This article was originally published on The HeartFull Journey Blog.
The healing process is a winding twisting road and sometimes emotions get hidden in cracks and dead ends. And then those emotions jump out at you and you have the choice of either confronting them or stamping them back in their hole. Stamping them back just makes them grow stronger and more intimidating. Confronting them helps you take steps toward healing. It's been 2 years since my divorce, and I'm still taking steps in my healing process. The steps have gotten smaller as I've continued to heal but every so often I come across a big step that I haven't taken yet. Today, I took one of those big steps.
The 7 Stages Of Grief
Before going further, I'd like to review the grieving process. You’re probably aware of the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I actually like Recover-from-grief.com's 7 stages of grief version:
- Shock & Denial
- Pain & Guilt
- Anger & Bargaining
- Depression, Reflection & Loneliness
- The Upward Turn
- Reconstruction & Working Through
- Acceptance & Hope
The 5 step model makes it seem like you magically go from depression to acceptance and ignores the inner working of accepting the circumstances that caused your grief. This 7 step model gives Pain and Guilt its own step and acknowledges that Reconstruction & Working Through comes before acceptance.
No matter which model you connect with, healing is definitely not a straight line. Sometimes you circle back around to a step you thought you passed already. Sometimes you think you have accepted a certain part of grief but then something hits you and you have to work through it all over again. Or maybe you become aware of a different aspect of the situation and you have to work through that aspect.
I have been hanging on to something since my separation almost 3 years ago. My marriage ended when I found out my ex-husband had been cheating on me. At the time, I thought I was never going to get over that. Being cheated on was one of my biggest fears. It wasn't that I mistrusted my ex-husband, it was that I have a fear of people choosing others over me. So, for me, having my husband cheat on me was the hardest thing I've ever gone through.
Being cheated on was nothing compared to the pain of the thought that my ex's girlfriend would be in my daughter's life. I understand that "I will always be her mom" and "No one can take my place". My brain knows that. But my heart has been less convinced. This sadness has swelled over the years and became a wall I couldn't climb. So, I just ignored it. It was actually surprisingly easy for me to heal from my ex cheating on me. But I kept hold of the resentment and sadness about having to share my daughter with his new girlfriend.
Sometimes we hang on to negative emotions to keep control
I recently realized that I was hanging on to this because it was the last thing left from my marriage and divorce that I had control over. I don't mean that I was using my daughter to get back at my ex or that I was keeping her from him. I mean that I had control over the emotions associated with having to share my daughter with my ex's girlfriend. Letting go of that control felt like giving up even more of my heart.
Shortly before my ex and I separated, we bought a new house. We were in the process of fixing it up when I left him. In the divorce, my ex got our new house and I got our soon-to-be old house. So, I had to say goodbye to the new house and all the hopes and dreams I had for it and for our little family. I have avoided, for the most part, going to my ex's house. The couple times I've had to pick up my daughter I stayed outside. I didn't want to see where my ex and his girlfriend ate dinner, where they watched TV, where my daughter played and slept. The dreams I had for our life in that house never got the chance to turn into memories for me. My dreams still sort of lived in that house. They were intruding on the memories my ex was building with our daughter and his girlfriend. Their memories were intruding on my unrealized dreams.
I was scared of facing the emotions I knew being in that house would stir up. I've been avoiding this subject for so long that it got built up in my mind. The pain got built up too. I convinced myself that I would not be able to face it and dreaded the day when my daughter would tug on my hand wanting to show me her room and give me a tour of her dad's house.
Today, that day finally came. I had to bring my daughter to my ex's house earlier than usual. My ex was still at work but his girlfriend was going to be home. I prepared myself for leaving my daughter with my ex's girlfriend. It just felt wrong. When we got to my ex's house, my daughter went right inside and did the thing I've been dreading for 3 years. She tugged on my arm and wouldn't let me go until she gave me a tour of their house. She took me through the kitchen and showed me her cats. Then took me up the stairs to her room. She showed me her bed and her stuffed animals. I didn't really absorb that much. The wall is still there but it's thinner now.
I feel like my daughter knew I needed help getting past this wall. She somehow knew I needed to take that first step. And having her soft, warm little hand to guide me through made it a little easier.
Sara is an ally for heartbroken moms going through divorce. Learn more at www.theheartfulljourney.com.