Image copyright: 123rf/Songquan Deng
Recently, I spent a morning with my family in the national park that protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America,
Walking through rugged terrain under a clear blue New Mexico sky, we could see designs and symbols that had been carved onto volcanic rocks 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and by Spanish settlers. They were voices from the past etched into giant black boulders, remaining unchanged for centuries. It was a powerful experience.
Later I wondered which of my stories I had etched in stone. Stories about my self-worth, my history and my place in this world. Do these stories still serve me? Are they true? Are they even mine or are they the stories of others that I have taken as my own?
In my personal library, I have the classic trilogy: “I Have No Value,” “My Voice Does Not Matter,” “I Cannot Possibly Follow My Dreams.”
The section of “poor me” stories holds some of my favorites. I take them out whenever I need a good cry or want to feel self-righteous.
Then there is the popular series of “Lack”. “There is Not Enough Love to Go Around” is the first in the series and can cause tremendous grief to those of us dealing with divorce, because if we believe there is only so much love to go around, we force our children to choose between a mother and a father.
Some unhealthy stories are so deeply etched into us, that even if we wanted to, we could not remove them. Instead, we can gently acknowledge they are with us and put them back on the shelf without opening them.
The most important story is the one that informs all the others. It is about living our lives from a place of love, compassion and faith. Out of all the stories, this is the one we must etch onto the rugged terrain our lives.
By: Brenda J. DeMotte, MSW, LICSW An excerpt from her book: Grief Demystified, A Companion Through Change For more information or to purchase the book visit: www.griefdemystified.com
Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power…that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more. – Marcel Proust
No Loss Without Gain
In the early days of bereavement, it’s hard to believe that anything good can come from your loss. But things are different now, and you may notice a silver lining or two. You may have or foresee more time to yourself, or more freedom of one kind or another. Your mind may protest that you can’t possibly want more time or freedom at such a cost. But these freedoms remain real enough. The gains from bereavement can be major gains in the way you remake your new identity (our definition of grief, remember, is nothing less than a redefinition of self) and also small, practical gains.
Small, Practical Gains
We’ll start with the small gains. If you are newly bereaved, you will likely be noticing already that some things in your life are a little easier. If you have lost a mate, for example, you no longer have to cope with his snoring, or wait while she looks for her car keys for the millionth time. Hold on, you may say, I’d cope with any amount of snoring or key hunting if I could just have my mate back. No doubt you would, if death or divorce could be undone by wishing. But that’s not the way it goes.
Grounding Yourself Through Small Gains
It’s a positive step in your grief work to dare to admit that it can be kind of nice to have sole control of the TV remote, to watch action flicks or soppy romantic movies that your late spouse or ex deplored, or to crank the type of music that you love but he or she hated. Such thoughts, far from being disloyal, as baby steps in accepting your loss. It is helpful and healthy to admit what is real. And because daily life is full of small, practical realities, grounding oneself by attention to these realities is a way to forge a new connection to life. All of this is the way things are, whether you like it or not, so why not find small things to like? People need permission to accept the practical gains that come with loss. Whether or not you wanted it, there’s simply more freedom. Options open and there may be room now for surprise and serendipity.
New Strengths And Paying It Forward
Gains are unavoidable from losses. If you think you’re doing something wrong by gaining from death or divorce, you haven’t yet grasped the full implications of your loss. For everything that was taken there’s a corresponding something given, a very real possibility that you are gaining new strengths from coping. Though you didn’t ask for or deserve the suffering, it’s here. It can crush you, or you can, over time, develop resilience. It seasons you and make you wise. Eventually, you can come to fully accept what happened, to the point that you turn naturally toward comforting others who will inevitably be in your shoes – because all of us go through this. We’re all in this together. There is no deeper wisdom than that.
Written by Heather Debreceni, Divorce Coach www.HeatherDebreceni.com
5 methods to help you work through your divorce grief
Divorce is a loss. it isn’t just the loss of your relationship, it is the acknowledgement of the loss of the life that you thought you would be living. Nobody gets married thinking, “I will keep this one around for 5-6 years tops.”
Whether you choose to end your marriage or your former partner did, it doesn’t change the reality that a dream has ended. Your life will forever be changed. You are now faced with moving on and the daily challenges of trying to build a new dream… alone.
Although the saying, “time heals all wounds” has some merit, it also implies that all you need to do is wait out the hurt and eventually it will heal. Which isn’t true. There are steps you can take that will help you heal as you move through the ebb and flow of your grief over the loss of your marriage.
5 Methods that will help you heal:
- Keep a Journal – Each day write about one event that you had to face that day that caused you to feel anxious, upset, sad or angry. Write how you responded, what you would have changed about the situation if you could have a “do over” and what steps you are going to take in the future to ensure that you either avoid the situation or make it more bearable.
- Pick a craft any craft – Paint, sculpt, color, draw or build your feelings. Allow yourself the time to connect to your emotions and use the medium you have selected to help you create a physical representation of your emotions. Remember that your work is only for you so don’t stress over how “good” or “bad” the final product turns out. Success is based on whether or not you feel better after expressing that emotion in an artistic way.
