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Eight things that are helping me cope

When you have already conquered something, it’s pretty easy to talk about that thing.

california

For instance, if you used to be addicted to something, or you used to have a marriage problem, or you used to have credit card debt, but you’ve actually fixed the problem, then you can feel a sense of pride in sharing what helped you get to where you are.

I think this can be very useful information to share with other people who are having similar problems.

But on the other hand, sometimes it’s helpful to hear from someone who is currently in the trenches and to follow along with their journey.

wedding rings.

Since the person hasn’t gotten to the end of the story yet, there’s always a chance that what they’re doing isn’t going to work. Maybe their debt-payoff plan will flop, maybe their rehab won’t work, or maybe their disease-fighting diet won’t work.

Still, it can be useful to observe the ups and downs and the peaks and the valleys in real time.

That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do as I blog through the dissolving of my marriage (and really, the dissolving of what I thought my life would look like.)

Since I am still so early on in my healing journey, I do not have any definitive advice to give. Check back with me in about five years, and I’ll let you know what worked!

mossy rocks by a shoreline.

But since I first shared about my separation, a lot of you have written to me to let me know that you are in similar situations, so I thought it might be helpful to write a post about what is currently helping me cope in healthy ways.

I was listening to a podcast that happened to have an episode about grief, and the guest said something like (paraphrased here):

“We don’t talk about grief; we don’t know what it looks like for others, so then we think something is wrong with us when we grieve. But when other people share how they are grieving, then we realize nothing is wrong with us.”

So. Here’s what this is looking like for me right now; these are the things helping me cope.

1. Walking

I have logged hundreds upon hundreds of miles on local trails since last January.

sunrise on a walking trail.

It’s such a simple thing, and it costs nothing, but I have found it to be extremely helpful for my mental health.

small bridge on trail.

Occasionally, I think, “Hmm, maybe this walking isn’t doing much for me.”

But then if it’s bad weather for several days, or I’m too busy to get out and walk, I notice a definite downturn in my attitude about life.

2. Being in the woods

Walking is helping me, yes, but I also think walking on trails, mostly in the woods, is helping me.

Dilapidated wooden bridge in the woods.

Logging these miles on a treadmill would probably not have the same effect!

I know some people find peace and mental clarity at the beach, but I really think I have discovered that I am more of a woodsy type of person. I like to be by the trees and I love to watch the changing of the seasons.

porcelain berries in the rain.

Also, there are so many interesting growing things to find in the woods; mushrooms, mosses, shrubs, flowers, berries, and so on.

mushrooms

It’s not like I hate the beach or anything; I just think the woods make me feel better than the beach does.

(Why I feel comfortable walking alone)

3. Talking to people who have been in my shoes

One of my besties went through a tough marriage breakup a few years ago (a different flavor than mine, but still very hard), and I find it super helpful to talk to her. I know she will never judge me for the messy feelings and thoughts I have because she has had all those same feelings and thoughts.

Kristen and her friend.

The two of us back in 2018

In the same vein, I have another helpful friend who is still in a hard marriage (again, a different flavor than mine. Hard marriages come in a lot of flavors.) She got married at the same time as me, homeschooled her kids like me, and we understand each other.

I also am part of an online support group for women whose marriages were all the same flavor of hard as mine.

It’s run by a Christian therapist (one of my pastors recommended it to me) and it has been so helpful to be able to talk to these women who are walking the same road I’m on. I can get helpful clarity and validation and feedback, and I can offer support to them as well.

4. Rolling with the feelings

For a very long time in my marriage, for very complicated reasons that I can’t share here, I tried so hard to ignore the wounds that came my way.

I tried to tell myself that it didn’t hurt, that it was fine, that I could overlook everything.

I tried so hard not to be angry.

I justified it all away.

So now that I am mostly away from the situation, I have a really big backlog of things that need to be healed and processed with the fresh eyes I have now.

It’s like I removed the lid that was holding everything down, and now it is all bubbling to the surface.

Sometimes this hurt and sadness feel like a great, crushing weight on my chest, and in those moments I feel the anguish of what I have been through. But I try not to push it away or push it down, and it usually comes out in the form of tears.

Some days, I feel like I can’t turn around without bumping into something that brings up a painful memory. One day recently, I was driving home from Aldi and I saw a building that triggered a memory of an old marital hurt I’d never processed, and then I spent the rest of the drive home crying.

This is really inconvenient, and I do not love it.

But my experience so far is that when I just roll with the feelings and let them be what they need to be, they actually do roll on through. And the next day, that one bad memory has usually lost some of its sting.

I think about John Mayer’s song, Emoji of a Wave…part of the chorus says,

It’s just a wave and I knowThat when it comesI just hold on

That’s how I envision this healing process…I think there’s a very lengthy series of waves I have to ride, but if I can just hold on and roll with them, I will eventually get to a place where there are calmer waves, or where there’s more distance between the waves.

A Rhode Island beach under cloudy skies.

And one day, I think the waves will carry me to a peaceful cove.

For now, I just remind myself to trust the process.

5. Trying to think, “What CAN I do?”

I wrote a whole post about this on my 25th anniversary this year, so I won’t rehash it all.

But the short version is that focusing on what I can actually control and influence really helps to keep me afloat.

6. Trying to hold my future loosely

Twenty-five years ago, I felt so sure about how my future was going to go. It all seemed laid out neatly for me.

wedding rings in Kristen's hand.

But I see now that the next part of my life is going to look way different than what I’d envisioned.

Sometimes, random realizations come to me like, “Hmm. I am probably never going to have a 50th anniversary.” Because even if I get remarried in a few years, the odds of me living long enough to reach 50 years in a new marriage are really low.

But I try to remember that life can be beautiful in a lot of different ways. Even though my life is not following the path I thought it would, it can still be beautiful.

