I talk to folks in divorce recovery every day. It’s my job to keep them upright and honest while going through the divorce itself, then focused on fashioning a new life after the gavel comes down. In the process, I’ve heard every morbid story you can imagine – from the ridiculous to the sublime. In the process, as the hurts come and go, I see over-reactions and dramatic decisions that can have devastating consequences if allowed to germinate and grow.
Here’s an example: Last week, "Susan" told me she was so despondent and lonely that she’s considered killing herself. Her situation: She’s an attorney (highly successful and primary bread winner), female, 38, 7 months pregnant with second child, mother with dementia living with her (Mom verbally abuses her). She works long days and has very few friends. No down time to relax. Her husband “suddenly” walked out two months ago. (There were signs that she missed, of course.) He left screaming “I’m tired of you! I don’t care about this baby! You’re one [expletive] bossy bitch and I’m done!” Susan doesn’t want a divorce, she’s devastated, she loves this man, and she doesn’t understand why he would leave.
I believe we can all agree that suicide is an extreme over-reaction to Susan’s situation. (Suicide is rarely the solution for any problem). After all, she has money. She’s a brilliant attorney with a booming business. Her clients love her. She has a two-year-old little boy who adores her and a little girl on the way.
Then, suddenly, her husband left her and he’s vehement about not coming back. (Never mind that he has not actually filed for divorce yet.) She is convinced she can’t live without him, and that her life might as well be over. And this from Susan, a buttoned-up, seemingly unemotional lawyer, a tough litigator, who fights for labor rights daily in the courtroom.
Susan is suffering from “HALT” – a condition we all experience to a lesser degree than Susan every day.
For most of us, we fix our HALT problem by grabbing a peanut butter sandwich, taking a nap, or having a rational conversation with ourselves (or our counselors) to cope with anger or loneliness. In any case, we work through the HALT and get to the other side.
Susan shows us why we can’t let HALT get out of control. At the time she wanted to kill herself, she hadn’t eaten all day because of anxiety. She was angry with her husband for the pain he was causing. She felt abandoned and lonely with no visible support system. Worst of all, she’d completed her usual 12 hour day, hadn’t slept well the night before, and she was exhausted. She’s also in her third trimester of pregnancy, a time when every woman wants to rest. Her body, her mind, her intuition were spent.
When you’re in the divorce process, it’s crucial that you avoid HALT. Give yourself the competitive edge and keep your body and mind in the best shape possible – even with the immense stress you are experiencing. If you were training for the Olympics, you would do whatever it takes to win. You want to be as sharp as you can be. I like what Missy Franklin, Olympic swimmer says, "If I'm ever really stressed out or nervous before a race, I start to think about the things that aren't going to change in my life, regardless of what the impact of that race is."
Eat better than you have in your whole life. Get the sleep you need. Talk to a coach, counselor or therapist to handle the anger or loneliness you feel. Make a list of what is going right in your life. Recognize when you’re slipping into HALT and stop it before it stops you.
Susan didn’t carry out her suicide threats. We talked about her anger and her irrational thinking (after she had a dinner of baked chicken, broccoli, tossed green salad and hot tea with lemon). She took melatonin and slept. She said she could feel her body saying thank you.
There are so many emotions flying around you during the divorce process that the roller coaster of feelings is almost unbearable at times – even for the most professionally together people, such as Susan. We all lose it when we allow ourselves to get run down. Make a plan to handle HALT when it infects your life. And for heaven’s sake, never make any life decisions when you’re in HALT.
Divorce recovery is darned hard work. Take care of yourself. You deserve to think clearly.