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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

How to Surf a Tsunami

Restoration after a sudden trauma is not easy, but it is possible. In fact, you can even learn how to surf your tsunami, moving through it with skill and grace.

 

Many of us will face a personal tsunami at some point in our lives. We will be felled by a great wave bringing with it sudden change and loss. Perhaps your tsunami is in the form of the death of a loved one, maybe it is the loss of a job or a way of life or possibly you have lost the health you took for granted. My own tsunami was in the form of an unexpected divorce after being abandoned via a text message.

Regardless of the nature of your abrupt trauma, tsunamis have some common characteristics. By their nature, tsunamis are difficult to predict and even harder to prepare for. You have to face the realization that you cannot control your surroundings. The world that you knew is gone, swept away in a single move. You feel disoriented as you try to navigate this new realm.

Soon after the trauma, it feels like it will be impossible to rebuild. The odds seem insurmountable. The shock and grief permeate everything and make every move a struggle. Restoration after a sudden trauma is not easy, but it is possible. In fact, you can even learn how to surf your tsunami, moving through it with skill and grace.

The following are my healing tips for anyone who has been flattened by a tsunami.

 

Breathe

The blow of sudden trauma is physical. The body tenses as if anticipating another blow. The breath is the first to suffer; it becomes shallow and rapid behind a breast wrapped tight in a straightjacket of sorrow. Release it. It won’t be easy and it won’t be automatic, at least in the beginning. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to take several deep breaths at least once an hour. As long as the body is anticipating another blow, the mind will be as well. Sometimes it’s easier to train the body and allow the mind to follow.

Recognize the Moment

Understand that the way you feel right now is the way you feel right now. It is not how you will feel next year. It is not how you will feel tomorrow. In fact, it’s not even how you will feel in five minutes. Everything changes, including suffering. Just the realization that the current feeling is temporary makes it a little easier not to panic and feel as though you are drowning.

 

Goals

You are in the midst of change you did not ask for and did not want; however, that does not mean that you should simply throw yourself to the mercy of the sea. Take some time to think about what you want in your life. Formulate some goals — long-term or short-term, easy or next-to-impossible. It doesn’t matter; you can always change them. For now, it’s important simply to write them down and post them as a motivator during those difficult moments.

 

Mentors

After a tsunami, it is so easy to feel alone. It is tempting to curl up and hide in an attempt to protect yourself from further harm. You are not alone. There are others who can relate. Others who have been where you are and have rebuilt. Others who can extend a hand and help you find your way. These mentors may be in your life already or they may take the form of a counselor or pastor or even a group online. Accept their help — a difficult task is always made easier with assistance.

 

Patience

It’s hard to accept that everything can be destroyed in a blink yet it can take a lifetime to rebuild. Healing cannot be forced. It is not a task suited to lowering one’s head and barreling through. Healing is not linear. A bad day may follow a good one. Be gently persistent with yourself. Keep in mind where you want to be, but accept where you are.

 

Balm Squad

Assemble your balm squad — people and things that soothe you and bring you comfort. Fill your space with items that bring a sense of peace or joy. Take the time to visit places that make you feel good. Most importantly, seek out others that support you and encourage you. They are your best balm of all.

 

Restoration vs. Recreation

It’s easy to slip into the dangerous waters of “what if,” replaying the past and trying to find an alternate action that would have averted the tsunami. It’s easy but it’s also a dangerous game. What you had is gone. Healing has to begin with that understanding. Rather than try to recreate what was, focus on restoring a life. Just because it is different does not mean that it cannot be as good. Or even better!

 

Nourishment

Take care of yourself. Nourish your body with healthy foods and exercise. Make sure you’re sleeping. Nourish your mind with loving thoughts. Don’t be ashamed to ask a doctor for help if you need it. Medications can help to reset eating, sleeping and thought patterns when we cannot yet do it for ourselves. Your basic needs must be met before you will be able to work on healing.

 

Mindful Escape

When you are facing sudden trauma, it is easy to try to run away and escape your painful reality. You may seek oblivion in alcohol, video games, gambling, dating or media. You will need a break sometimes; it is okay to submerge yourself in distractions occasionally. However, be sure that you escape mindfully. Be present and aware so that you do not allow the distraction to become a habit because when you are in a weakened state, those habits have a way of consuming you.

 

Spin Doctor

Your trauma has a story, a tale that you most likely have spun again and again with you as the victim of the tsunami. Look at yourself as your own publicist, a spin doctor of your story. How can you rewrite your tragedy so that it is not all suffering? What can you be thankful for? What have you gained as a result of your loss? It will feel strange and even traitorous to find gratitude within your loss, but it can help you move beyond the pain.

