It was on my ten-year wedding anniversary that he told me that we should get a divorce. I couldn’t breathe. I had to move from the bed to the floor because I couldn’t get air in. I kept saying “Don’t do this, don’t do this”. I could not process what was actually happening. He told me it would be okay. He tried to reassure me. I was devastated. One month later he gave me the talaq. I remember vividly, his sad, beautiful brown eyes, as he told me he couldn’t say the words. I told him to write it down. I gave him a pen and paper and said, “Just write it”. He then said, “Let me just say it”. His eyes welled up with tears, and he said, “I pronounce one utterance of divorce. If it is best for us to come back together, may Allah guide us to that. If not, may He grant us what is best for us”. And just like that, it was done. Our son was napping. I lay on the couch and wept. I felt corpse-like. Pretty much dead. That entire period felt like that. The whole three years post-partum felt like that, and now it finally reached its climax, the inevitable talaq.
Those three years were marked by melancholy, tension of walking on eggshells around him, the dread that we were two unhappy people in each other’s space, the quiet and lonely retreat to our separate rooms in the evenings, the shift system we had to take care of our son, as we pursued our lives so utterly separately. The sometimes polite but empty small talk between us. The weight of our unhappiness filling the room in our counseling sessions. My random bouts of tears in public places. The tears at home, with my then three year old son bringing me tissues and asking, “Are you sad?” In his sweet, innocent voice. And now no more. The plug was pulled.
Unlike most Muslim couples, we remained in the same home during my ‘iddah. I told him if he had hope for reconciliation, to stay, but if he did not, then to please leave. He stayed. He had no intention to reconcile, but he was open to whatever Allah would guide him. Despite the disapproval of some of my friends, I cooked for him and did his laundry all through the ‘iddah. One time I was folding his laundry and left a note on his pile, “I have been honoured to serve you this way during our marriage, and I will miss this.” Something like that. I wept upon writing it. I cry now as I write this. It was so hard. We were such a mismatch, but we cared for each other. He was kind for most of the marriage. I had lived with him for ten years, the prime of my life.
After the three months of ‘iddah, there was no reconciliation. As we entered Autumn with the trees boasting their fiery colors in true East coast style, the final leaf of our marriage fell. There was nothing spectacular about it. There was no ceremony. I didn’t feel any different. I was merely quietly divorced.
The last three years of my marriage up to the eventual divorce, resulted in my self-esteem being brutally destroyed. I thought myself inherently bad. I had been somewhat persuaded (brainwashed?) into believing that I was solely responsible for the destruction of my marriage. I felt unworthy, unlovable, undesired. I felt invisible for three years. Sometimes when I’d try to touch him he wouldn’t respond, sometimes he’d reject me outright. I tried changing in front of him a few times, and I may as well have been furniture. Our conversations led me to believe that I was a rotten wife. A failure. I was incapable of making him happy. Some of his most hurtful words were “You just don’t know HOW to be a wife”. “You are a difficult person. I feel tense around you.” I created a list of all his grievances with me, so that I would be cognisant of them and hopefully rectify the issues somewhat. But the list was also a reminder of how bad I was.
I tried to do self-compassion meditation, but found the words sounding like a meaningless mantra in my head. Then I conjured an image in my mind which actually shifted the way I felt, and was far more effective. I thought to myself, “What am I seeking from people? What do I yearn to hear?” I realised that what I wanted were loving, maternal words. Words that I would never, ever hear from my mother, words that I have always craved to hear from a man. Words that I will have to give to myself. I imagined a woman, myself. She was an elderly version of me, grey-haired and clad in white. She was with me in the visions. Sometimes I’d have my head in her lap and she’d be stroking my hair. Sometimes I’d be driving and I’d think, “I feel really bad right now”, and imagine she was next to me with a comforting hand on my thigh, saying the same words. “I know you are hurting. I know you feel as if your world has ended. I know you are sad. I am here for you. Remember that Allah loves you, and He will take care of you. You will be fine, He will look after you. It’s going to be okay, and it’s okay to cry.” Thinking about her was a far more effective self-compassion exercise than a mantra. I thought of her frequently in my weak moments. And as I became stronger, I thought of her less so.
I was just keeping myself afloat, just to stop myself from drowning. I didn’t want to take the route of anti-depressant medication. So I fought to stay afloat. But I was still not fine.
Fast forward to three months after my ‘iddah. I was walking on the beach with a friend. With the waves crashing beside us she told me, “You have to believe you are worthy of receiving love, you are worthy of a loving relationship. You are worthy of happiness”. I stopped walking and looked at her, sea breeze blowing in my face and said, “I don’t feel that way.” And I realised that I still had a lot of self-love work ahead of me.