"I have always believed that Your issues show up in your tissues…and I'm not just talking about the ones in your Kleenex box. Seriously, I'm talking about the ones in your body. I believe that all mental and physical illness has its origin in unresolved emotional issues...usually grief, from some form of loss." - Paula Shaw
As someone who is gone through cancer, is going through divorce and helps people while they deal with major life stressors, I know first hand the havoc stress can play in our lives. When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer almost 12 years ago, I was not surprised to learn I had cancer. I was about as stressed as you could be.
One of the gifts of Divorce Home Solutions has been creating a support group to help people the way I would have wanted help when I was first going through the divorce process. We had the pleasure of hearing Paula Shaw, Author of the book "Grief...When Will This Pain Ever End".
She spoke to the group about stress, how it manifests in our body and then gave us demonstrations and tools on ways we could combat stress.
1. When faced with stress, ask yourself is the stress and the physical manifestations it may cause in your body worth it?
2. Tap on the bone on the side of the eye for about three minutes. (See photo above)
3. Form strong relationships with positive people.
4. Walk away when you are angry. Get outside and move.
5. When you are sad or depressed, allow yourself to be sad. Think of it like being in a body cast after being hit by and emotional Mack truck. Would I demand "x" of myself if I was in a body cast?
6. Allow yourself to feel the feelings. Don't push them down. Pushing down emotion and not working through it will have the experience manifest somehow in your body.
7. Meditate, do Tai Chi, Pray
8. Try breathing and other exercises including:
You can see demonstrations of several other breathing techniques as well as other demonstrations from her book.
9. When I had cancer, the therapist I worked with specialized in oncology patients. She asked me to Identify my "happy place". I knew I loved to take baths when I was stressed, sad or uncomfortable but I never connected the fact that it was at the place I went to "hide". Now, my tub has an assortment of books, candles and bubble baths as well as a sign and a plant that have truly carved it out as my "happy place".
10. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Have friends you can call, join a support group, find and connect with other people who share your interests and seek out resources for anything that overwhelms you or might be an unmet need.
One of my all time favorite poems is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." I remember telling someone a while back that I'd wished I could have lived a simultaneous life. That of the mother I am and of a single person able to travel and explore new adventures. The separation process has given me an unexpected "gift." Which is how I am choosing to "embrace" my new, unplanned role as a single woman in her 40s.
While I am sad that my marriage failed and that I must share my children with their father, I am grateful for the time I've had alone pushing myself out of my comfort zone exploring new things and challenging myself physically, mentally and spiritually.
I've read two great books that both speak to The "Phoenix Process", Elizabeth Lesser's "Broken Open" and "Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce" by Abigail Trafford. Take my advice, read "Crazy Time" before you start dating. It might spare you a bit of heartbreak. (More about that in another article.) The Phoenix Process is essentially the process of shedding who you once were and reemerging as a better version.
Rules of the Phoenix Process
1. Change is the nature of life, and nothing changes without loss, which is a form of death.
2. When we turn toward what is changing—when we keep our hearts open and allow ourselves to feel a loss all the way through—we move with more grace into a new, energetic and constructive phase of life.
3. We can transform loss into growth, change into insight and suffering into joy if we turn and face that which frightens us most about ourselves and our changing circumstances.
Adapted from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser.
In the 20 months since I've separated, I have done 400+ yoga classes, studied Kabbalah, done the Landmark Education Curriculum, rock climbed (I hate heights), joined a single parent meet up, started a second business, lost 10 pounds, hiked areas I've never explored, took up paddle boarding, had LOTS of coffee dates, learned about vulnerability and ego, pretty much gave up television and learned to be okay with being "in it."
Even though I've cried more in the past 20 months than I think I've cried in my entire life, I've also had unbelievable moments of connection with people I would never have met. I hardly recognize the person I've become and if I'm being honest, that might be okay.
My parents divorced when I was one so I had no memory of the two of them together. What I did know was that my only set of grandparents had actually divorced and remarried after three years apart. My grandfather was likely going through a midlife crisis and left my grandmother for another woman. Back in the early 1960s, nobody divorced and my grandmother was left as a single mom with two children. She faced the stigma of divorce and also the betrayal of the only man she'd ever loved.
When he came back, she accepted him and when they celebrated their "50th" Anniversary more than 20 years later, she jokingly referred to it as "fifty years with time off for 'bad behavior'".
My grandmother's sense of humor but also the reality that love could be repaired and mistakes could be forgiven always stuck with me. Fast forward almost 25 years and here I am facing my own divorce.
Whenever anyone tells me they are going to divorce, I always ask them if they are sure. I hold firmly to the belief that all romantic love fades away and it's only after the love drugs wear off that we truly learn what it means "to love." They say love is a verb and now more than ever, I understand why.
Statistics indicate that 50% of first marriages, 73% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages will end in divorce. I'm no sociologist or psychologist but I'd say the likelihood is if we couldn't work it out the first time, the chances are, we aren't going to get it right the next time. (UNLESS WE DO THE WORK...stay tuned for the next blog about the Phoenix Process.)
When my "wusband" and I were in marital therapy, the therapist told us the only hope we had of saving our marriage was to not separate and stay together. Now, I understand why. It is impossible to compare a marriage with any passing of time and especially one with children to a new and exciting relationship. When you are married, you begin to take each other for granted, resentments build and the work involved to keep it together becomes too hard. In our "throw it all out society", it's easier and a lot more fun to trade in the old model for something new and shiny.
If you find yourself contemplating divorce, you really need to take a serious moral inventory of yourself first and foremost and figure out whether or not saving your marriage is something you'd really want. Of course, there are some "deal breakers" that simply are non-negotiable and in that case, mourning the loss, looking at your role and figuring out what attracted you to that person is important work to do. If there are no "deal breakers," it takes two partners open to the idea of working it out. If there is only one willing to do the work, your best bet is to come to a place of acceptance. I've learned that what you resist persists. The best you can do is figure out how to accept what is and build a new life for yourself. Being angry at your partner is like taking poison and expecting them to die. You have to get to a place of forgiveness even though it may be the last thing you'll want to do. The plus side though is that having the decision out of your hands, frees you from guilt and allows you to take a look at your contributions to the decline of the marriage and figure out how to improve. (I highly recommend the book Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life by Debbie Ford.)
If you are uncertain or you have a partner who might be willing, first and foremost, throw your ego out the door. This is not about your fear of rejection or "looking good." This is about putting it all on the line and living a life you can look back on and feel proud of. There should be no embarrassment in baring your soul and being vulnerable. (Link to Brenne Brown's Ted Talk) Through my work in Landmark Education, I discovered that I regretted far more what I didn't do than what I did. (I actually have a girlfriend who was divorced for seven years and this Valentine's Day, remarried her husband after they'd both completed the work of Landmark.)
It's human nature to want to feel connected and accepted. If you are living in resentment and waiting to feel loved to give love, you're going to be caught in a vicious cycle. Before my own separation, a friend told me to read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. She felt that if she and her ex-husband had read it, they would have been able to keep their marriage together. If you are in a space where the final nail is not in the coffin, consider giving yourself the emotional distance to work through your anger and honestly look at the part you've played.
If you are contemplating separation, I recommend Second Saturday. There, you'll hear from a therapist, a mediator, an attorney and a financial advisor. Having the information is always helpful when making a big decision.
When children are involved, whether or not you remain married, your ex-spouse is going to be in your life forever so getting to a place of peace is essential. If you do find yourself facing separation, having the support of others really eases the burden. The old saying is true, "misery really does love company." Join us at the Separated and Newly Divorced Meet Up we host in North County San Diego.