I was sneaking down the stairs to the basement to avoid both the creaky steps and detection. I made my way to the Sam’s Club storage stash and started taking the packs of toilet paper out to hide them in a different place. I was nervous and moving quickly. The shame of my scheming and deceitful behavior was one thought and tear away. I felt like a thief. I was in my own home.
To remember, let alone admit to this behavior, immediately fills me with embarrassment. I had a choice to ignore this part of my past and pretend it never happened. But it did and I have come to see over time that it was an important moment in my divorce journey.
You see, the day I was “stealing” a stash of toilet paper from my own house, was the day my spouse was packing up his belongings to move out of the marital home. I bounced from deep sadness, to relief, to being terrified to being hopeful – all in the span of a few hours. I was like a caged cat that did not know how to handle my feelings or my erratic energy.
Looking back, I can see that I was lucky in my divorce in that I held full-time employment, enjoyed good health, and was not dealing with addictions or violence. I knew that moving forward, despite taking on half our debt with less than half the income, I would be able to be financially independent. Intellectually I knew that I would be able to make a plan and a budget and I would eventually get to a place of maybe having a savings account.
But in this moment, with my spouse of ten years moving out with his belongings, support, and income, I just felt scared. Irrationally, I felt I was going to be destitute – despite standing in my 2,500 square foot home. I was worried and consumed with how I was going to do it all. And how I was going to afford toilet paper.
I hid the packs of toilet paper leaving less than half the big bag to still be divided equally between us. I felt angry, justified, horrified, and sad. It had come to this. If my former spouse reads this, I am sorry. I am ashamed. And if only giving you a pack of toilet paper would restore my integrity or erase the emotions of that day. But you and I know it was not about the toilet paper.
Oftentimes during divorce, we find ourselves wanting to be dishonest for our own gain: wanting to lie about parenting responsibilities to have an edge in a dispute over parenting time; wanting to hide cash or “gift” it to someone else temporarily; or yes, even taking more than our fair share of toilet paper. We find our raw humanness in these moments. We come face to face with our fears and we fib.
But this reaction to fear does not define us. It is not who we are and in the months after finding our post-divorce stability we will be able to see this and start the process of reclaiming our authentic selves. I share this story now, six years later, in the hope of finding my own forgiveness and seeing my shame as part of my story to be owned, acknowledged, and shared.