When divorce hits home, your life as you know it comes to a screeching halt. A part of your life ceases to be; a part of you dies. You're overwhelmed mind cannot comprehend your painful loss. Therefore, you need to gradually integrate your new reality into your life. You begin this process by maneuvering your way through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – as defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. in her landmark work, On Death and Dying.
To reach the final stage of acceptance, you must first experience the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. These stages allow you to gradually incorporate and eventually accept your new reality. Each of these stages serves a purpose, but they also have their downfalls.
Denial is your home when your reality is too painful to confront, and you design a new reality with which to relate. You paint a picture of a new and consoling reality, thereby suppressing your pain. You begin to fool yourself with your newly created reality, and soon you begin to fool others.
You may convince yourself and others that you are fine, but your body cannot be fooled. In Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Christiane Northrup, M.D., emphasizes the profound effects that our thoughts and emotions have on us physically. “All emotions, even those that are suppressed and unexpressed, have physical effects. Unexpressed emotions tend to ‘stay’ in the body like small ticking time bombs – they are illnesses in incubation.”
If you remain in denial, then you will harm your body – you will nourish those “illnesses in incubation.” To leave denial, you need to connect with your body and feel your emotions.
Denial acts as a buffer. It gives you time. The wind has been knocked out of you, and denial gives you a chance to catch your breath.
Anger is your residence when the questions of “Why me? Why now?” ring loudly in your ears. As you think about the injustices that have occurred in your life, you convince yourself that you have every right to be angry. Life has not been kind. It failed to uphold the certainties on which you relied. Your anger intensifies when you realize that your life has been divided into two parts – the before and the after. Your life before the dissolution of your marriage and your life after.
Filled with anger, you do not hesitate to strike out at others. Your pain is overwhelming, and you want everyone to feel the depth of your pain. You feel a sense of power when your anger surfaces. You know your voice is being heard. Your anger has masked your pain, and that is a relief.
When anger is your home, you are constantly activating your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). You never allow your body to rest and restore itself. Always having the warrior within you ready to do battle takes its toll. The fire you hold within suffocates you; you become physically worn out.
If you remain in anger, then you will not only consume others with your spiteful anger, but you will also consume yourself. To leave anger, you need to become mindful of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, thereby stopping your reactive responses.
Anger allows you to wake up from denial and find your voice. It allows you to crawl out from under the pile of rubble that hid you from your despair. It allows you to validate yourself.
Bargaining is where you dwell when you want your life to be as it once was. You want the familiarity and certainty of the before. To achieve this desire, you bargain with anyone, any higher power, and yourself.
Hope enters your life when you bargain. You devise a plan, follow through on your deal and await your reward. You hope that your desires will be fulfilled. But when no reward is given, you become saddened by your failure. To lessen your time in hopelessness, you quickly devise a new plan and attach a new hope to it. Your life becomes a roller coaster ride of emotions.
As you travel this ride of extremes – highs and lows – you are continuously placing your body in an environment of extremes. Your body loses the equilibrium on which it depends. It struggles as it strives to carry out its functions. You feel empty and expendable; you are used up.
If you remain in bargaining, then every time that you negotiate a new deal you will also bargain away the balance on which your body relies. To leave bargaining, you need to self-reflect. Ask yourself: Why do I need to control and manipulate others? Why don’t I trust myself when facing the unknown?
Bargaining reminds you that you are not in charge of the world. The world is not yours to manipulate or to control. Bargaining shows you that you cannot attach yourself to permanence.
Depression is where you reside when your hopes vanish and you begin to see the darkness of your pain. Frightened by this darkness, you turn away. You search for a way to escape from your haunting despair.
You may keep busy, filling every minute with some sort of “good” activity. Perhaps you seek possessions, food, alcohol, drugs, or relationships as your escapes. Whatever it is that you choose, you become excessive about it. Whether your escape is socially acceptable or unacceptable, it serves the same purpose. It allows you to escape from your pain.
Unfortunately, the more you resist your darkness, the more it engulfs you. You no longer have any space within you for the pleasures of your escapes. The darkness that loomed over you takes possession of you. It saturates you. You regress back to a place where no one can touch you.
As you shut yourself off from the world, your neurons are also shutting themselves off from one another. Certain neurons become unresponsive which causes your inner communication network to breakdown.
If you remain in depression, then you will become numb to the vibrancy of life. To leave depression, you need to let go of the certainties with which you identified (you let go of your past) and trust that all will be fine (you do not fear the future). You live in the present.
Depression allows you to surrender from your inner quarreling. You let go of the inner dialogues in which your mind loves to engage. You move out of your head and trust with your heart.
Acceptance is your home when you open your heart to yourself. You no longer run away from your pain. You face it. You believe in yourself and take responsibility for your own well-being.
Acceptance is a way of life. You face the truths about your life, so there is no denial. You understand the harmful effects of activating your SNS, so you release your anger. You do not need to control everything, so there is no bargaining. Your do not dwell on the past nor do you fear the future, so there is no depression.
There is no destruction of yourself in acceptance, only growth. When you live in acceptance, you nourish yourself so that you become the best possible you.
photo credit: Garden Grin via photopin (license)