Seven years after my divorce, I believed my recovery was complete. I’d put those runaway divorce emotions to bed! Then, BAM! Out of nowhere comes a jolt of loneliness (for others, it might be jealousy, abandonment, anger, depression – any of the divorce emotional heavy hitters). Loneliness is my personal nemesis. It can pounce on me when I least expect it, even years after the gavel has come down – with the same impact as during the height of the divorce combat.
My job is to learn how to manage it, now, seven years later.
Today, I said goodbye to a dear friend. No, not a funeral. She’s bright-eyed and vivacious in her mid-60s. She’s moving on – new job, new city, and new adventures. Tomorrow, she flies to New York City where her journey begins. We gave each other hugs and the appropriate “Can’t wait to see your new place!” and “We have to set a regular time to talk.”
Truth told, I don’t know when I’ll see her again. I do know I’ll miss her terribly. I could feel the hole that her absence would leave. I told myself, “Be happy for her!” but I simply couldn’t conjure it up.
I walked slowly back to my car. It’s been several years since my divorce, but that familiar knot of loneliness came screaming back, cramping in my belly and tightening in my throat. Tears filled my eyes. She had such excitement ahead of her! And what was I doing with my life? I wanted what she had: an exhilarating new beginning with palpable what-happens-next exhilaration.
I had none of that. I was alone. I had recently ended a four-year relationship that I thought would be the love of my life. My adult kids have their own lives well beyond mine. Who needs me? I could feel the dark cloak of loneliness wrapping around my shoulders.
When I got home, I plunked myself on my couch. I cried hard.
Then came the mini intervention with myself. Let’s get real: I felt abandoned (everyone’s primal fear) and I felt jealousy, too. It’s so easy to see her grass as a lot greener than my own.
I didn’t want to be crippled, again, by those feelings so reminiscent of my divorce – loneliness, fear of abandonment, and jealousy. What could I do?
These are the steps I took to provide an escape hatch from the intensity of the loneliness that I felt:
1. Recognize this for what it is: A personal full-blown pity party.
It’s easy to slip into dramatic self-pity mode when you’re the one left behind, just as it was in my divorce. However, this is not my divorce, and my life will not be permanently altered. I’m feeling sorry for myself and it reminds me of divorce feelings. Note to self: gather up the drama and throw it in the garbage.
2. I am what I think! My brain believes everything I tell it.
I can choose the thoughts to think. When the destructive lonely thoughts emerge, I can refuse to accept them! Like a surfer waiting for the right wave, I can simply say to myself: “That’s not the the thought I want right now. I’ll wait for a better one.”
3. Get out the daily gratitude list that we’ve all been told to keep but somehow manage to forget.
Write in it, right now! #1 – I am healthy and building a successful business. #2 – I have two grown daughters that love me very much. #3 – I’m blessed to live in a country where women aren’t persecuted and renounced. #4 – I’m much better off than I think I am. Need proof? Turn on the news.
4. Laughter is still the best medicine.
5. I’ll remind myself that life is change. Period.
To believe otherwise is a fool’s game. Happiness morphs into challenging times, eventually. Unhappy changes to joy. And so it goes. It’s all part of life’s cycle. No one said it would be easy. To pout, waiting for the eventual contentment that others appear to have, is naïve and childlike. My friend had her own bout of loneliness, raising two boys by herself after her husband died from a wretched fight with diabetes. I tend to forget that when I’m sucking my thumb at my pity party! Not that she had to earn it, but it’s her time to be happy. So be it.
6. I’ll get my derriere off the couch and go for a walk.
Physical exercise changes everything.
7. I’ll post self-messages all around my house:
“What little mini-miracles are in my life right now?”; “What’s happening right now that I can be grateful for?”; “Spread smiles!”
How to manage those emotional gremlins that continue to rear their ugly heads long after the divorce is over? I’m convinced that it’s a lifelong process of well-prepared self-intervention.
The question to ask is: Will I be the strong woman I am, and seek out creative ways to handle this upswelling of emotion from the past? Or, will I be crippled each time I have a flashback?
It’s a choice we have to make every day.