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Chart a course for a new life that you love.
Have you thought about what you're going to do with your new life when your divorce is final? Now is a good time to re-evaluate your priorities, interests, and goals -- to give yourself a jump start. If divorce is the end of your old life, it's also the start of a new one. There are many steps you can take to rebuild your life, so make sure to take this opportunity to turn your life into one that you love.
You can choose a quick fix -- get a new look, travel somewhere you've never been, or trade in the family van for a hot new sportscar -- or long-term enrichment -- getting in touch yourself as a person, participating in personal growth seminars, or going back to school. A quick fix isn't necessarily "a wrong choice, but it may not be sufficient," cautions Dr. Marilyn Miller, a psychologist in private practice in Toronto. "People need to develop a healthy relationship with themselves, and part of doing that is being able to nurture themselves. A quick fix may only satisfy them for a short period," she explains.
Whether you pursue "immediate gratification" or long-term enrichment, what you'll learn from the experience is like "a tool in a tool box," says Sandra Norris, a psychotherapist and associate of the Mind-Body Health Centre in Toronto. "You'll use that tool again. It's a reminder of what was done to reduce stress. [The experience] never leaves the brain."
Take a Trip
Joe* has some happy memories of what he did to rebuild his life after his divorce. He planned a trip to Vancouver Island with his kids to visit relatives -- and to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle. His idea was to ride his new Harley across Canada by himself, which was something he had always wanted to do, but wasn't able to do during his marriage. He was glad he took the trip because it gave him a lot of time to be by himself and think about what he really wanted in life. "It was also a lot of fun," he says. "And I really needed some fun in my life after my marriage broke up."
Visiting your family and friends can also help you get back on your feet. This is part of what Larry Nissan, director of the Psychotherapy Institute in Toronto, calls "redemption." A lot of people become so involved in their nuclear family that they lose track of friends and relatives during a divorce. Re-establishing ties with parents and siblings can help you to create your own personal support group to boost your morale and help you through the rough patches. "All of us have unfinished business," Nissan explains. "You may not have talked to your old pals or the best man at your wedding for a while because of the intensity of your divorce."
To Your Health
You must take care of yourself physically during times of great stress. "Without your health, what have you got?" Nissan asks. He doesn't recommend a "maniacal" fitness plan, but advises you to eat properly and be active. Your physical health is tied into your emotional health, according to Norris: the emotional pain you may be feeling -- or suppressing -- can manifest itself in back pain, headaches, or other ailments. Norris says that women are more open to recognizing this concept than men, and to healing and nurturing themselves through counselling or massage therapy, for example. Men tend to be more "pragmatic" in their approach to healing themselves -- they'll usually identify the physical discomfort before the emotional. Although their approaches are different, Norris says that men and women "both want love, care, support, and to feel better physically and emotionally."
Pamela* took care of her well-being in many ways. "One of the major symbolic acts towards building a new life was to quit smoking," she says. "It started to snowball from there." It gave her a feeling of power that enabled her to quit a "corporate workaholic job" and start her own business. By cutting back her workload and taking a course at Eli Bay's Relaxation Response Institute, she reduced the stress and anxiety that dominated her life during and after her divorce, and was able to start exploring what she wanted in life.
Reconnect with Yourself
To sort out her thoughts, Pamela started a journal, which was "central" in rebuilding her life. "While your marriage is in the process of failing, you get out of contact with yourself, so writing in a journal helped me reconnect," Pamela explains. She also started taking art classes, and resumed drawing, which before her marriage was "as essential to me as breathing, but it had gone by the wayside." Pamela believes her transition has been successful because "the momentum of positive change is happening. One thing leads to three things, which leads to nine things, and so on."
An excellent way to create a new life is go back to school. Night or weekend university or community college courses can help you improve your skills so you can get a better job -- or get back in the workforce after staying home to raise your kids. Self-improvement classes can help you understand yourself, relationships, or parenting, for example, and practical courses (many offered by the Board of Education) can fill the gaps that your ex-spouse left: car repair, cooking, financial planning, or home repair, for instance.
