The life I once led.

Eight years ago today I headed west. I had no idea what I might do, no idea that I was about to be reborn. In fact, I couldn’t see any kind of future for myself. The only thing I knew for sure was that the life I’d lived up until that moment was no longer bearable.

I left while my then-husband, also a writer, was covering an event several states away. The day before I’d flattened a rear tire in my Chevy Cavalier to keep him from driving it instead of his own vehicle. (Mine got better mileage.) After getting the tire repaired, I packed what would fit into the little sedan, put Liz Phair’s “The Divorce Song” on the CD player and peeled out.

In less than three days I drove from Chicago to Seattle, a trip made notable by the fact that I somehow managed to get a speeding ticket in Montana.

That sounds glib, but both the marriage and my reasons for leaving were deadly serious. A blog post isn’t the right place to explain them. I’m reminded of an editor of mine who used to cut the living daylights out of overly long newspaper articles — specifically, the things that we amused ourselves writing but that didn’t really belong there. We whined, but he was implacable: “Save it for the book.”

What I can say is that leaving wasn’t an easy solution. The next two years were tough: the interminable legal gavotte that is divorce, two more moves, my daughter’s continuing health problems, long-term counseling (diagnosis: chronic adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood, plus panic attacks thrown in for good measure), the rapid draining of my savings account. Yet slowly I learned to let go of some of the old sorrows and to think about crafting the person I wanted to become.

There was much to appreciate: the freedom of ordering my own days, the kindness of friends, the shocking beauty of a blue jay flashing among winter blackberry vines. That first autumn, a gold leaf on a sidewalk transfixed me because I was seeing it, really seeing it. For years, I had mostly seen gray.

The bus that took me to the therapist’s office went past a community college. Week after week I saw that damned college sign both coming and going. I’d managed only one year of college 30 years previously. Now that I had no job, maybe it was time to try again even though I was not only broke but terrified that I would have to take math courses. My last math class had been in 1973.

I did have to take math: two quarters of it. But somehow I got through that first year of college, supporting myself (and mostly supporting my daughter) with work-study, freelance writing and several part-time jobs plus the dabs left in my savings account. The only days of school I missed were the two that I needed to fly to Chicago to finalize my divorce.

To inspire, or to make sense of my life?

A few months after the divorce I earned a three-year scholarship to the University of Washington, where I majored in the Comparative History of Ideas (a type of humanities degree). When it was time to write an undergraduate thesis, I decided my topic should be “the middle-aged woman in America today.”

It felt wrong from the start. I knew I wanted to address issues such as sexism, patriarchy, poverty, motherhood, work and male-female relationships. But I didn’t want to support these subjects solely with facts and figures. I wanted to write about them from where I stood.

An entry from my CHID thesis class notebook, dated April 24, 2009, indicates the turmoil I felt about structure:

“I cannot write this as a scholarly paper – the subject is too personal. They say the personal is political. In this case, the personal is essential – if I treat my experience as a case study, then I am holding my life at arm’s length and inviting the reader to do so, too.

“Do I write it only to inspire, or do I write to make sense of my life? … Do I write for myself, my mother, my daughter or for all women? My experience is not universal; there are women who faced more abuse, more poverty, fewer options. But I do believe we take inspiration from lives that are dissimilar…by reading past [the] details to the truths contained in another’s experiences.

“Do I put on paper that which I cannot speak?”

In the introduction to her book Trash, the fierce and luminous writer Dorothy Allison notes that she tries to incite specific feelings, “realizations I wanted people to experience” – grief, anger, the need for change.

“I wrote to release indignation and refuse humiliation, to admit fault and to glorify the people I loved who were never celebrated. I wrote to celebrate. I wrote to take a little revenge, and sometimes to make clear that revenge was not what I was doing.”

Allison herself has lived a life steeped in anger, raging against the system that set her family up to fail. She was born to a girl who had just turned 15, born into

“…a condition of poverty that this society finds shameful, contemptible and somehow oddly deserved, [that] has had dominion over me to such an extent that I have spent my life trying to overcome or deny it. … We knew ourselves despised. What was there to work for, to save money for, to fight for or struggle against? We had generations before us to teach us that nothing ever changed, and that those who did try to escape failed.”

She began to write out of anger, “to stop my own rage.” But it’s clear that she was being eaten up by the need not just to testify, but to understand. “If I die tomorrow,” Allison writes, “I want to have gotten this down.”

