Turning to Middlemarch: A Diary of A Divorce

Turning to Middlemarch: A Diary of a Divorce, an upcoming book, is a 91, 000-word first-person journal of letters, my true-life vehicle for healing, after closing the door on a 30-year abusive marriage. 

Writing letters to the various characters in George Eliot's novel Middlemarch, who represented either parts of myself or people in my world, and listening to their wisdom (sometimes they even wrote back), I learned to call abuse by its name.  Tapping especially into George Eliot's famous idealistic heroine, Dorothea, I was able to push myself in the right direction: save thousands in therapy bills (though I did have a therapist, "Dr. Pena"), cure myself from an unrequited love, become a columnist for a newspaper, and fall in love with a wonderful man.

Turning to Middlemarch: A Diary of a Divorce covers the two-year period when I was suddenly husbandless, jobless and homeless -- consumed by feelings of grief and loss.  I wrote to characters as diverse as Celia who needed harmony, Mary who saw things for what they were, the wretched husband, the slow-moving lawyer, Rosy who found it hard to give up pretty things, Will, my unrequited love (who never had a word to say), and to George Eliot herself.

During the course of my two-year correspondence, I was able to move from despair and hopelessness to a future of unanticipated possibility. For while wounds from abuse can certainly take a lifetime to overcome, the power of literature, humor, journaling and self-knowledge are a powerful recipe for redemption. And mostly the sharing of our stories.

These are a few excerpts from the book pertaining to "Dr. Pena," my therapist.

February 18, 1998
A sekret ceases tew be a sekret if it iz once confided -- it iz like a dollar bill, once
broken, it iz never a dollar agin.  Josh Billings, His Sayings
Dear Mary,

I called Dr. Pena and made an appointment for tomorrow.  Okay, I can't simply deal with life as it's handed me, the way you would.  I can't get rid of an "inner wail" the way Dorothea would.  But I can figure out how to help myself.

P.S. Maybe I do keep secrets from you.  How can I trust that you won't tell and ruin people's reputations?  Dr. Pena has to keep secrets or he's out of a job.  His reputation depends on it.

May 5, 1998       
Resolved to take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.   

                           Louisa May Alcott

Dear Dorothea,

It's been too long my friend. I've been cruising along, busy, numbing out, every excuse you can name. Forgive me, but I wondered if writing you makes things worse -- too much attention to what I don't want to pay attention to. Dr. Pena cleared that up for me yesterday. "It's never a good idea to ignore what you are feeling. By naming your thoughts and feelings they lose their power over you." Of course, that doesn't mean getting sucked into every feeling.

The "psychosynthesis" book I'm reading is teaching me how to stay grounded and how to refuse to fall prey to every passing emotion. I'm learning about my "subpersonalities," the individual persona that we each have that we draw upon for every occasion. You must think I'm crazy with all these theories but, have patience, I'm simply trying to learn how to be more like you.

"We are all a crowd," the book warns. "The critic," "the flirt," "know-it-all," etc.; we all have our own crowd -- you know what I mean -- and can choose to tell them to "get lost." (You no doubt think I need a bit more of the "self-critic.")  Well, I've got "the pleaser," "the merger," "the controller," and many other companions on my "bus"  quite enough for any ride.

I'm also learning to use my will to make different choices. I'm practicing slowing down and not being such a creature of habit. That's a challenge for someone who either runs around in circles or can't get off the couch. The book suggests picking a feeling such as "peace" and meditating on it ten to fifteen minutes a day -- how your body feels when it is at peace, etc.  Eventually, we are told, we will be more peaceful and joyful humans without the meditation. I wanted to meditate on courage but just thinking about that word made me more tired. Dr. Pena agreed with me that "joy" or "hope" might be better choices for now.

He thinks this "psychosynthesis" is great stuff. He tells me I'm doing really well -- "very advanced in the process of divorce."  Don't ask me how or why. Must be your help, Dorothea. He says living with my friends is groundbreaking -- unheard of in his experience. That's another reason I'm doing so well. Most women going through a divorce have no choice but to live alone.

I don't want to live alone now. I'm not as self-sufficient as you were. That may change.  Sharing my life with friends I have to behave somewhat normally and at least get out of bed. I have the opportunity to help out and to be helped, to be part of something bigger than myself, to learn in relation to other people and not just have my own way. Isn't that what you would want for me?

