Defeating Divorce Despair: The Wisdom (and Humor!) of Healing

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When we go through a divorce, most of us want to heal our emotional wounds quickly. We want to feel good again and move on with our life. We wonder if our once happy self will ever return or will the pathetic funk we’re in last forever.

Sadly, there is no easy exit strategy to deal with these wounds. There is much work to be done. Yes, hitting your weekly therapy sessions and setting your exes’ clothes on fire are a good start, but it will take time and a whole lot of tricks and tactics to find your joy again. Here are a few ideas to help you heal.

. Regardless of the situation, react with class. When I was going through my divorce, I plastered uplifting words and phrases to things around my house and work space: taped to my bathroom mirror, under the glass top of my desk, pinned to the bulletin board on the wall above my computer screen, and next to my doomsday stash of Dove chocolates in the cupboard. I used these affirmations to remind me to take the high road.

I was prompted each morning by The Four Agreements as they stared back at me while listening to the buzz of my Sonicare—be impeccable with my word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do my best. While these are challenging ideals when life is good, they are especially difficult to live up to when going through a divorce. Although faltering from them will occur, if you begin each day by keeping these principles in mind, they will put you back on the path to emotional freedom.

There were times when my impeccable word goal sank faster than a five-carat diamond ring in a toilet bowl—not that that ever happened (it was only half a carat)—when I thought about my cheating, son-of-a-bitch ex and the other woman! Oops, just lost the high road again. It took a whole lot of restarts to strive for impeccability, however, each time I did, I felt like I’d made another small step toward my recovery. The most important thing is to keep trying. In the end, there will be pride and self-respect in the way you conducted yourself.

On my fridge is a quote from the Dalai Lama. “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” It is beneficial for your personal growth and future happiness to ask yourself: What can I learn? If you don’t have the answer, keep asking until you do. But first, allow yourself one brief wallow in the victim mentality, and then shut that pity party down for good because the opportunity to experience a huge leap forward in your personal growth is in front of you.

. Sigh, breathe, and curse, but not necessarily in that order. During my divorce, I heard an unusual sound expelled from my body. It was so odd that, at first, I was like, “What in the heck was that?!” Turns out it was my first real sigh—but not just any old audible exhale. It was a reflexive purging of hardcore stress.

Soon I discovered that every time I did it, I felt a little better. From then on, I used sighing as a tool to release anxiety—just be sure to be mindful of your surroundings. No need in attracting some amorous bull moose that could be lurking about.

Deep breathing is like sighing but a more appropriate measure for public situations, and an extremely healthy habit to add to your divorce repertoire of recovery tactics, and to your life in general. Inflating your lungs is never a bad thing, well, unless you’ve parked your tiny house in the middle of a sulfur pit, but then, if you have, you’ve probably got other issues to ponder.

Breathing through the pain is proven to be physiologically helpful. It oxygenates the blood which in turn releases endorphins. It’s those little gems that reduce stress and pain. So take a simple deep breath whenever you feel like twisting your soon-to-be exes’ beak.

After I had my kids, I gave up cursing. It was challenging but I managed to do it for twelve long years. Then the divorce happened. Somehow the words fudge and sugar just didn’t cut through the rage. Much like sighing and breathing, cursing has a time and place, but it’s amazing how creative you can be when you need to expel one of those little suckers.

There’s the vehement inaudible mouthing of a curse word; the lock-jawed, under your breath strategy; and the covert middle finger tucked away in your armpit technique. All of these can be discreetly used at your local supermarket or when carpooling the kids to school.

But there’s nothing like the good solid vocalization of an obscenity to release a black plume of negativity. So when you’re out of earshot of others, tense your body and shout your preferred swear word three times in rapid succession, or, if you prefer, give one loud blast of it like a cruise ship fog horn. Then follow it up with a big fat sigh.

. Female buddhas and gratitude journals. One weekend shortly after my divorce, I wandered into a shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was filled with a wide array of buddhas. I was instantly drawn to one particular statue and knew I had to have her. I asked the shopkeeper about the beautiful white porcelain creation. He said she was Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy and compassion. It was kismet.

I brought her home and put her in a place where she would remind me to have compassion and mercy for everyone around me: for my friends who must have been tired of consoling me, for my co-workers who were probably sick of my pathetic moods, for my children who lived with my pain instead of my joy, and even for my ex who would someday realize what he’d lost, but, most especially, for me who felt like I was a failure to them all.

From then on, Kuan Yin was the mantra I silently repeated when I emotionally floundered. Kuan Yin, Kuan Yin. Like sighing, breathing, and cursing, I added her to my recovery bag of tricks.

I hesitate to use the word journal when talking about gratitude. I’ve found that a lot of my friends think they must be writers to keep a journal. I prefer to call it a gratitude menu because, of course, everyone feels confident in their eating skills.

One of the last things I would do at night was to write down five to ten things I was thankful for during that day. There were many times when it was a struggle, but then I’d think about how most people live in the world. After that, finding things to be thankful for wasn’t so difficult: I drank sixty-four ounces of clean water today, I listened to Coldplay’s new song on my iPhone, and best of all, I, alone, have control of the TV remote. Days, even weeks, later when I looked back at my previous entries, I realized just how much I had to be grateful for.

. Give us this day our daily humor. Finding the funny when wrestling with divorce despair is integral to rediscovering the joy in life. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but it should be included in your everyday to-do’s.

Watch a nightly sitcom, or tune into the Three Stooges Network. (I’m not sure there is one, but there should be!) Buy a book by Ellen DeGeneres. Watch a YouTube video by Jeanne Robertson, or have your girlfriends over for a cutthroat game of Sequence, and, most important, be sure to play practical jokes on your kids so they’ll see that it’s possible to be light-hearted even after their world is upended.

In the beginning, you might have to add “laugh” to the other uplifting words taped to your mirror in order to make it a daily practice. Over time your sense of humor will be back better than ever because you will realize bit-by-bit you have overcome this seemingly insurmountable life challenge.

There are all kinds of simple strategies that allow you to move through the divorce cycle of grief more evenly. Whether you take a hike in what I like to call Mother Nurture, or volunteer to read to sick kids in your local children’s hospital, use as many tricks and techniques as possible because it’s not one solution that will save you, it’s the strength of many that will bring you back to joyful living.

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