The essays and short stories in “Trash” are undeniably autobiographical, yet may also be fiction. Its refusal to be one or the other makes it similar to Gloria Anzaldúa’s “Borderlands/La Frontera,” a mix of essays, poetry, history, family stories and maybe-fiction. Both are hybrid artifacts, documents that are not so much autobiography as autobiographical literature: Some things that are absolutely true and some things that represent a particular truth.

Are such stories true, i.e., did they really happen? There is no answer to that question. In this case, to be “truthful” is to be true to the facts as you understand and experience them through your particular politics of location.

What if I hadn’t gone?

That said, the things I write are true – or, rather, my understandings of them are true. I lived them. I experienced them. No doubt the other actors would have their own versions of “truth.” For example, my ex-husband would almost certainly see himself as a victim. And I am frankly afraid to broach certain subjects with my daughter: Because I myself have not yet healed, I do not know how to listen deeply enough.

But I have hope. My studies helped me understand why my life turned out the way it did. They also strengthened my resolve. For far too long I felt powerless. I will not live that way again.

How do I make peace with my past? Perhaps by accepting it while refusing to accept it, i.e., by understanding it and trying to move beyond it. The philosopher Michel Foucault suggests that the past is not immutable, which I take to mean that history can be shaped – that is, its impact on the present day can be changed.

That is why I write: to make sense of my own history, and also to encourage others to examine theirs. I want them to question their lives, and to think about the possibility of living in ways that are rewarding rather than merely tolerable.

Life is not a discrete and unchanging destination, a country that can be mined for a specific, easily extractable resource called “happiness” or, worse, “stability.” Stability is a story that we tell ourselves so we feel good about staying right where we are in our lives. But life is a series of risks. It is our duty, and our responsibility, to embrace those risks.

In the past few years I have undergone significant life changes. None of it was easy, but all of it was worth the effort, the exhaustion and the very real pain that often accompany any major life upheaval.

I can say with some authority that sometimes, change really stinks. But I can also say that while change is scary, it is not the end of the story. Change is the chance to rewrite the story – or, rather, to take it in a new direction.

“Direction” is the operative word. I want to direct the course of the rest of my life, rather than to live as passively and fatalistically as I once did.

Then, I could never have imagined the life I’m living now. And now? I can’t imagine the life I’d be leading if I’d stayed.

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  1. Thanks for this post, Donna. The timing was perfect for some things I’ve been thinking about and struggling with. I didn’t know you then, but I appreciate the person (and writer) you are now, very much.

  2. Thank you! This is a shining example of how women seem to (more often than not) pull up their big girl panties and overcome adversity. I had to save myself as well. I had some of the same things to overcome. After 15 years, I am mostly healed. I continue to evolve. I continue to challenge myself NOT to allow the old fears to dictate portions of my life… mostly self-worth. I will survive.

    Thank you for sharing about your journey. I have begun to make my life more about adventure these days.

  3. jestjack

    Few have the opportunity and/or the courage to seize the opportunity to make change in their lives. It seems you have made the most of your opportunity. Congrats on your “independence day” and best wishes in the future.

  4. I’ve followed your online writings off and on through the years. It has been really interesting to follow your life developments. You are truly and inspiration!

    Thank you for this post.

  5. Thank you for writing this and good for you for realizing what’s most important and making the necessary changes to improve your situation.

  6. Thank you for this.

  7. Jennifer

    Well said, Donna. As a fellow middle-aged woman in the process of retrospection and dreaming, I can completely relate.

  8. Ah the divorce song. Still a classic.

    “I want to direct the course of the rest of my life, rather than to live as passively and fatalistically as I once did.”

    Precisely. This is the same big realization I had with my divorce and it’s not just one big a-ha moment, it’s more like a steady unfolding of revelations. Very empowering.

  9. Donna, You have become such a dynamic and powerful writer! I have been following you since Surviving and Thriving first went viral back in your college days and I have to say, you have really come into your own as a writer. Excellent. And good for you on all counts.

  10. SherryH

    This is really good, Donna. Good is such a limp adjective, but everything else I try sounds too thesaurus-y to me… It’s touching, it’s inspiring, it’s profound without being all puffed-up and self-important and wordy. (I love the detail about letting the air out of your tire so your ex wouldn’t take your car. Hah. That was good thinking, right there.)

