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Running Through the Grief of Divorce by Laura Mullins

Running Through the Grief of Divorce by Laura Mullins

The silence between us was deafening. We went about getting the boys ready for bed, talking through them rather than to one another. After closing the doors to the boys’ room, I tried to make small talk about the plans for the following day. It was met with a hallow response and a far away look in his eyes.

I busied myself with a basket of laundry and turned on the TV, hoping whatever nonsense playing on the screen would be a welcome distraction. As I sat on the couch folding laundry, my husband walked over to the dining room table and sat down under the bright light of the chandelier. 

“We need to talk,” he declared. 

I felt my stomach lurch as I sat with a pile of little shirts and tiny socks on my lap. 

“OK,” I replied as I reached for the remote to turn off the television. 

“Over here,” he said solemnly, without meeting my eyes.

“Oh. This sounds serious,” I tried to reply in a joking manner, attempting to lighten the mood. 

I folded my legs under me as I casually sat across from him. My heart was beating out of my chest as I waited to hear what he had to say. I could feel my defensive nature turning on as I tried to anticipate what he was going to tell me and how I could counter his claim with “evidence” to the contrary. 

I looked across the table into the eyes of the man I had loved for 13 years. As he stared back at me, I saw a blank expression upon his face I had never seen before, like he was functioning on autopilot, without an ounce of human emotion involved.

“This isn’t working. I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce.” 

An audible gasp left my lips as I felt the emotional punch to my gut. Surely this is a dream…a nightmare…certainly not a reality anyone could be prepared to endure. I felt the colour drain from my face and dark spots appear before my eyes as I stared hard at the knotted swirl of wood on our solid oak table. I could see the little indentations of tiny fork marks our kids had made over the years on this very table around which our family life revolved and, now, where it was ending. 

We were never a couple that “fought”. In fact, there really was never an occasion where we raised our voices at each other. Sure, we had disagreements but we always seemed to come out on the other side ok. Neither of us ever doubted the other’s love for the children, and we fulfilled all the obligations a marriage required. But somewhere in the midst of crying babies, energetic toddlers, post partum emotions, living in a new place far away from any family or friends, and a very demanding professional career, we began living parallel lives and lost each other. 

I found running in 1998, after my collegiate tennis career came to an end and I was searching for a way to stay in shape post-college. I had always loved running for conditioning so I just slowly began to add some time onto each run. Running was easier to pursue than tennis, as I only needed myself and a pair of runners. No need to reserve a court or coordinate with someone else’s schedule, I could run as it suited me. This newfound hobby was intriguing to me as I found the solitude both empowering and rejuvenating in my twenties. The first race I ever ran was the 1999 Chicago Marathon. Crossing that finish line made me feel like I could fly! I was completely hooked and have been running every since. 

For 12 years, running had been a way for me to find calm in the wake of the storms life can throw at you. If I am honest, I can see how running was already helping me cope with my failing marriage long before it actually ended. Workouts that were interrupted by inexplicable floods of tears and earth-shattering sobs that left me keeled over myself on the path mid-run were tell tale signs that my emotional and mental health were not in a good place. Perhaps going for a run during those months and years prior to our split was symbolic of me trying to run away from the problems in my marriage, hoping they would just sort themselves out instead of me having to truly face the issues and do the work to fix them. 

But the truth is, you can’t outrun your problems, no matter how far or how fast you can run. They are still there waiting for you when you return. And if you don’t address them, they just grow bigger and heavier and will pile higher into the corner of your subconscious until one day, they tumble down on top of you, breaking you to your core. 

When a marriage or partnership ends, it’s an indication the two people involved want to permanently part ways. But when the couple shares children, you are permanently connected through your children, whether you like it or not. As a teacher, I had seen this scenario many times over the years and know first hand the impact it has on the innocent children. I vowed to myself I would do better for my children. I was going to be connected to this man for the rest of my life through my children so I felt I owed it to them to address the reasons why our marriage broke down. 

The problems in a marriage are not solved with a divorce. The issues are still there and you still have to work around them in order to co-parent with your partner to raise your children. While many people may choose to run away from those problems and responsibilities, I chose to run toward them. 

Instead of using running as an escape, I started using my running as a time of contemplation. It is important to note that RUNNING IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR THERAPY. Just like you would take your car to a shop to have it repaired when it breaks down, I sought the help of a therapist to help me fix the brokenness I felt in my life during my divorce. 

I wanted to blame my husband for the divorce. I demanded a “reason” for his decision. I wanted the chance to “prove him wrong,” and to show that I could be a good wife and a good mother and a good friend. With the guidance of my therapist, I had to face the reality that I may never get the answers I was looking for. While I could not control his decision, I could control my reaction to it. I could either continue living in the misery of feeling unloved, unwanted, not enough and inadequate, or I could do the hard work of taking ownership for my role in the marriage and learning to forgive myself for my own shortcomings. 

My runs started to become a place where I could grieve for my marriage. After all, a divorce is a death of the life you thought you might have. I was not concerned about speed or distance. I only focused on a single question or contemplation about myself and who I was versus who I wanted to be. Many tears were shed on the roads and many runs turned into walks as I did this very difficult internal work. But over time, true metamorphosis began to happen. I had honest, vulnerable conversations with myself about my life that I was not able to have sitting on a sofa or out at a bar with friends. Those on the outside try to tell you how you should feel or what you should do to “get back at him” or how they would feel if they were you. But they are NOT you. All that “helpful” advice meant nothing to me when I was alone with my grief in the middle of the night, stifling my wails and sobs into a pillow so I would not wake the children. Nobody knows what it is to walk in your shoes but YOU. So I decided I was going to face my divorce with open arms and work towards the woman I wanted to be. 

For a long time, running was my moving workspace. While it was never easy, I did find that I felt lighter as I unloaded my emotional trauma through my miles and came to peace with who I was as a person. I began to run and find gratitude in my surroundings and for the life I get to live. A lot of realizations took place on my runs that helped me find peace and contentment with my life. I realized that I didn’t have to stop loving the man who was the father of my children, just that our love would look different than it was before.

Our children deserved to have two, happy, healthy parents and if that meant their father was a happier, healthier man without me as his wife, then so be it. I also began to realize and accept that I deserved to be in a relationship with someone who wanted to be with me, not just “tolerated” me. And it brought me to a place where I could look my husband in the eye and say, “I am so sorry that I looked to you to fill my happiness. My happiness is my responsibility and I put that on your shoulders for all these years. That was not your burden to bare and I apologize.” That admission was the turning point on which we could rebuild a friendship. 

After the divorce was finalized, I kept running with a newfound joy. Running saved me from the depths of depression and grief and I wanted to make sure others know the power of this sport. I became a running coach and now work with women in different seasons of life to use running as a way to connect to themselves and others in our pursuit of our best selves. 


Thanks to Laura for sharing her story and you can follow Laura on Instagram here - @presentlyfit

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