Going through a nasty divorce? My condolences. That really sucks. Divorce can be so consuming that you don’t even have a chance to enjoy the life-threatening amount of weight you’re sure to drop courtesy of the Divorce Diet. (The secret weight loss formula? Not caffeine. Not acai berries. But massive amounts of stress, lots of sleep loss and soul crushing despair all blended together into the biggest bummer of a cocktail that you will ever have the misfortune of consuming. So…who’s thirsty? )
Winston Churchill said it best: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The bad news is you probably can’t get to Splitsville without passing through Shitsville, but the good news is you don't have to break down there. There are things you can do to move things along and to keep the pain and suffering to a minimum. But changing old behavior and forming new, healthy habits is hard work. Your best chance for success is to spread it out over time; learn a few exercises, get the hang of them, and then move on to the next set of skills.
So, with that background in mind, welcome to Divorce Boot Camp, a three part series designed to teach you how to be an emotional hard body during your divorce. In Session One we will work on getting you in the kind of condition that will allow you to endure this challenge. In Session Two you will learn how to manage your interactions with others. And in Session Three we'll go over what to consider when choosing a divorce lawyer.
Now, as Hans and Franz used to say, “It’s time to pump [clap] you up!”
- You’re #1! You know how flight attendants tell you to secure your own oxygen mask first and then help your kids with theirs? The same logic applies when you’re getting a divorce. Taking care of yourself is more important than ever right now. That doesn’t mean blowing off your kids to go hit happy hour. It means eating right, exercising daily, getting enough rest and not drinking and partying too much. It also means doing your best to stay balanced. If going to church does it for you, make sure you fit that in. Have more of an Eastern sensibility? Even if you can’t kind find your bliss right now, you can at least stay zen-tered with yoga or meditation. If you’re the twelve step type, then step up your meetings. Or if your road map for staying balanced involves reading, get lost in a book for a little while each day. The point is whatever helps you to feel calm and not crazy, make that a mandatory part of your regular routine.
- …But it’s not ALL about you. Yes, you are going through something terrible, but the other people in your world have lives too—including your kids and the friends and family that form the front lines of your support. Don’t forget to tune in to how they are doing. Not only does being a decent friend/sister/mom require it, it will also give you a much needed break from thinking about your own problems. Try to zoom out at least once a week and take an honest look at yourself. If you are becoming too consumed with your own problems consider finding time for some volunteer work. A shift at the homeless shelter is a good way to get a little perspective. You may be living in a house of pain; but hey, at least you have a house.
- Make a date—but not that kind of a date. When I was in the early days of my divorce and the road ahead looked terrifying and dark, my mom gave me some excellent advice. She told me to get out a calendar, flip exactly six months ahead and put a huge star on that date. Then she told me to keep that date in mind as I slogged through the day-to-day nastiness. Mom bet me that by the time that date rolled around, things would be a whole heck of a lot better. This simple mental trick helped me get through some tough times. Having a concrete date to look forward to enabled me to realize that however crappy things were at the moment, the bad times would not last forever.
- Laughter is the best medicine. Divorce is an ass kicker, not a thigh slapper. But laughing is a great way to alleviate stress. Try to see the humor in what you’re going through. Most of it won’t be funny—especially not in the moment. But there should be some things that you will be able to laugh at. Condition yourself to take a lighter view of things by taking a couple of minutes each week to reflect on what you’ve been through so far. Make a mental list of the funny moments and give yourself props for the progress you’ve made so far. If you can’t think of anything funny, settle for light. And If you still come up dry, proceed to Plan B and just rent The Hangover. Then try again next week.
- Learn a lesson from Linus. A nasty divorce can rattle you to your core. The person that you thought had your back is now constantly trying to stab you there instead. And it’s hard to move forward when you keep looking over your shoulder. If you catch yourself in one of these funks, it’s good to have a security blanket handy—something tangible that helps you get recentered. For me, it was a pink, heart-shaped post-it note on which my sister had written, “Have a great day!” The note reminded me of good things, like my sister and how awesome she is. I taped the post it note to the side of my computer. That way, when I would get a nasty email from my ex or correspondence from my divorce lawyer, all I would have to do is look six inches to the right for an instant blast of good vibrations.
- In the event of an emergency. If you find yourself feeling nostalgic about your ex and getting blue over your divorce, here’s a sure-fire way to snap yourself out of it. Think of your ex’s least attractive characteristic. Maybe he laughed like a donkey or ran like a girl. Maybe he wore his pants hiked up too high, making him look like an overgrown toddler. Whatever it was, cue up that tape in your mind, and play it a few times. In a matter of seconds, your thoughts will go from morose to gross. Repeat as necessary.
- Cut yourself some slack. Even when you take good care of yourself and keep some perspective about what you’re going through, you are still going to have sleepless nights, ungodly amounts of stress and more than your fair share of days when you feel down. So, don’t beat yourself up when that happens. Do what you can to stay physically and emotionally healthy and you will be better positioned to weather the storm.
That’s all for Session One. Work on making those seven skills second nature, and we’ll meet back here next week for Session Two. Until then, remember this: Life is hard enough when you’re going through a nasty divorce. Don’t make it harder by being an emotional flabby pants. So, buck up and get buff.