    Thank you for sharing your life with us, the details you’re comfortable sharing, at least. And if that book ever does get written*, put me down for a copy. We’re not doing much personal spending at the moment, but for your memoir/reminiscences I’d find a way. You’ve got a very powerful story to tell.

    * In your copious spare time, of course…

  11. Wow. I knew you were divorced and going through a lot of midlife changes, but I had no idea what was behind it! You sound like a very strong person to navigate all of this, and kudos to you for getting the help you need and knowing what you can and cannot handle–as well as understanding the whys and figuring out the hows.

    And yes, I’m totally with you on the moments of joy you see every day.

    Also–it’s a pity you aren’t in New England. I have a feeling we could swap books quite happily.

  12. Hi Donna,

    First of all, congrats on the diagnosis – definitely one that can be overcome – considering all that you have been through, it is a workable diagnosis. Also, I think having an accurate diagnosis lends validation and understanding to your struggles. I agree with you that the key to healing is to to accept your past experiences without “accepting” the abuse. I have been a therapist for over 20 years and the biggest obstacle I see in women is failure to let the past be the past. Yes, the abuse happened and it was both wrong and horrible, but you must find a way to let it be a part of your past and not intrude in your present or future. Easy words, difficult task.

    I, too, have watched your evolution as an independent woman. You are a therapist’s dream come true – you worked hard and have made wonderful changes in your life. Truly a success story! Congratulations on becoming the woman you were meant to be – strong, independent, and phenomenal!

  13. bareheadedwoman

    thanks for this. as you say, all lives intersect at various points. When i was much younger and had more future and more naivete i packed a uhaul and drove through a hurricane to escape a despairing life and make a stand for a new one….now 15 years later, serious questions of a different but parallel nature have reared ugly heads and nirvana may mean running back.

    i needed to know that yes, it can be done all over again if it needs to be.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bareheadedwoman: At this point, you probably already know the answer to whether or not “it can be done all over again if it needs to be.”
      And I gently disagree that you had “more future” then than you do now. More years, yes. More future? That depends on how you decide to use the years you still have.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  14. Darlene

    Life on this side of the grey has far more color in it than you realized, eh? Living a joyful life is the only way to live a life. Kudos, Donna!

  15. Hi Donna,

    Although I regularly read your blog and other postings(MSN and Get Rich Slowly), I have never commented before. However, I just had to this time. I see you as a strong, independent woman and a great writer. It impresses even more me knowing the challenges you have gone through. I don’t always agree with your suggestions or method but you are always funny and interesting. Congratulations on making to a point where others (myself) see you as a successful role model.

  16. Oh, wow. You spoke to my heart today. After finding myself broken, I have realized that the new person I am has a future too; she’s different (and apparently, today, this means she’s to be discussed in the third person).

    I’ve discovered a passion for math – of all things – and what you are now is a vector: you have both magnitude and direction. I recently read Julia Child’s My Life in France, and she sounded like I felt in this mid-life change of mine. If you haven’t read it, perhaps this book would be pleasant company for a bit.

  17. Donna Freedman

    Thanks to everyone for thoughtful comments and good wishes. Oh, and for listening. 🙂

  18. I am so moved by your article that I am holding back the tears. You have so much courage and your story is so inspiring. Maybe I am reading between the lines and imagining that your story is similar to mine. I left my husband 17 years ago as a relatively young woman when my son was a baby and I have brought him up on my own. I have had one (disastrous) short relationship since but basically have lived many happy years as a single mother. I have achieved many goals, jumped many hurdles and faced many obstacles. Now as a 52 year old middle aged underpaid teacher, I face many new challenges. My son whilst not financially independent(he is in college) is reared and I have a new freedom. I look to your writings for inspiration and ideas.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ash: Yours sounds like a challenging yet ultimate rewarding journey. I commend you.
      A middle-aged teacher of my acquaintance just got laid off (private school, no union). I hope that’s not the situation you’re facing.
      Thank you for your kind words, and for reading Surviving and Thriving.

  19. Donna – I love reading your blog (and your new Frugal Cool site, and your columns..). I am blown away at how well you write. Some blog (I’m throwing my hat into the ring!) but you tell stories, amaze, inspire, amuse.. I am certainly glad you made that choice!

  20. nadine perry

    Great article!! You truly embrace the feelings many of us have(including myself). Change can be terrifying, but when you look back and realize how exciting changes are, it makes it all worthwhile.

    Thank you for your story.

  21. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us – you continue to inspire me with your strength and wisdom. Thank you for giving me the little prod I needed to make a decision I’ve been weighing….

