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I Pretended My Parents’ Divorce Didn’t Affect Me

But bottling up my emotions did more harm than good

When I was 15, my parents separated and, soon after, divorced. Divorce is a hard pill for any child to swallow, but it was especially hard for me: As a child, I thought my family was picture perfect. But as I got older, I started to see that this perfect picture no longer fit into its frame.

I remember my parents called my sisters and me into our home's family room to talk. At first, I thought we were in trouble for something. I was completely wrong.

"As you can probably tell, your mother and I haven't been seeing eye-to-eye and we feel it's best to separate," my dad said.

The silence seemed so loud. I knew my parents had been arguing, but thought that was normal for married couples. I didn't know what to say or do. I cried in my bed later that night, but never told anyone — not even my sisters — that I had. I never wanted to cry in front of them or anyone.

Of all the breakups I've experienced, my parents' divorce was the hardest. My parents wanted to protect my sisters and me from heartache, sadness, and anger, but despite their efforts, they couldn’t. My sisters and I coped as best we could, but the divorce caused our family to face financial hardships. My mother's health suffered after the divorce, too, and we were forced to become increasingly independent. My sisters and I hung out with friends, played sports, and went to school with smiles on our faces to keep ourselves distracted, but we were fighting off demons inside.

I struggled to talk about the divorce, afraid that others would dismiss my emotions as weakness or the byproduct of "daddy issues" if I did. I also suppressed those feelings because I didn't want my emotions to stress my parents out — especially my sick mother.

So I remained silent. I never told anyone that I couldn't focus because I was so distracted by the divorce. I didn't tell anyone that at times in high school, my sadness felt debilitating and I even struggled to get out of bed and get ready in the morning. I forgot how to have a voice, to speak up about my feelings.

I developed an inability to trust others, which began to affect my relationships. I worried that if I got married, I would just end up getting divorced like my parents and that my children would grow apart from me. I worried that I would find I have commitment issues and would be afraid to fall in love, knowing I could fall out of it.

In college, however, I began to see a counselor. I learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness and that talking about my problems is not the same thing as complaining about them. I have learned that my emotions are valid and I don't need to dismiss them to make others feel better. Holding on to so much bitterness made me a hateful person and brought me down.

Recognizing and expressing how the divorce affected me has helped me reclaim my voice and see that, in some ways, things have also changed for the better. My sisters and I have become closer because of this experience, and I've seen my parents make improvements in their lives since the divorce. I'm lucky enough to have friends who help me stay strong. I was — and am — fearful. But now, six years later, I also have hope for the future.

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VMAs 2017