How Algebra Is Hurting My Divorce Recovery

Algebra Equation
Algebra Equation (Photo credit: Evelyn Saenz) Bastard Subject crippled me!

Growing up, my stepfather moved us around a lot, so I went to a lot of different schools. But, inexplicably, we would move back to this one town periodically — maybe to re-group for the next move — and I would return to a private church school filled with people I’d known since I was little. I always loved returning. It felt like home, and it meant I didn’t have to go through that awkward “new girl” thing.

The school was basically set up so that we students taught ourselves. Does anyone remember the ACE system? PACES? The way our school was set up is that all the students in the school sat at a “cubicle”. After testing, we’d be given our PACE’s, which were basically little work books. We’d read our lesson and complete any assigned work. If we had any questions, we had a little Texas Flag or a little United States Flag that we would put in a hole at the top of our desk, thus indicating to the supervisor or voluntary school monitors that we needed help or we needed to go grade our work. Once given permission, we’d take our workbook (PACE) to an island in the middle of the room, find the answer key for our particular book, grade it, and returned to our desk. If I’m remembering correctly, we usually had 5 or 6 subjects each, so you’d basically perform this same routine for each subject. Frankly, I loved the system. You moved at your own pace, and there was never any reason to get bored. I flew through some subjects. English, English Literature, History, Bible….Some things came blessedly easy for me. But some things did not, and as a freshman in high school, my nemesis was algebra.

What an unholy, brain-freezing concept this was to me! X = Y – Z(A) * B/56….What the hell!? Who gets to decide what X equals? Is that a paying job somewhere? And why can’t he just give the stupid answer? Why all the mystery and games? I was baffled.

I mentioned a million posts back that I went to that private school with some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, so I was reluctant to let anyone know that while most of my friends were wading through calculus and trigonometry, I was struggling with a subject that, let’s face it, is just one tiny step up from learning our times tables. It blew.

I read and re-read those stupid workbooks, struggling to make sense of what was going on here, but my brain was completely uncooperative. It took very little time for me to decide that this was stupid, I was never going to get it, and my next step was to figure out how to get out of having to know it. Yes. I was a very optimistic person about solving my own problems.

The thing is, you don’t get to graduate from high school without algebra. Forget geometry, or trig, or calculus! And I didn’t want to be “the stupid one” at school. I was getting my butt kicked by this subject, and it was really starting to wear on me.

Enter, Mr. S. Mr. S was the supervisor over our entire school, and I was his and his wife’s baby-sitter. I’d had Mr. S explain this Algebraic Hell to me a few times at school, but I was embarrassed to have the other geniuses that sat around me to know I was struggling with something they had probably passed as kindergartners, so I’d quickly say I understood him, figuring I’d just figure it out by myself — alone — later on. Turns out, that would be a trait in myself that has caused me a lot more work than was probably necessary.

One evening, I was working on my homework at Mr. S’s house while he and his wife prepared to go out for the evening. I don’t remember if I asked for help or he just noticed I was struggling. My guess is that he just noticed I was struggling, because I didn’t want him to think I was a moron, either.

He told me something that has stuck with me all of my life, and many, many times I’ve reflected back to that moment when I realized something very, very true about myself.

He said, “Cathie, why do you make everything so complicated? If you take each step and focus on just that one step, before you know it, all the steps are done, and you have your answer! Don’t try to just jump to the end, skipping as many of the steps as you can. You don’t save time that way! You’ll come up with the wrong answer, and you’ll end up having to do it all over again.”

Then, he sat down and began explaining, in detail, each step of my algebra problems, and a light went off in my head. Suddenly, everything fell in place, and the logic was perfect. I love logic, and it is still surprising to me that out of all the subjects in the world, the one subject that simply is pure logic would be so hard for me. Without exaggeration, algebra became my very best subject, and I was able to apply that lesson to almost every aspect of my life from then on out.

Maybe the worst thing about going through my separation is that emotions aren’t dependable, yet they have this super-human strength to really belt us in the face. You can take a cheater + a co-dependent and still equal all sorts of different scenarios. Some women/men will stay even if they know without a doubt they won’t really ever be happy. Some of them flipped the offender off as they exit the door, and then fall apart in their cars. (That one would be me…). Some of them can walk away, adjust quickly, and seem to recover in minutes. It is all such a slippery, unpredictable mess and my very soul hates unpredictable, slippery messes. I want an algebraic logic to my life, and this whole situation hasn’t been easy for me to negotiate because I have freaking no clue how I myself am going to react next. I feel like my own personality is playing this game with me, and I’m kicking my own ass. The upside is, I’ll emerge the victor either way. 🙂 The downside is that, I don’t have a Mr. S around to make the light switch in my brain flip on.

