One divorced diva out to help others

Christine Clifford’s conferences help women begin life again

LOWRY HILL — Has plucky Christine Clifford met the challenge should could not tackle? And not just tackle, but hog-tie, tame and parade around the stadium?

The Lowry Hill resident has made a habit of turning hardship into opportunity. Seventeen years ago, a breast cancer diagnosis more or less changed the trajectory of Clifford’s life, and the former sales and marketing executive forged a new career as a self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur.

Hardship struck again about seven years ago when, after a relatively quick and amicable divorce from her first husband, Clifford leapt into a second marriage, ignoring — she admits now — the troubling signs that the new love of her life was not the man she thought he was. They divorced in 2009, and another of life’s low points became a launching pad for one of Clifford’s characteristic rebounds.

She co-founded Divorcing Divas in 2010 with the mission of empowering others who were facing divorce in their lives through education, support and a touch of humor — one of Clifford’s trademarks. Since the publication of her first book, “Not Now… I’m Having a No Hair Day,” the story of her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment told, in part, through cartoons, Clifford has made laughter a keystone of her approach.

Into the unknown

Even for Clifford, with the courage earned from her cancer fight and the track record of professional success, life after marriage was disorienting.

She met and married her first husband while still in college. They had two children and, in 2004, when they divorced after 29 years, “had just kind of done the proverbial grown-apart-type thing,” she explained.

“Then, I made my fatal mistake,” she said, recounting how she “rebounded very quickly” into a new relationship with a man who seemed well-educated, kind and — judging from the designers suits and global travels — financially successful. It was a façade, according to the story she tells in “The Clue Phone’s Ringing … It’s for You,” her seventh book.

“He was extremely abusive and dysfunctional,” Clifford said. “I ended up with a broken nose in 2008, and I made the decision that I needed to find a way to get the strength to get out.”

She said she found that strength in a best friend and her psychologist, “two people who were clinging on to me for dear life.” And she methodically set about taking the practical steps to begin life on her own: contacting an attorney, hiring a financial planner for the first time and meeting with a real estate agent.

Even then, divorce was a step into the unknown for Clifford. When her first marriage ended, she and her ex-husband lived in their house together for another six months until it sold. Then, she immediately moved in with her new fiancée.

When that marriage ended, she said, “I really had never lived alone, and that was one of my biggest fears.”

“And of course, now, I love living alone,” said Clifford.

Not alone

Clifford shared that story with Divorcing Divas co-founder Barb Greenberg back in April 2009 when, on the suggestion of a mutual friend, the two met for the first time in an East Isles café. And Greenberg, a former Mary Kay marketing director, told Clifford how her daughter’s serious injury in an automobile accident a decade earlier finally roused her, giving her the strength to end a 33-year marriage with a husband she said was verbally abusive.

Greenberg, now a published author and speaker, hosts small get-togethers where the recently divorced share their stories. But on that day, Clifford had a bigger idea, an idea that just four months later would become the first Divorcing Divas conference.

Greenberg said she struggled through her own divorce “very slowly, very clumsily,” adding she would have benefited from a resource like Divorcing Divas. Nancy Van Dyken, a licensed psychologist with an Edina practice who will talk about the role of forgiveness in healing at the conference, said Divorcing Divas was unique in covering so many aspects of divorce in one event.

“I think what the event does is it empowers women, encourages them to have all sorts of choices,” said Van Dyken, meaning financial, legal and emotional choices about their lives. “Sometimes, the choice about divorce was not theirs.”

Said Clifford: “More than anything, people who attend our conference find that they’re not alone; there’s lots of people going through this experience. But they also see a light. They see that they can get through it and find life, and a good life, on the other side.”

More information

The next Divorcing Divas conference, Happily Ever After, is 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Oct. 15 at Minneapolis Marriott West, 9960 Wayzata Boulevard, St. Louis Park. Advanced registration is $75 until Oct. 12, or $90 at the door.