Imagine a world where whenever you find yourself in over your head, an emergency survival guide for your immediate situation would suddenly appear. It would be succinct and on-point, telling you exactly what you need to know to make it through to the next day and only what you need to know to make it to the next day. The guide would be responsive, changing suggestions and recommendations based upon your current circumstances.
This is the day-by-day guide I wish I had to get me through the first month of a sudden and unwanted divorce.
Change the wallpaper on your phone and computer to the following message (or something similar):
You may also want to post it around your house. You don’t have to believe it yet. Just post it.
And make sure you can see it when you start calling attorneys.
Maybe you feel ashamed or guilty. Maybe you want to protect those around you from the situation. Maybe you’re afraid of appearing weak or vulnerable.
Get over it.
You can’t do this alone. Tell a trusted friend or family member what is happening. The trusted part is important. You need an ally, not a saboteur.
Find your cry space. Maybe it’s your car in an empty parking lot, the sanctuary in the church across from your office or in the pool, where the water washes the tears away. It only needs to be a place where you feel safe letting down the walls.
Consider journaling. The paper absorbs the tears.
Don’t try to pretend that everything is normal. It’s not. Take some time off work. Call in a family member to help care for the children. Let the laundry slide and allow somebody else to head the upcoming presentation.
Allow yourself to not live up to your everyday expectations of yourself. This isn’t everyday.
And beating yourself up won’t help you get any better. So be kind to yourself instead.
Develop your elevator speech. At this point, people around you are going to sense that something is going on, even if they do not know the particulars. And perhaps you don’t want them to know the particulars. Or, even if you’re okay sharing, you’re afraid that the floodgates may open at the wrong time.
Write a one-sentence explanation to give to people. Keep it simple and rehearse it until you can say it without tears or elaboration.
Feel free to steal the one I used after a friend gave it to me – “I’m in the middle of a major life renovation.”
Enlist a publicity specialist. Not a professional one, unless you happen to be famous enough that your divorce is in the tabloids, but an informal one. The elevator speech is useful for relative strangers or people on the outside of your circle, but those closer to you will need more information. And if you don’t act proactively, they will either push you to talk before you’re ready or the rumor mill will be activated.
So enlist somebody to deliver the news to those who need to be in the know. Tell them what information you want delivered and what you want to keep private for now.
Check your sleep. At this point, the initial shock has faded into a zombie-like approach to daily life. You are preparing for a marathon, not a sprint. And you need to be rested. If you’re not sleeping, get help. You may need medication. It’s okay. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Sleeping too much is also a sign you may need help. If you’re struggling to simply get out of bed after the first week, it’s time to check in with a doctor or therapist. It’s okay. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Complete a social media and phone purge. Unfriend those who don’t bring you up. Or maybe decide to take a break from social media entirely for a time. Clean out your phone of photos you don’t want to stumble across or texts that bring tears. You don’t have to delete anything right now, just perform the digital equivalent of taking the photos off the wall.
One suggestion I read for those of you that have children – change your soon-to-be-ex’s name on your phone to “co parent.” It’s a powerful reminder of what is most important in a divorce with children involved.
And while you’re at your purge, examine your physical space as well. Sleeping alone but your sheets still carry the scent of the-one-who-is-now-gone? Wash them. A special gift taunting you from its resting spot? Put it away for now. Your brain will bring up enough painful memories on its own. No reason to help it along.
Nurture yourself today. Get a massage. Go to a nice restaurant and savor the service. Sleep in. Whatever sends the message to you that you are valuable and special. Do it. Feel it.
Buy a belt.
I bet by now your weight is starting to change. Either you respond to stress by refusing to eat or you use food to soothe the void in your heart. Either way, after several days, the effects will show. Don’t worry about them yet. Just make sure that your pants aren’t falling off.
Days 11-20 are in in Part Two of the Day-By-Day Survival Guide.