What I really liked the best about the ACE program was that it taught me something more valuable than the schoolwork. It taught me how to teach myself. I’m always in the process of learning something new. I love to learn. I’ve held several kinds of positions in my life such as paralegal, book-keeper, human resources, network administrator, help-desk manager, IT, and a slew of other kinds of jobs. And every time I would begin a new “career”, I’d study, study, study so I would know as much as I could about my position. Hence, at 44 years old, I have this confidence in my ability to learn anything. Now that I’m dealing with circumstances that don’t follow any kind of logic to me, added to my fluctuating emotions, I’m frustrated with myself. And to make the experience really super exciting, I’m not a patient person either! I want this crap over with, and I want it right now! Yeah. I can be a lot of fun.

I tend to have way more patience for other people than I do myself, and one of the things I’ve been struggling with these last few weeks is with the question “why”. It isn’t the usual question…”Why did he do this?”. It the question, “Why am I doing this?” You’d think that since we inhabit these brains, we’d have a clearer picture of why we do what we do more so than anyone else, but I’m beginning to doubt it.

I’ve spent the last few weeks reading every single thing I could find about the emotional side of breaking up. I’m probably an hour away from being certified as a therapist. And you know what I’ve learned about myself? I’m a control-freak that doesn’t accept reality easily. I always think I can change anything, and even when it is clear as day that I’m going to fail, I’ll try anyways. I don’t know, but that feels a bit like a pride problem. Great.

What a bummer.

The truth…The logic in all of this creepy, painful mess is kind of the same as the algebra lecture Mr. S gave me. Stop skipping steps. You aren’t going to save yourself any time (or pain), and you are going to come up with the wrong answers. If you don’t really live in the process, it will become like a bone that wasn’t set properly. Yes, you’ll probably be able to use it, but it will always have a little ache to it and sometimes it just will never work properly again unless it is re-broken and set again.

I don’t want to have to “re-break” a wound that I didn’t allow to heal correctly. I’ve read a million other women’s stories on different sites, so I don’t feel quite as embarrassed about my different, pathetically weak reactions to thing. (Except, I’m still pretty mortified about the Drunk Dialing Incident). But one think that is perfectly logical to me is that if God wanted to  get me to really look at the areas in myself that needed to be addressed, this was the perfect way to get that accomplished. Just read all the posts since this started, and you’ll see how many different, somewhat alarming, lessons I’ve learned about who I really am.

While all of this has sucked the big one, though, I’ve also learned some things about myself that I can like, too. I was always a little fearful that I needed someone to take care of me…that I would always be dependent on someone else. Not true. I not only can support myself, but I can do it in a very rough part of town, and hold my own. I bought a tool kit, and I can now use every single thing in it. I replaced my own door-knob. Laugh if you want, but that is a pretty big accomplishment for me. I’ve learned that it is bad for the oil light to come on in your car, and then I learned how to check the oil and add the appropriate amount. I’m learning that I like living single. Who knew? I never have done that before! I think I like myself more these days than I did before. And it is based completely on my own opinion..not anyone else’s. Yes. My emotions are all over the place these days, but my reactions a bit more controlled. And I guess the thing I’m learning that I value the most is that even in the midst of all of this, I’m still able to learn something from it.

I’m okay. Feeling quieter, but in a good way.

Even when the occasional, overwhelming tears erupt, they are not the despairing kind that feel like death… They are more the sad homage to a life I really loved once, and while it is gone, it deserved the appreciation it is given. If I hadn’t been so content in the life, it wouldn’t have mattered as much that it was over. So, I’m giving myself a bit of a break that it seems to be taking FREAKING FOREVER to be completely, 100% happy and content again.

I will say this, though. After reading a ton of people’s thoughts, feelings, etc., about their own divorce fiasco’s,  I was struck by the sheer number of these women that were still very much caught in that painful time years and years later. I don’t have any judgments against any person living in their own hell, but someone just please shoot me right in the head if 5 years from now, I’m still talking about this!!!!!


