Nine years have passed, but every time I drive by that brick building in Hartford, CT, the anxiety and emotional stress hit me. The family courthouse was where I spent countless hours, with lawyers communicating on my behalf and judges making significant life-decisions for me, trying desperately to finalize my divorce. It was such an impersonal solution for a set of the most intimate problems.
I struggled through each day, lost weight, drank in excess, and just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was hard enough to get through a day with my mind juggling all the (extremely important) balls in the air — the most important, my beloved children. I was convinced that life would always be this uncomfortable and stressful.
But I got through. Each day got easier. Although it took time, my hatred towards my ex-husband diminished with each passing day. The hard feelings softened. I laughed again. I became a new, better version of myself. The kids adjusted. We created a new family dynamic, and today, those painful days feel like a lifetime ago.
But when I drive by the courthouse, I envision my former-self, nervous, stressed, hopeless, and scared. I want to go hug her and tell her what I know now: Divorce is not just the end of something, but the beginning of everything.
This made me wonder what other women who have gone through similar situations would tell their younger selves. What have other women learned? So, I started asking. Read on for what other divorced women, who also happen to be professionals affiliated with counseling and coaching, had to say:
Grief is Inevitable
Dr. Linda F. Williams, DSW, a transformational coach in Grand Rapids, MI who has been divorced for 16 years, shares here advice for those in the early stages: “Acknowledge and give yourself a break. [Grief] can be a roller coaster. It doesn’t matter whether the relationship was good or bad. You could be grieving the loss of a dream, your spouse, the relationship. This is a very real aspect of divorce transition.” You are closing the door on a major part of your life and you must process the grief in whatever way works best for you.
Get to Know Yourself (Again)
“You are not the same person who said I do,” says Williams. “You have played the mom, the wife, the soccer mom, you name it. [Ask yourself] who am I? If your answer is laced with a role you played or who you are to someone else, there is work to do.”
Give yourself the gift of solitude. Go to a coffee shop alone, journal, take on a new hobby. Do something that scares you and do it alone. There is no better way to get to know yourself than in the peace and quiet of your own company. Chances are, you will meet new parts of yourself in the process and this will help to shape a better future.
Take the High Road
When tensions are high and egos are bruised, it is easy to hit ‘em where it hurts, but Elisabeth Stitt, the founder of Joyful Parenting who has divorced 20 years suggests taking the high road. “Even if being mean, vindictive and petty feels good in the short run, in the long run it will feel much better to look back at yourself and say you handled things with dignity and integrity,” she says. This universal advice rings true in all of life’s most challenging circumstances, divorce or not.
Take it Slow
The world of dating is new, scary, and exciting! While everyone’s timelines for stepping back into it will differ, be sure not to rush it. “Don’t date fresh out of a relationship – pause until you heal on your relationship journey,” advises Dawn Burnett, a transformational divorce coach who has been divorced 10 years. “So many people today jump from relationship to relationship without healing their inner cracks and they wonder why there is a pattern of broken relationships.” Burnett also points out that, “until you find pure love within you, you will never find pure love outside.”
It is easy to get stuck in the stress and messiness of the divorce process, but remember that it is temporary. The motions, the arguments, and the court appearances will end, and your new life will begin. Things will change and new routines will be established. Tiffany Beverlin, a life and divorce coach who has been divorced six years urges all newly divorced people to have faith that things will be okay. “The uncertainty can be the most stressful part of any divorce, so look around you— the world is full of second chances at happiness and love,” she says.
As they say, hindsight is 20-20. I look back on the early (post-divorce) years and see myself desperate to control every little detail. I didn’t know when to let go and when to hold on and was ready for battle 100 percent of the time. It was exhausting and soul-draining. I said things about my ex in front of the kids that caused more harm (and guilt) than good. I could not let go and was so attached to the outcome of every little thing. But I have learned that letting go is a lot less exhausting — and a lot more peaceful — than clinging tightly. Burnett addresses this as well, “surrender to everything out of your control with the understanding that everything that shows up in life is there to teach you something so you can advance on your life journey.”
Now a take a deep breath and repeat after me, everything will be okay.