Their little girls were just 5 and 3 years old when Lisa Barr’s husband cleaned out the couple’s bank accounts and left, never to be seen or heard from again.
“I had two babies and 67 cents in the bank,” Barr said. “I have the receipt. It’s in a box in my basement.”
Seventeen years later, Barr’s bank accounts are doing just fine, and life is wonderful. She has a husband she adores, a blended family that includes three daughters and a writing career that has surpassed her lifelong professional dreams.
How did Barr go from rock-bottom to bliss? One word: unbreakable.
“I was going through my deepest hell, but I still had to remain fun mommy to these kids, who were going through tremendous trauma. The pain was unbearable at times, but I was not going to fall as a mom and as a woman,” said Barr, a North Shore native, author and 30-year veteran of print journalism. She explained that in the years following her separation, she raised her kids alone and worked full time, while fighting for sole custody of her girls.
“I got a job as the managing editor of Moment magazine but I couldn’t afford childcare, so my editor allowed my kids to come into the office and color on the floor so I could work,” Barr said. “I basically slept three to four hours a night for two years in order to make everything work in my life.”
Barr’s journey and her ability to remain unbreakable led to her second published novel, “The Unbreakables,” which was released two weeks ago.
“Like Sophie Bloom, my protagonist, I have hit rock bottom and risen from the rubble to survive, and ultimately, thrive,” said Barr, who is also the author of a historical thriller, “Fugitive Colors,” which was published in 2015. Barr is also a former editor for The Jerusalem Post, Today’s Chicago Woman and the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Life has given me all the feels: joy, pain, heartbreak, passion. Through the trials and tribulations, I’ve never let anything or anyone break my spirit. That part of me is truly unbreakable,” she said.
I haven’t read “The Unbreakables,” but I did read Barr’s “Fugitive Colors,” a book so compelling I stayed up all night for two nights in a row to finish it.
With a different plot than Barr’s real life situation, “The Unbreakables” is the story of a Chicago woman whose husband and best friends betray her, leading to the collapse of her seemingly perfect marriage. In an attempt to put the broken pieces of herself back together, she travels to France. While abroad, she rediscovers her lust for life, art and passion.
“This is a book of healing, forgiveness, second chances and reinvention. And yes, it gets sexy,” Barr said. “But while it might seem like a book dealing with infidelity, it’s really about a woman who had abandoned herself way before that. She lost her passion and now she’s going to get it back.”
Barr explained that she came up with the idea for the story in 2015 when she heard about the Ashley Madison website scandal, in which hackers stole customer data and published names of its members online.
“I was out with some friends and someone said ‘I have the list’ and we were all listening to the names of the people in our community. It was the train wreck you couldn’t look away from,” Barr said. “My situation was very different. It wasn’t infidelity, but I was able to write the book based on the inner strength I found being a divorced, single mom. My character, Sophie, and I have something in common: a woman’s strength in the face of adversity, heartbreak and motherhood. No one was going to stop me from surviving.”
Barr’s current husband, David, was the first date she had after her divorce. They were introduced by one of Barr’s childhood friends. David was divorced with a daughter who was the same age (and who has the same name) as Barr’s younger daughter.
“It was like someone who had just come from a war,” she said. “I wondered, ‘How do I do this normal?’ We went to dinner and talked for hours until the restaurant closed and they were vacuuming around us.”
The two were married two years later, and David ended up adopting Barr’s two daughters.
“David is my best friend. The chemistry is there but it’s the friendship that makes us so solid. You can leave your lover but you can never leave your best friend,” Barr said of her husband of 14 years. “He values my writing, respects my passion and is proud of it. We balance each other. I’m dramatic and he’s feet on the ground, stable, strong and doesn’t get unraveled by drama. He’s my favorite place in the whole world.”
Here are Barr’s five tips for the newly separated:
1. Self-care. Invest in yourself. Drink your favorite wine, eat what you enjoy, exercise but do what you love and what makes you feel good. I recommend yoga, long walks with your favorite music, and meditation. This is the time to be good to you.
2. Stay away from toxic people. Hang with the friends and family who make you feel good about you and who prop you up, not tear your down.
3. Get therapy if you need it. Sometimes a professional can help you break through and see the situation through different lenses, and most importantly, push you forward. There is no shame or weakness in seeing a therapist.
4. Be active. Don’t curl up on your couch and just binge Netflix. Take time for yourself but get out there. If you’re not ready to date, then take that wine-tasting class you’ve always wanted to do or join a book club.
5. Get rid of all his or her stuff that makes you feel sad. Get it out of sight. Box it or toss it. Looking at it only brings back bittersweet memories. Out of sight is definitely out of mind in this case.
• Jackie Pilossoph is a freelance columnist for Chicago Tribune Media Group. She is also the creator of her divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph lives in Chicago with her two children.