 

Release

Find your outlets for release and restoration. Maybe you feel restored by playing with a baby or dog. Or, perhaps you are called to take a long walk in the fading sun. Maybe it’s a favorite yoga class or a certain sitcom that liberates you from the pain. You can never have too many avenues that provide freedom from the suffering; collect these outlets and apply them generously.

 

Don’t Wait

Healing from a tsunami is a difficult path. Don’t wait to live until you are healed; it is okay to find happiness along the way.

The trick to surfing a tsunami is not in trying to control the wave but in learning to how to flow through it.

 

After Being Cheated On: Distinguishing Between Fears and Warnings

“I never want to go through that again,”

I think we all say after being cheated on once we’re through the initial whitewater of the discovery that bashes us upon the rocks. We examine our memories for the missed clues about the affair and we scan the horizon carefully, looking for signs of another impending discovery. 

In some ways, we’re more equipped to spot the signs of trouble. After all, we’ve been down that road before. Yet in other ways, we’re handicapped by our experiences because our heightened fears can have a tendency to see trouble where it doesn’t exist.

It’s a scary place to be after being cheated on, where you’re wondering if it’s happening again while at the same time you’re doubting your own judgment. 

The following can help you determine if what you’re seeing is a genuine warning or if your fear of being cheated on is whispering falsehoods into your ears:

 

1 – Get Out of Fight or Flight

It is impossible to distinguish between a legitimate threat and a harmless – yet painful – echo from the past when you’re emotionally elevated.

Take a step back. 

When you’re in this state, your brain interprets everything as a threat. Before you can determine if the danger is real or imagined, you have to first calm and connect your body and your mind. Go for a walk. Engage in your favorite hobby or activity. Get some sleep. 

If it is still bothering you when your body is no longer in fight or flight, it is something that needs to be addressed.

 

2 – Be Mindful of Your Energy

After being cheated on, we often go to one extreme or the other, where we either obsessively look for evidence that it is happening again or we bury our heads in the sand, afraid of what we might see if we look too carefully. 

Both approaches can be deceptive as they either minimize or amplify the information that you have. 

Ideally, you want to be between those two states, where your eyes are open yet you’re not peering into every crevice looking for the monster that you imagine is there. 

 

3 – Avoid Listening to Too Many Voices

One of the more painful realizations I had after discovering my ex-husband’s betrayal was that I had allowed myself to trust him more than I trusted myself. (Hello, gaslighting). And one of the best silver linings of being cheated on was learning to trust my own voice again. 

It’s natural to want to reach out to others to either validate or explain away your suspicions. But too many voices can muddle what is already unclear. Remember that they are hearing this through your filter and then adding on their own motivations of not wanting to see you hurt. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is allow our own voice the time and space to speak and to listen without passing judgment. 

 

4 – Weigh Both Your Intuition and the Evidence

When properly tuned, our guts are quite an impressive lie-detecting instrument. Yet being cheated on often has them out of tune, playing discordant notes regardless of the stimulus. 

On the other hand, waiting until the evidence piles up and crushes you isn’t ideal either. 

Listen to your gut, but don’t believe everything it has to say. Consider both your intuition and the facts. When they’re in alignment, it’s time to listen.

 

5 – Choose Your Approach Carefully

If all of the above indicate that it’s time to have a conversation, be mindful of your approach. If the evidence is subtle, state what you’re feeling and seeing without immediately becoming accusatory. 

Opening with the assumption of cheating will only prompt a defensive posture that will try to protect at all costs. If you’re looking for truth, you have to give it space to come out. 

 

When the wounds from being cheated on are still fresh, you’re naturally guarded and distinguishing between fears and warnings is quite challenging. With time and practice, you’ll become better at discerning the difference and your trust in your own perceptions will grow. 

 

 

 

 

A Win, a Lose and a Dawning Realization

I’m not sure what happened to September. Or August. Or July, for that matter.

Between the Groundhog Day-esque nature of COVID-era living and the magnitude of the work required to teach both remotely and in-person, the days have both been endless and indistinguishable: walk, work, cry, workout, work, sleep, repeat. During the tearful moments, I would tell myself, “You just need to make it to fall break.”

And I made it.

The Win

Thanks to being raised by a counselor-mom, I’m pretty good about boundaries in my personal life. But I struggle (i.e. completely suck) at them when it comes to work. And this year, with so much of my job intruding into my evenings and weekends with the never-ending needs of the kids, I’ve been even worse about drawing hard lines. But as my mental health plummeted and my anxiety sky-rocketed, I knew how important it was for me to truly step away.

I spent the first Saturday of the break grading the tests that came in overnight, posting answer keys to the assessment, creating and posting retests and answering questions. Then, I logged off and closed every single work-related window on my computer. Within an hour, I realized I forgot to disable notifications on my phone when, in rapid succession, I get the following messages:

“Mrs. Arends – I need to talk to you.”

“I want to… How do I do this?”

“Can you please answer me?”

“Hello???”

