An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Learn to meditate and quiet the raging voices in your head. Because they will be there and they’ll compete with your need to find a place of calm and equilibrium from which to rebuild.

As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Beverly Willett.

Beverly Willett is the author of “Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection, a raw and riveting memoir that examines the discomforts of change while celebrating the opportunities for transformation. A June 2022 book club pick by the world’s largest book club, The International Pulpwood Queens, and nominated for Georgia Author of the year, she has written for the nation’s top publications including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Guardian, and dozens more. A former NYC entertainment attorney, she gave a popular Tedx Talk entitled “How to Begin Again.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a — very — small rural town in Southern Maryland, surrounded by extended family and the clichés we’ve come to believe about small town life — riding my bike everywhere, playing outdoors without supervision, and catching fireflies on summer evenings. Compared with so much of what happens in the world today, you might find it hard to believe that I remember my childhood as mostly idyllic, but it’s true. I felt loved, protected, and encouraged. I was lucky.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I could write a book, really. And it’s partly covered in my memoir. But here’s the short version: I’ve been writing all my life even when I didn’t realize it or that I was preparing myself to be a writer. In high school, I had several columns for community and school newspapers. As a lawyer, I wrote briefs, contracts, and memos, and in their own way, they too told stories. But my heart was more into creative writing so I took classes, and I’ve been writing and paying my dues for two decades. I finally had my first book published at midlife in 2019.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Choosing the most interesting story is impossible. I find so much fascinating in life and am rarely bored. I may never admit I’m “old” when I am, but it was a total thrill when AARP Magazine decided to excerpt my memoir in its February/March 2020 issue. With a circulation like that, I expected book sales would soar. But the country was focused on the pandemic which had just burst onto the scene in the U.S. so people were distracted with stocking up on masks, toilet paper and hand sanitizer….I’m relaunching now and hope you’ll buy my memoir! But in any case, I had no idea that the magazine would send a makeup artist and photographer to my house to do a photo spread to accompany the excerpt. As a writer, I never expected this sort of experience, and I had so much fun playing dress-up all over my house.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had written a couple of parenting pieces, but I was eager for my first commercial newspaper clip about 20 years ago. The NY newspaper I decided to pitch had a small personal essay column, and the editor liked my story so I sat down to write it. Trouble is the word limit was about 300 words and my draft was over 500. I sent it in anyway, and it was rejected because it was too long. I remember thinking that I couldn’t tell the story in only 300 words (or thereabouts), and sitting in my desk chair and feeling bratty. The editor said he’d let me try again if I wanted. So I had a decision to make. I wanted that clip desperately so I gave myself a lecture: Beverly, if you want that clip, if you want to be a writer bad enough, you’re going to tell the story in nearly half the words. So for most of the weekend — my children were with my ex — I can’t tell you how many times I wrote and rewrote the story and counted words. And at the end of the weekend, I think I had it down to about 302 words and I emailed it off, and within minutes, the editor emailed back — we’ll take it. I learned so many lessons from that obviously — listen to editors when they know better (that doesn’t mean I haven’t fought for things at other times!), be humble, be grateful for editors who take the time to help you. It was also a great early lesson in learning how to edit, write short, and hone in on the essentials of a story.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Not just one favorite. But one of my favorites is a poem by my favorite poet, William Wordsworth, which I quote from in my memoir “Disassembly Required.” I recommend that you google the entire text, but here are the first two lines: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” That was one of many inspirations for my getting rid of most of my “stuff.”

As I went throughout my house, cleaning out four stories of “stuff” from a lifetime, I began to understand the power that “stuff” had once had over my life and how lacking in substance and importance most of it was. That helped me let go of my attachment which in turn opened the path to true freedom.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m in the final edits of my first novel before I send it off into the world to agent shop. I can’t reveal any more at this point, but I’m turning my attention back to my first profession, as a lawyer. My protagonist is a young woman facing personal and career challenges and an exciting new case that finds its way to her desk.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?

My ex-husband sued me in New York at a time when the state had not yet adopted no-fault divorce, meaning that he had to prove I’d done something legally wrong to obtain a divorce. I hadn’t. I opposed the divorce. I wanted to save my marriage. Ultimately that wasn’t possible, and I had no choice but to give in. It was the most horrific experience I’ve ever gone through. Never wish yourself in family court. I found zero compassion. How’s that possible? The death of a family is traumatic, and whether you want the divorce or not, you’re in a place of vulnerability with a million life changes swirling around you. It’s impossible to cope with them all at once. I contemplated suicide early on, something I could never have followed through on, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t driven to the point of feeling it was the only way out of the pain. But I held on, to my faith, to my inner strength. Luckily, I’d studied meditation for several years. I had tools to calm myself. I knew my children needed me, and that probably was at the forefront of my thoughts more than anything. There are so many stories I could share — I’ve written about many of them so I invite you to read my book and articles which I’ve posted on my website.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

The pain can be so horrific that I think the natural tendency is to want the pain to go away as quickly and as easily as possible. So people resort to all sorts of temporary fixes — diving into a new relationship, shopping or spending money, drink and drugs. Pain is uncomfortable; it’s natural to shy away from it. But pain has a purpose. Before a medical diagnosis, it can provide clues that something is wrong. Without going through the pain of life and a period of grieving, we can’t heal, we’re just letting the wound temporarily scab over. You have to trust in the pain to heal and draw on whatever resources you have to sit with it whether that’s prayer, meditation, calling on friends or just trusting your intellect, even if your heart hasn’t caught up yet.