As well as taking care of their internal well-being, people may also want to make some exterior changes during this transitional period. Dr. Stan Gore, the medical director of The Center for Hair Transplantation in Toronto, says that his divorced clients want to rebuild their hairline to increase their competitiveness in the romantic playing field. "Most men are bothered by the aging process," Dr. Gore says. "Some men look older than they are and want to look their age or younger. Their priorities are to look as young and as fit as possible."
Antoinette Freeman, creative director of L'Image Nouveau, has made a career out of helping people to change their look. She says about 30% of her clients are divorced, and when they decide they want a new look, they want it now. Freeman says that men and women approach image makeovers differently: most women go for a complete change (hair, makeup, and wardrobe), while men update their wardrobe, adding more colour to it, for instance, or buying new eyeglasses. Some men choose to get some highlights for their hair, get rid of some gray hair, grow their hair long, or look into surgical or non-surgical solutions to male-pattern baldness.
During Pamela's divorce, she nurtured her body with regular trips to a chiropractor and a massage therapist, but she also treated herself to a couple of sybaritic days at a local spa. "There's a self-indulgent aspect to it, which is badly needed at this time," she says. "And it makes you feel wonderful."
Perhaps you'd like to make a more dramatic change to your appearance, using a vehicle such as cosmetic surgery, dieting, or hiring a personal trainer to help you with your "personal renovation project." This is fine -- as long as you can afford it, and as long as you haven't fooled yourself into thinking that your life will be perfect as soon as you've "fixed" your physical imperfections.
Improving your surroundings can also help launch you into a new life. Joe says that when he rented his new apartment after his divorce, he went out bought all new furniture, other home necessities, and some "guy stuff" -- a big TV and a good stereo system. He made a comfortable new home for himself because "the last thing you want to do is live in a hole and feel horrible," he explains.
If you're on a tight budget, look into low-cost options such as shopping at warehouse outlets or used-furniture stores. Consider the possibility of bartering through newspaper classifieds, grocery-store bulletin boards, or the Internet. Perhaps you could trade that extra single bed for a couch, or a bicycle for a painting.
A Little Help from Your Friends
This is also a good time to expand your social circle. You may have lost some friends during your divorce because you were part of a "couple group," or some may choose to remain friends only with your ex, so it's important to build or reinforce your support network. "This is an opportunity to be open socially to friendship -- to develop relationships with people you might not have otherwise," Nissan says. Dr. Miller suggests that you expand your social involvement with people, such as friends, family, or fellow members of a club or association you belong to, who can help you to grow as a person and beyond being part of a relationship. If that's not enough, professional counsellors can help you with your personal growth.
Expanding your social circle doesn't mean that you should start dating right away. Most experts say that you shouldn't start dating until one or two years after you divorce. "You need to build a comfortable relationship with yourself first," says Dr. Miller. Part of Joe's healing process, however, was starting to date casually soon after his divorce. "It helped me get over the depression and still feel desirable to the opposite sex," he explains. "It just felt like the right thing to do at the time." Joe doesn't recommend getting into serious dating too early -- he learned that the hard way -- but casual dating helped him realize that there was "nothing wrong" with him.
Destination: New Life
There's a lot to consider when you're rebuilding your life. You don't have to have a big plan; you don't have to do anything right away. You don't even have spend a lot of money. You just have to do what feels right for you and will make you happy. "Whether a marriage works or doesn't work, it's not a statement about your ability to love -- it's a statement about that one relationship," Nissan says. "This is an opportunity for renewed optimism."
Pamela says she's still in the process of rebuilding several years after becoming legally divorced. "It's a journey, not a destination. People shouldn't be looking for the self-discovery process to end." It's only the beginning.
* Names have changed to protect their privacy.