I turned off notifications and went for a trail run where I talked myself out of responding to the message thread (and secretly wondering how long it would be by the time I decided to respond).

The next day, my husband, the pups and I packed up and went to stay at a cabin in North Georgia for a few days. Despite the rain and the pain (more on that soon), it was glorious. My big morning commute was to the hot tub, where I enjoyed the sounds of the rain on the metal roof and indulgently read one of several books that I brought. After a real hike on the first day, we were relegated to exploring the local roads on subsequent days because of the downpours. We both remembered staying in that area before, so we enjoyed searching for the cabin we stayed in previously (we never found it, but that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the hunt). The dogs were awesome and got to enjoy lots of time off-leash just being dogs, exploring and sniffing.

And even though we had great WI-FI, even though my husband had to spend the majority of one day working and even though I was feeling anxious about work, I never checked my work messages until we returned back home yesterday:)

The Lose

From January to July, I was doing so well with my career-change goals. I decided what I wanted to do, I committed significant time each week to study, I worked to silence the “You can’t do this” voice and I even navigated changes to my plan based on the fallout from COVID.

And then July happened.

It’s now been almost 10 weeks since I’ve done any coding or studied any math for my new career. There are a variety of factors, some more prevalent than others on any given day: available time, available brain-power and motivation. Even though this has been an agreed-upon plan, whenever my husband mentions something about this being my last year in the classroom, I get angry. Angry, because I again feel stuck.

I know that my mindset right now is the biggest thing keeping me stuck. It’s a story I’m telling myself and I even wonder if my current lack of motivation is my passive-aggressive subconscious way of recruiting evidence to support my narrative.

I’m scared to log in to the websites I was using to teach myself (I can’t even remember the name of the program I was last using right now; how on earth can I expect to remember how to write a for-loop???). I’m worried that if I don’t balance the demands of the school year with time off-computer that I won’t make it until May. But most of all, I’m afraid to try at this new thing and fail.

But I fired fear as my life coach when my first husband walked out of the door.

Growth is messy. Learning is non-linear. Change is scary.

And none of that means impossible.

The Dawning Realization

For the last three years, my lady-parts have hated me. There are a variety of reasons (I feel like with every ultrasound I have, another malady has been invited to the party). Basically, I’m just waiting for menopause to turn the lights off and send all of those uninvited guests away.

Most months, it’s hardly noticeable apart from a miserable 24 hours or so.

But some months, it flares, swelling my midsection until it’s hard to breath and turning my pelvis into some twisted art exhibit where screws repeatedly tighten metal cables strung across in random patterns.

And with this being my fall break, guess what kind of month it is:(

But I’m not going to whine about the pain.

I’m going to talk about how amazing my husband is and by extension, what I realized about my ex.

As a child-free married couple who has been very busy these past several weeks, we both went into this week with certain expectations about couple-time. When the flare-up began to build on the day we left, I grew increasingly frustrated and in denial (“I’m fine,” I kept insisting, as if I could speak it into existence). But my husband never got upset or disappointed (and he only had to scan my face to call BS on my “fine”). His only reaction has been concern for me. He clearly put my physical comfort above his desires.

It made me reflect back on a time in my early 20s when I had shingles in a very unfortunate location. My then-husband was attentive and nurturing, taking me to doctor’s appointments and fetching the ice and medication when I needed them. Yet, even though on the surface he was loving, he still clearly put his desires above my physical comfort. Which, in retrospect, was how he was in all areas – a great exterior hiding a rather dark and secret interior. Blech.

With all of the uncertainty in the world right now, I am beyond grateful that my first husband chose to leave. He is definitely not the one I want by my side when things are hard. In contrast, I now feel like my husband and I are a team. Even when one of us is struggling, we are strong together.

 

 

 

 

Focus On Where You Want to Be, Not Where You Fear Ending Up

I just couldn’t seem to get it right.

My body was in the correct position. My muscles were contracted. But every time I tried to find my balance, I would wobble and fall back onto my feet.

“Maybe you just can’t do crow pose,” I told myself.

“Bullshit,” I replied.

For months, I kept trying. During one practice session, I grabbed a pillow off my couch, placed it on the floor in front of me and promptly nailed the pose. never even coming close to face-planting in the pillow.

Curious, I removed the pillow and tried again.

No bueno.

It was then I realized the role that pillow was playing. Because the pillow was uncomfortably close to my face, I craned my neck slightly and shifted my gaze forward. Without the pillow, I was looking down at the ground, which was exactly the place I feared ending up.

 

Focus on where you want to be, not where you fear ending up.

 

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s far from easy.

We all have a tendency to put our focus – our energy – on those things that we fear.

And much like a new driver who instinctively steers into an adjacent lane when looking in the sideview mirror, we tend to move in the direction of our focus.

Where are you looking?

 

 

 

 

 

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