Monday, March 20, 2017

Healing From Divorce: A woman's journey of the heart

"If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going"
~Winston Churchill

I truly believe that no one says "I do" with the intention of parting.  It is the dream of the "happily ever after."  The story.  The ideal.  The hope.  We believe that marriage will create stability in our lives, and it can.  But, it also doesn't always deliver, and according to the most recent statistics, it rarely does in our society.  78% of people have been divorced.

Times are changing.  Things are different.  Historically, marriage has rarely been about love.  Its been about real estate, the joining of kingdoms, for commerce, peace, war, economic gain, etc.  Romance wasn't necessarily part of the equation.  More often than not, marriages were arranged, and even then affairs were common knowledge, mistresses were par for the course, and it was known that a spouse didn't necessarily equate to a fulfilling love life.

A perfect example of this is the old King Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triage.  Guinevere married Arthur to join their kingdoms.  It was a wise pairing based on mutual government and military advantage.  However, Guinevere's romantic interests were found in the dashing Lancelot.  He was brave.  He was gregarious.  Nothing was solid and steady about him.  Unlike the wise Arthur, who ruled with a judicious hand, was known for his fairness, and brought peace to nations.

Guinevere & Lancelot

When did romance and marriage become synonymous?  Is it even healthy?  Most love experts say no.  Our culture's expectations of love and romance are diluted by unhealthy expectations, which have proven to be ineffective.  It's also been proven that, all around, from a mental, emotional and physical well being perspective, that men benefit more by the institution of marriage than women do.

How then do we reconcile the notion of marriage?  Is there hope in it?  Is it worth doing in this day and age?  This is a question each couple must decide for themselves.  There is no right or wrong answer.

When marriage fails, how do you move forward from a dream that is now gone?  How do you make sense of the "bubble" that's been burst?  I never grew up really buying into the prince-on-a-horse saving me concept.  I was too independent.  Too awnry.  Too wild.  I was always in the ER:  making capes out of blankets (& jumping off our roof), climbing trees, challenging boys to skateboarding contests, stealing my mother's red lipstick and painting war stripes on my face, carrying around my Boa Constrictor in a backpack to school, jumping in muddle puddles, catching salamanders at the resevoir.  My mother had 5 separate fences, put around our backyard, to keep me in.  Each one higher than the last.  Each one more futile than the previous.

I'll never forget my Oma sitting me down, I had painted war paint on my face with my Mom's lipstick, had red Snoopy galoshes on, and a beautiful pink dress with lace...covered in mud.  I was 6 years old.  She said, "Look at you!  You're filthy!  You will never find a husband.  Never.  Boys don't like girls like you.  You will scare them.  Do you understand me?!?"  I never liked her.  My Oma.  She was an emotionally scarred woman.  She was a product of the Apartheid Wars in South Africa, left bitter by them.  I was always defiant to her.  My lower lip started trembling, mud dripping down my dress into my rainboots, down my hair, hanging on the tips of my lashes.

"I'm not like you!  I'm not like any of you!  I don't need a husband!  Leave me alone!  I can take care of myself!  You're mean!  I won't be like you!  I will save myself!"  I ran out the door, in the pouring rain, and spent the night in my tree house that night, shivering, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean waves.

That night I had a dream.  I still remember it...to this day.  I was riding on a beautiful horse, bareback, on the beach.  I felt free.  I began to see the silouette of an old man in the distance.  He had a long staff.  He walked slowly towards me, through the mist.  He put his hand out to me to stop.  I did.  He walked up to the horse, and pet its mane.  He looked at me and said, "You are a warrior.  You are far from your home.  You are not from here.  I'm sorry.  You will be alone much of your life.  But, not necessarily lonely.  Someday, you will meet a weary warrior, like you.  You two will walk next to one another, in respect.  But, it will be later."  He turned and walked away.

Is this a metaphor?  Is this a foretelling?  It doesn't really matter.  The message is important:  you will be alone, but not lonely.  This is a powerful message for anyone going through, or just having come out of a divorce.  It IS okay to be alone.  Our species isn't really built to be alone, long term.  But, it is important to learn to enjoy your own company.  Some of the best dates I've been on have been with myself.  I've really come to enjoy, and be interested in, my own company.  I like myself.  Its a freeing feeling.  The neediness and the clingyness for stability, and someone to love, doesn't shadow my world.  It interests me, but I'm not bound by it.

I often don't relate to women in my age bracket.  I frequently hang out with women of the menopausal age, because they're generally kind of over the ridiculousness of being needed so much. This isn't to say they don't love.  They do.  It just comes from a deeper sense of self.  A clearer understanding of who they are.

I needed to see what the big fuss was about, though.  I needed to understand society's need for being needed.  Think on that a bit.  I like to be useful.  I like to give and receive love.  I'm not cold-harded. Quite the contrary.  My love comes from a deeper place now.  A solid well of admiration, respect, peppered with a bit of romance.  But, naive expectations?  No.   And, its from that place I feel I'm able to love in a more real way.  More authentic than ever.

One of the most powerful things divorce taught me is that I'm even more tough than I thought I was.  And that was a relief.  I'm a tough cookie.  But, I grew up in a safe household.  I had a great childhood.  I was lucky to dodge the statistics of abuse, drugs and alcohol, growing up.  I had no emotional or physical parameters for my husband's behavior.  I wasn't accustomed to drug and alcohol addiction.  Day, after day, drug and alcohol induced rages became the norm.  I use to pack up my dogs and sleep in my office, for fear of the escalated violence that began to occur in my world. My peace had left me.  My animals would urinate all over themselves in fright, when he would come home.  He used to grab my wrists and shake me to the ground, until I would shake in the corner of the room in fright.  He would then say, "Now, you know what it feels like to feel fear."

