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Therapy group deals with the

pain and loneliness of divorce


(May 27) When tears trickle into laughter, that change of heart marks a milestone.

"The loneliness, I don't know how anybody gets used to the loneliness" said Mike Post Tuesday, his voice straining with the loss of his 27-year marriage.

"There's a reporter here, maybe we could put your name and number in the paper," joked Susan Marshok, who's working to accept the guilt she had from leaving her ex-husband.

"Don't forget your measurements," advised divorcee John Lamb over the group's laughter. After all, Post's specifics Ñ blue eyes, brown hair, broad shoulders Ñ might encourage callers.

There was a pause. Members of the Simpson Creek Baptist Church's Divorce Care Group stared at the table, conflicting emotions tangible in their twisted smiles.

Kelly Gillot, whose divorce is just a year old, was the first to speak.

"A few weeks ago, we couldn't have laughed about this."

¨ ¨ ¨

In 1994, 9,000 West Virginia couples filed for divorce, according to statistics from Bridgeport counselor Nancy A. Rush's office.

Bridgeport counselor Delene Jurick, who leads the Divorce Care seminar, said that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce.

Because ending a marriage has become so common, it's easy to forget how painful it is.

Members of Divorce Care, a national 12-week Christian divorce recovery program, described losing a marriage as "confusion, a life-threatening disaster, mental and physical breakdown, the edge of sanity."

"It looks as if two people just decided not to live together or continue a life together," said Rush, a licensed certified social worker and licensed professional counselor. "But with the many factors, family disintegration, children, activities, finances and emotional and spiritual dissolvement, it's the major aspect of one's life. It's really 'a living death,' because that's what it feels like."

Divorce Care group member John Lamb said divorce is worse than death.

"I've lost both my parents and divorce is a million times worse," he said. "When someone dies you're living with memories rather than reality. You don't have to worry about walking through that door and seeing this person and wanting to hold them and tell them, ÔI love you,' and have them walk away and reject you, and then you have to go into the other room and start all over again.

"The only end to divorce is that the days between the bad days get farther apart," he said.

Rush, who will be consulting for a free divorce support group in the fall, said support groups are very therapeutic. People going through a divorce have lost the support of their spouse, the person who was always there before.

Two of the biggest factors to overcome, she said, are forgiveness and re-learning the art of trust.

"There is so much heart ache, so many things said, so many truths and untruths, it's hard to see the light," said Lamb, who was married for 26 years.

"The thing I always ask is, 'Is it fatal or is world peace hinging on it?' If not, it can be resolved," Rush said. Out of 20 couples she's counseled recently, only one marriage had ended in divorce, she added.

Although Rush said she tries to help couples work issues out, she also stressed that people aren't meant to live in relationships of abuse or neglect, either.

Morgantown psychologist Marion Kostka said whether a person is the divorced or the divorcer also affects the recovery.

Marshok was able to leave her marriage, but the guilt of ending the relationship lingered with her. In Divorce Care, she grappled with whether or not it was OK to leave.

Is it?

"Actually, it is," she said Tuesday.

Kostka, who does couples therapy as a couple with his wife, said there is no question that talking about divorce is helpful.

"Just talking about it is very therapeutic," he said. "In a group you get the validation that other people feel like you do going through a similar situation."

Lamb said he was skeptical about coming to the group at first.

Gillot didn't want to come either.

"I dreaded coming," Gillot said. "You have to dredge up all the feelings all over again and relive it every week."

The course features a weekly video, workbook exercises and group discussion session. Each week a different topic is covered, like anger, forgiveness and reconciliation. One night, an attorney comes to discuss legal issues. Some of the class members have been divorced for four or five years. Others are still just legally separated.

Divorce Care interested Gillot because it included issues concerning children.

Gillot's 9-year-old daughter Lauren is glad her mother decided to go.

"She doesn't cry as much any more," said Lauren, her honesty bringing tears to her mother's eyes. But it only took one tissue to wipe those tears away.

Gillot said she is strong now. Before the divorce, she didn't even drive anywhere. Before the divorce, she never went out alone.

"I didn't know how," she said, throwing out her hands. "Now I can get in the car and go anywhere."

When the group started 12 weeks ago, "none of us felt too terrific about ourselves," Gillot said. Under the gentle prodding of volunteer counselor Jurick, they are getting their self-respect back, they said.

"There was so much pain, insecurity and rejection," Jurick said of the group's first session. "I'm so thankful to see how they've started to bloom."

Still, there are slips. At one point Lamb speaks of his "wife."

"Your EX-wife," Jurick whispers from the hall.

Each of the six who volunteered to speak out of the 25-member class said they can see their progress.

Teacher Charlene Jacobs said joining a recovery seminar through her church provided something extra she was looking for in her recovery Ñ getting closer to God.

"You get so angry," she said, that sometimes religion fades into the background. Even today, she mists over when she thinks of how far she has come.

The seminar has even helped her to recognize and be sensitive to the signs of broken homes in children in her classroom. She can't believe, she said, that she didn't see them before.

Working through their pain with others has affected each of the 25 Divorce Care members in a unique way, but one seminar brought them all together.

"The most moving session was the other night, about forgiveness," Lamb said.

They joined hands and there wasn't a dry eye among them, Jurick said.

As part of that forgiveness, this week each member of Divorce Care is going to write a letter to their ex-spouse. Then, they are to bury it or burn it. Get a fresh start, Jurick said, put the past behind them.

And someday, it will be so far behind them, they'll laugh about it.