— Bird

20 responses to “How Algebra Is Hurting My Divorce Recovery”

  1. Vintage Catherine writing! Love it, baby girl. So glad to hear from you, getting worried. Most excellent analogy. Cathie, you read everything and are brilliant, but my women’s pastor suggested a Divorce Recovery group at my church. It has more to do with loss, so I started to go, and the different thing about it is that there are PEOPLE that I can get to be friends with, and the fellowship of being in the same boat gives a little bit of the light at the end of the tunnel. Death and divorce have a lot in common, too. There is a man in this group who is still sad and bitter after losing his wife to cancer, and boy, shoot me in the head too if I’m still in that place nine years from now.
    I have faith in you, you are healing in your own definition of ‘normal’. I think you are going to be better every single day. Sure, there’s ebbs and flows, that’s normal too.
    BTW, as a teacher, PACE sucks, and I wish Christians wouldn’t use it. For some kids it’s fine, and I’m glad it taught you a lot. But generally I found it to be a segregationist tool for Christians who are too cheap to build decent Christians schools for their kids. There! Rant concluded! 🙂
    Love you bunches!


    • Thanks, Vic! I’ve known several teachers who completely hated the ACE system, but from my vantage point, it really worked for me. But there were other kids that just couldn’t do it. It depends on the student, and it wasn’t ideal for most people.

      I’m getting out and around people more, so you don’t have to worry. My dad kind of chewed me out a few days ago about isolating myself and not letting people know I could use some help. It was weird, really. I can’t remember him ever being so concerned that he was somewhat angry at me. I get angry when I’m afraid, and I could tell he’s worried. But I really, really am fine. I just have been thinking a lot.


  2. I’ve been free from the physical bonds of the abusive ex since I made my final escape in January 2003, and it took a lot of talking about it to purge the pain from my system – talking with friends; talking with counselors, in support groups, and in classes; talking on the internet; and talking in my writing.

    I can still talk about it when it fits with the conversation, like if someone else is going through something to which I can relate and I want to empathize, but now it is almost like retelling a book I once read.

    So, even if you are still talking about it five years from now, Bird, I will not shoot you in the head if your words are there for the comfort of others, born of a comfort that is within you. (But I won’t shoot you in the head either way!!!)


    • lol..I am just tired of roller coaster emotions. I imagine in time I will be able to talk about this without launching myself into yet another intense emotion, but when you’re freshly broken, it happens all too regularly. I can see a difference in me since this first happened, so I know I’m getting better. But just like I am when I’m physically healing, I tend to push it trying to get back to normal.

      We’ll see if you still want to hear about this in 5 years. You may change your mind about that shooting in the head thing! 🙂


  3. The way you related this emotional process to math really resonated with me. I was always a good math student — geometry was my favorite. I went on to major in Philosophy in college b/c I loved logic so much. I like the idea of being able to figure things out, step-by-step, but I never thought of this denial-anger-sadness-anger-rage-devastation-roller coaster as something that could actually be worked-through, and that you HAVE to go through each step to get to the right answer. Like you used to be, I’m terrified about my ability to support myself. I’ve never done it before. You are such a great source of inspiration to me, Bird! Thank you. 🙂


    • I’m so happy to have been a little bit of help in your journey through hell. I’m positive you will not only be able to support yourself, but you’ll get the same sense of accomplishment I get when I pay my bills with money I earned all by myself. It feels so wonderful! I don’t make much, and I live in a tiny apartment in a bad part of town, but frankly, it is all worth it! Thank you for your wonderful comment!


  4. Personally, I like the Forrest Gump outlook on life. Life is like a box of Chocolate – there are just some pieces you can’t eat. Life is as hard or as easy as you make it, and with all the logic in the world, you are going to stumble. Pick yourself up, shake yourself off and continue walking. Don’t look back, because you can’t change the past. Continue looking forward, using the mistakes of the past to grow and expand your future.
    One of the things I love about you Cathie, is that you aren’t afraid to step forward. I pray for your comfort and strength as you continue walking your path.

    ♥♥ Ed


    • The Box of Chocolate Approach to life is probably the most honest approach, but I have to admit, it makes me nuts! Lol! Thank you for always seeing the positive in me, Ed! It really does help me keep my head above pessimistic waters! Thank you for prayers, too!


  5. Bird, there is so much in your post that describes where I am in my own process. I am only 7 months post-separation and am already impatient with my sadness. In the first three months, I felt so energized by the newness of living alone, that it was easy to push aside my sadness. And I got cocky in my emotional process. I thought I was already over the loss of my marriage. It’s a bit embarrassing now that I have to admit I’m really struggling, even though I still like living alone. I still love the man I was married to for 30 years and I’m not sure where I’m supposed to put that love now. In a box? A closet? Can I back my car over it until it’s dead? The answer to this question eludes me every day.


    • I can completely relate! I’ve come to accept that I’m probably going to love him forever, and that is okay. It actually has helped me to quit trying to make it die. Don’t be embarrassed about your emotions. I think it shows the level of our ability to truly love someone without restraint, and maybe that shows a strength in us that these men didn’t possess. Love isn’t for the weak, is it?


