Sunday, 15 December 2013

Going through divorce: A few tips for staying sane

In a recent email, a reader that’s going through a divorce asked for tips on holding on. Holding on to her sanity, basically (my interpretation), given the physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, social (etc.) toll that divorce usually takes. This request for tips reminded me of another reader's comment, in which I was asked for practical steps to take in moving forward when going through a divorce experience. I think I understand her question better now, having received a similar question from someone else. I thought about it and realized that I do have a few tips, off the top of my head, and in no particular order. We’re all wired differently and have different needs, but these are just some things that I personally have found to be critical. I’m sure there are many more and I hope others will feel free to add to this list.

  1. Take life in bite sizes.One day at a time.’ That continues to be my mantra, and I never seem to tire of sharing this. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on today and get through it the best you can. That’s all you have to do. All you have to do is get through today. Thinking about the future can be too overwhelming – and that’s why the future is God’s business. Leave it to Him. All you need right now is your Daily Bread – and that is enough.

  1. Exercise. I hate organized exercise myself, but I have to admit that it’s essential. You don’t have to join a gym, but please purpose in your heart to exercise – even if all you can do is walk in your neighborhood for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You need this at this time more than I can say. Divorce is not a joke – it’s regarded as one of life’s top 10 most traumatic events. Regular exercise will help you manage your stress levels, and regulate your appetite so that you’re feeling and looking your best. If you have children and they live with you, you’ll need energy to attend to their needs each day, and you need to sleep soundly each night. Exercise will ensure that this happens. This isn’t about being a fitness buff (I’d love to be one, though, personally … if wishes were horses …); it’s about doing what you need to do to get through each day successfully – especially in the first year of this sort of experience, which is the hardest. If exercise is a struggle for you as it is for me, 30 minutes of walking a day (doesn’t even have to be brisk) will do wonders for your mind.

  1. Find time to spend with loved ones/true friends. Divorce has a way of helping you identify your most committed friends, so that should be easy. What is more difficult (with our busy world and busy lives) is creating the time to spend with them.  But it is necessary to schedule that time. Most of my friends live in other countries, but I’m lucky to have good friends (a couple) who live a walking distance away. Once in a while, I walk down there just to hang out, talk, and laugh for 30 minutes to an hour. I come home with my heart full because I’ve been with people who truly care for me and who pray for me regularly. My sisters live elsewhere, too, but I communicate with at least one of them pretty much every day: by email, phone, text, Skype, g-chat – whatever. I reach out just to say hi. Sometimes, I just send out a group email to them to say nothing but ‘goodnight.’ I don’t ‘keep score’ with people whom I know love me. I reach out to them even if they haven’t reached out to me ‘first’ in a while. They do the same with me. We’re all terribly busy and so we excuse each other for being MIA once in a while. Back to the point, though: reaching out to and hearing from my sisters makes my heart full.

  1. Allow yourself a luxury or two. Just close your eyes and do it (within your means, of course). No one knows better than you about that one thing that could make your life a teeny bit more manageable. I think that when you’re a parent, particularly, there’s a tendency to really put yourself last. When you’re a divorced parent (or one in the throes of divorce), you tend to compensate for the guilt you feel by putting yourself even further on the back-burner. Big mistake, though, because you are all you have. You are often all that your children have, too. Without your physical body and your mind, you’re pretty much useless – even to God. So do what you need to make yourself comfortable. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else but you. In my case, for instance, over the last 9 years, I have rarely had fewer than two housekeepers. This doesn’t make sense to many people, and this is understandable: our lives are simply very different. I’ve had some well-meaning people tell me that I don’t need more than one. These have invariably been stay-at-home moms, though. I can see how, from their perspective, having more than one housekeeper may seem excessive. But I live a different life. I’m out of town pretty often and I don’t have a spouse at home to make sure everything’s okay. When one housekeeper needs to run an urgent errand to keep the house going, I need another one at home to be there when the kids get back from school, for instance. When I’m out of town and one child falls ill, I need one person to take my child to the hospital and the other to be at home waiting for the school bus. Etc., etc., etc. When I travel (or when I have to pull an all-nighter at the office), I do so with great peace of mind, knowing that the combination of the people I employ is able to meet the various needs of the children I’ve left behind. Again, decide what kind of ‘luxury’ you need and can afford. No one understands your life better than you.

