In my second year of college, I took a psychology of grief class. I signed up because I needed another psych credit but also to help me understand my own experiences at that point with grief and loss. One of the first images in the textbook was the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, a scale that quantifies stressful life events with a score of 1-100. I was no stranger to the instrument; my counselor mom had dozens of copies (and versions) in the books that were scattered about the house. But that day, perhaps bored with the dry lecture, I looked at the scale differently. I wondered what experiences listed on the page I would have. I feared the big one, the 100 point Death of a Spouse. In my mind, that was the only item on the list that would destroy me. The others seemed inconceivable or inconsequential.
A brief note here – Some versions of the scale include death of a child, obviously near the top. This particular one did not, a question I raised with my professor on that day.
I noted that divorce was listed as second only to death of a spouse with a score of 73. That didn’t make sense to me. Perhaps because I thought it would never happen to me (I was three years in to the relationship with my now ex husband at that point and I could not fathom one or both of us choosing to end it), but I just couldn’t understand what could be so devastating about divorce.
Using the scale that was in my textbook that day, I faced:
53 personal illness
44 major behavior change in spouse
39 new family members
38 financial hardship
29 in-law problems
29 change in habits
25 housing change
19 change in recreation
16 change in sleep
15 change in eating
15 change in family get togethers
For a grand total of 425 points. The sirens start to go off at 300 points. And, if you add infidelity, most scales place that around an 81, which would raise my total to a lofty 506. I probably should have been escorted into a padded room at that point. I would also add a few more points for a tsunami divorce, which is somewhere between a death and a divorce. I looked, they haven’t studied the impact of bigamy. I hope that they never need to.
What the scale in my textbook didn’t make clear is that there is no life stone unturned when it comes to divorce. It. changes. everything.
And change, especially unwanted and unexpected change, is stressful.
If there’s ever a time in life when you have to use everything you have at your disposal, it’s divorce.
You can inventory your stress and tally up your debits but you can also inventory your personal tool box and count up your implements of healing.
Here’s what I had in my Divorce Tool Box. Maybe yours looks a little different.
The Extra Battery – Fortitude
There’s no way around it. Divorce is draining. It goes on and on. And on. Just when you think the struggle is over, something will pop up and make you go again. A huge part of getting through is simply getting through, having the ability to persist even when the path is tough. So, pack an extra battery. Hell, pack two:)
The Hammer – Determination
It’s easy to fall apart in divorce. You feel beat down and the instinct may be to roll over and play dead. There is certainly time for acceptance, but there is also time for determination. If you want a better life, you have to build it. Pick up that hammer and make it happen. Just look out for your thumb!
The Tape Measure – Attention
There are a ton of details in divorce. Personally, I think everyone who has experiences it should qualify as a paralegal. There will be times when you have to push the grief and anger aside, pull out the tape measure and pay attention to every detail in every document. Remember, measure twice, cut once. Make sure you know what you’re signing.
The Level – Balance
It’s easy for the divorce to overwhelm your life until it becomes your entire life. Needless to say, that’s not healthy (or much fun). The level in your tool box is to remind you to find balance. Or to check to see if that picture you hung where the wedding photo once was is level:)
The Spackle – Humility
You’ll screw up. You’ll create a hole where there wasn’t supposed to be one. You’l inadvertently bang up someone else as you try to aim at your ex. When you reach for the spackle, you admit that you made a mistake and show that you’re trying to repair it. If you can, buy the spackle that starts pink and dries white. That way you know when your mistakes are corrected:)
The Business Card – Assistance
You can’t do it all. When you’re overwhelmed or stuck, reach for that business card with the name and number of an expert. Call them. And then listen to them. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your healing.
The Liquid Nails – Confidence
You will have to make some big decisions. Do it with confidence. Pull out the permanent adhesive and believe in your decision. Deep down, you know what’s best for you. Make it stick.
The Saw – Humor
When it all starts to overwhelm, reach for the saw and cut it down to size. There’s nothing like a little laughter to put everything into perspective.
That’s my tool box. What’s in yours?