  22. Reta Davis

    …and what a woman you have become and will continue to become. I rather like who you are now (oh, you noticed!) Thanks for posting this one. We all like to hear a good success story. May you continue on this path (“oh,” again, I just know you will.) Yer friend, Reta

  23. What a thoughtful and honest post. I admire you for having the courage to seek out a new life on your own terms, which many people only dream of doing. (I have to admit I also admire you for only missing two classes in college, which is refreshing to hear after hearing so many excuses from students on why they have to miss class again and again and again.)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Neurotic Workaholic: If I hadn’t shown up, I think the divorce court judge might have had a few words for me. But I couldn’t stay any longer — I had a test on Friday.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  24. Wow, i am speechless, that you can write with an open heart, and bare this to the world. I learned something, when we can acknowledge the part we play in our mistakes (not always blaming the other party for things that hurt) we also take back the power from the public to beat us over the head with our personal mistakes..been down that road many times (especially with men)…?
    Married for the 3rd and FINAL time, 23 years now. I married younger this time 😉 . . .but truth be told, i don’t mind the single life either (single mother for 10 years before remarrying). There is nothing wrong with being single and nothing wrong with being married. I left my first marriage, because i was being beaten all the time, one of these days i figured i was going to die . . IF i didn’t leave…so i apologized to God and said, i had to go. 2nd hubs tried the “mastery over wife” exercise, and well….wasn’t happening in my book…i am too rebellious for that. What do they say about Wild Hearts? They Can’t Be Broken? I walk a much straighter path today (with biblical principles), but i still can be my own person. Kudos to you for being so bold, there are many women out there that are simply terrified of their future to leave….they are the ones who need to read…on

  25. Thank you for sharing your story. You made me think. I am trying to find my new direction, to find the new life so that the old is truly in the past. It’s very difficult but I know you understand that. It’s a journey, not a race, and I’m trying to make my journey worthwhile.

  26. Alane Farmer

    And it is this raw and honest writing that makes you my hero. You are the best.

  27. Wonderful article and judging from the comments, you aren’t alone in having successfully faced adversity! Kudos to all the courageous women reading or responding to your blog. I left an alcoholic husband almost 30 years ago with great fear and anguish. I am happy to report that I have been happily remarried for 25 years. It scares me to death to imagine what my life would be like now if I had not taken the leap of faith to leave when I did. Congratulations on taking control of your life.

  28. Your readers are such a blessing for you. If you get to an emotional low, just re read these comments as if God Himself spoke them to you.

    As always, I wish you all the best on your new climb up the mountain.

  29. ImJuniperNow

    Kinda like “Sleeping with the Enemy” but without the wedding ring in the toilet and the deadly ending.

    Articles like this bring me closer to shaking off my own inertia. It’s so hard to leave that comfort zone!

    So much to be proud of and so far to go, eh Donna?

  30. Your story is so inspirational and mirrors a lot my past financial struggles (minus the divorce part). I often find myself wondering about what would life be like if I hadn’t gotten my act together? And I know for a fact, I could have never truly seen myself where I am today even a mere 6 years ago. It’s amazing how attitudes, situations, and goals change over time.

  31. “I am holding my life at arm’s length and inviting the reader to do so, too.” — that’s a beautiful summary of the process of holding up our own lives, through writing, and examining it in a way that’s honest and slightly-objective but also emotional.

    You’ve come so far, Donna, and I admire you a lot, as many of your readers do.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Paula: I think you misread that paragraph. I was actually saying that if I treated my experiences as a case study, I’d be holding my own life at arm’s length, i.e., not allowing any emotion in — which would in turn make it hard for readers to care.
      Thanks for your kind words, even so.

  32. hmbalison

    This is a brave post. You inspire me with your willingness to take chances and to change. I’m facing a similar need to change my life–not divorce but how I interact with challenging teenage children–and I’m taking a lesson from you to do the hard stuff.

    Thank you.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Hmbalison: Challenging teenage children are, well, challenging. Have you ever heard of that book, “Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager”? See if your library has it.
      I hope you can establish some parameters (this far and no further) and insist on respectful airing of differences. My best wishes for outcomes that serve all.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  33. Mitofrd

    Thank you.


  34. Ro in San Diego

    I also want to thank you for sharing your life with your readers. I almost always can identify with your articles/posts as we are almost exactly the same age.

