The Most Painful Day of My Life – And What I Did About It

The most painful day of my life was the day my parents separated.

I was 11 years old. Mom told me and my siblings. My whole world shattered.

As a young boy, I didn’t know what to do, so I hid in the closet and cried. Sitting there, I felt abandoned and not good enough. If I was, why were Mom and Dad getting divorced?

Following that day, I became bitter, angry and sad. I felt alone, broken and unsure of how to deal with it all. To numb the pain, I turned to pleasure. A friend introduced me to pornography, and that became my drug of choice.

Porn offered an escape from the pain, yet it always left me feeling so empty. Even at a young age, I knew I wanted to be happy — and porn was not making me happy.

I needed to change.

Better, Yet Not Enough

Around that time, I attended a talk by Jason Evert. He spoke about how porn is the perfect way to poison our future marriages because it destroys our ability to love. His talk changed my life.

I also found new friends. They were joyful people, and I felt much happier around them. They had something I didn’t, and I wanted what they had.

I realized what they had was a deep relationship with God. While I had been a half-hearted Catholic who barely knew Jesus, my new friends were devout Catholics who loved Him deeply. They inspired me to build an intimate relationship with God through prayer and the sacraments.

Even though Jason’s talk and my new friends were extremely helpful, it wasn’t enough. I still felt broken. I wanted authentic love, happiness and freedom — but in pursuing them, I felt stuck. I felt held back my own brokenness.

Then, I learned this principle: After sin, the thing that holds us back most from becoming the person we deeply desire to be is our untreated brokenness.  

Who Can Help Me?

I knew I needed to heal the wounds from my parents’ breakup, so I looked around for help — a book, a speaker, a retreat, anything. I found nothing. Help for people like me was practically non-existent. Nobody was giving advice on how to deal with what related to me:

  • How to set healthy boundaries when my parents pressured me to pick sides
  • How to overcome my paralyzing fear of love
  • How to learn to trust people again
  • How to fix my broken concept of marriage
  • How to overcome loneliness
  • How to heal my distorted image of God

The list goes on.

What I Did to Help People Like Me

I knew I wasn’t alone. I saw how my siblings and friends from divorced families struggled too. I later learned that more than a million American children suffer their parents’ divorce each year. With such a huge problem, I wanted to help. And so, after 15 years of wrestling with it all, I started a ministry called Restored.

Healing is the process of becoming healthy and whole. We know what physical healing looks like, but healing is needed in every area of our lives. Here are six practical tips I’ve learned about how to heal:

1. Engage your story.

As counselor Adam Young says, each of us has a story, like a novel or a movie. To heal, we need to reflect on it; specifically, we need to reflect on the relationships that formed us. On a neurobiological level, reflecting on your story heals you and your brain.

2. Label your emotions.

Harvard psychologist Dr. Susan David writes about a condition called “alexithymia” in her book, “Emotional Agility.” Simply put, it’s the inability to distinguish between your emotions and put them into words. Recognizing and putting words to your emotions is extremely important for healing.

3. Write about your emotions.

Dr. David takes it a step further. She reports that thousands of studies have proven that writing how you feel can make you happier, less depressed and less anxious, among other benefits.

4. Find a coach.

To heal and grow, we can’t do it alone. Personally, I’ve done ten years of spiritual direction and five years of counseling. Both have helped me heal so much! There’s much I never would have learned or been able to face without both my spiritual director and counselor.

(Side note: Finding a trustworthy and competent counselor or spiritual director is a real challenge. To help, we’re building a network of solid counselors and spiritual directors that we trust. To find either, fill out the form here and we’ll contact you via email with next steps.)

5. Ask God to heal you.

While self-help tips are useful, they only go so far. Only God can fully heal you. In my life, a secret to healing and becoming whole is simply developing a deep interior life by spending time with Jesus in adoration.

Don’t be afraid to show Him your brokenness. It is tempting to pull away from God when we feel broken, but that’s exactly when we need Him the most. And honestly, that’s when He wants to love us the most.

6. Build authentic friendships.

Therapist and author Dr. Bob Schuchts explains that at the core of almost every wound is a deprivation of love in one form or another. Naturally, the antidote is authentic love. The love I’ve experienced in my friendships and my marriage has shattered so many of the lies I’ve believed about myself. That love has made me stronger, more whole and more virtuous.

Real Healing is Possible

Imagine this: You feel broken, alone, empty, hopeless and uncertain of how to deal with your parents’ divorce or separation. But instead of resigning to it all, you build up the courage to seek healing. After an intense healing process, you feel different. Life isn’t perfect, but you are better. You’re stronger. More confident. More courageous. Happier. And most of all, you feel whole and free to become who you were born to be.

At Restored, that’s what we want you to experience. Don’t believe it’s possible for you? We’ll prove it through the stories on our blog and podcast. So read our blog or listen to our podcast. We made it all for you!

You are the hero of your story. We’re here to help.

Joey Pontarelli
Joey Pontarelli
As the founder and president of Restored, Joey received his bachelor’s degree in Finance from Franciscan University of Steubenville and his MBA from Benedictine College. He’s spoken around the U.S., Europe, and Central America. His articles have been featured on various blogs such as the Chastity Project, the Culture Project, FOCUS, and in Shalom Tidings Magazine. Joey lives in Colorado with his wife, Brigid. As a child of divorce, Joey Pontarelli started Restored to help other children of divorce. Restored creates content that gives practical advice to teens and young adults on how to cope and heal after the trauma of their parents’ divorce or separation, so they can feel whole again.

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