Full Immersion

Mayyim Hayyim

The rabbi began by saying “The difference between ceremony and ritual is that ritual yields transformation. You will come out of this ritual different than you went in.”

Here’s how I went in. My husband and I separated the day after Thanksgiving 2008. Nine months later I knew for sure that our differences were irreconcilable and asked him for a divorce. It took from August 2009 to June 2011 for our divorce to be approved by a judge, and until January 2012 to come to agreement on the financial issues involved. (Yes, that is unusual.) After we settled it took a few weeks for the check to be written and cleared and for final administrative issues to be processed. Then I negotiated the law firm’s final bill; they received their last check in May. A few weeks later I shredded all the old papers in my office from the process. And then Friday, June 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM – the process of divorce was finally over. I was ready to transform.

My dear friend Barbara and I were in my rabbi’s office along with my cantor, who graciously joined us for bonus moral support. I was deeply grateful to Barbara for accompanying me. She was in my wedding party (our Wedding Support Team, as we called it) and it seemed like an important full circle moment to have her with me the moment I officially released myself from my marriage.

I didn’t come for a legal process – that was done. I came for a spiritual process, one I hadn’t found a way to complete on my own. When I heard my rabbi’s words about ritual, I knew we were in the right place.

Until it was time to move to the next place, literally and metaphorically. “Before we move into the chapel,” he continued, “I invite you to leave your frustrations and anger here in my office. You will bring your disappointments with you to the chapel.” (Please note, these quotes are approximations – I wasn’t taking notes. But I do remember he specifically used the words frustrations, anger and disappointments.)

In the chapel the rabbi shared words of wisdom, especially that our marriage was not a mistake. I continued to breathe deeply. His reminders helped. The most emotional part for me came when I cut my ketubah, our Jewish marriage contract, in half. I’d put so many hopes and dreams into that document in 1999 and for ten years after. Now it was meaningless. Cutting it, and soon after shredding it, was painful but felt absolutely right for me. It was my moment of transformation.

The miracle in the chapel was that I allowed myself to soak in the support of the rabbi, the cantor, and my close friend. I didn’t do my usual shtick of making a joke at the first sign of my tears. I allowed the tears to come and I allowed these special people to witness and validate them.

From the Temple we went to Mayyim Hayyim, the gorgeous mikvah (ritual bath) founded by Anita Diamant. I’d never immersed before. My guide Sharon (whose last name happened to be my mother’s maiden name, making me feel instantly connected to her) greeted us at the door. The space was warm, cozy, clean and filled with light. Sharon showed me how to prepare while my three present supporters waited for me. When I was ready – physically and mentally – I slowly descended into the mikvah. I took my time saying the prayers and submerging three times. Less than an hour after I entered Mayyim Hayyim, I exited the doors feeling newly free.

That morning was one of the most significant of my life – right up there with my bat mitzvah, graduations, wedding, and the births of my children. It was the moment I said goodbye to my unfulfilled hopes and dreams for this marriage.

Of course, “goodbye” doesn’t mean I’ll never see them again. I think that’s what the rabbi meant when he said I would take my disappointments with me. I’ll continue to remember and mourn my marriage. But, thanks to all the processing of the past three and-a-half years, I am no longer angry. And I am grateful for the gifts of my marriage, most of all my children and my own opportunity to grow.

Thank you, Rabbi Jaffe, Cantor Doob, Barbara, and Mayyim Hayyim. And thank you, Michelle, for celebrating afterward at Prana and for the beautiful note you wrote with that perfectly placed phrase “spiritual ablution.”

I feel blessed to be healing, scar tissue and all.

40 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Spirituality can be so important in making a life change.

    • Debra Woog

      So true, Elizabeth. Even more than I recognized for too long..

  2. peaceofmymindparent

    I just read this, and wanted to just send a virtual hug. This is a big change. Thanks for reminding all of us how we have to honor change's demand for our full attention throuh your story. xo!

    • Debra Woog

      Thanks, C, for the virtual hug. Yes, change certainly can be demanding. I'm so much better off for heeding the call than trying to resist it.

  3. Gregory Anne

    Deb, I stopped here to say HI and instead got a beautiful, deeply personal, piece of you. Thank you for sharing that. I envy the ritual piece that Judaism affords for all sorts of life's events. My Catholicism days, not so much.
    When I got divorced I set out to be alone and start again but I didn't have the significance of shredding, releasing, learning from nor support really. Not complaining, it suited me at the time.
    I'm so happy for you as you embark, newly lighter and more open than before this day, on what your soul will call in next.
    Know that I'm cheering you on from the Hamptons.
    My recent post Enough! It’s Time To Make Some Noise for the Health of the World

    • Debra Woog

      I appreciate the cheering from the Hamptons!

  4. Sheevaun

    What a lovely personal story.

    Releasing is certainly a process. Help with that process is key to a much more effective release and the ability to move forward with business, family, love and life.

    • Debra Woog

      How true – it's so important to recognize that we don't have to process alone.

  5. Carolyn

    Debra,

    I can't wait for you to write a book. You write with such vulnerability and are so relatable.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story with us and give me the takeaway about bringing along the disappointments, but leaving behind the anger and frustration.

    Beautifully put.

    (And congrats!)

    Carolyn
    My recent post Giddy up!

    • Debra Woog

      Write a book?! Wow – how did you know my secret dream? Of course, I've always feared I didn't have anything significant enough to say. Perhaps one day there will be a collection of these posts that someone finds compelling enough to publish???

