By Jennifer Butler
Going through a divorce is painful and challenging to say the least, and in some ways, the first year can be considered the toughest of all. No matter what the circumstances are surrounding the end of your marriage, nothing can prepare you for the emotional roller coaster you are on during the actual process. Whether you are the one that is leaving or the one being left, divorce is an experience that challenges you to take a serious look at yourself, your life, your choices, and your future. It causes you to question things you have always believed to be true and reconsider things you always assumed to be false. You are thrust into unknown territory and making huge life decisions, all while dealing with some level of a broken heart. It is a journey to the other side and hopefully one in which you are transformed.
The first step in this powerful transformation is getting through the first year, which can honestly feel like the equivalent of being forced to climb Mt. Everest, without any training. This is the period of time when you are required to face a new reality, learn new ways of being, and figure out who the heck you are. And because it is the first year, you have to face many firsts like holidays, tackling certain responsibilities, going specific places, and interacting with various people. Like any unknown, it can feel overwhelming and scary and you may struggle with how to get through it, wondering if you will even survive.
I have personally been there, and I like to think I made so many mistakes so that I could one day help others like you, find a better way through. I was like a walking zombie in my first year, full of anger and rejection, winging it as I made huge life altering decisions. If you were to ask me then, I would have told you I was doing just fine, but my older wiser, self is here to tell you that I was far from fine. I was a downright mess and definitely could have used some guidance from someone who had walked the path before me.
6 Tips for Surviving the First Year After Divorce
1. Grieve It Out
The process and stages of grief are extremely important in healing from any sort of trauma. It is essential to allow for these stages to occur and to let yourself go through them, even if you feel like you can’t or don’t want to. I believe this will look different for everyone, but on some level, it involves allowing yourself the space to fall apart.
I chose to keep moving forward and never miss a beat. I cried of course, I cried a lot, but I continued with my day to day activities as if nothing had happened. I wore this like a badge of honor, relishing in how strong I was, thinking this somehow made me special. I was completely wrong! Choosing this path did nothing but delay my grieving process and I believe, make it last much longer. What I know now is that we must allow ourselves to feel our feelings fully, no matter how painful they may be, so that they can flow through us, be processed, and then let go of. There truly is no way to the other side but through.
2. Take Care of You
It can be very easy to get caught up in all the details of your situation, forgetting to stop breathe, and reboot. Getting through a divorce though takes focus and energy, even if it is the most amicable separation on earth. The more you are able to make yourself a priority, the better able you will be to get through the difficult challenges of the first year.
For me, yoga and meditation helped me to stay grounded and energized, but this will look different for everyone. Remember, even taking five minutes of silence in a quiet room to do some focused breathing is a way to take care of you.
3. Find a Mentor
No matter what the reasons for your divorce, you are in unknown territory and probably have no clue what you are doing. And that’s okay! For some reason I felt like I had to have it all handled and that asking for help was somehow a sort of weakness. I made huge decisions based on my feelings, which is never a good thing (more on that later,) instead of stopping to learn from those who could have taught me and shown me the way.
No matter what the endeavor in life, whether starting a new business, learning a new trade, or going through divorce, it just quite simply makes sense to find someone who knows what to do and can teach you. Even more than that, the willingness to ask for and receive help is a true expression of strength and courage throughout life.
4. Don’t Trust Your Feelings
We tend to place a lot of stock in our feelings and far too often, we let them lead the way. The problem is though, our feelings really do seem to change by the moment and can flip flop back and forth so much, we may seem crazy. There is a reason we are taught to sleep on things prior to acting and when you are going through a divorce, the same rule applies only times it by ten thousand. Your feelings are probably cycling all over the place. One minute you may be feeling intense love and nostalgia for your ex and then the next moment you will be questioning how you could have ever even liked this human. The key is to not make decisions based on these feelings that cycle through and having a mentor to help you with this is truly invaluable.
The first step in this powerful transformation is getting through the first year, which can honestly feel like the equivalent of being forced to climb Mt. Everest, without any training.
5. Keep Your Friends Close
When going through a difficult time, many of us will choose to isolate and bury our heads under the covers. It becomes easier just to stay home and less painful than watching others enjoying life and laughing or possibly even judging your situation. Spending time alone to grieve has its merits, but it is just as important to surround yourself with friends who are honest with you and allow you to grieve, while reminding you to focus forward. Your reality may be distorted, so having friends you can trust will help you navigate through the muck of year one.
6. Join A Community
No matter how many friends or supportive family members you have, divorce can feel very lonely. Our loved ones may be well intentioned, but unless someone has gone through divorce and walked the path you are now on, it can feel as though nobody quite understands what you are talking about. Having a community of people who “get it” and can lend an ear or offer advice will be helpful as you wind your way through all the challenges and questions the process of divorce brings up. Sometimes just knowing that someone else has survived what you are going through can make all the difference in the world. Communities like the one at DivorceForce provide a space for you to ask questions, vent, and share your story with others and receive advice from experts as well.
More than anything, be kind and gentle with yourself as you go through this transition in your life. We tend to be harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be and forget that we are truly just doing our best in the situation that is in front of us. Look at yourself in the mirror each morning, give yourself some love, and remind yourself to do the best you can. Like all else, this too shall pass and this year will one day only be a fraction of your beautiful life story.
About the Author
Jennifer Butler is a writer and transformation coach, currently working as a community leader for DivorceForce. Beyond an extensive education, Jennifer also went through a life transformation as a result of her own divorce and has dedicated her work to supporting others. You can connect with Jennifer at JennJoyCoaching and on Instagram.