    I chuckled as you wrote of being hit upon in a hostel in Europe, and lamented when you were mugged in the US.

    I am always happy to hear of any woman getting out of a bad situation and finding a way, or ways to prevail.

    I think you’re a role model for women “of a certain age” everywhere!

    Go “You”!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ro in San Diego: Women of a certain age can be a very potent force. But you already knew that.

  35. Vicky Fox

    Both change and direction have become the operative words now:) It’s funny how we seem to be going through those same things at the same time.

  36. Donna,
    You are an incredible person! Through your writing I can sense the pain you have endured without feeling sorry for yourself. There have been few major events in my life. However, I am sure there will be more as life just has a way of throwing curveballs at you. I can only hope I do it with the courage and perserverance you have shown through your experiences.

  37. Donna, Thanks for a powerful and inspiring post. Our family went through a huge move five years ago, fraught with uncertainty yet hopeful how things would turn out. Yet with the difficulty of such a change, and the ups and downs we were glad we made these choices. Your post made me think how different things would be had we chosen to stay. Thanks for a powerful and inspiring post. There’s a reason why you’re on my “favorite writers” list!

  38. A very powerful piece. Forgive me if this is inappropriate, but is your ex also in the process of healing?

  39. I consider myself very lucky to call you my friend. You never stop amazing me. You and your words are powerful.

  40. I remember your posts for MSN Money and just want to say that I always admired your work. I didn’t know details of your back story but I felt it was different from the “typical” finance blogger. At that time, most of the people I read seemed to have led the typical middle-class life and were talking about college debts. It’s important to hear other voices and you inspire a lot of people.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Oilandgarlic: Thank you. And I think you’re right: Some writers can’t imagine why folks in debt don’t just skip one latte a day.
      I’m not being snarky here. I’m saying they literally cannot imagine what it would be like to, say, have to spend 75% of your minimum-wage paycheck just for rent. They’ve never been in that position. They’ve never had a family member be unemployed or on disability. They’ve never been a divorced working parent who can just about keep the books balanced and who at this time has zero time left to take advantage of advice like “Get a second job” or “Go back to school.”
      It’s not just the writers, though: Some readers also suffer from that disconnect. I read a comment today on another blog written by a reader who thought hospitals should be allowed to decide whether or not they would treat the uninsured who came to the emergency room.
      Look, I know the system we have now isn’t working. But apparently this man cannot imagine what it would be like to have no insurance and be suffering intense pain/watching a loved one suffer intense pain. Would he really want to die/have a spouse or child die from peritonitis after a burst appendix because no hospital that would provide treatment?
      Disconnect. Big-time.
      Thanks for reading.

  41. WWII Kid

    It’s not just writers – – – My boss, an attorney, recently said to me “I had no idea that some families live on only $25k a year”. And then she got into her top of the line SUV. . . . .

  42. I fell out laughing (a Baltimore expression) over the flat tire. Good thing I’m sitting her alone in my house.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nancy: It’s funny now, even to me — but at the time, it caused a tremendous amount of anxiety.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  43. This is the most amazing blog ever. 🙂 I truly love your writing style and choice of all words. OH how I can relate to the skipping out on the soon to be ex. Been there. I also can relate to the ending….so glad I went through all I have to be where I ended up. Poor. Under $30k a year…but happy, frugal and blessed. I can honestly say that LIFE IS GOOD. It’s what we make it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lana in MI: Thanks for your kind comment. And yeah, sometimes the trade-offs are worth it. I feel blessed to be able to lead the life I’ve been given.

  44. Mohammed J.A. Umoru

    Good day dear Donna, i must commend ‘Ur efforts for taking that bold step into the unknown realm of courage & turning ‘Ur life arround by over coming that fear of Maths.Divorce is a devastatingly painfull subject to discuss let alone admit(only if it’s inevitable as it drains in all aspects) .You inspire me & I believe others too,to face their fears head on,well done.I wish to take-up writing & Edit(ing as an adittional means of earning an income can you help me in chipping some contacts? Thanks & keep on with ‘Ur efforts, God bless us all.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Mohammed: Breaking into writing/editing is not the matter of just a few contacts. It’s becoming the best writer you can be and working your way up through the ranks, as it were, to gain the clips and experience you’ll need to get the higher-profile jobs.
      The Internet is rife with opportunities, but also with potential ripoffs. I frequently hear about people who write articles and are never paid. One place that offers advice and warnings (and has a jobs board) is Preditors & Editors:
      Look for websites and online communities maintained by other writers, too. You may learn of jobs that way but you will definitely learn more about the industry that way, too. And it’s a good place to vent when you’ve had a frustrating day.
      I wish you luck. Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  45. Donna,
    I adored this piece! Being on the upper side of 50, divorced, then widowed, now trying to “be me,” you gave me a breath of fresh air. For now, I’m in a 40-hour a week job, even though I have the luxury of working at home. Writing is my love, and I’m currenty working on my first novel.

