Messages of Hope – An Interview with Jena Strong

Jena Strong

Meet Jena Strong!  She is a writer, poet, and mama. She came out at the age of 36, just shy of her 11th wedding anniversary.   As a kid, her parents getting divorced was one of her biggest fears, and throughout her own marriage, an undercurrent of restlessness was a constant source of inner tension. In 2012—two years after separating and six months before she and her ex-husband walked  over to the courthouse to file divorce papers—she self-published “Don’t Miss This,” a memoir through poems tracing this journey. She now lives in Amherst, MA with her daughters, works as a career counselor at Hampshire College, and is happily engaged to the woman of her dreams.  I asked Jena to share about her journey as a message of hope to those still on the rough bit of the path.  She is so brave, honest and open.  I am honored that she accepted my request to interview her AND she shared a poem that took my breath away when I read it (you’ll find it at the end, don’t miss it!).  Read more about Jena’s journey at http://dontmissthis.wordpress.com and www.jenastrong.com.

Thank you, Jena!

In going through your divorce, is there anything you learned about yourself that surprised you?

I learned that I could be honest—with my ex, with myself—without guilt or fear. That I could ask for what I wanted or needed and the world wouldn’t end.

What indulgence or guilty pleasure did you allow yourself on those days when you needed to do something to feel better?

There were a few months there where, on my days without my girls, I would go to The Daily Planet, a bar in Burlington, VT (where I lived at the time) and order a cocktail after work. I’d sit outside in the sun writing. Usually I’d also eat a burger and fries. I wouldn’t say this was a guilty pleasure and it’s not so super out of the ordinary, but I’m not much a drinker—and that was the only time in my life when Cosmos became a regular indulgence. It was also still hard for me at that point to just go home alone after a long day at work and know what to do with myself.

What was the most effective way that your friends and/or family supported you? Or was there a way that they could have supported you differently that would have worked better for you?

There was one day, just six months or so after we split up, when I was so down and out I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was house-sitting for six months, just lying there in some other couple’s comfy bed, in some other family’s lovely home, missing my life. My friend Deb called me and said, “You’re coming to Nia with me.” And I told her I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t go. Twenty minutes later, she was parked out front to pick me up. An hour later, I felt a million times more alive, having danced my heart out, sweaty and grateful.

Another day, about a year after that, I was at Mirabelle’s having coffee with my friend Nan, who happens to be a divorce lawyer. I told her that we were had picked up all of the paperwork at the courthouse to fill out and file on our own. “You’re doing what?” she said, and insisted we drive over to her office after breakfast to do it together. Friends like these, who occasionally gave me no choice, kept me going and reminded me I was not as alone as I sometimes felt.

It’s natural for friends and family to get very protective during time. Occasionally, people I love have gotten defensive on my behalf in ways that could be confusing for me. So I’d say it’s less that anyone could have supported me differently, and more that I also had to learn to really trust my own decisions and to check in with myself about whether I was acting out of fear or clarity.

What is your favorite thing about life now that is different than it was before?

I am grateful to have moved through this process and come out the other side. That I can now have conversations with my ex–we see each other quite regularly and are co-parenting our two girls–without every time feeling that pang of loss. It still comes in waves, but I have come to settle into my own rhythms. As intense and sometimes exhausting as single-parenting half the time can be, I am in some ways more present with my kids, and with myself, than I used to be. My favorite thing about my life now that’s different from before is that I’m not constantly imagining some other life, the one we were always working on building or moving towards. It is just my life now. I am living it.

If you could go back in time and speak to yourself during your divorce, what message would you send?

I would tell myself that it really does get better. I would tell myself that it’s ok to let go, and ok to mourn, and ok to rage, and ok to laugh and enjoy things. I would tell myself that my kids would also be ok. All of it, wherever you are, however you feel, just feel it. It all keeps changing. I would tell myself that I didn’t do anything wrong.

 

Into the Woods

After we told them The News—
not that we were getting a puppy
or moving somewhere new
or having a baby or going to Hawaii,
but that we were “growing”
and this meant not living together,
she bolted, as I had known she would,
to cry alone on the edge of her bed.
His eyes condemned me,
then his words. Happy now?
When we went to find her upstairs
she was packing. Two frames:
infant in my arms in the hospital,
toddler sitting with her Dada
and some ducks by the lake.
We assembled snacks, water bottles,
phone lists. Who were her people?
Deb offered up her cell phone
for the night. One bag for her,
another for her little sister,
sleeping bags and lanterns,
a stuffed elephant. If we were
separating, then she was going
into the woods, her own
leaving, a rapid response
so cutting we had no choice
but to join her.

Comments

  1. Brenna Czarnecki says:

    This is really wonderful. All the emotions that come with divorce… Sometimes you think it’s just “yours”… and your’s alone…. but it is so so many …. children… parents… friends… that actually go through it with us.
    Thank you for this. I have co-faclitated a divorce support group at my church/community for over 5 years now.
    It is a gift to take part… no matter how small .. in helping people take those steps forward… in moving on… even if your bags are only backed with “fear”.

    • Thank you, Brenna. I hope that reading messages from women like Jena can help people get through the fear to the good stuff on the other side. I’d love to have you share any tips or ideas that you use with your divorce support group over on the Holding Your Grace Facebook Page if you are interested. 🙂

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