Our innate desire to avoid the pain of separation and divorce can often take us down a blind alley. I call this “reality shifting.” Simply put, it is a way for us to escape confronting our feelings by investing a disproportionate amount of time into projects that were once contained within the timetable of a shared life. We shift our reality in an attempt to cover over our true feelings about our new situation.
Sometimes this is accomplished by losing yourself in your job. Suddenly everything at work seems like it requires your immediate attention. The job that once fit comfortably between the hours of nine and five has suddenly morphed into a daily 12-hour marathon, and often fills your weekends as well.
Others will fixate on issues that, prior to separation, were little more than passing interests. Be it a compulsion to shop every weekend, or the sudden fascination with a hobby, cause, or social club, what was once an occasional pursuit — indulged perhaps once or twice a month — is now an almost daily obsession that unbalances the rest of your life.
What can you do when you find yourself falling into this pattern? Here are some strategies that will help:
Strategy #1: Acknowledge that this is merely a protective reaction against your own pain. It’s normal for all of us to look for ways to avoid certain realities that we’d rather not face. Nearly all divorced individuals exhibit these types of behaviors to some extent. Don’t be down on yourself about this, and take comfort that in having recognized what’s happening, you can begin to shift your time and energy in the direction of those things that really matter to you — which is your first step toward a real process of healing.
Strategy #2: Accept that you’ll continue this reality shifting until such time as you confront the real issues that you’re facing. Avoiding the pain you feel not only makes any new relationship difficult or impossible, it also makes you a prisoner of these time traps that you’ve created for yourself. Until you confront the underlying issues, you can’t begin to recover your own true reality.
Strategy #3: Recognize that you now have the freedom to build a new life for yourself. There is a positive side of divorce: it gives you an opportunity to move your life in a new — and perhaps, better — direction. You can’t hope to enjoy that opportunity, however, until you have dealt with the self-deception of reality shifting.
Strategy #4: Enjoy the gift of time you’ve been granted. When you sabotage yourself with unnecessary distractions, you throw away that very precious gift of time. Don’t feel you have to rush the healing process by “keeping busy.” Instead, give yourself time to think. Others who know and love you will understand, and be supportive. Use this time to reassess your needs, and to regain your emotional strength. It is only through time that you will heal the pain you feel from your divorce.
Your new life is waiting for you to say that it’s okay to begin. It’s a decision that only you can make — and you’ll be thankful that you did.