    Your work is amazing, and I’ll keep reading!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Marly: I’m 54 myself, and some days I feel I’m just getting started. In a good way.
      May I suggest you go to the “Popular posts” button at the top of the home page and read “Turning invisibility into stealth”? More of the same. 🙂
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  46. Donna, a beautiful examination of your latest journey through this craziness we call life. I am around your age and know some of what you feel. Thank you for sharing.

  47. A most beautiful post Donna. Thanks for sharing with us your journey. Seems like no matter how hard one thinks the road, it’s really not that bad in retrospect. I can relate to the bluejay!

  48. Lorrain

    Great article! Thanks for sharing. I too did the hard thing and divorced. Unfortunately, It took me many more years to gain the courage to move several states away to start over and spent many years dealing with my ex-husband’s and his family’s and even my own family’s lies and shredding of my reputation. My salary may not be great, but at least I don’t have someone spending it all on porn and strippers, while telling me that it is my fault because I wasn’t beautiful enough. Your frugal tips have been so helpful to me. Thanks and keep them coming!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lorrain: Thanks for your comment. Your attitude reminds me of a lyric from a 1970s women’s rock band called The Deadly Nightshade (anybody else here remember them?):
      “Susie’s got some diamond rings and Susie’s got some furs
      “Susie rides in half a dozen cars, but none of them is hers.
      “Now I ain’t got no caviar, and I ain’t got much wine
      “All I’ve got is my body and soul — but, baby, all of that is mine.”
      You rock, too, Lorrain.

  49. Connie Donkin

    Wonderful article and thought provoking!! I am older myself and have faced many of the things you have. I finally got the courage to get out of the rut, take a big chance before I went under completely! One of the hardest thing we have to do is realize what we’re doing isn’t working and step out of our comfort zone and give life a chance again. Thank again for your words and they are very encouraging to me in my journey.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Connie: Thanks for your kind words. At some point someone who is also in a rut or wants to make a change may ask you for advice. It sounds like you already have your answer prepared: “Step out of (y)our comfort zone and give life a chance again.”

  50. Unlike you I didn’t leave, I was the one who was jilted (in a way). And I desperately tried to win back my ex because I found out a few weeks after we broke up that I was pregnant with our second child. But after a lot of thinking I decided that it’s better we are apart and I’m happy now that we never got back. I am now heading in the right direction. I would never would have been afforded this opportunity had we two stayed together. It’s been 2 years now and I am now with somebody else who “enables” me to keep going in the direction where I want to go.

  51. I am at a crossroads now… And stumbling upon this article especially the feedbacks is so enlightening for me. Gives me hope for a life of joy and not sadness…

    • Donna Freedman

      @Maria: I wish you strength for the journey. (And my life is now more joyful than sad. Lots more.)
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  52. You are amazing, Donna!! Wow!! When is that book coming out? I have never read an article so clear about real life and pain. Then you just take huge risks because you have to or fade and die.

    I wish I could write like you. I have been following you for a long time with your frugal articles. Yes, you have a handle on frugality because you had to master the art to survive. And you have taken all of us with you on the frugal quest. But, you are much more than a great writer about how to save money. You are a woman who has lived the “dream” and found it lacking then left on your life quest to define the life you deserve. What courage!!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sarah: Wow. Thank you for your kind words. I don’t know if a book really is coming out, but I’ve been asked whether I would do this. Maybe if time allows.
      And incidentally: You should write like you, not like me. But I thank you for the thought.

  53. Joanna Milligan

    It’s hard to start over, but exciting and rewarding at the same time. I have been married four times, and have two children from marriage number one. When I tell people that they say “what went wrong, it couldn’t be all their fault, that’s quite a track record”? I just tell them, “I don’t blame any of them, it’s me …my picker is broken”! lol. I finally fixed the problem, a male room mate/friend takes the edge off of being impulsive and quick to date again. I realized that I was bored, so I dated……now I have all these wonderful creative hobbies that come first, that I find more satisfying. Thank God for Men-o-pause, never thought I could be so “content in my singleness”. Donna, I think it’s great you moved to Washington, what a great state to start a new life. My father always said ” You need to ask yourself, if this is good as it gets do you really want it”?

