We thought that this week is a good time to take an interlude from the Malignant Divorce, and talk about what's on everyone's mind: Thanksgiving. A huge thank you to Pamela English for her work on this article.
Divorce has a beginning, middle, and end. Like any other traumatic experience, the road to wellness is not an easy one. It is best to be patient with yourself and surround yourself with people who will be patient with you. Whether you're just starting the process or are in the thick of it, rest assured that there will be an end. When you have reached that clearing, you want to be proud that you handled the divorce to the very best of your ability—including taking care of yourself. This anecdote will provide a good example of this concept:
"Joe and I were married for twelve years. I thought we were solid. We had two beautiful children, Sara and Regan, and lived the kind of life I always hoped we would. To make a long story short, we started agreeing less and less on even the littlest things. We moved into separate rooms in order to ease the tension. Before I knew it, Joe wanted a divorce. I found myself totally overwhelmed. I didn't know where to turn first. I asked everyone for help and advice—my sister, my dad, and my friends who were attorneys. I researched custody laws and put all of my financial information together.
"One day, someone asked what I was doing to take care of myself. It was then that I realized I had taken no time for me. I had gained weight, I was sleeping a lot, and I found myself yelling—all the time. I forgot that my life was not wholly defined by this divorce. So, I promised myself to do one thing I loved every week. It didn't change everything, but I felt like I had a better handle on who I was, which allowed me to calm down and work through issues as they arose with more confidence and assurance."
Rena, age 40
There are many people in this world that have been confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Divorce is just one of many. Because of the season, I'd like to share a compelling and poignant article published in light of the Thanksgiving holiday that will soon be upon us, entitled (aptly): "A Season of Thanksgiving" by Bill Rutherford of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Rutherford begins by acknowledging how much he has to be thankful for because he has a comfortable life and a good support system. In addition, his life has been absent of any hugely traumatic experience. He is a lucky man.
With this in mind, Rutherford decides to interview Mike Kralicek and his wife Carrie about how they, and their children, Amanda and Alexis, handled a terrible trauma that touched their lives. Apparently, in December of 2004, Mike, a police officer, was shot in the head trying to catch a fleeing suspect. He went into a coma and became a quadriplegic. In the seven years that have elapsed since, he has regained the ability to move freely and laughs and smiles while speaking about his life. Rutherford carries a deep respect for the power inherent in this family's story of recovery.
To quote Rutherford, "What is the secret? How can Carrie, Mike, Amanda and Alexis be strong and overcome this horrific event when others break down when yelled at by a coworker or quit college when they fail a test. How can some learn helplessness when another refuses to give up? I believe the Kraliceks have the answer."
- Willingness to forgive: Mike forgave the man who shot him; it is extremely difficult (but very important) to forgive those who hurt you, even an extremely difficult ex (this does not mean that you will allow abuse of any kind).
- Don't Give Up: Mike and the family never gave up, despite the inevitable ups and downs. In divorce, keeping your eye on bringing up healthy children requires that kind of commitment. You are not perfect, so if you stumble, just pick yourself up and keep going.
- Engage in meaningful work: Mike and Carrie travel as motivational speakers for those who have survived trauma. Try to be of service to others, despite the stress that you are under because of a divorce. Perhaps you can join a group or volunteer at your son's school. Helping counts.
- Laugh: Mike and Carrie laugh often, making light of even the most dire situations. A patient recently said to me, "why can't I get my lawyer to laugh—it makes it so much easier for me?"
- Don't Forget the Kids: This was very important to Mike and Carrie as it should be to you. If you are preoccupied because of anxiety, money worries or perhaps, you are just having too much fun dating—STOP—and pay attention to the children. You will never be sorry that you did.
- Finally, Take Care of Yourself: When Carrie was struggling the most, she committed herself to taking a few hours out of her day for herself: how can you find something to do consistently that always leaves you smiling?
As with Rena, Mike and Carrie, when you take proper care of yourself, everything else has a better chance of falling into place. My book, The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Yourself (2011) is about moving one step forward in the right direction every day. It's about handling your feelings better, tending to yourself properly, dealing with a difficult ex and saying the right things to your kids.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, said: "What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."