Ways to care for yourself as you heal from divorce
Just when I thought I was doing better, I was hit with a tsunami of sadness. Why? The sun is shining, but it’s not the dead of Texas summer anymore. The kids are in school, we are in our new home, just the three of us. I’m sleeping again. The divorce is almost final. I am slowly moving on. It’s walking weather. What’s the matter with me?
Healing from divorce is not linear. It comes in waves, it’s different for everyone, and it’s unpredictable. And while that’s hard to swallow, it helps to understand because you can be prepared for setbacks and know, this won’t last forever, but you can’t force it, no more than you could force marriage. Healing from divorce takes time. How much time? No one knows precisely but some experts claim that after the loss of a marriage, people should give themselves two years to recover. And if you were blindsided by the event, it could take longer.
This is more time than most expect. And, it is certainly more than I expected of myself. Two years. This makes me feel better, and also worse. I’m only eight months in, not even 1/3 of the way through the healing process. And the early days are the hardest. This has been the most stressful, painful, emotionally, and physically draining thing I have ever experienced, as an individual and as a mother. I expect so much of myself, when in fact, I deserve more patience, fewer expectations, and a heck of a lot more grace.
I don’t know if being married longer or having kids means it takes longer; I’d imagine it does. I would also think that having been through rocky marital times adds to recovery time. If only people were like math and we could determine rates of change based on proven theorems. But, no. People are more complex. They grieve and heal at different rates. I would posit that the length and complexity of the union do have an impact on the healing process, as does the level of intensity, and the way in which a marriage ends.
I do know how it has been for me. It was an unexpected ending, and therefore will likely take me longer to heal. I was with my ex seventeen years, almost half my life. I thought it was to be forever. We have two sons, ages thirteen and ten. We moved several times together, we traveled, we went through illness and job loss and years and years of living. There is history and muscle memory. That doesn’t just go away.
Divorce has not just changed my routine such as where the kids are on a given weekend, my financial situation, and how I spend my free time, it has touched me at a deep level that, at first, I did not notice. After a few months of being separated, I would wake up and not know if I was alone in my bed; I’d slept with a partner for so many years. I started having strange, emotionally upsetting dreams where my subconscious created events that scared me. And when I’d wake up, it would take me some time to realize my reality was now different.
For me, this recovery period feels like an identity crisis of sorts. Yes, I feel depressed, anxious, and distracted, a process that is backed up by the experts: the stages of grief and loss. In addition, I feel the path of my life moving forward has to be re-mapped, and while there is some excitement in this, there is also fear.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Prudence Gourguechon, I’m doing things right, even though I feel like crap. Recovering from a divorce involves two overlapping processes. First, you must recover from and move through the stages of grief. And then, comes the more time-consuming process of rebuilding. If you saw the loss coming—say you initiated the divorce—you are ahead of a person who was caught off guard. A person taken by surprise is “required to do a lot more rumination,” says Sandra Petronio, a professor of communication at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. “You need to do some type of analysis about what happened to you.”
And that is where I am. Standing at a brick wall, going nowhere, feeling lost, holding an orange balloon and looking up at the sky thinking, what happened? How can I make sure it doesn’t happen again and where do I go from here? And when will I stop crying? I need support, I am not my normal self, and I am going through a difficult time. I will recover and I will be OK. Now is the time to heal, to take care of my children, myself and to rebuild my life. I am allowed to feel overwhelmed because this is overwhelming. And, some days, I feel OK, and I’m allowed that as well.
And, to help get through this process there are a few things I can do.
One is to continually remind myself that this will end and to not be frightened by my overwhelming emotions. In fact, allowing those emotions to spill out has been healing. Often we are fearful of sadness. It seems if we let the tears flow they will never stop. They will. It may take ten minutes, it may take twenty, or it may take a day. And, it may be off and on for a few days, but they will stop. Be sure to enlist supportive friends and family, don’t feel like you have to accept social invitations. If you want company, they can come to you. A short walk with a friend might make you feel better. Going to a loud restaurant might not. Think about what you need. Your friends will understand and want to help. Those who don’t, don’t worry about them. You have enough on your plate.
I made a fresh start. Although it is typically advised not to make other major changes, my sons and I moved, and that was helpful. We stayed in the same neighborhood, same schools but left the family home and some bad memories. In our new house, now that we are settled, we have a fresh start. But that’s it for change right now. Some have recommended I start dating. I can’t imagine anything less on my radar right now than a new relationship. Everyone does things at their own pace, but to me that seems like a never.
Which brings me to my next, and most helpful support: therapy. I have always been a proponent of therapy for help with hard times. When this happened, I found a local therapist who fit me like a glove, as well as one for my sons. I feel safe, taken care of, and less anxious knowing that I will see her weekly, and that, if need be, I can call her in between sessions. As for dating, she promises it won’t be a never, but says it’s a very far away. We’ll see. Right now, I don’t care. I have other things to work on. I have me, my mental, physical and emotional health, my sons, their emotional health and adjustment to this major life change, remapping my life and finding a new path.
I am facing one of the top ten of life’s most stressful life changes. I’ll make it, but I’ll only make it with patience, support, and a lot of time. As much time as I need.
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