When my husband and I separated, I agreed to move out of our spacious home and into a small apartment with our three daughters. My youngest, aged two, took this as her cue to move into my bed lock, stock, and barrel. She is a feral child and came with an impressive array of acrobatics that can be performed whilst supine. Her outward hyperactivity was matched only by inward ruminations around my impending divorce, and between the two of us, sleep was hard to come by. Having spent the better part of a decade earning my title as a “glass half empty” partner, I had to save myself from the negativity bias in my own head.
Admittedly late to the party and skeptical, I decided to see whether the practice of mindfulness after divorce could soothe these intrusive thoughts. And so it was that our sound machine, set to “rain,” was replaced by Spotify’s extensive library of meditations and guided visualizations. One podcast led to another and I eventually stumbled upon a Western psychologist-turned-trainer of Eastern mindfulness practice, Tara Brach. My two-year-old, mesmerized by the velvety inflections of Tara’s voice, would surrender to sleep as I, despite myself, became increasingly intrigued by her philosophy on awareness, emotional healing, and loss.
How Mindfulness After Divorce Helped Me Heal
One night, as I teetered on the edge of sleep, she said something so profound yet so simple, my eyes snapped wide open. In Brach’s talk, “Awakening from Virtual Reality,” she suggests that, while our thoughts are real, we should think of them as our virtual reality rather than our actual reality. By thinking of them as our virtual reality, we create space for alternatives and discover who we are beyond the stories we tell ourselves in our minds. Over the course of my marriage, I was told to simply “choose happiness” which never really worked for me thanks to the rigid thought patterns in my head. How can you choose happiness when your situation and relationship are barely afloat? But this, this was something I could wrap my head around because it powerfully validates our thoughts as real yet challenges us to consider more favorable possibilities and outcomes.
Gradually my virtual reality of loss, fear, betrayal, and grief shifted into something that resembled, dare I say, “glass-half-full” thinking? Here are some examples of my changed thought patterns.
In my virtual reality I spend a lifetime grieving, dissecting, and over-analyzing a relationship that was peachy keen. Self-flagellation and blame would rob me of precious years watching my three amazing and uniquely vibrant daughters grow into their full potential. In my actual reality I see the relationship for what it was – unfulfilling at best, destructive and toxic at worst. Rather than indulge in self-blame, I am grateful for lessons learned, mostly about myself, because now I am able to open my eyes to life with my girls in all its beauty.
In my virtual reality my children carry the baggage and scars that give them automatic membership to the “Broken Home” club. Addiction, depression, and anxiety, to name a few, are in the fine print of their membership contract. Unbeknownst to them, when they chose me as their mother, they bought into this membership and I live with this guilt. In my actual reality my children will be raised by a single mom automatically qualifying them for the “Lemonade” club. Strength, resilience, and grit are the perks of this valued membership where lemons are turned into lemonade.
In my virtual reality he moves on in lightning speed (ok, this part is actual reality) with someone who continually “chooses happiness” in a way I never could. Another woman steps into my role as I watch from the sidelines, dumbstruck by grief. In my actual reality, his new relationship, apart from how it impacts our children, is inconsequential to how my next chapter unfolds. I silently wish them both well as I live the life I deserve and perhaps find a new love of my own once I am whole again.
In my virtual reality I struggle to reinvent myself after a ten-year career hiatus to raise children. After pursuing several passions in the hopes of making a career out of them, I sell my soul for a role that brings me no joy and offers minimal financial security. In my actual reality, I invest and improve upon myself making the most of my time when my daughters are with their father. Doors open as I actively follow up on leads and continually amaze myself by unearthing skills and talents I never would have otherwise. Empowered, I build a rewarding career and demonstrate self-reliance to my daughters.
In my virtual reality my social circle shrinks as friends, unsure how to handle this delicate and slightly awkward situation, retreat into the comfort of the familiar. There is no place in married circles for single moms. In my actual reality, the support and outpouring of love have been humbling as friends and family can’t do enough to hold my hand as life tests me to the max. If anything, this experience has shown me that if someone stops choosing me, there are plenty of others that will.
These are a spattering of the fears that come with severing a life, family, and home with someone. A true listing of them would take a novel.
Every night my tyrant toddler crawls into the crook of my arm, attempts to hijack my phone, and asks to listen to “the Tara lady.” It’s not a perfect science. I still struggle with days where my “glass-half-empty” thinking is stuck on a loop of repeat and I indulge in my virtual reality. But as time marches on I find myself choosing my new and improved reality with greater ease and accountability. So, as I close my eyes at night, my wish is that this valuable cognitive tool sinks into parts of my daughter’s developing psyche and that, when morning comes, I am awakened from my virtual reality.