Besides, what do I know besides family life? It isn't perfect here -- even though they are the most wonderful friends in the world. It's naturally a challenge to live with other human beings.

Dr. Pena says that if Diana and Joseph help me, and I help others, it's a circle of energy. I only wish the circle ended up back with Diana and Joseph who are always on the giving end. My volunteering is contributing to the world in a most positive way, he reassures me.

When I protest that perhaps others shouldn't help me, that maybe I should live alone to be brave, he says that making a lot of money, living alone to prove things to myself is my "super ego" and that "critic" on my bus. I'm sorry to tell you he wants me to stay away from those "shoulds." "You are very brave," he comforts me. "It would be stupid to be happy right now." 

"Write a book about your communal living," he advises. So for a while, dear Dorothea, I will probably stay put, thanks to Diana and Joseph, who reassure me that they want me to be here. I may change my mind tomorrow, but it feels right for now.

The rain is pouring down.  I'm lucky to have all these choices. Many of the women I've met this year have so few options.  I don't have to leave the house the rest of the day. When I finish writing, I'm going to curl up in bed and read and count my blessings. I'll meditate on " peace" (maybe for five minutes) and listen to the rain. It doesn't seem fair to be so lucky. Perhaps the real sin is not realizing it -- I hear you.

Being content when I am not happy -- forging on and being brave, appreciating my choices, these are the only acceptable "shoulds." How we choose to live and to be with the deck we are handed  well, that's what this story is all about, Dorothea. With you driving my bus, I have the choice and the chance to get where I need to be.

June 26, 1998
   Those not present are always wrong.  Philippe Nericault, L'Obstacle Imprévu

Dear Dorothea,

I saw Dr. Pena today and by the time I rushed through telling him about my month, the hour was up. I told him about the effect the book on abuse had on me. I rattled on about Emma and the wedding I had attended and about my dream of Will. He must think just the telling is important. (He's the professional, Dorothea, so you'd better believe him and not be so impatient.)

   At the end of the session, I took the same test for depression I had taken last spring when Dr. Pena put me on medication. I am, interestingly enough, only borderline depressed -- very minimal now, Dorothea, almost negligible.  What do you think of that? What they worry most about is the disruption in bodily functions. Since I eat well, sleep well, and can concentrate and go to work, he doesn't put much weight on feelings of hopelessness or crying jags.  (I guess jumping off a cliff on a full stomach is okay.)  I'm glad -- I don't want to go back on medication, but I also don't want to be depriving myself of help if I need it.
So stick with me, baby, we're making progress, despite the swollen eyes.

November 22, 1998       
When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail,
       and black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the specters' holiday -- then is the ghosts' high noon!
                   Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, Ruddigore

Dear Middlemarch friends,

I hear you laughing. Still, thanks to all of you, Dr. Pena has pronounced me a sage. He especially loved all the advice you generously gave me recently.  In hearing parts of my journal, he said that I'm able to get out of my ego. Thanks again to you. In answer to my plaintive question, Dr. Pena believes that whether or not we meet our heart's desire is irrelevant; we have the same journey either way, the same angst to work out in the universe. Although I understand what he means, I suggested to him that if he were alone, he wouldn't want to remain that way. Human happiness matters. I'm to set up an appointment if I feel the need during some upcoming key challenges: the sale of the house, court, etc. And that, my friends is that. If I start wailing into his machine, he joked, he'll squeeze me in. (The omniscient narrator reports that this was the last visit.)

P.S. Dr. Pena was delighted that my journal comes from hidden deep recesses within me -- and that I don't even know where any of my writing comes from, or how it happens. The unconscious, he believes, is the wellspring of creativity.  Forgive me, Dorothea, but I do believe that's how God wails through us humans.

c2002 Marianne Evans

Marianne Evans [pseudonym] writes a column on issues of social justice for north eastern newspapers has been published in national magazines. She has received a special award for her writing on domestic violence.

Of Marianne's work, one writer notes:
"[Marianne's] profound compassion for those who have been left behind in this age of affluence and her surprising insight into situations most of us blithely overlook will wake you up to the world ordinarily beyond the scope of the American media. You will blink your eyes, you will gaze deeply at a truth you have not seen before, and you will be very grateful that [Ms. Evans] has taken up the craft of journalism."

Marianne's writing career began at age 51, with Turning to Middlemarch: A Diary of a Divorce, after she left her abusive marriage.