  6. Great to hear from you dear Bird! Yep we have to live through it, we can’t skip to the end. (I’m so impatient too) But the Lord knows why He makes us wait, just like our parents knew we had to wait til dinner and not eat before hand. Time is a trick anyway, and you are not going to recognise yourself at the end of this…It will be fabulous! Keep going Babe, you are doing great! xx


  7. There are many similarities in your story and in some of your posts but this one sucked me in because I have a draft post along the same lines …. about the logical brain in me and how that didn’t fit in the beginning of me being abandoned – being thrown onto an emotional roller-coaster with no direction when i have always needed logic and planning. However, it (my logical planning part of my brain) is now helping me to survive because 16 months later I am now able to compartmentalise and pick off one of the messes in my life at a time and deal with each one in turn (emotional mess, financial mess, social mess, house mess etc etc) instead of being overwhelmed by the whole tsunami.

    As for the length of time to recovery, every thing I read made me depressed. One week after the separation suffering the worst pain in my entire life I read that you would remain transfixed in deep pain for 12 months and it would take one year to fully recover for every five years of your relationship (in my case 40, so that makes 8 years to recover). I couldn’t cope with either thought. However, one thing I have discovered is that not every one is the same. Some people recover quickly and others are bitter withered souls 30 years later. And I think the difference in the two extremes is an inner core that in place of saying “It isn’t fair” instead says “I will survive”.

    you have that core and you will survive.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    Have a great day. 🙂


    • Eek. I’m not accepting that 1 for 5 thing. That would make mine about 4 1/2 years. 🙂 40 years. That makes my heart hurt for you. I’m really sorry for what you must be going through. I’m with you about the fairness thing. Life isn’t fair, and that hasn’t been my real problem. My problem has been not wanting to inflict the same bewildering pain on him that he crushed me with. I’ve got a grip on myself now, but in the beginning, I was all over the place trying to not destroy HIS VERY SOUL …Turns out, I’m talented at it. Luckily, nothing too horrible was done, but I have God to thank for that, because I was gonna make him pay.

      I hate big emotions. Feel free to vent anytime! You won’t get any judgments from me!



    Now, you just summed up everything I went through when I was trying to decide whether or not to end my 23 year relationship. Yes, you do have to live the process. And yes, you do have to let those tears fall. And yes, shoot me in the head if I’m still in my situation in five years.


  9. All things work together for the “good” to them in Christ Jesus! Your saying, how can this mess be good for me? Lets look at it this way. two wrongs don’t make a right! We were born sinners, or to say it another way,we don’t know a thing about God, or we don’t know a thing about “Love”, who is God. We have a sinful nature in us that satan has created. The guy you were drawn to has a sinful nature. These are the two wrongs. You can’t blame him, and he can’t blame you. You both were wrong. This is what the word of God teaches. Satan has told us to blame, hold unforgiveness, want to see the guy hurt, these are things that satan wants you to do that he might destroy your life, but Jesus wants to give you life, hope, happiness, but it will only come through the truth, his Word. Everybody born into this world is a sinner, even little babies. Why? Because of Adam and Eve falling from grace in the Garden of Eden. John 3:18 -21, Romans 8:1-38, Galatians 5:1-26. All these scriptures tell us why we are sinners, and what we can do about it. The kingdom of God is like school, it is a growing prossess that starts with us being concieved, being a babe in Christ, (1 Pter 3:1-2, a Child , Young man, and fathers. The end of the growing prossess is to be like God, our Father, sinless in every way.There will be things we will have to do that we won’t like because we have learned to love sin, or the world, but this is part of why Jesus died to teach us how to over come satans hold on our life.
    I went through divorce, my wife was going out on me and I was ready to leave. We had a little girl of two. I told my wife that I was leaving and my little girl hear it and said, daddy, don’t go. When she said that, the thought of killing myself went through my head. I said at this point, God if there is a reason why this has happened to me, I want to know why. I started to study the Bible, and as i studied, the Lord kept saying, this is why, this is why, this is why. There were days that I spent 14-16 hours studing the Word. I prayed and fasted. I didn’t want to go through that again. I also wanted to be able to help other people who were going through divoice, or if they knew before hand they could avoid what you and me have gone through. Don’t give up, let Jesus help you. Study your Bible and remember, if you fall, your a babe in Christ, just get up, ask God to forgive you and go on. 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we ask forgiveness, God has to forgive us. He cannot lie!
    Bless you in Jesus name.
    Robert E. Barger


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