People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?

After 50 years of no-fault divorce in this country, the negative consequences of divorce are well-researched and easy to observe from the continued economic consequences on women to higher suicide rates for men to the multitude of increased negative outcomes for children of divorce. We have too much divorce in part driven by too much selfishness and focus on self-actualization. I’m not saying some divorce shouldn’t happen, but we’re too prone to wanting quick fixes in our society about so much. Relationships are hard and require hard work. Obviously there are positives for women and men who extract themselves from situations involving domestic violence.

I didn’t want my divorce, but was forced to accept it. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t found a way to accept it and find my way back to being the positive, happy person that is a reflection of my true spirit. But for my divorce, I wouldn’t have been able to speak about the harmful effects of divorce to others. I wouldn’t have been able to write my book and share my story of how I walked through the fire, grieved, and came out the other end stronger and more understanding of the grief of others. I’ve had desperate people write to me and say they’ve found an article of mine just at the right time when they were feeling hopeless. Can there be anything more positive than providing hope for someone else in their time of need? So to me it feels like a mixed blessing — the worst of my pain, shared with another, has allowed them to find a nugget of hope. Would I have become a writer? Would I have come back to my faith and for once made it the center of my life? Would I have been able to psychologically handle the health challenges that awaited me on the other side of divorce if I hadn’t already learned the tools required to go through hardship and thrive on the other end? Could I serve as an example of strength to my children for their own future trials if I hadn’t gone through divorce? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without having gone through a divorce. That was the pivotal incident around which my future growth revolved.

Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?

Don’t? I say that in jest, but only in part. In jest, because I think people jump into dating too quickly without healing and grieving first. And because it’s our human tendency to try and replace what we’ve lost thinking that’s going to make us happy. But it’s merely changing suffering. Get healthy first so you have your healthiest self to present to someone else. Recognize that happiness comes within. Oh we say it like we believe it. But it’s become a cliché. If we believe it in the core of our souls, then it doesn’t matter whether we date or not. Divorce can topple your self-image. Know who you are first or you won’t know what you want or how to make it work. The divorce rate for second and third marriages is sky high and greater than for first marriages. That should tell you something about how prepared people are the next time around before they dive in.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

Your perspective and your reference points and expectations about where happiness comes from. Take a look at my Tedx Talk: “How to Begin Again.” That explains these concepts in a way I think most people can relate.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Be kind to and patient with yourself. That doesn’t mean shopping. It means don’t load yourself with expectations about how you should be or how quickly you should heal.

Pray. If you don’t pray in the traditional way through a religion that you believe in, find out how to pray in a way that you believe. A way to go inside yourself, to become vulnerable, to express your hopes and regrets, to purge your soul and to lift your heart in praise for what’s good.

Learn to meditate and quiet the raging voices in your head. Because they will be there and they’ll compete with your need to find a place of calm and equilibrium from which to rebuild.

Take the time to learn about who you are as a single person, what you like, what you believe, and what puts a true and lasting smile on your face. And then do more of that. In cleaning out a lifetime of clutter on four floors to prepare for selling my home, I came in contact with so many things that reminded me of my former self, my true self.

Go out alone and by that I don’t mean go to a bar to meet men or women. Go out and enjoy your own company. Take yourself out to dinner. Go see the movie you want when you don’t have a friend to go with you. Enjoy your own company and relearn that your happiness does not depend on having a partner at your side. The first few times might be hard. But I grew to enjoy my alone time and still do.

The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?

Go inward. Looking outward for things that can alleviate pain and anguish most often just gives a temporary fix. Inside is where you do the work and find the true, long-lasting antidotes. Every time I walked down to court, I meditated and recited Psalm 23.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

This is a long list! I have to recommend my memoir, “Disassembly Required.” It’s why I wrote it — to hopefully show people a path to starting over. If you have kids, try to understand what they’re going through. One of my favorite books is “Between Two Worlds” for this purpose. Two websites have great resources and articles— and “Divorce Magazine” has lots of articles. If you’re in midlife, there are tons of podcasts.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Again, such a big question. I have so many ideas. But this reiterates something I said above: Learn to pray. And that means whatever it means to you. I’m religious, so that means a certain thing to me and for me that’s a vital, centering part of my life. But whatever you believe, I think we might all agree that the universe is bigger than we are and that there’s something else we can tap into, even if it’s just our inner self and getting quiet enough to really know ourselves. Prayer, whatever form it tapes, is also an expression of hope. We all need to find and hold onto hope no matter what. Prayer is also a way of quieting all those outward and inward voices — and there are so many in our society competing for intention and within ourselves. We need to learn to shut them out and hear ourselves think. So, yes, a movement toward universal prayer.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Despite going through the War of the Roses I’m not jaded. And I like to have fun. Hope springs eternal in my heart that there’s still a partner out there for me. But if not, I can live with that too. The Hollywood men of faith that come to mind are married and taken. But maybe Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Keith Urban, or Matthew McConaughey have a friend? I once would have said Liam Neeson, but I’ve read some things that made me think twice about him not being the man I thought he was. But then again, can you believe everything written about celebrities? I’d give him the chance to prove me — or them — wrong.

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!

Author Beverly Willett On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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