Fourteen months since the awful realisation that my marriage was to be discarded, I have at last cast the die and elicited the assistance of a lawyer.
Getting to this point has been extremely difficult.
I am not a naturally aggressive person. As a middle child, my mother loves to tell the story of how I never got to sit by the window seat in the car as I was the natural peacemaker between my two often warring siblings. (Fiona would be wearing an eyepatch now if it wasn't for me!).
If some people are bulldogs, I am really like the annoying chihuahua. I have a lot to say but really, if it looks like I may score a boot up the backside, I tend to back off, maybe even retreating to insouciantly lift my leg against a rosebush and pretend I had never been there in the fight in the first place.
Okay, perhaps I am not that much of a wuss but overall, I am simply not confrontational. I am a very trusting and forgiving person. I believe that people will do the right thing - because I would. Practice peace man, and all will be well.
But, alas, I am led to believe that this is foolish talk when facing a marital separation.
No one in the sandbox will actually play nice when push comes to shove, I am told.
So of course, I have been encouraged to seek an independent arbiter, someone who might vouch impartially for my interests while ensuring that the outcome is the fair and equitable one I seek.
This has not been an easy decision and has involved much vacillation.
Legal advice, apparently, is seen as threatening, escalating, and scary. It is a form of brinkmanship, testing whatever conditions of detente might have been imposed. The whole interaction is taken to a different level where deeper, often unpleasant emotions are aroused.
No wonder this little chihuahua was eyeing off the furthest rosebush....
But then, yesterday I learned to be utter horror, that there has been a third party involved in this story.
At once, there is someone I had not expected who has their eye on my sandbox and all of a sudden, of course I don't want to create sandcastles with my spade. I want to shove that spade into someone's eyes. I want to bury them in the sand and pee on their heads while I am about it.
As I understand it, it's a common scenario. Okay, maybe not the peeing bit.
Today my breast cancer mentor, Shaz and I had lunch. With our eerily parallel lives, she too has quite recently concluded a marriage of 20+ years to whom she believed to be a "nice" man - you know the popular, loyal, dependable type that "everyone" loves. Hmm, sounds like someone else I know.
Certainly, Shaz's experience has been instructive.
As she put it - and quite truly - when a relationship ends for a man who has chosen to leave, all he does is turn a switch off. He opens the door, shuts it behind him and buggers off whistling a tune to his greener pastures (presumably involving fabulous sex 13 times a day, with a woman who will never age (and still has breasts), and make a damn fine coconut curry).
We women are slower to let go (whether leaving or left). We have a dimmer switch and then, one we turn against our will. We linger at the open door. Tears fill our eyes. Soft music rises. We allow our eyes to graze over our beloved mementoes.
Above all, we 'hope'. We hope that somehow by magic all that was lost might be recovered. We hope that the former partner or spouse might wake up one day, realise the error of his ways, and return upon a white steed. We hope that all will work out for everyone's benefit and we can all be friends again rolling like maniacs in those greener pastures together. Hey, if we can make a nice coconut curry too (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), maybe that will change things? What are the chances?
But, alas. Life is not a fairytale. (No, seriously it's not). Some situations are absolute and the bolted horse is now miles away (possibly shagging a fabulous mare with a svelte hindquarter).
Instead, those of us who are left, sit alone in our empty bedrooms wondering where it all went pear shaped - or banana shaped as the case may be.
We wake to an empty space next to us. We wake to silence. We go to bed in silence. We wake to make our own cups of tea. At night there is no one to say Good Night to. Nobody cares if we are dead or alive. (Okay, that's a bit extreme but it is a good reason not to keep cats: in case you perish you know, and they end up eating your face haha).
Pfft, I hear you say, so trivial and pathetic. Look on the bright side. You are so freeeeeee!
But marriages in themselves involve a sharing of so many functions that we take for granted. It is very much like losing half of yourself when these are shedded. Yes, you are free, but you are often free of a vital organ or a gonad or two.
As Shaz pointed out, if you get sick, someone is there to fetch you a Panadol. If you are in the middle of cooking and forgotten an ingredient, you can despatch someone to the shops. There is someone to fix things that are broken, someone to help you carry heavy stuff, to pick up you slack, to compensate for your weaknesses. When you are out with your girlfriends, there is someone who might call and ask you when you might be back. Someone cares where you are. When you fill out a form, you have someone you know for sure is Next of Kin. If you're having a bad day, there is someone to 'unload' to.
Divested of a partner, there is no one to grab a meal or a movie with. Finances must be carried alone. There is no one to help you with your zip and - how awful - no one to tell you if your bum looks big in your new frock.
I could go on...
No wonder divorce is such a wretched business. Life as you know it is overwritten by degrees. You are thrown into foreign seas, the lighthouse you once relied on dimmed. Now, lost and rudderless, you must somehow navigate yourself to a safe harbour, avoiding sharks if you can.
This is why seeking legal advice appears to be the 'go to' advice of every single person I have consulted.
Oh yes, trust is a nice thing to have but really, who are you to this stranger with whom you must now liaise?
You are nothing but a transaction that must be weighed, considered, discussed, perhaps argued over. With any luck it is all achieved without too much hostility.
Legal advice will help and the sooner the better I'm told.
It seems that, the longer one is 'separated', the more it is likely the other party's feelings will fade further, sometimes souring so badly that, well, it's unlikely to end well.
Naturally, one expects collateral damage.
Friends will peel away. Relatives will take sides. (People like my Mum will struggle to face facts). Young children will be pawned. Older kids may be indelibly impacted, seeking them to question the parental moral code.
Family functions will become uncomfortable affairs. Invitations by mutual friends will have to be weighed against the discomfort one might feel on attending. Wills will be redrawn. Guns might even be drawn if this were America (I wouldn't ignore this possibility).
In the meantime, what unfolds is an unending story of loss, amongst them commodities that are difficult to recoup. For instance, we can lose the ability to hope. We can lose our sense of security. We can lose self-esteem. We can lose self-identity. We can lose the capacity to trust. We can lose perspective. We can lose reason. We can lose our ability to behave with decency.
We can even lose the desire to live (especially where men are concerned; did you know divorced men are 40 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are not?).
One thing that is most commonly lost is dignity. Rage and a sense of being wronged (often irrational) can lead us to despatch toxic texts or long, accusing emails (I am guilty of both!). There is some self-destructive urge to slash and burn.
It is indeed a tough, often destructive and lonely business.
However, as I have discovered, while the tough and destructive bit is, unfortunately, for you to resolve in your own time and in your own way, there is no need to do it completely alone. There are people out there who have been through it and they can be a wonderful source of support. And even inspiration!
In 2015, there were 48,517 divorces granted in Australia (says Mr Google). (This was up 4.3% on 2014). This means that there are thousands and thousands of experiences you can draw from.
As I have said, only someone who has been through a divorce understands just how blistering the process is.
And they make terrific confidantes as, it seems, the levels of kindness and empathy among this cohort is significant. I have already found many who are willing to provide their support.
If you are currently going through a divorce, therefore, my piece of advice today is this: Don't go it alone.
Talk to people about your situation. No one will judge you and there is nothing you should be ashamed of.
There are divorcees galore out there - as beautiful, compassionate, gracious and loveable as any who are not - and they provide an (often free!) shoulder upon which you can rely should you need someone to listen to you.
Let it go, let it flow. And, well, you never know. One day, it really will all be behind you.
You will come to a place where you feel strong and inviolate.
Because if you can survive divorce, my friends, you can survive anything.
You will be one tough bugger.
How awesome will that be? My divorced pals say: Pretty Bloody Awesome! I can't wait.