When you have already conquered something, it’s pretty easy to talk about that thing.
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.
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!
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.
I have logged hundreds upon hundreds of miles on local trails since last January.
It’s such a simple thing, and it costs nothing, but I have found it to be extremely helpful for my mental health.
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.
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.
Also, there are so many interesting growing things to find in the woods; mushrooms, mosses, shrubs, flowers, berries, and so on.
It’s not like I hate the beach or anything; I just think the woods make me feel better than the beach does.
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.
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 comes I 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.
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.
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!