When I first started designing this blog a year ago, I would have never guessed I’d be writing posts about divorce. And that’s how this blog is just like life – it doesn’t unfold the way you predict. So here we are, seven months after I launched this new blog and a good percentage of people reading 5 Flat Tires found it by searching on terms like “divorce” and “trauma.” Several months ago I wrote a post called “How to Survive a Trauma Like Divorce – Part 1.” Which of course implies there will be a Part Two. But I couldn’t write Part Two until I first figured out how to survive. I had to live it before I could write it. It’s been a long road, more of a roller coaster actually, but I think I finally have a few lessons I could share with others. You can read Part 1 of this series over here. And this post, Part Two, should really be titled:
How To HEAL From a Trauma Like Divorce – Part Two. Because really, Part 1 is about pure survival, while Part Two is about healing and recovery.
There are a gazillion books you could read about divorce. And there’s probably a trillion websites too. I’m not a divorce expert and I’m not a therapist. I just went through a really crappy experience and I lived to tell about it. Some of this is very hard to write about. But three days ago someone told me they were inspired to do something amazing in their life because of something I had done five years ago. So I offer this post in the hope that someone, somewhere, might read this and find faith that they too can survive and heal from a divorce. Here’s 10 things you can do to heal from divorce.
1. Get Professional Help. Yes, let me declare right up front that your friends WILL get tired of hearing you talk about your divorce. And now matter how awesome and patient your friends are, you still might need professional help. You might need a therapist or a counselor. I used three different professionals. First, I went to my acupuncturist. This was back in the very beginning, when I could not eat or sleep or concentrate. Acupuncture was the most helpful treatment for restoring basic physical health when I needed to sleep and eat again. I cannot overemphasize this enough: the first step in healing your emotions is healing your body. Your body needs sleep and food and energy to heal. Please seek whatever professional help necessary to restore physical balance and health.
Next, I saw a professional therapist who specializes in treating trauma like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I never wrote much here about the Ex and his temper, but during our two year relationship I experienced a great deal of trauma. Enough trauma that I was referred to a specialist who helps people recover from PTSD. During my first appointment with her, I could not stop crying long enough to conduct a coherent session. But during the next several months I made remarkable progress in processing and healing the traumatic memories. I no longer have nightmares and my anxiety has disappeared.
Finally, I saw a “regular” therapist. I highly recommend this because they are trained to help us heal. They understand the human psyche and they can see our own patterns of behavior better than we can. A good therapist can be your best partner in the journey of healing. Your friends are great, but a trained professional is better.
Be aware that the cost of all this professional help can be high. I have good health insurance, but it doesn’t cover acupuncture, and the trauma specialist I saw doesn’t accept insurance. This means I spent about $800 on acupuncture and about $900 on trauma therapy. I also spent about $200 on co-pays for the regular therapist. With a total bill of $1900 spread across seven months, professional help is not cheap and I know that many people cannot afford this. But I would spend it again in a heartbeat. These professionals helped me function again and get back to living my life. I’m finally able to sleep through the night without any nightmares, and who can put a price on that? I believe my emotional health and happiness is one of the most valuable things I can invest in, so it was easy for me to spend the money on these professionals. You don’t need to spend $1900 on your healing process, but you should be prepared to spend something. You should spend whatever you need and whatever you can afford. Emotional health and happiness is worth every penny.
2. Find Your Peers. Back when I was still crying every day, my therapist referred me to a group counseling session for people going through divorce or separations. Here in Tucson, there’s a non-profit organization that provides group counseling and education classes about divorce. Their basic class is 10 weeks long and I was able to join a class last June right after myseparation, back when I was still homeless. The great thing about a group like this is that everyone else is just as miserable as you are. We were ALL crying in class and just kept passing the kleenex around the room. Some people might think this sounds depressing, but in actuality it was very comforting, to know I was not alone in my misery.
As terrible and depressed as you might feel right now, there are many others feeling the same way. Finding a group of peers can be a great comfort. And in a twisted way, being in a group like that helps you realize many people are actually MUCH WORSE OFF than you. No, I don’t take solace from other people’s misery and I do have empathy for their challenges. But when you realize other people are experiencing physical abuse or custody battles or bankruptcy, it helps put your own challenges in a different perspective. I know it’s a cliche, but as terrible as things might be right now, they could always be worse.
Finding a group of peers going through divorce at the same time, under similar circumstances, helped me relate and connect to others. There were about 18 people in the class I attended for 10 weeks and now there are five of us who have remained friends. Our class ended last August, but we still get together as a group at least once a month. But instead of crying, now we drink wine and laugh and catch up on life. We set each other up on dates and compare notes about our dating adventures. Our friendships began when we were all miserable, but now we are all moving forward with our lives. No matter what challenge you are going through in your life, it helps to have friends going through it with you. If you are in any way social, I’d encourage you to find a group to support you through the divorce process.
3. Create Physical Distance From The Relationship and The Ex. You need to create a new safe place for yourself to call home and you need to change your scenery somehow. You need to create physical distance in order to create emotional distance. And you need to spend time in spaces that make you feel calm and happy. For some people, this means taking lots of hikes and spending time outside. For other people, this means more time at Starbucks. But wherever your favorite places are, you need to find them and spend more time there. You need to spend time in places that are relaxing, that make you happy, and have no connection to your past relationship. You might need to take some trips, to explore new cities, or just go visit your best friend from high school. But someway, somehow, you need to create a change of scenery. I took a handful of trips that helped me tremendously. In Washington DC and Boston I was able to reconnect to strong friendships from the past. I also went to Hawai’i for two weeks and spent time surfing and relaxing on the beach. Most importantly, I found a new place to go running with Charly. Where we run now, we can see all the mountains of Tucson and the gorgeous outdoor scenery makes my heart happy. You must make sure you physically spend time in places that give you distance from your past and make you smile.
