Twenty-five years is a long time. In my life it encapsulated three college degrees, three houses, two beautiful daughters, dozens of camping trips, 20 years of teaching, and 20 years of living the Thin Blue Line life, which meant carrying the responsibilities of a single mom most of the time. There were years of happiness but also many years of loneliness. When my marriage of almost 25 years ended, my world ended. I was out in the ocean of anger and sadness hit by wave after wave of loss. At night, my mind would dwell on the list of things I was losing:
My sense of stability.
My belief in love’s power to conquer.
Half my friends.
My dreams and visions for the future.
My belief in happily-ever-after.
My time with my daughters.
My belief in miracles.
My faith in forgiveness.
As the depths of depression crept into the nethermost regions of my heart and soul, my mind wandered to death. At times, I would pray that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. That God would take me in my sleep. I had always been a happy and optimistic person, but when divorce came knocking at my door wielding its sword of destruction, I was completely and unequivocally unprepared to duel with it.
I had no other choice but to surrender. I had to swallow my pride and reach out for help. I could barely force myself out of my bed, and that wasn’t sufficient. I had daughters who needed me. I had a job that expected me to show up and teach energetic teenagers. I had bills to pay and a new future to wrap my head around. And, although I knew some of what I had to do, I felt powerless to do it.
So, where do you start? What can help you when you find yourself face-to-face with divorce? I can only share what has begun to help me. I am still very early on in the process, but here are a few suggestions:
- Get counseling. Specifically, find someone trained in EMDR. It is a psychotherapy treatment designed to treat PTSD and anyone who has experienced trauma. Divorce is traumatic. At one of my darkest moments, when suicide felt like the best option, my therapist helped me regain control and peace through EMDR. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps you get on top of the waves of emotion that hit you relentlessly.
- Be kind to yourself. If you need to, take sick days off from work. It’s ok if the laundry isn’t folded. Have your kids cook dinner. Allow your family or friends to clean your home. Accept any and all help offered. You may feel like you should still be able to handle it all, but trust me—you can’t! The more you try to push yourself, the more damage you will do. Your body will physically begin to revolt. You may have already noticed your hair falling out, zits popping up on your face, weight gain/loss, insomnia, anxiety, constipation or diarrhea. Your body is under extreme stress, and you need to allow people to help you.
- Do one thing every day that makes you happy. For me this took many forms. Some days I painted my nails. Sometimes it was grabbing my favorite donut. Occasionally, it was a drive up the canyon or a walk in the park. Binge watching your favorite show on Netflix or buying that shirt you’ve been wanting is perfectly fine. Even on the days when the tears flow heavy down your cheeks, find one thing that can make you smile. Snuggle your kids. Plant some flowers. Nurture yourself.
- Make a plan. There are many things that have to happen during a divorce, so write things down in your planner. Make a check list of what needs to be done legally. There are many online sources that can help. Here is just one: https://divorceandyourmoney.com/blogs/divorce-checklist/. Also, as key days become apparent such as the day your divorce will be final, plan activities that will help you emotionally on those days or immediately after. The grief from your divorce will come in waves. It can last for months or years to come depending on how tumultuous the process was for you. Some people feel tremendous relief while others grieve deeply. Look at the calendar and be proactive about those dates in the future that will be triggering for you.
- Assemble your tribe carefully. Surround yourself with good family, friends, and support groups. Let them carry you when you’re too weak to stand. There are FB groups or local groups that you can join to find others who are struggling with the same issues you are.
- Make a plan to heal. It doesn’t just take time; it also takes work. You do not need to endlessly dissect the relationship, but you should examine it so that you can learn from it. Everyone makes mistakes. Do not beat yourself up over all of yours. When a relationship ends, its demise belongs to two people, not just one. Own your part and then move on.
- Live in the present. There is a surge of anxiety that comes with divorce. The future you thought you were going to have is now gone. In its place are a lot of unknowns. You will literally drive yourself crazy agonizing over those. Take one day at a time. One decision at a time.
- It will get better . . . or at least that’s what they tell me. I have chosen a few key people who have walked this same path to be my mentors. They are several years down the road and many of them have new relationships. They assure me that the pain will not last forever. That the nights will stop being so dark, the days will become brighter, and eventually I will stop praying for death to find me. Even more so, they promise me that there is life after divorce. And for now, their word is all I can go on.
In the weeks and months to come, I hope to continue to process this tremendous loss. I will grieve it like a death because it is. But, I refuse to let it rob me of life. I may be down, but I am not out. I will re-emerge like the mythical phoenix. I will reinvent myself, find my joy, and live again. If you are confronting divorce, I invite you to join me.