Divorce is surely one of life’s most elaborate productions, a play with many acts, each of which must be played out in succession. “First, there’s the grieving period, with its blame or regret, then we go on to the next stage — acceptance,” explains Debbie Ford, author of Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life and founder of the Ford Institute for Integrative Coaching. After acceptance, many people eventually come to see divorce as a renewing factor in their lives, an event that can help them grow and evolve. Sometimes, the transition into this life stage occurs naturally; other times, it must be induced, says Ford. “But once we get into renewal, we can start to see the gift of it, the greater good of it, and the possibility for our future,” she explains.
It’s a great opportunity for people to recreate themselves, agrees David Simon, M.D., author and medical director/co-founder of The Chopra Center. “It’s not uncommon for people to get married at a stage in their lives when they’re still in formulation,” he says. “When that relationship undergoes a transformation that leads to divorce, it gives people an opportunity to consciously start to create a future that will bring them more well-being, passion, enthusiasm, power, or whatever they felt was lacking in their marriage.” In other words, divorce can offer a chance for you to ask yourself, all over again, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” It’s a second chance at life, and it’s yours for the taking. Here are some suggestions to consider before you journey into your own personal renewal.
Be sure you’re ready for renewal
If you’re going through a divorce, you’re probably looking forward to experiencing a more positive stage in the process: you know, when it stops hurting. But experts warn that it’s important to be ready for renewal before you move on with your life. Taking time to indulge in the powerful emotions associated with divorce is critical, says Dr. Simon. “If you short-circuit that emotional healing by pretending everything is okay too quickly, it will definitely show up in the next relationship.”
Most people who experience divorce regard it as a failure, a loss of a dream, explains Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Keeping the Love you Find and co-founder of Imago Relationships International. “It’s very important that people grieve that loss,” he says. “A past that has not been grieved will interfere with the planning of a future, and it can be a true impediment to moving on.” It’s also important to realize that divorce is co-created, he says. “You need to forgive yourself — and your partner.”
You’ll know you’re ready to move towards renewal when less of your mind and body are consumed with digesting the experience of divorce, says Dr. Simon. “Like any wound or trauma, it can take a brief moment for the wound to be created, but it may take weeks or months or even years for it to be healed.” Give yourself the time you need to grieve and heal this primal wound.
There’s nothing to fear but fear itself
During the recovery process, you may find yourself feeling afraid and anxious. Recognize that these are perfectly healthy and normal emotions in a time of change or transition. Divorce challenges our self-image, and the uncertainty it causes creates fear and anxiety about our future. “Anxiety, though, is really an impulse to consciously make choices that will help redefine who we want to be in the world,” insists Dr. Simon. “If you’re not feeling some anxiety, you’re not really embracing the opportunity to learn what’s available in divorce.” The growing pains of transition from divorce are not unlike those we feel when we’re exercising, he adds. “It may not feel good at the time, but you know that the end result is that you’re going to be healthier and more fit.”
Courage is always there, says Ford, but sometimes we choose to be fearful and afraid instead of being courageous and strong. “Ask yourself, ‘Is this choice an act of faith or an act of fear?’ Choose to acknowledge fear and stand in faith. Faith is having trust in the universeÉ trust in something bigger than yourself. Faith gives you courage,” she says.
Share your journey with a supporting cast
Perhaps the most difficult part of renewal is getting over the sense of inertia and lack of control you felt during your divorce process.
Now is the time to enlist the help of a therapist, life coach, personal trainer, weight loss or other support group, friends, family members, your minister, priest, or rabbi — whomever you can count on to support you at this critical juncture in your life. “Knowing that your vital energy is really important right now, back away from negative people,” stresses Ford. “Make sure you have people around you who are for you, who are cheerleaders for you.” Identify which friends you can talk to about which issues, urges Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., director, Behavioral Health at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, Lenox, MA. “It really does help to have at least one person you can share this with, and sometimes through the sharing of it, you gain some greater understanding of your process.”
Be careful though not to burn out friends, however, most of whom will get tired of hearing about your divorce long before you tire of talking about it. Don’t be surprised if you lose some friends during the process: some people will feel threatened by your divorce (almost as though splitting up were a contagious disease they could “catch” from you), and some will feel compelled to side with you or your ex. If you are sharing with a close friend, try to choose someone who won’t merely “merge” with your pain, adds Hendrix. “You’ll want someone who can be your mirror and your wall.”
