I knew the end was approaching when my ex-husband stopped communicating with me. We were no longer on the same continent; I had escaped to my parents' house in Israel, and he had stayed in America, where he busied himself with work, pseudo-friends, and pretending he was no longer married. Still, it was a shock when the day finally came, and I got a call from my husband's best friend:

"He's agreed to give the get, your Jewish divorce. Come home now so we can arrange everything."

How could it all be over, just like that? I cried buckets that day, and the next, a Friday, when a special rabbinical court convened in a synagogue in Jerusalem for me to receive the paper that had flown across the Atlantic Ocean, severing my connection with my husband of five and a half years, the father of my two children. Lighting Shabbat candles later that day, I couldn't stop the tears from streaming down my face. How could it all be over, just like that? The life we had built together with such promise, the love we'd shared…all gone? An era in my life had ended, and I couldn't see any future.

The day passed, somehow, and then the next day, and the next. And I began to live again, for myself, for my children. I had to go to work. I had to arrange schooling for my abruptly uprooted preschooler. I had to find a place for the three of us to live.

The three of us. It seemed so strange, to be just three again, after having been four for so long. The divorce was not my choice; it was a situation that had been thrust on me after my ex stopped functioning as a Jew, stopped functioning as a husband and father, and refused to seek help for various psychological issues that had plagued him since adolescence. Every new decision I faced seemed monumental; obstacles overwhelming. Choosing an apartment fraught with difficulties. Navigating new relationships with my parents and siblings, after five years away from home, an enormous challenge.

Some days were easier, some days harder. Some days I sent my children off to school and then came home and cried. Other days I rode the bus to work and cried. One Friday afternoon I sat at my kitchen table while my children played at a neighbor and cried. There was no end to the hurdles that had to be overcome, the government offices and banks I had to visit, the legal procedures I had to tackle.

Week followed week, and month followed month. I got my divorce in the fall, a few weeks after Sukkot; by Purim I had an apartment of my own and basic furniture in place. By Passover I had started to collapse from the stress. When the summer rolled around I was a mess, barely managing to get through each day.

Slowly, though, things changed. I began making friends in my new neighborhood, and going out for Shabbat meals became a time to socialize and let my kids play with their friends. I expanded my professional network and started feeling more comfortable at work. I found new interests and rediscovered old hobbies — things I'd never had time for in the tumultuous, often torturous years of my marriage. I made time for myself, time to read and write, time to get a makeover and go shopping for new clothing.

I wonder how I did it. How I managed to hang on to such a dysfunctional marriage for so longNowadays, when I think back to the pre-divorce days, I wonder how I did it. How I managed to hang on to such a dysfunctional marriage for so long. How I put up with all the criticism and the destructive feedback, the depression and the anger. No, my ex-husband wasn't violent, thank G‑d. If he had been, I might have found my way out of the situation sooner. But his influence on me was insidious, damaging my self-esteem and my fragile sense of self.

It took years to come to this realization. Years of navigating through the traumas of divorce and sudden single parenthood, years of painful self-discovery and agonizing loneliness. Now, three and a half years later, I can say, with a whole heart, I'm so glad that it's all behind me. The marriage…and the divorce. Because now I'm free to be myself again, and to enjoy the world — without the shackles of negativity and fear that held me back — and I have the freedom to rebuild my life and perhaps one day be in a healthy and uplifting marriage.

Some people may reach this point without going through a divorce. I hope that most people do. But for me, it took a divorce to reach the point where I could say, I'm glad that I'm me, and I'm glad that I exist. Each day gives me a new opportunity to be grateful to G‑d for all that He's given me, and to try to serve Him anew. And all this could never have happened without that little piece of paper that freed me from the pain and anguish I was trapped in.