Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Text Message That Saved My Life: Finding Healing as an Adult Child of Divorce

Stephanie Gulya with her husband Nate and sons Xander, Joseph and Gabriel.
Stephanie Gulya with her husband Nate and sons Xander, Joseph and Gabriel.

Four years ago, I found myself in a dark place. Confused, angry, scared and overwhelmed, I was on a seemingly endless emotional roller coaster, with no end in sight. It was May of 2020, at the peak of the COVID shutdowns, and all these events were pressing into wounds and insecurities from my past which I had worked so hard to keep under control.

The first time I saw a possibility to end this emotional roller coaster ride was when a friend sent me a simple text message asking me to join an online support group he was running. It was through a ministry called Life-Giving Wounds, a healing ministry for adult children of divorce and separation, ACODs in shorthand. Although I knew at the time that this text was an answer to my prayers, I could never have foreseen just how much healing and hope God had in store for me through Life-Giving Wounds.

My parents divorced when I was two years old. It has only been recently that I have begun to realize how strange it is to have no memories of living in an intact home (a home with a married mother and father). The sad reality is that my parents’ divorce was always normal for me. Normal because it was the only reality I remembered.

Growing up, I saw my dad every other weekend for the first few years after my parents’ divorce. By the time I entered first grade, he had remarried, had a son with his new wife and moved to another state. I acted as if this was just how life was. But, deep inside, I felt he had found a new—and better—family; I felt like he had moved on and left me and my sister behind.

I would like to add here that I had many happy times growing up. My mom sacrificed more than I can ever imagine to provide a secure and loving home for my sister and me. Yet, no matter how hard she might try, she could never replace my dad’s presence in my life. I feel that a few lines from a poem I wrote called ‘Holy Home’ describe this best:

A broken home,
Four broken hearts;
A broken family,
Love torn apart.

A longing deep,
For a home as one;
A dream unrealized,
Vision ne’er to come.

I spent the remainder of my school years pretending. Pretending that I was doing wonderfully; pretending that I was the perfect daughter; pretending that I was the perfect student; pretending that I was the perfect friend. From an outsider’s perspective, I looked amazingly successful. I graduated high school at the top of my class and earned a full tuition scholarship to a private college. However, on the inside, I was anxious, depressed, afraid and utterly terrified that someone would see how fragile I really was.

A few months into my freshman year of college, I had my first panic attack. It was triggered during daily Mass when I became keenly aware of how often the word “Father” was repeated in the liturgy, followed by waves of panic and distrust that I had buried deep within my heart for over a decade. That panic attack made me realize how deeply I was wounded by my parents’ divorce and my father’s abandonment of our family. I no longer had the energy to continue to hide my wounds and pain.

From that point on, I acknowledged the pain and even received some level of healing. However, despite my best efforts, the pain returned again and again, leaving me wondering if I was a failure since I was not ‘over it’ yet. After all, shouldn’t it be that simple? Acknowledge the problem, work on the problem, solve the problem?

A dozen years later, I received a text that changed everything. It was a text inviting me to look into Life-Giving Wounds. As soon as I heard about the very existence of such a ministry, a ministry for adult children of divorce, I felt a jolt of joy and a burden being lifted off my shoulders. For the first time, I was not alone in my pain. I was surrounded by people dealing with the same wound, and I did not have to “get over” my pain by a certain deadline. Life-Giving Wounds gave me a space to heal and a place for my voice to be heard.

It’s been almost four years since I was first introduced to Life-Giving Wounds. Since then, I have participated in their retreats, small groups, book studies and their spring online support group. I also contribute articles to their blog. The healing journey that began in earnest with that first text message invitation has continued to deepen and unfold, helping me to receive love and to be received in love.

This article is my life-saving text to you; it is my personal invitation to any adult child of divorce or separation to start (or continue) your own healing journey with Life-Giving Wounds.

Life-Giving Wounds is opening a chapter in the Diocese of Harrisburg. The kick-off event is a retreat at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg, April 12-14. Interested participants can register at www.hbgdiocese.org/event/life-giving-wounds-retreat, or email Melissa Maleski at mmaleski@hbgdiocese.org with any questions or concerns.

When speaking of divorce, Jesus said, “From the beginning; it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8) The angst and wounds from your parents’ divorce or separation neither defines who you are nor condemns you to a life of pain. There is hope. There is restoration. I am praying for you, and I look forward to joining you as we travel this broken road of healing together.

(Stephanie Gulya is a member of St. John Neumann Parish in Lancaster. See her video testimony about Life-Giving Wounds at this link on the Diocese’s Youtube channel.)

By Stephanie Gulya, Special to The Witness

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