Imagine a new vision for your life
The process of renewal truly begins when we close the door on the past and open new doors to our future, says Ford. Start by creating a vision that is inspiring: “Vision is the antidote for pain and suffering,” she says. “Being in action on a vision moves people into new realms of consciousness.” One exercise Ford recommends: Visit a local newsstand and choose any magazine that is attractive to you; then let that subject matter guide you in creating a new vision. “You could even cut out magazine pictures and words that affect you in a positive way and make yourself a little vision map,” she says. Another way to develop a vision is to take a close look at someone who inspires you, says Ford. “For instance, you may be inspired by Oprah — but what about her inspires you? This is using the outer world to learn about the inner world.”
Another way to get in touch with your true self is to identify your core values, says Rossman. “Then you can begin to craft a life that is based on those values, on what is really most important to you,” he says. The key is to start small with a short-term goal. “It’s got to be about you, and it’s got to be something you have control over,” says Ford. See this time as an opportunity to get back into shape, take up painting, learn a foreign language, join a club, plant a garden, or even just re-organize your closet. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, small projects can really give you a wonderful feeling of empowerment,” adds Dr. Rossman. “Once you string together a number of small successes, your confidence can really build.”
Take care of yourself
Rome wasn’t built in a day; your new life plan will also take time and patience to develop. In the meantime, invest in your success by taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. If one of your goals is weight loss, for instance, the key is nourishment. When you’ve gone through a difficult situation like divorce, you need to be very kind to you. Keep in mind that you’re nourishing yourself, and that it’s not just about the food. The combination of healthy eating and living gives people going through divorce back that extra little bit of confidence. When you reach small goal, whether it’s weight loss or exercise, you start to feel as though you are accomplishing things. Exercise is great for people going through divorce because it strengthens you while providing you with a healthy outlet for anger. It also relieves stress while increasing fitness, says Dr. Simon. “You feel better about yourself, and you generate natural anti-anxiety and natural anti-depressant chemicals,” he says. “We also recommend that people learn and practice a meditation technique. This enables you to begin to access that quiet inner voice of your soul. That inner voice only wants four things for us: it wants us to be happy, healthy, to have love and be loving, and to find meaning and purpose in our lives.” Of course, you should consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen – particularly if you have been a couch potato for some time.
Make your home a sanctuary
Our homes reflect our spirit in so many ways. Now is the time to clear clutter from your path and make your home equally receptive to renewal. When life is good and a long-term relationship is going well, one’s home can be the only place you want to be. But if the relationship ends, home needs to be redefined. Tune into the colors and textures that give you pleasure – check out decor magazines, films, nature, fashion – and introduce them into your new home. If you’re moving to a new address, try to paint before you move in so that the space welcomes you and your new life. If you’re staying put, the act of changing wall colors and furnishings that you never really liked can be rather satisfying.
When Ford was going through her own divorce, she changed out framed photos in her house of her and her former husband with photos of spiritual leaders she admired; she also found great comfort in music. “Is there anything in your environment that is bringing up feelings of loss or sadness or loneliness?” she asks. “If there is – can you – just for now, let them go?” It can also help to create a sacred place in your home, says Dr. Rossman. “For some people, that would be the place where they meditate; for others, it’s the place they read.
An online community called Freecycle can help you get rid of stuff you’re sure you no longer need or want — and feel good about it because you’re helping others while you purge. www.Freecycle.org allows you to connect with people who actually want your cast-offs: you simply post the items you no longer want, other members “bid” on them, and you decide who gets to come and cart away your old couch/toaster/piano/fax machine. As the name suggests, everything must be given away for free. Of course, if you lost most of your household items in the divorce, you can also post “Wanted” listings to help you replace some of those items for free.
Let the outside in again
When we are going through divorce, it’s as if the outside world almost ceases to exist. We become thoroughly and utterly self-absorbed, necessarily, as we transition through the healing process. “When you’re self-absorbed, your life energy circles ’round and ’round inside you,” says Hendrix. “To get over self-absorption, you need to move your energy out, and one of the best ways to do that is to find something to do that means you give something of yourself away — whether it’s doing something philanthropic, teaching a class, working in a soup kitchen, or planting a garden.”
With self-renewal comes an interest once again in people, activities, and issues that fall outside our own inner world. Push yourself to seize these opportunities when they arise. “Reach out also to your closest friends,” advises Dr. Rossman. “Sometimes, when people have gone through divorce, they might be feeling needy. One way to really reach out in a friendship is to give back to your friends.”
Regardless of how you choose to extend yourself to the outer world, make a commitment to include more f-u-n in your life. “Most of us think we’re too busy to have fun,” says Ford. “But fun lightens our heart, and that is so renewing.”