  6. @aprilfan

    Debra, you are such a brave woman. I wish you comfort as you jump into the next chapter of your life. You can do it!
    My recent post Will Medicare Take Care of Everything?

    • Debra Woog

      April, thanks for the vote of confidence and good wishes. I need them both.

  7. Jalanda

    Who knew divorce could take so long. I don't think of the toll of divorce when the stats "50%" of marriages end in divorce" comes up.

    Thanks for the first hand account. It helps me to appreciate the trials and tribulation of a divorcee more.

    It's wonderful to have a support team around you when, life is less than great. They make all the difference.
    My recent post How 99% of Interviewees Waste Free Press Opportunities!

    • Debra Woog

      Oh, Jalanda – if you need more education on the tolls and trials, you know where to find me. 🙂

  8. Lisa C. Briggs

    Debra.. I think we crave ceremony and ritual.. you were so wise to move through such a big transition in such a beautiful and symbolic way.. very moving. I hope it makes all the difference for you as you move forward.
    Love and blessings,
    Lisa http://www.IntuitiveBody.com
    My recent post My Beautiful JuiceFest/Detox- In Conclusion

    • Debra Woog

      Thanks, Lisa. You're right – I do crave ritual. I need to seek out more opportunities for it going forward.

  9. Sara

    What a beautiful post. Transformation doesn't happen overnight, it's a continuous process, but it takes a courageous mind and heart to reflect so openly and honestly. Cheers to all the new possibilities for you!
    My recent post Jump Start: Health and Coaching

    • Debra Woog

      Yes, transformation certainly is not a one-shot deal. But fortunately it can be done repeatedly!

  10. roanrobbins

    a beautiful release ceremony- thank you for sharing.. I know well that one can be happy to let go of a situation, but still mourn the dream.. i will remember this ceremony.

    many blessings in this new chapter of your life, fed by the compost of the past, but starting an entirely fresh journey.

    • Debra Woog

      Heather, you knew me when when the dream was newly forming. Your blessing at this juncture of the journey will stay with me too.

  11. Meg Manderson

    Carrying my own disappointments from a 20 year marriage I thought would last a lifetime, I can share your relief and release. Judaism has such meaningful and psychologically right on rituals. After my father died when I was 9, my WASP family simply didn't discuss it and I was told, basically, to suck it up. Only the kindness of my Jewish friends and their families (I lived in an almost totally Jewish community) in having me over for dinner every Friday night for a year, saying Kaddish, lighting candles and, yes, crying, kept me sane. I did not have the comfort of a time-tested ritual but made my own, having learned early on, its importance. Hugs to you, Debra!

    • Debra Woog

      Meg, I never knew this part of your story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Kaddish is a beautiful prayer. Perhaps it could be applied to divorce-related mourning as well?

  12. Shelly Aschkenase

    A post-divorce Mikvah is a great idea! I love the symbolism! Go, Debra!

    • Debra Woog

      Try it, you'll like it! 🙂

  13. Rita

    thank you for sharing Debra. beautifully written. i wish you peace.

    • Debra Woog

      Oh Rita, thank you. Peace is the name of the whole game, isn't it?

  14. Marcy Stahl

    What a beautiful experience! Congratulations on the incredible movement forward in your journey! And congrats again on being divorced 🙂

    • Debra Woog

      Thank you, Marcy. I never understood how divorce was worthy of congratulations until I experienced it for myself.

  15. Paula G

    What a beautiful way to mark the moment and a vulnerable way to share it. I'm so inspired by your courage and willingness to share this. Thrilled for this next step of transformation for you!
    My recent post Shed – Sift – Savor

    • Debra Woog

      Thank you, Paula! I am certainly willing to share. Grateful to have been able as well – that was a tough post to write.

  16. jodi

    Debra, your courage moves me every time you blog. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I am buoyed by your strength. Even though we don't know each other well, I am proud of you, if that's ok to say, and think you are truly remarkable!

    • Debra Woog

      Absolutely okay to say. I appreciate it! And I certainly hope that one day we will know each other better.

  17. Devra Weiss

    We talked a while back about the possibilities of this sort of ritual. It is wonderful to hear that it was so meaningful and transformational for you!

    • Debra Woog

      Yes, it's been a dream of mine for a long time to be ready for it. Ritual is so powerful.

  18. Christine Thomson

    So awesome Debra. I'm happy and proud of you. It's a process that is definitely NOT easy, but you were brave enough to do what's best for you and your family. Hugs to You!
    My recent post Christine’s Green Machine!

    • Debra Woog

      Christine, thank you! You have been a source of inspiration for me from when we first met, and I appreciate you!<p style=”font-size: 12px; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 3px; margin-left: 0px; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal Helvetica; “>

  19. Stefanie Frank

    Debra this is so moving. What came to me as I read was that this will also allow you to open up even more to possible future relationship(s). Love relationships, friendships, business, all of it. You are so incredibly brave my friend.
    My recent post What Do You Do When a Client Flakes on You?

    • Debra Woog

      Thanks, Stef. If it takes brave to know brave, I accept your term. More tears are coming now.

  20. Rochelle Weichman

    Well done, Debra. Thank you for sharing so beautifully. Wishing you the best in this next phase.

    • Debra Woog

      Thank you, Rochelle. It means a lot to me to hear from you in this way. Sending a hug!
      My recent post Full Immersion