Maybe it will be more beautiful than what it was before…perhaps something lovely will rise from the ashes.

And truly, it’s not as if the only way to a joy-filled life is to have an intact nuclear family, which is good news because otherwise a lot of us would be screwed!

So, I’m trying to have a flexible attitude toward my future so that I can just roll with whatever is coming my way. The same pastor who recommended the support group to me always said, “You gotta stay flexible, or you’ll break.” and man, I think that’s so true.

8. Looking for meaning in the suffering

The other day I heard a podcast host reference Viktor Frankl’s work on suffering. Frankl’s thought was that if we can find meaning in our suffering, then we are much more able to endure it.

It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

This reminded me of a verse in Romans that says,

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I would not purposely pursue suffering, obviously. But suffering finds me, like it finds all of us, despite our best efforts to evade it.

Suffering is unavoidable, but I can look for meaning in it. I will probably have a clearer view of the meaning some years down the road, but here are a two things I’ve thought of.

I am less judgmental of others whose marriages have failed

The other day, I listened to an old Amy Grant album that came out around the time she got divorced.  I remember that 19-year-old me was rather judgy about Amy walking away from her marriage. And now, look at me.

My 44-year-old self understands that many situations are way, way more complicated than they appear, and I do not immediately judge someone who initiates a divorce.

I now know that a divorce is not always what breaks a marriage or family; sometimes it is merely changing the already-broken to officially-broken.

I can have more empathy and I can show more compassion to others

Now that I have walked this path myself, I have huge amounts of empathy for other women who are in my situation. And I also have a good idea of how I could help them in the future.

I’m not really in a place to do a lot of helping right now, but I trust that in the future, God will send people my way, and I think my suffering will have equipped me to pour some love into those people.

___________________

Well. That’s a pretty exhaustive list of what’s helping me right now.

And in a few years, maybe I will circle back to this list and do an update; by then I will have some more perspective and distance, and I will have a better idea of how helpful all these coping mechanisms have been!

What has helped you cope with really hard times in life?

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Molly H

Tuesday 10th of January 2023

Thank you for writing this! I appreciate genuine posts that show the good and bad. The joy with grief. I've had a lot of grief to process these past couple of years as well.

I am a Christian and I am also queer/lesbian, which makes for a tricky paradox for many people. I deeply value scripture and using it as a tool to enact how the world is meant to be. While I have come to a very affirming stance on LGBTQ issues, there will always be a sense of incompleteness for me in Christian spaces and in my family.

If I marry a woman, my parents will likely not be involved in my life very much. If I do not marry a woman, I will have my parents but not the family I dream of. So while I have reconciled most of my own theology and am always learning in that sense, I have a great deal of grief of the happy life I imagined with a spouse AND cohesive extended family.

Not to mention that I got kicked out of a leadership position in Christian campus ministry in college for having different theology (despite abiding by the rules of adhering to traditional marriage values) while at the same time, other leaders were hooking up, but wouldn't own up to it. I am processing spiritual abuse and hurt as well, which is especially disorienting.

So yeah, life is hard and messy. In many ways, your grief around your dissolving marriage and its impact on your family feels akin to my grief of that same thing: a 50 year wedding anniversary, and one that my parents would support and not disown me or look down on me for.

Molly H

Tuesday 10th of January 2023

I find that my coping strategies involve prayer, talking to friends, support groups, therapy, and getting out of my own head by going for walks, going to an art museum, or reading. I like experiencing beauty and learning, so I find it helps to focus on the present, making separate times and spaces for the hard work of processing deep hurt from loved ones and the church as a whole.

I also find gratitude lists to help a lot. Your thankful thursday posts are always a helpful reminder!

KaLynn

Thursday 5th of January 2023

A thought I had while reading this...when I was in labor with my daughter I had this incredible nurse named Julie. Wow did she go above and beyond to help me! At some point she told me her shift ended at 7:00 pm. I remember looking at a clock at 7:30 and saying to her uhhh what are you still doing here?!?!

She had stayed late to continue to help me during the shift change. I read this post and thought that you have qualities that remind me of Julie. Maybe some day in the future you will have the flexibility in your life circumstances to treat a patient with the same level of care!

Kristen

Thursday 5th of January 2023

Aww, that's such a nice compliment. I hope that I will bless people as much as your nurse blessed you!

Melissa N

Thursday 5th of January 2023

I find myself smiling thinking of you walking the woods and finding some relief. I find a walk in the woods to do wonders for my mood as well. No earbuds. No companions. Just me (and maybe my dog) and nature all around.

Kaila

Thursday 5th of January 2023

Thank you for sharing some encouragement!

I’ve never experienced a marriage breakup but I am very familiar with grief. Your focus to allow the wave to carry you through and pay attention to what you need/feel is so smart but also a way to be kind to yourself. As you mentioned, when we don’t acknowledge the feelings, they have a way of coming back up through one trigger or another and it’s usually not in the way we expected. Doing the hard work now is so important.

Kudos to you Kristen! Thankful to have a glimpse into your healing journey.

Sharyn

Thursday 5th of January 2023

I too am divorced and prior to reading this blog looked at is as the end of a marriage, which for many implies happy marriage but as you stated for me it permanently broke the already broken marriage. I was helped by a Divorce Care class at church, my tribe of friends and family that listened when I called, held me when I cried and prayed for and with me through this life altering time. It’s been four years since I seperated and almost three since the divorce after 25 years of marriage. I’m not fully healed but am so much better in all aspects of my life. My calling is to help women who are on this path to recover financially. I haven’t officially started this but will soon. I was coached by a divorced women who had a similar break and financial situation.

I look forward to reading more odd your journey because it helps me with some of the healing I still neeed.

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