw myself onto in dramatic grief. But I did not want to return to that place; I knew it would be too painful to attempt my recovery in a home where we had lived together for four years. All of the good and the not-so-good memories memories would have haunted me on a daily basis. The Miami house had no such memories. It was devoid of any old ghosts, which made the environment comfortable, tension-free, and all mine. But the best part about Miami, and the biggest reason that I stayed, was because Jinny and Mom lived there, and I knew that I could never move forward without them by my side.
For the first few months in Miami, I do not think I moved forward at all. How is it possible to move forward when all you want to do is lie in bed? Honestly, that is what I did for months. There were days when I never untangled myself from the sheets. My remote control was my best friend. By my bedside, I had a few of those horrible divorce books, which I thought about reading, but never did. Who feels like reading twenty chapters (in small print, no less) about freaking divorce? That's where Jinny came in; she told me if I had read the books I would have known the stages and phases I would have to go through to get myself up out of that bed. I looked at Jinny and said, "Why read the books when you can just tell me?" So she rattled them off, and in that one breath, I realized that I was not alone. I recognized that my experience, although unique and unfathomable to me, was universal. There are generations of strong women who have endured the pain of divorce and the resilience of rebuilding. This was so apparent because the five phases made so much sense.
The first four didn't sound so fun. The last one didn't sound possible. But, little by little, just as Jinny said, I began moving through the stages without even realizing I was doing so. I was right about Denial, Anger, Guilt, and Pain. They aren't so fun. But I was wrong about the Acceptance stage. It is possible, it will come, but it is up to you to get yourself there.
Though I didn't think I needed the books or any of the professional terminology to help me get through the great recovery, it helped me enormously to hear Jinny speak those words: Denial, Anger, Guilt, and Pain. It meant that all of my emotions were natural and normal. After struggling through so many grief-ridden days, I couldn't help but wonder, Is this okay? I am telling you, it took all the strength I had to get up and brush my teeth. I felt a little pathetic, and I kept thinking, Is this what everyone goes through? Is this normal? So when Jinny spoke those four words, I thought, Okay, so at least I am not being more pathetic and dramatic than every other divorcée in the world. At least other women out there had trouble putting the Crest on the bristles. So yes, I guess the professional terminology is helpful, to a certain degree, but I truly didn't need any long-winded technical explications. What I needed was a short personal explanation of each stage followed by a short professional explanation. This is exactly what you can expect to find in the following pages. We will be short, sweet, honest, and to the point. We know that you have things to do, Lifetime movies to watch. This first section on Acceptance will lead you through each of the stages from both a personal and professional standpoint. I am going to let you in on my personal journey, the obstacles I faced, and how I finally arrived at the Acceptance stage. Throughout this segment, you will also find the notes and advice that Jinny gave me along the way. Though I know that our journeys are not the same, I am sure that we faced many of the same stumbling blocks in some form or another. In fact, every divorcée I know has faced most, if not all of the hurdles I have. We stumbled over them at different rates and with varying degrees of beginner's luck. Each time I discovered that I was not the only person in the world who wondered if I was at fault for the entire divorce, and I was not the only person who let myself wallow in my pain for days at a time. I found that just knowing that the hurdles are there for everyone gave me a great deal of comfort and support. In the interest of offering you some comfort and support, I'll share each hurdle that I had to leap (and sometimes stumble) over to get myself to the place where I could finally accept the reality of the situation, which to be honest, is one of the most difficult parts of the process.The First of Many Short Professional Explanations from Jinny
Note from Jinny: ON THE FIVE STAGES
It is important to recognize that you will move through all of these stages, but in your own manner and at your own pace. These five stages should serve as basic guidelines for the emotional phases of a breakup. This is not a checklist. You will not necessarily go through one and then move on to the next. For example, you may feel the Guilt while you are in the Pain stage, or vice versa. Do not think that you are "doing it wrong" if you don't move swiftly and cleanly from one to the next. It is very rare that women actually glide right through in an orderly fashion. It is also important to remember that each person moves through these emotional stages at his or her own pace. Do not worry that you are "not moving fast enough." Give yourself time. Some women spend years in the Denial stage, while others spend mere hours. It depends on how invested (emotionally, physically, and financially) one was in the relationship. No marriage is the same; therefore, no divorce will be the same, and there is no format for how each person recovers.
I also want to take the time to note here that not every bad marriage has to end in divorce. If you are contemplating divorce, or you are in a relationship that you are not presently satisfied with, this book can be an incredibly useful tool for you. It can help you recognize what needs to be mended in your relationship and hopefully guide you in way to help you and your partner heal. If, after trying hard to work on your relationship, the not-so-good times outnumber the good times, then perhaps it is time to contemplate divorce.