The first one was hard.
It was our tenth anniversary.
The marriage was final.
But the divorce wasn’t.
I strategically scheduled a doctor’s appointment that morning so that I would have a valid excuse for not going into work that day. I suspected the tears were going to fall hard and fast throughout much of the day.
I was right.
I spent most of the hours curled on the loaned flannel sheets on my borrowed bed in the friend’s home that was my temporary sanctuary until I could function alone. The sobs came in waves, wracking my body as I tried to integrate the expectations I’d had for celebrating ten years of marriage with the reality that the marriage I loved had been a lie.
I tried to read, but my mind kept skidding off the page and landing on tortuous slideshow of memories. I tried to write, but those same thoughts that were so tenacious in my mind bottled up as soon as I picked up a pen. I tried to medicate myself into slumber, but my body fought to stay awake through the ceaseless hours.
At one point, I had the humorous, yet comforting, thought that because the marriage legally made it to ten years, I was eligible for his social security benefits if he were to die. But a payout from his untimely demise wasn’t what I really wanted.
What I wanted was for the whole thing to be a nightmare that I could still wake up from. What I wanted was an anniversary that was still a celebration rather than a memorial service.
Anniversaries after divorce are like a rotted section on a suspension bridge. We see them coming and dread the approach. We have to cross them in order to keep moving on. And if we don’t prepare, we can find ourselves injured or even risk a fall through the splintered memories. And like the confidence and pride that comes from successfully navigating tricky terrain, making it through an anniversary is a triumph.
Are you dreading an upcoming anniversary? If so, a little planning can go a long way to making the day as painless as possible.
Before the Anniversary
Celebrate Your Victories Thus Far (No Matter How Small)
On an anniversary after divorce, it’s easy to get down on yourself. You think about where you’re “supposed” to be in life and instead, you find yourself back at the beginning. Only this time older and more wrinkled. So before you’re swept away by the sadness of the upcoming day, take a few minutes to write down all that you’ve accomplished since the divorce (or separation). Don’t worry how small those victories may seem. They are your first steps. And don’t we always celebrate those for babies?
Physically Exhaust Yourself
You know that feeling you have after you’ve been on a long walk? That space where you’re drained of energy and filled with contentment and a sense of accomplishment? Find a way to get there the day before the big day. You’re draining anxious energy and allowing the body’s neurotransmitters to help uplift negative thoughts. Go into the day with a quiet body and let it educate the mind.
Put Your Support System On Alert
I don’t suggest a Facebook post about the looming date; not everybody needs to know. But I do recommend alerting those closest to you. It will help them be more understanding with you if you’re a little “off” and it will put them on notice that they may be called to be a shoulder to cry on.
The Day of the Anniversary
Plan An Undemanding Day
Maybe you take a page from my playbook and schedule a “sick day.” Or maybe you have the grandparents watch the kids for the evening. Try to avoid too many mentally taxing tasks or high-pressure situations. If you do better alone, find a way to work that in. If being alone scares you, plan how to be with people. Work within your constraints and do what you can to make the day a little easier.
Stay Off Social Media
The last thing you want today is to stumble across somebody’s post about their new engagement or see a picture of a couple on their tropical getaway. And while you’re at it, you may be better off if you just avoid any media that you cannot control. After all, Netflix won’t suddenly bludgeon you with with a saccharine ad for diamond jewelry.
Embrace the Suck
My initial reaction as my own first anniversary approached was to try to find a way to distract myself away from reality. But as I racked my brain for options, I realized that even a bottle of wine, a new Stephen King novel and a date to Cirque du Soleil with Brad Pitt wouldn’t be enough to keep my mind off my ex. On this day, simply embrace the suck. Remember that rotten patch on the suspension bridge? You just have to go through it.
Start a New Ritual (And a New Count)
Your brain is programmed to perform a count on this day. And rather than allow it to follow the easy path of continuing the would-be years of marriage for evermore, start a new count with a ritual all your own. For me, I don’t have a single event but since my divorce spurred my writing, I take that day to reflect upon my writing experiences. It feels much better to say, “I’ve been writing and sharing my story for 7 years” rather than, “This would have been my 17thanniversary.”
After the Anniversary
Shake It Off
There’s a good chance you woke up with an emotional hangover today. One of the best ways to treat this is to move. Shake it off. Let it go. Today is a new day.
Do Something That Makes You Feel Good
I am a huge proponent of what I call “scheduled smiles,” events on the calendar that you can look forward to. I recommend that there always be at least three of these on your upcoming schedule at any time. Make sure one of them is for the day after. It can as small as a pedicure or as grand as a cruise. The event matters less than the anticipation and the reminder that the tide always turns.
Celebrate With This Thought
You will neverhave to go through that again. Yes, you will have another anniversary next year. But guess what? It will be a little easier. Because you’ve successfully traversed those rotted boards before and now you bring experience and perspective. Be proud of your progress and celebrate your triumph. You’ve made it!
Wondering when you will feel better? Here was my timeline for healing after divorce.