  1. Revitalize your hobby/hobbies. Divorce is a new beginning as much as it’s an ending. Oftentimes, when we get married, we make the marriage our whole lives and forget who we were before we handed ourselves over completely to a life partner. Who were you before marriage, though? What did you enjoy doing? Is it possible to take up one of those things again? What made you happy before you got hitched?  These are questions that I had to ask myself. When I’m not somebody’s wife, who am I, really? What do I like for me? The answers to these questions lead you to dig up some old stuff that might have been long buried, but that could really add to your present life. For instance, I used to sing ALL THE TIME – to the point that my mother would yell at me to shut up (lol!). When I got married and became a mom, with all my new responsibilities, I sang much less. Right after my separation, I stopped singing completely (I’m talking about private singing, just for the joy of it). I probably didn’t sing again until two or three years later. When I started singing again, I knew I was ‘back.’ I also used to write for pleasure all the time when I was much younger, but this is another hobby that died off eventually. With my divorce, my writing was re-born. Use this time to lend yourself to something you once loved – or to discover a new hobby.

  1. Get smart with your money. Sometime after I got separated, I bought Suze Orman’s book, Women and Money. I highly recommend it, even though a lot of the investment tips she provides are tailored for women based in the U.S. I recommend it because of the way in which she dissects women’s psychology when it comes to money. Many of us interact with money in the same, counterproductive way, and she unpacks this in a way that really makes you think, examine yourself, and figure out how to change for the better. There are many of us that never really thought seriously about our finances and what to do with them because we always assumed we didn’t have to. (After all, that’s what husbands are for, right?) And since no one plans to get divorced, if you find yourself going through divorce, it can be really scary having to stare your finances in the face for the first time all alone. It is scary having to forge a relationship with your finances if you never really had before – but only because it’s unfamiliar. Once it becomes familiar, though, you begin to see all sorts of possibilities that you might not have, had you not been forced to interact seriously with your own money. One way to move forward during a divorce is to start saving. Save more. Start investing as soon as you’ve saved enough – and keep saving. It’s scary, addictive, fun, empowering, etc., all rolled into one. Maybe it never occurred to you that you could buy your own home (for instance) because you always assumed you would do this as a coupled person (same here). Well, this is your chance to do it anyhow. Investing your money wisely takes a fair amount of attention, and your attention needs to be diverted from the divorce during this time.

  1. Find your own therapy: Consider seeing a therapist or a life coach, if you can. Ask around for some good references first, though. And if you feel like you don’t need to see a professional, then find your own therapy. During the first year of my separation, my therapy was talking to whoever would listen. I just needed to talk, and doing so was really my life line. Then after the first year or so, talking grew kind of old (for me and my listeners, I’m sure). I thought about joining some sort of support group, but there didn’t seem to be any available at the time; besides, I could imagine that growing old fast, too, so I turned to writing. Through it all, I read a whole lot, too.  I know of some people that have found seeing a therapist beneficial. I don’t have any personal experience in this area, but I have thought about signing up with a life coach sometime. Maybe someday. Like I said, whatever works.

  1. Decide what kind of divorce you want. I wasn’t sure what to expect from divorce. None of my friends were divorced. None of my peers were divorced. I wasn’t sure if divorce in itself would magically alter all the dynamics of the relationship I had shared with my then spouse for years. We’re both really calm people; I wasn’t sure if we’d suddenly start yelling at each other all the time, for instance, when we never yelled when we were married. I wasn’t sure if there was a standard ‘way’ in which divorce had to be done. I think my ignorance was a good thing, though. I made a lot of unconventional decisions because I just went with how I felt, rather than with some invisible ‘script’ that laid out how to do divorce ‘right.’ I also read two key books as I was going through divorce. If there is one book that anyone whose marriage has ended needs to read, it is Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey through the Hell of Divorce. This amazing memoir helped me realize that I could decide what kind of divorce I wanted to have. I didn’t have to leave it to chance. I decided that I wanted a divorce that was as ‘positive’ as possible, despite all the negativity surrounding any divorce event. Another good one is Jessica Bram’s Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey. These two books really helped me see some light at the end of the tunnel. It was reassuring to read about the successful journeys of others who had been to this destination before me. By reading these two books, I learned that divorce can present an opportunity to re-negotiate the terms of your relationship with your ex in a way that helps you move forward.

