Divorces happen for many reasons. It affects everyone involved and has a tendency to take on a life of its own. It doesn’t matter what age, race, religion or gender, divorce often comes in like a wrecking ball, and swing after swing, takes down the walls of our perfectly curated life. We’re left standing, or more often than not, on our knees, begging for mercy.
When I filed for divorce years ago, I desired freedom. I wanted to feel free to be me, to live life and speak my truth. I wanted to raise my children in a safe and happy environment without constant fighting and anger. My desire was honorable, but I had no idea what I was getting into.
I spent the next three years navigating high conflict divorce proceedings while attempting to balance a new job and stabilize my two young children’s emotional health. I felt anything but free. I just kept telling myself that when my divorce was finalized, I would finally feel free!! But when the time came, I was again disappointed.
Instead of feeling free, I felt sad, angry, lonely, and exhausted. I despised all of the time and money wasted in court and felt victimized by the system. Whether you are contemplating a divorce, already divorced or in the process of, you know the pain I’m referring to. It’s a gut-wrenching, rip your heart out, death of a dream and loss of hope kind of pain. But like childbirth, out of the worst pain comes tremendous joy, and divorce is no different.
Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa and global human rights activist once said:
“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”
Mandela was fighting for freedom from apartheid and was obviously not referring to divorce with this statement. But let me tell you, it certainly applies. Getting divorced gave me the freedom to be free but I had to learn how to live again. I was no longer bound to, or by, my former husband. I couldn’t be the victim any longer and had to reinvent myself regardless of what I went through.
As I started down this road, I quickly realized that my divorce was the doorway to true freedom. Freedom had nothing to do with anything outside of me and everything to do with the internal landscape of my thoughts, emotions and perspective. It’s this internal journey that has been instrumental in creating the new, evolved version of myself. Now, I get to fulfill my greatest desires, and you can too.
If you’re feeling the pain of divorce, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to shift your perspective. You have to stop blaming other people, stop projecting and stop being a victim. You may have been victimized, but you are not a victim. You are in control of your life. Every thought and action you have taken has created the life you are in right now. Look around. Do you like what you see? I had to take full responsibility for my life before I could move on and you can too.
This is your opportunity to grow as a human and become the best version of yourself. But you’re the only one who can do it. If you’re willing to look yourself in the mirror, do the hard work and are truly ready to thrive post-divorce, it’s totally possible. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s here for you when you’re ready. Here are a few ways to get started:
Grieving is a natural process and necessary to accept the loss of a marriage. There are five stages to grief which are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. To process through grief, we must feel it. We must lean into the pain and go through it. There’s no point in dancing around it, numbing it with alcohol or addictive behaviors or trying to avoid it. Just rip the band aid off, go all in and feel it. Know that it’s going to feel uncomfortable but also know that it’s temporary. You will get through it and you will feel like a weight has been lifted off you on the other side.
When grieving, something to pay attention to is what you are grieving about. I have found that on the surface when it comes to divorce, we think we are grieving the loss of the marriage, the person, or the family unit. To some degree that is very true, but on a deeper level, I’ve found that most people are actually grieving the loss of a dream. It could be a dream of living happily ever after with 2.5 kids in a beautiful home surrounded by a white picket fence. Or it could be the hope to create a family and travel the world with your love. So, when we lose the person who we have been building this “dream” with, not only do we feel like we wasted our precious time, but we think that the dream is over. It’s like a piece of us died and we have to grieve that death.
Accepting the fact that you are getting divorced or have gotten divorced is crucial. Acceptance means that we see the situation for what it is. We acknowledge that we cannot change it and we stop trying to “fix” it. Acceptance does not mean that you have to like it. You don’t have to like the fact that you’re divorced. Liking and accepting are two very different things. We often get confused and think we can only accept the things that we like and spend a lot of time trying to change things out of our control so that they’re likeable, and therefore acceptable.
Trying to change things out of your control, reliving the past and beating yourself up, is not helpful to you and it’s not true acceptance. Also know that acceptance takes practice. It’s hard work to accept something we don’t like and it definitely doesn’t come naturally at first.
To start practicing acceptance, first pay attention to the thoughts in your mind, and the conversations you have about your divorce. If you notice that you are trying to change, control, manipulate, complain, etc., just stop yourself. This is a great time to implement the saying: “it is what it is,” and then let it go. Accept that circumstances are what they are, and push forward.
Another great practice is to ask yourself why situations, like divorce, happened for you. Notice I said FOR you. Instead of saying something happened TO you (victim consciousness), flip the script and make it positive. Afterall, if we want to be the best version of ourselves, we have to start recognizing all of the gifts that are given to us, even the ones that come with pain.
Healing is a big category and can mean many things to different people. Healing from divorce means connecting back into yourself and becoming whole again. Healing for me after my divorce meant getting my physical health back on track and getting treated for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These were the two most important items that I needed to address first. What that looked like in my daily life was eating healthy, getting my hormones regulated and seeing a therapist. My healing was not completed there, but it was a start and got me moving in the right direction.
Quite honestly, different things will come up post-divorce. You may even feel like a yoyo and don’t know where to start. The most important thing to do is to just start. You can do this by identifying areas where you feel weak. For instance, maybe some unresolved trauma from your childhood emerged during your divorce and you notice that you’re being triggered, start there. Or perhaps you lost your connection to friends and family because you were isolated in your marriage and you need to heal those relationships, then start there. Honest self-assessment and reflection can be painful, but they are necessary.
The important thing is that you start. You must take the time to fill your well back up in order to feel whole and empowered to walk your path. Please also remember that healing does not mean that you are broken, it means that you are taking control of your life and embracing the beauty of all aspects of yourself. This is a process you shouldn’t feel ashamed of, but be proud of, to celebrate. You are beginning a new beginning.
Whether you were married for one year or thirty, you probably don’t know who YOU are. Joining our lives with another person can be truly beautiful, but most of the time we stop growing independently and lose some, if not all of our own identity. For many of us, we were in our 20’s when we got married and barely had any life experience to figure out who we were in the first place. I honestly believe that this is why so many marriages fall apart. When we stop growing independently and lose our own identity to make someone else happy (I’m not referring to compromise), we are ultimately disowning ourselves and rejecting our truths. When we do that time and time again over years, and one day we wake up miserable and lost.
This is the time to reclaim your power, to embrace your truth and to live authentically. I remember two months after my separation a friend asked me what I wanted to do on a Friday night. My answer was “I don’t know.” I literally had no idea what I liked, what sounded fun or where to start. She chose that night, but it was a wakeup call for me. If you feel like that, get back to basics. Think about things that you liked to do before you were married and do those things again. Maybe you liked baking or hiking. Try those things out again and then follow your bliss. Literally just start setting aside time just for you to do things that make you happy. If you like them, then do them again.
Other things you can do are plan a trip that you always wanted to go on, or buy a new wardrobe that makes you feel alive. Journal your thoughts and make a list of things you have always wanted to try. And then, actually try them. Through this process, YOU will appear and, one day out of nowhere, you will feel a sense of self that has been missing for some time. You will feel whole because in our truths we are whole. And please do me one favor, when YOU find her, don’t let her go this time and never hide her again for anyone.
I’ve learned so much about myself going through my divorce journey, and it truly has been my greatest teacher. It has taught me one of the most empowering lessons of life: no matter how bad something is or feels, there is always an opportunity for something greater because of it. It is through this journey that I can now find compassion and gratitude for the pain and confidence through the struggle. I invite you too, to walk through that doorway. The best version of you, the one you feel in your heart, is waiting.
I would love to hear from you! Please connect with me on Instagram @msjuliemcmahon