When people contact me early in their divorce experience, the edges still rough and the emotions raw, I often find myself saying, “It’s early still. Give it some time.” It’s counsel I hate to give because it suggests that the pain has to be endured before it can be erased. Yet it’s also truth; there are some parts of healing that can only be addressed through the passage of time.
Time is a critical component of healing from loss. Yet it is no panacea, containing all of the answers.
What time does…
Time Softens I like to think of time as flowing like a river. When you first experience loss, it is a rough and jagged stone, thrust suddenly into the stream. At first, the river is diverted, pausing as it navigates this alien and unwanted intruder. In time, the river wears away at the rock, softening its edges and incorporating it into its topography. The loss is still there, but the serrated edges that sawed through your heart are worn into a blunt edge that provides a constant, yet bearable, pressure.
Time Muddies Memories At first, memories come in great waves, slamming into your gut without notice and stealing your breath away. The images play across your brain in high definition and the current reality pushes in with its ugly disparity. As the calendar advances, these memories lose some of their clarity, the details fading like linen left in the sun.
Time Permits Acclimation When you first experience loss, it’s like the gaping hole left behind by a missing tooth. It demands your attention. You worry at it. Obsess about it. Over a period of weeks and months, the shock and novelty fade. The need to talk about your situation will become less pressing and your mind will begin to make space for other things again.
Time Provides Experience The first time through any difficult experience is always the hardest, as the coping mechanisms and strategies have yet to be developed and you are not sure what to expect. Time gives you ample opportunity to practice breaking down and making it through. Each time you feel the pain, you get a little better at being with it and moving through it.
Time Allows For Opportunity Time supplies you with opportunities to implement the modalities that help with healing – counseling, journaling, mindfulness, movement. All of those strategies require time and repetition in order to be effective. Time also allows for new experiences, reminders that even though you’ve experienced loss, you’re still living and there are smiles to be found amongst the tears. Those moments of respite give you hope that things can be better.
What time does not…
Time Doesn’t Mean You Forget You will never forget. Time does not erase all memories, delete all pain. It’s still there, but there is also space for you to live alongside of it.
Provide Automatic Processing Time doesn’t do the healing. You do. If all you do is wait, you’ll feel much the same, only with more wrinkles. Time simply gives you the space and opportunity to work through it.
Time Doesn’t Provide Understanding Time won’t answer the “why” question for you. It won’t reveal why life is harder for some of us than others and why bad things can happen to good people. What time does give you is some perspective that suggests that maybe understanding why isn’t really that important.
Time may not heal all wounds, but it helps to cushion you from the emotional wound, becoming a sort of insulating layer. And with that distance, you have to space to breathe, to process and to live again.