  1. Pray for your ex. Surprise, surprise! J Yep. The time will come when you’ll eventually be able to do this if you aren’t already. I don’t remember exactly when this ceased, but there was a time when I would have this thought flash through my mind to pray for my ex, and then I would poise myself to do so, only to remain absolutely tongue-tied. It would literally take minutes for me to wrap my mind around what to pray for exactly, because I always felt like praying for his good had to mean praying that we would reconcile by some miracle, and this wasn’t a prayer that I could bring myself to pray. And so after battling with a blank mind for some minutes, I would just ask God to bless him, protect his life, health, and relationship with God. I’m now able to pray for him without feeling like the prayer has to have some attachment to me. I pray for him as my children’s father and as a Christian who needs prayer support just like me. I don’t devote ‘lengthy’ prayers to this subject, but I do pray. I believe it is part of the process of moving forward and safely leaving what needs to be left behind, behind.
  2. Reach out to the less fortunate. Not right away, though. It takes a while to recover from the shock of your own divorce and to be strong enough to feel like you have anything to give; so take your time. But as time goes by, you begin to realize that as horrible and devastating as divorce is, you’re surrounded by people much less fortunate than you. All kinds of people: divorced, married, never-married, orphaned, homeless, etc. Everyone’s got problems, and I’m yet to meet someone whom I’d like to exchange problems with. Helping out others is a great way to get your mind off yourself, to remind yourself of just how blessed you really are depite your circumstances, and to come away with a totally fulfilled feeling. Pick and choose carefully because no one has the resources to help out everyone in the world. But there is something that you can contribute to the world. As Mother Theresa said, ‘If you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one.’

This is all I can think of for now. There’s definitely much more to add, so please be liberal with any tips you may have!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Dearly Beloved

I went to a wedding today.

Doing so was a nice addition to the long weekend we’re enjoying over here this week. It was fun getting all dressed up. Wearing things I only rarely wear. Choosing the right shoes for the outfit, the right earrings, and the right shade of lipstick.

At the venue, I sat in one of the rows in the little garden, taking it all in. The wedding color scheme was burnt orange and chocolate brown. It suddenly occurred to me that I should’ve known this already, since the wedding invitation was printed out in the same colors. It just goes to show that I haven’t attended many weddings in the last decade.

I looked around, taking in all the details and wondering how much time it must have taken the couple, their family, and friends, to pull everything together: the bouquets of orange and cream roses; rose petals in the same colors mixed with hay and sprinkled all along the center aisle in anticipation of the bridal party’s grand entrance; the white chairs wrapped up in chocolate brown bows; the Afrocentric twist to the bridesmaids’ gowns and groomsmen’s outfits; the hairstyles of the bride and her bridesmaids (they all had braids); the cuteness of the little flower girls as they walked down the aisle, doing their best to keep permanent smiles on their faces; the earnest photographers and videographers, doing all sorts of acrobatics in a bid to get the best shots.

I was touched by the ceremony.

I paused for a few minutes, trying to put my finger on what it was, exactly, that touched me. I realized it was the refreshing simplicity of the event, and the innocence and purity of the couple. This was a young couple, just starting out in life, with a world of possibilities ahead of them. They pooled together what they had for their special day, and their family and friends were there to witness the beginning of their journey together. It was so precious to sense and watch their excitement and love.

They haven’t hurt each other yet, I thought to myself suddenly. That’s what it is. That’s what makes this moment so beautiful.  

There’s something really beautiful about a couple that hasn’t hurt each other yet (and that hopefully never will in a major way). It was just so touching to see.

And those beautiful words that traditional wedding vows start out with! Like I said, I hadn’t been to a wedding in forever, so I paid heightened attention to this one. The pastor began to speak those words and we all sat back and basked in the familiarity of it all:

Dearly Beloved: We are gathered together here in the sight of God – and in the face of this company – to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is commended to be honorable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly – but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and solemnly. Into this holy estate these two persons present now come to be joined. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together – let them speak now or forever hold their peace.

And then the vows, which both bride and groom committed to unflinchingly:

Do you …… take …… to be your lawfully wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart’s deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?

Then, the couple read out their own, individual vows to one another. Like I said, too, too cute. I was really impressed by their personal vows and that they took the time to write them down and declare them publicly to us all. The personal vows were so moving that I saved as much from them as I could on my cell phone, my thumb moving furiously over the dial pad as I tried to type out everything. I thought it would be great to share some excerpts in a blog post, then I thought about it again and decided not to. I’ve just deleted the draft message I saved of their words. They were their words to one another, meant for each other and those that they invited to their wedding. I will say, though, that their words were heart-felt, poignant, and sometimes humorous. The bride and groom were totally comfortable with one another.

This is a couple that’ll make it, I thought.

When it was time to kiss the bride, the groom comically made a big show of things: rolling up his sleeves, pulling up his socks, and tightening the grip of his belt. It was terribly, terribly cute and we onlookers laughed in delight. He planted a nice, French kiss on his bride's lips for a few seconds too long (for ‘conservative’ audiences, anyway), and we rejoiced with him and his new bride.

They sat together afterwards as husband and wife, brimming with palpable excitement as the pastor gave the sermon. Grinning at each other in slight disbelief and whispering to one another. I could imagine everything just being a blur to them both on this exciting day.

They craned their necks to make eye contact with me across the garden, and grinned at me simultaneously. I grinned back.

Here’s to you, young couple. Wishing you all the best.