I’ve suddenly entered a new place in my life, traversing territory I never thought I would. A few weeks ago my husband told me he wants a divorce, and it was unexpected for me. This new landscape has been full of heartbreak, grief, anger, fear, anxiety, panic, denial, sleeplessness, PTSD reactions, and loss of appetite. I can’t say it’s been fun, but I’m learning a lot right now.
This post isn’t about the divorce itself– we put out a Facebook announcement about it (which you can read by clicking here, if you want) and have talked about it to people way too much. Suffice it to say, we are going to do this in as loving and nurturing way possible, and keep our friendship and closeness intact. Some people say it can’t be done. We are choosing to believe otherwise.
I wanted to write this post to start sharing some of what I’ve been learning in this process. It’s only been 3-plus weeks, and it seems more like a year has passed in how much has happened and changed, and my new insights and awareness. I’m in a place where I’m raw, I’m open and I want to make changes in my life to make me happier and more fulfilled. I can see now the many ways in which I’ve stayed stuck because of fear or old wounds that never healed. And I hope that whatever lessons I share might be helpful for others, whether you’re going through divorce or not. So here we go…
Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment
The first two weeks after my husband mentioned divorce were brutal. I was in a state of adrenaline rush (hence, no sleep), and my mind was racing and swirling, coming up with stories and thoughts at about the pace of every 30 seconds. The thoughts and stories centered a little on the past: “Why did this happen? Why didn’t I see this coming? What if I’d done this differently? Why did he do this? What about his issues? What about this event, or that?” Etc. But they mostly centered on the uncertain future that was now looming ahead of me: “What kind of life will I have? I don’t have a job? Will I be sad and alone while he’s out dating other women? Will I keep the house? Whenever I see a married couple, I’ll cry. Will he really want to stay connected to me? What does that mean? What will happen on holidays?” Etc.
Photo by Bob Alberti
My mind was expert at catching one little thread of a scary thought and spinning it for hours. I would be in such a state of panic, I couldn’t focus. I tried meditation, alcohol, reading helpful books and journaling. All these helped a little, but what’s helped most is constantly reminding myself to come back to the Present Moment.
The Present Moment is actually all any of us ever really have. We do have the Past and our memories, but those are gone, done, and we can do nothing about them now. The Future – whether it is lovely plans and goals we are imagining, or the worrisome, scary stories that I’ve been telling myself– it really isn’t real. It hasn’t happened and might never. It’s an illusion, and while having goals and plans and dreams are great, they don’t yet actually exist until we make it so. My scary stories are just as unreal—they don’t exist, they may never happen, and filling my head with them and torturing myself is only making me horribly miserable.
Telling myself scary stories is a habit I’ve developed, a worry habit, maybe a self-protective mode I developed in my emotionally chaotic childhood. I learned to scan my circumstances and look for the worst in the future so I could prepare myself, somehow keep myself safe. It was a survival tactic that probably helped me survive my childhood, but now it just gets in my way. Big time.
Now I’m having to develop new skills to get me through this current traumatic situation. It takes some time, a ton of practice, and a lot of repetition of soothing or sometimes sterner mental phrases to bring me back. For instance, “It’s okay, that’s just a scary story you’re telling yourself. None of this is happening today. Come back. Everything is fine in this moment.” Or maybe, “Cut it out. None of that is real. Focus on this moment here.” I’ve said such things to myself hundreds of times each day, and it really does help. Some days, I’ve managed to achieve a sense of peace and stay in the present. Other days I swirl round and round and never manage to calm the waves more than briefly. I know I’m building new neural pathways, and it takes some time for new messages and patterns to sink in. I am doing what I can, and I’m grateful for moments of peace.
That reminds me– gratitude can play an important part of staying in the Present Moment. When I start to list in my head all the things I DO have in this moment, I start to calm down and realize that things are not 100% bleak. I’m grateful for the sunshine and the pure blue sky today. I’m grateful for my three wonderful kids. I’m grateful for the ways my husband is supporting me in this process (yes, I know, even though…). I’m grateful for my new awareness of all the support and love around me as I share my pain with my community. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful for the new ways I’m growing, even if it hurts.
I am reminded of all I do have, and that brings some peace.
I know that planning and figuring out the future is going to be necessary, researching options and getting answers from professionals. But right now, when everything is so new and raw, I’m in survival mode. We are taking our time in this process (another thing to be grateful for) and I need to feel these feelings. I’m looking to be a healthier me—physically, mentally and emotionally, and shutting down or having a mental crisis because I constantly scare myself wouldn’t be good for me or others. I want this path to lead me to a better life for myself. It is an In-Between time, a time of not knowing all the answers, of living in uncertainty. And for right now, the Present Moment is the best place for me to hang out.
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