  54. This is wonderful and eerily true. Thank you. (52 year old woman, son with me full time, going through a two year divorce).

    • Donna Freedman

      Mine took right up to the two-year mark as well. At that point, a judge would have gotten involved and called us both on the carpet. But I believed my divorce lawyer when she said, “The first person who talks loses,” and bided my time waiting for him to make a move.

      Thanks for reading.


  1. link love « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured - [...] Freedman talks about some of her darker past and getting past [...]
  2. Read It! | Funny about Money - [...] The Life I Once Led. Donna Freedman. [...]
  3. Thanks, Dad, for useful life skills. | Surviving and Thriving - [...] I was at my lowest point financially Dad made a trip to Seattle. During the visit we went to…
  4. A matter of timing. | Surviving and Thriving - [...] timer was one of the things I made sure to grab when I fled my marriage. My mother had…
  5. Why I have life insurance. | Surviving and Thriving - [...] six years ago I was a midlife college student and in debt after a divorce that had dragged on…
  6. 25 Ways to Give (Without Breaking the Bank) | - [...] time I’ll write a check to a food bank. I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades, including…
  7. 25 Ways to Give (Without Breaking the Bank) — Feederoo.com - [...] write a check to a food bank. I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades, including a span…
  8. If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? | Surviving and Thriving - [...] couple of decades later, while turning my life upside down, I decided to go for a degree. I lucked…
  9. 7 ways to save money on Valentine’s Day gifts. (And maybe win $500 cash.) | Surviving and Thriving - [...] Cooking = love. When I was going through a divorce and attending college in midlife, I was pretty broke.…
  10. 7 Ways to Spend Little or Nothing on Valentine’s Day | Money Talks News - [...] I was going through a divorce and attending college in midlife, I was pretty broke. Among the frugal holiday…
  11. Midlife love rocks! (Ask me how I know.) | Surviving and Thriving - [...] I’ve written about topics such as leaving a marriage, going broke, midlife invisibility, paying off debt and seeking a…
  12. Is it ever too late to start saving? | Surviving and Thriving - [...] can testify, having run through my own savings in my 40s while waiting for a divorce to go through.…
  13. Is It Ever Too Late to Start Saving? | Money Talks News - [...] can testify, having run through my own savings in my 40s while waiting for a divorce to go through.…
  14. It helps to have goals - [...] I’ll just have to stop planning and step off into it. This won’t be an easy life. As Donna…
  15. Need a reason to save? Here’s a $10,000 reason. | Surviving and Thriving - [...] have made a major difference in my life, especially when I was a broke single mother and a broke…
  16. Termination dust. | Surviving and Thriving - […] time with MSN Money changed my life. In almost seven years I went from being an emotionally broken middle-aged…
  17. I’m through explaining. | Surviving and Thriving - […] business, that’s why. But since you ask, I thank God every day that I didn’t have a kid with…
  18. What’s the weirdest thing you ever charged? | Surviving and Thriving - […] bought anything really weird with credit. The most expensive thing I ever did go into debt for was my…
  19. Debunked: Keys to Financial Happiness | SaveUp - […] Freedman started Surviving and Thriving in 2010 as a fun project to share her thoughts through words. It was never designed…
  20. Want to get? Try giving | Surviving and Thriving - […] a library card, a radio, a transit pass and a slow cooker. Most of all, I had the chance…
  21. How to look like a grownup. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] been cited in print since “at least 2005.” Yep. That was me, trying to make extra money while I…
  22. Taking a (careful) leap of faith. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] course, that’s what I wound up doing when I fled my abusive marriage in 2004, so maybe Dana’s example…
  23. Surviving (and thriving) on $12k a year: The reboot. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] The life I once led […]
  24. A simple price comparison can save you thousands. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] just feels too daunting. I also know why it’s important to find a way to do it anyway. After…
  25. Thanks a million. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] is scary. But sometimes change is good. If I hadn’t been willing to make that big leap back in…
  26. Why ‘found’ money matters. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] I was going broke during a divorce and back in school, sometimes I went to a Seattle nonprofit called…
  27. Meet my new boss (same as my old boss). - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] The life I once led […]

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