You need a long-term strategy for managing divorce stress that doesn’t involve alcohol.
I wish I could say that I had one of those divorces where we both agreed that we were better off apart and where we worked together to create a new version of our relationship, but I didn’t. And as I crawled through it, I learned (sometimes I learned in the hardest way possible). But oh how I wish I’d known what I learned along the way before I even filed for divorce.
And if you now find yourself in the same overwhelming place, know this, it won’t always feel this way. Yes, ending a marriage is messy and, yes, it is hard. Growth and change usually are. Now that I’m on the other side, though, here is what I would say to that woman I was on the day I gathered all of my courage, poured myself a drink and asked my husband to leave.
5 Things I Learned After I Filed For Divorce.
1. Imagine how difficult this will be. It is going to be 100 times tougher. Do it anyway
When I filed for divorce, I naively thought the hardest part was over. What could be worse than the last few years of my marriage? I was surrounded by anger and I felt like I was on my own with my children most of the time anyway. I truly thought my husband and I would spend some time talking about finances, setting up a schedule for our children and that would be it.
Instead, I ended up with a high-conflict divorce that dragged on for about two years from the day I asked for a divorce until the day we signed the papers. And my story is not unusual. As I began to talk about divorce with others who had gone through it, I learned that for most people it is a complicated, difficult and emotionally draining process.
I’m not sure anyone can truly be prepared for the experience of having someone who was supposed to be your partner in life turn out to be the person who wants to hurt you most, but if you are getting divorced you need to at least consider that this may happen.
Hurt changes people. Hurt makes people lash out in unimaginable ways. Expect this. Do your best to protect yourself, and forgive him or her for it (if not for your sake, then for your children’s). But don’t let this scare you.
If you have taken the time to think your decision through and know it is right, then you have to keep going. And one day when this is over, you will look back and see past the difficulty. You will see the value of this experience. As hard as my divorce was, it was the right decision. Don’t let fear stand in the way of the life you’re meant to create.
2. Wine is not a coping strategy.
Moms and wine go together like… well, moms and wine. This message is everywhere. It’s on shirts, social media and in magazines. It has become completely acceptable in our society to drown our stress in “Mommy Juice”. But going through a divorce is not the same as a rough day of wrangling kids at the park. You need a long-term strategy for managing stress that doesn’t involve alcohol.
When I was married, my drinking consisted of a few glass of wine on an occasional Friday night, at weddings, and on holidays. As my marriage deteriorated and in the early days of my divorce, it was easy to pour a drink at the end of a hard day and relax for a little while.
It was the only time that the knot in my stomach, the anxiety that ran through my body, would disappear. But it only made me more tired and irritable the next day and that didn’t help.
So what did help?
For me, it was about establishing a routine of self-care. In the mornings, I tried my best to wake up before my kids, pour a cup of coffee and replace social media with 15 minutes of reading, followed by a few minutes of thinking about what I was grateful for. Then, every night, no matter how tired I was, I would fill my tub, climb in with a cup of tea and listen to audiobooks like Gabrielle Bernstein’s “The Universe Has Your Back”. I soaked and I breathed and I listened.
This was new for me. I hadn’t been much of a bath or tea person before, but I was desperate for a new approach. And I realized that I began to feel better. I added in running when I could and noticed that on these runs, I could worry in a productive way and felt lighter by the end. Running, baths, and gratitude may not be for you, but it’s important to find something that is, whether that be yoga or journaling or dinner with friends.
It can be hard for parents to make themselves a priority and sometimes self-care can feel like one more thing on a single parent’s never-ending “to do” list. And, believe me, as a working single mom, I felt like I never had enough time in the day to get everything done.
But taking care of myself for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night made a noticeable difference. I was better able to handle the day in between and be more present for my children. My time seemed to expand and it minimized the impact the emotions surrounding my divorce had on our daily routine. It’s amazing how much more you are capable of when you are not hungover.
3. Even if you don’t think you need time to heal, you do.
For many people, divorce is a significant and traumatic event that requires recovery time. I learned this the hard way. When my ex first moved out, I thought that was it. I thought I was fine and ready for the next phase of my life. And I wanted the next phase to start right then. Old life gone, new life in its place. It’s understandable.
I had been in pain long enough and all I wanted was to feel happy NOW. I wanted to enjoy the life I had. I don’t think I fully realized how much I had been through in the last few years of my marriage and the toll that took, though. I did know that I didn’t want to repeat my mistakes; I never wanted to find myself in the same place again. And sometimes, to heal something and to be ready for what is next, you will find yourself in the perfect situation to bring everything to the surface.
For me, this was a new relationship with someone I deeply cared about. But it didn’t last. Had I taken some time first to process the ending of my marriage and to get stronger before starting something new, it might have worked out differently. And while I don’t have many regrets, this will always be one of them. Even if you think you are completely fine and are ready for the “next big thing”, take some time for yourself first. Process the ending of your marriage. Don’t rush into the next phase. It will wait for you and it will be better if you are ready for it. Heal first.
4. People will talk about you. They will believe things that are not true. Do not give them your power.
I’ve always been one of those people who cares what other people think much more than I probably should. This is not a good thing when you are going through a divorce. On some level, I expected people to judge the divorce itself. What I wasn’t prepared for was for them to judge me.
I had been through a lot in the last few years of my marriage. I knew I had searched for a way to keep it together. I knew that what was happening was not normal and that I would not want it for my own child. But once I left, I was still caught off guard by the stories that were spread.
I had kept the details of what went on in my marriage private and I was shocked by the way other people filled in the blanks. At first, I wanted to defend myself against each and every one of the rumors I heard. “That’s not true!” my insides would scream. “I was there!” Social media was the worst. It took everything in me to not comment on my ex’s passive aggressive posts that I knew were directed at me. There comes a time though, when that sense of the truth, of having been there and of knowing what actually happened, will have to carry you. I realized, and you will too, that you can’t fight it. Your energy is worth more than that.
5. You will never have your “normal” again.
But that’s okay. You’ll create a new normal. It might not always involve waking up with your children on a holiday or being on the family vacation, but try to remind yourself that the old “normal” wasn’t great either. And with any luck, you will find a person, THE person, YOUR person, to share this new normal with. If you are even luckier, you’ll discover that you are whole without someone else. You are enough. And you are getting a second chance. Work hard to learn from this experience. It has a lot to teach you.