- Make two “energy” lists – The first list should be of all the things that you do in your life that are depleting your energy or that make you feel negative. The second list should be of all the activities that you either know will replenish your energy and make your feel positive or the ones that you would like to try that you think will do the same. Once you have both list compiled, make an intentional effort to create balance between the energy that you are giving out to the world which depletes your positive energy stores and the things that you are doing in your life which will replenish your positive energy stores.
- Tip the scales – Although divorce is a loss, it is also an opportunity to create the life that you have always wanted. Review your list of positive energy depleting-negative things that you are doing in your life. Review each item and ask yourself why you are doing it. You should also ask yourself if continuing the activity helps you attain the life that you want to live. If it isn’t a critically necessary activity, make a plan for how you are going to stop or avoid doing the activity in the future. Work you way down your list one issue at a time. Eventually, the amount of energy depleting activities that you do in your life will diminish and be replaced with the life that you have always wanted.
- Write a “goodbye” letter to your marriage – Acknowledge your pain and the things you will miss most about your marriage. Apologize for the things you did wrong, your regrets and your fears about moving forward. This letter should be addressed to your marriage, it isn’t a letter for your former spouse. When you are done writing the letter, don’t keep it, don’t give it to anyone else. It should contain your deepest and most private feelings. Once you are done with it and you have said your goodbye, destroy it.
Understand that grief is a cycle. At times you won’t even remember the pain, and at others it will weigh so heavily on you that you will wonder if you can carry on. For some the grief and sadness are a constant and for some it doesn’t come until months or years after their marriage has ended.
No matter where you find yourself in the process, remember that you are not alone. Acknowledge to yourself that your feelings are valid, even it you are the one who wanted your relationship to end.
Forgive yourself for the mistakes that you made in your marriage.
Learn from your experience and be honest with yourself about your role in the issues your relationship had and the part that you played in the way that things turned out.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Even if you can look back now and see the red flags, even if you knew that things were wrong but continued on as if everything was fine, remember that it is the curves in the road that make life interesting.
It was a morning just like any other. I sat drinking coffee at my kitchen table, watching my neighborhood come to life outside my window. The tall slender man across the street was taking his two dogs out for their morning walk; the neighborhood biking couple outfitted with helmets, biking shorts and shirts, pedaled down the street; my next door neighbor sleepily stepped out her front door, coffee cup in hand, wrapped in her bath robe, to retrieve her morning newspaper. Yep, just another usual day in the neighborhood. But, nothing was usual on the inside of my window.
Kim left five months ago and apparently I left that day too. Most days I have no idea where to put my foot next. When I look in the mirror I don’t even recognize myself. Never mind trying to remember anything. What remains is a body without a soul, a hole where my heart used to be, chaos where my thoughts and emotions used to provide order. This must be what crazy feels like.
If you can relate to these feelings then know that “crazy” is exactly the right feeling. Of course not in the clinical sense but certainly in the figurative. In fact in the world of grief crazy is what keeps you from going insane. Come take a closer look with me.
When we choose to love someone we “bond” with them. To bond means to become one. That bonding begins a process of assimilating that person (or place or thing) into our overall sense of self – our identity. This process of identity geniuses takes place over many months and years. We become comfortable and familiar with the actions, activities and dynamics that make up a relationship. It stands to reason that when that relationship is altered, we are altered. When that relationship dies – we die with it or our sense of self does. Leaving us feeling empty, lost, naked, vulnerable, ashamed, guilty, fearful and sad. This is the source of grief.
Grief is often referred to as the emotions released upon a loss. In reality, the emotions are the by products of grief. Much like exercise. The by products of exercise are shortness of breathe, perspiration, and muscle fatigue. The actual source of these by products are the stretching and tearing of muscle tissue as it changes. So it is with grief. The tears, sadness, fear, anxiety, confusion, disorganization are all by products of the stretching and tearing of our sense of who we were. Knowing this is useful in creating realistic expectation for ourselves and setting up some concrete tools to work with your grief.
For example, if it takes months and years to create an identity expect the same in letting go of the former one and setting up a new one following your divorce. This will allow yourself to be patient with yourself knowing you will be working with your losses and gains for many months. Finally, how do you work with grief?
Here are three simple questions to journal. Spend 15 minutes a day thinking these questions over.
- What have I gained or lost?
- How do I feel about his gain or loss?
- Who am I now because of this gain or loss? By doing this small exercise, daily, you are helping yourself reorganize and make meaning out of the craziness.
A long time ago a college professor of mine once said to me, “ When you are most uncomfortable you are about to learn something”. So it is with grief. As uncomfortable as it is to feel the loss of self know that you are learning about yourself; perhaps for the first time in your life. By taking the time to learn who you are now you will be better equipped to know what and who you will need as you establish a new life for yourself.
You are changing, be patient…stay strong.
By: Brenda J. DeMotte, MSW, LICSW
Professional Counseling & Grief Services, Inc.
13027 Garvin Brook Lane
Apple Valley, MN 55124