“Take care of yourself.” This disarmingly simple statement is what other divorced women prescribed over and over again in those early days, and all the days in between. And, um, even now. These four words have circled around to pick me up again and again when I was too low to scrape off the floor.
That said. I must give full disclosure and add that my first reaction upon hearing this advice—even when I give it to myself—is irritation. Even if my best friend in the big wide world says this this to me and I plainly hear the love in her voice and feel the profound gratitude I have for knowing such a true-blue person as the one who just offered this very good advice, there is a part of me that just wants to roll my eyes.
I mean, why should I have yet another thing I am supposed to do when I already feel the weight of the world? How can I possibly take care of myself when all I have the energy to do is to crawl under a rock and die? Sure, other people can afford to take naps, go to spas, go on safari, buy random stuff, redecorate, take workshops, and go to Spain for a month. But. Not. Me. Ergo, I can’t take care of myself. So there. Stop telling me to do something stupid that only lucky people who aren’t me can do.
This would be my thinking on a really bad day. Most importantly, this would be my feeling on a really bad day. On a bad day, and in the beginning all days seemed bad, I felt so behind the eight ball that I could not imagine anything else.
As I sat in a heap in that space between my old life and my new life, some of my friends (bless ‘em) were able to take themselves on exotic trips to jumpstart the healing process. And, quite honestly, I vicariously enjoyed hearing about all the fabulous ways other women were taking their lives back.
Through their victories I felt victories if any kind were possible, even my own, someday. So, being surrounded by women who were trying, women who were figuring it out, this was good for me. It would have been much harder for me to figure it out if I had been surrounded by women who were nottrying and who were not invested in pulling themselves up by the scruff of the neck, with love.
Just in case you are like me and have a tendency to think all this “caring for yourself” is beyond your reach in whatever stage you are in, allow me to walk you through how I managed (or did not manage) to apply this advice in my very real life.
Here is how the self-care went down for me:
Phase One: The Shock of a Pending Separation
Self-care step #1: Cry.
Self-care step #2: Cry to a therapist.
Self-care step #3: Cry to friends and family.
Self-care step #4: Try to get a grip for at least a few minutes a day so as to function at a basic level.
Phase Two: Separation
Self-care step #1: Cry, it’s fine, it’s a way of life in this phase. Wear waterproof mascara.
Self-care step #2: Drag self to Meet-up group of divorced women and share stories. Laugh.
Self-care step #3: Get certified as paralegal so as to feel teensy bit more empowered when facing the worst job market since The Great Depression.
Self-care step #4: Drink more than usual (but not too much because that would be bad).
Self-care step #5: Lean heavily on friends and family for emotional support.
Phase Three: A Single, Working Mother of Three Teens
Self-care step #1: Lean heavily on friends and family for emotional support because there is no time for therapy.
Self-care step #2: Still drinking more than usual because there is no time for crying or therapy (again, not too much because that would be bad).
Self-care #3: Regular exercise routine miraculously morphs into iron-clad daily habit. Hooray.
Self-care #4: It is okay now to get an occasional massage or pedicure. Whew. This is heaven.
Self-care #5: The world of online dating. Hmmm. Does this count? ‘Cause it isn’t always as fun as the massage or the drinking. In the end, yes, I suppose it belongs here because, hey, we have to begin somewhere.
Self-care #6: Allow others to help and try not to feel guilty.
Self-care#7: Practice letting go of guilt. This is, indeed, a daily practice and very good for the self.
Phase Four: The Very Late-in-the-Game Divorce and Subsequent Re-Shuffling of Custody Just When Oldest Goes Off to College
Self-care step #1: Cry, but not as much. It is a different kind of crying. Doesn’t last long.
Self-care step #2: Lean heavily on friends and family.
Self-care step #3: Drinking becomes memory. So does appetite, therefore juice machine gets dusted off and it’s now juice for b’fast, lunch and dinner.
Self-care step #3: Rigorous daily exercise and back to the yoga mat. Hooray, I’d missed yoga.
Self-care step #4: Daily meditation.
Self-care step #5: It is okay to take time for self. I make conscious decision to stop working for a little while…with no safety net. It’s only for certain people, but it may have changed my life, in a good way.
Self-care step #7: Try each day to remember at least one or two of the things the self-help gurus said and put into practice. Maybe remember just one. It still works, I find.
Self-care step #8: This is another article and involves new slant on “dating.” For now, let’s just leave it at that and say, “new slant on dating.”
Well, that’s it. My list is not as exciting as some self-care lists may be. There are no exotic trips or long, spa-like retreats or self-oriented seminars in serene locations. There is no sporty car or new house overlooking the ocean. There is no instant new relationship that erases all memory of the past.
All I have is the above. Yet, somehow, all of this has helped and, as I tell anyone willing to listen, I feel the best I have ever felt in my life. No lie. I feel great! And you can, too, with a little, consistent self-care. Remember, it’s not what you do, so much, as that you do it at all.