Having a plan is the best strategy for first time events after a divorce.
Your heart is pounding, it’s racing. Your mind is mush. It’s hard to think. Taking a deep breath, you try not to cry or show any emotion. There is a slight tremor in your hand. You feel like crap and are worried you look like crap. The internal dialogue goes: “Oh please dear God don’t let me cry in front of him! Breathe, just breathe. What if I start crying! I don’t want to cry! I hope he doesn’t look good. Maybe I’ll see him and feel nothing. OK, my coach said just look him in the eye and ask how his trip was. I just have to remember the words. How is it possible that this man I slept next to for 18 years is a stranger? Why am I so nervous to see him? I wanted to lose another 5 pounds, shoot! I still don’t understand how he can move on so fast, why does he get to be so happy when I still feel like crap? This is so unfair. OK. Just don’t cry, don’t let him see how upset you are.”
Does this sound familiar? Can you just feel the fear? If you have already had this experience, then you know it is literally life altering. Getting past the ‘first time’ is such a relief. Notice I didn’t say you felt instantly better, but there is a breath you can take that you did something so hard and so courageous. It feels like a real accomplishment.
There are so many ‘firsts’ after a separation and each one feels like an uphill battle of emotions. Seeing your spouse the first time after a long separation is one. There is meeting the new girl/boy friend, being alone in the house, sleeping alone, having holidays alone, going to visit relatives/friends alone, eating out alone, paying bills on your own, and taking your first vacation alone.
For me, I remember the first time grocery shopping after my divorce. I stood dumbfounded in the vegetable aisle trying to figure out what I liked, rather than what my ‘husband and kids’ liked. I felt vulnerable and I felt a deep ache going to the cash register feeling like the cashier would see my anguish.
Each first time takes a tremendous amount of courage. For some people, it gets not only easier, but becomes enjoyable. For others, the struggle might last a while. That’s ok; go through it at your own pace. While forward movement is great, racing through the emotional turmoil of divorce is unnecessary. But what IS important is that you take the first step. Be proud of yourself for doing something that is so difficult. Remember the book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway? Author Susan Jeffers reminds us in that book that everyone feels fear and the secret to dealing with it is to just do or face whatever it is you are afraid of. In other words, NOT dealing with it, leaving it in the future to continue feeling the fear, is even worse. Taking action releases the fear.
How do you take action?
If you know that a particular situation is coming your way, be prepared. Do your research. Look your best. Have a plan. How will you stand, what thoughts will you think? What will you do? What will you say? What will you tell yourself? For example, going to a restaurant alone is ok for me if I have a book to read. Seeing an ex at your child’s baseball game is easier if you have a friend with you and if you are prepared with looks, attitude, and intention. Even when you are unprepared for when you will run into your ex and his/her new love interest, have a plan and know what you will say and how you will act. Do not let the fear of not knowing what you will do run your life. Become an actor and “act as if” you knew exactly what to do and what to say.
You CAN handle this situation with courage and grace. I know it is scary, but look at how many scary things you have already handled in your life. Once handled, it is done and you get to move on. Think of it like traversing a huge mountain. It’s hard going up, and it may even hurt a bit coming down, but then you are on flat land and get to move forward. Remember, you can either grow through your divorce, or drown in your “poor-me” divorce story. I hope you choose the path courage and facing your fear head on.