4. Create Distractions In Your Life. I know it might be hard when you are suffering, but you need to distract yourself with something new in your life. No, not someONE new, but someTHING new. In other words, try a new job or a new hobby or a new class or a new trip or something new you’ve been thinking about doing. You need to focus on something OTHER than analyzing your past relationship. And it’s easier to not analyze that past relationship if you’re busy taking salsa classes every week. Or going on a 10 mile hike with the hiking club you joined. You need to keep you mind busy doing something new, so find something that interests you and go do that. You might make a new friend and you might discover a new passion. But you cannot sit around your house spending hours on Facebook. Heartbreak is just like a broken arm – it takes time to heal. There are no shorcuts, and you cannot avoid the eight weeks in a cast. All you can do is find a good distraction during the recovery time.
5. Figure Out Your Future. Yes, the relationship is over. The house is gone, the divorce is final and everything is settled. You can be sad for a moment. Or two. And then you need to turn around and face the future. Because now? Now the world is full of infinite possibilities that weren’t there before. Now you can dream new dreams and make new plans and imagine a better future for yourself. No matter how crappy your relationship was, you can learn from it and you can move forward. Now you can grow. Now you can finally be happy. No matter how broken your heart is, it will heal. And when it heals, what do you want for yourself? Now is the time to figure that out and go make it happen.
Last night I found myself at work late, spending time on a new fun, exciting project. And as I was walking out of my office to my car, I realized that if I was still in my past relationship, the Ex would have thrown a huge temper tantrum because I was working late. And he never would have supported the traveling I’ve been doing for this project. But I love this project. And now I love that I don’t have to apologize to him for enjoying my work. I don’t have to apologize to him for anything anymore and I don’t have to sacrifice my friendships for him. My life is full of new choices that weren’t possible when he was around.
When you think about your future, I guarantee you can find some ways you’ll be happier now. After the heartbreak heals, something in your life will be better. Focus on that better thing and spend time imagining the best possible future you can imagine. The future is a blank page and you have a full box of crayons in front of you to draw whatever you want.
6. Adopt a pet. There are thousands of animals that need adopted. Owning a pet will lower your blood pressure and increase your immune system. I know there’s significant research about this, just google it. I’m partial to dogs, because dogs always love you and they are always happy to see you. I saw a bumper sticker last week that said: Wag more, bark less. Charly is there for me every day, he loves me every day, and he’s a constant source of happiness. Whenever I think about the terrible life Charly lived when he was homeless, I feel happy about giving him a safe and secure home. Pets help us be healthier and happier, so consider adopting a pet.
7. Spend time in nature. Go for a hike or a walk. Or go for a bike ride. Or go kayaking or go for a swim. But go spend time outside because the sunshine will lift your depression and being outside expands your perspective. Trust me on this, it’s harder to be depressed outside than it is inside on the couch. So when you finish reading this article, step away from the computer and go outside in the sunshine. And if you live somewhere terrible, then move somewhere that has sunshine.
8. Read books about divorce. Reading about the process of divorce can help you understand it better. It helped me to understand the cycles of grieving and healing, to have a framework and a language to better understand what I was experiencing. Reading books also helped me understand what other people have experienced, so it helped me learn from their experiences. Go to the library and see what’s available. You can also do a lot of reading online if that’s your thing. But educate yourself so you can get smarter. Knowledge is power. I’ve read enough to make sure I don’t repeat any of my same mistakes again.
9. Get a massage. Or go shopping or go to a movie, but do something kind for yourself. I like massage because it gets rid of the residual stress in my body. If you can’t afford a massage, then take a bath. But do something that helps you physically relax and feel calm.
10. Write about it. You don’t need to publish your writing to the whole world on a blog but just start a journal and write down your feelings every day. I’ve done a lot of writing that I didn’t publish here and you certainly don’t need to publish anything at all. But writing stuff down helps you figure out what you are feeling and what you are thinking. You don’t need to be a good writer and you don’t need to follow a structure, you can literally write about anything. Back in June I started a list of ways my life would be better off without the Ex. The list got to be 89 things long and then I ran out of ink.
You can write to document your days like a diary or you can write letters to your Ex that you don’t send. You can write gratitude lists or you can write about your ideal future. Just the very act of writing gives you power because you are choosing your words and you are crafting your story. Not your Ex, but you. By writing, you are taking charge of your thoughts. So pick up the pen or turn on the computer, and start writing your way into the future.
That’s all I got folks – that’s the list of 10 ways to Heal From a Trauma Like Divorce. I’m sure there are 100 more things people could add to this list. but these are the 10 things that personally helped me the most. I guarantee your list won’t be exactly the same, but there will probably be some overlap. So let me know two things in the comments: (1) what else would you add to this list and (2) which of these things have also helped you recover from divorce?
If you’ve read this far to the end, then please know without a doubt — time will heal your broken heart. You will recover and you will move on to live a fabulous life. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Divorce is one of the most difficult challenges anyone will face. But the gift of divorce is that it can help you grow. So please use this opportunity to heal and to grow, because everyone wants you to live a meaningful life.