I began to realize that I attracted him in my life to learn the opposite of love.  We humans learn through opposites.  Our chemistry was a spark that turned into a wildfire I couldn't control.  I needed to understand everything I could about fear.  I was already a climber.  I had looked fear in the eye through that lense.  My whole childhood was doing extreme acts that made the other kids feel fearful. I had traveled the world, alone, through third-world countries, to face my fear of being alone.  Yet, I hadn't experienced love turning into fear...until my marriage.  And, that was the most valuable lesson of all.

High-Ball Bouldering, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

An old palm reader came up to me in Varanasi, India, in 1997, and said to me, "Child, you are a student of fear.  You are here to master it on all levels."

Varanasi, India

The day I handed my husband divorce papers, hands shaking, was the day, I began to understand that I would be okay.  My voice trembled and stuttered, "I can no longer help you.  You need to help yourself.  Go home to your family.  Heal yourself.   Thank you for the lessons.  You are free now, and so am I."

That night a great storm swept through the high desert of where I live.  I lived in a small rental home that was a true "fixer upper."  The roof leaked buckets of water into my bedroom and living room.  I had pots and pans all over the house, catching water.  We only had a wood-burning stove.  No electrical heat.  The dogs howled with the roar of thunder, and hid under the bed.  I had a panic attack, realizing, I was truly alone now.  I tried to call my parents.  They were out of the country.  My sister?  In Mexico.  My brother?  In Colombia.  Everyone was gone.  I sat in a heap on the floor, and cried the hardest I had since my best friend died.  After I cried, until I could cry no more, I felt a wave of peace over me, and had a sense of knowing that my end would be a beginning.  Its inevitable.  It is the law of nature, and the way of things.  Your end will be a beginning.  This, I can promise.  As sure as the sun comes up every day.  Your tears will water the newness of a fresh start.  Time is the only true healer.  It comes slower than we want it to, but heals the heart more thorougly.

There are some practical things that you can do, from day-to-day, to take care of yourself.   I will let Sophia McDermott address some of these things, and touch on the subject of self-care.  We have both been through it.  We have grieved.  We have lost.  We have both rebuilt ourselves, and are in the continuing process of doing so.  You can too.  You will realize you ARE so much stronger than you ever thought imaginable.  This is your freedom.

Almine & Sophia Have Both Been Through Divorce, And Came Out Stronger

From Sophia:

Divorce is one of the most difficult times a human being can go through and yet statistically it is something that almost 50% of us experience. In  my previous article I discussed some of the heartbreaking factors associated with divorce as well as some management strategies such as focusing on being in the present moment and exercises to  help you get there.  In this article I want to look at the rollercoaster of emotions we go through during the grieving process and strategies to deal with these. Too many people around me have experienced this difficult stage in life and I have seen some channel their pain into positive ways and others into not so positive ways. I think if we build awareness on the subject and make this less of a 'taboo' topic more and more people can be learn about the grieving process which leads to a greater understanding. Once we are made aware of the stages of grieving that most of us go through we can first and foremost have greater acceptance of the process and our emotions and then adopt coping strategies that allow us to work through the emotional process of grieving.
The process of grieving is quite universal, whether it be because of divorce or a death or a diagnosis of a serious,  life changing illness. This is because the overall theme is about loss. When we lose something important in our lives or
lose part of our lives we tend to experience the myriad of emotions in this order, which are:
Shock or Disbelief
Acceptance and Hope

METHODS TO MOTIVATE: (For the stages of shock, denial and depression.)
Sometimes when you are in shock and denial you tend to be frozen like a deer in headlights. Consumed in your thoughts of 'why?' and 'how?' it can be difficult to carry out a usual day, especially if your significant other was a big part of your daily routine. Depression can make you unmotivated, tired and lethargic. The will to get out and do things seems to be diminished. It is exactly for these reasons why you should enroll in a set class or hire a trainer,
whereby the instructor or trainer can hold you accountable if you don't turn up. The other bonus of joining a class is that you are around other people and hopefully in a joyous and positive environment which can help lift your spirits.

Sophia teaching a Jiu-Jitsu Seminar
CREATE A PHYSICAL OUTLET:  (For the stage of anger.)
For other stages of grieving such as anger, I think it is really important to channel this emotion into something physical. Punching the crap out of a heavy bag is a wonderful way to release it all. Doing something with high intensity that really works your body is the key. Although you may feel tired after the session you will also feel great, having channelled that anger out all the while your body is high on endorphins- your feel good hormones.
If a martial arts is not for you, whether it be MMA, kickboxing or jiu jitsu, there are other exercises that you can do in the gym such as sprinting, or jump rope.

Check Out Sophia's Website For Exercises To Help Empower You Through Divorce At:

This is a great plyometric exercise for the upper body to develop speed and power. In order to be able to do this exercise you must be able to perform push ups and have decent core strength to support the spine while performing this exercise on an unstable and uneven surface as well as transitioning from side to side. 
Aim to do 10 push ups each side, 3 times through and try to keep a straight shape from head to toes.
- burpees with a jump.
Burpees are an awesome full body exercise. They work your upper body, lower body and your cardiovascular fitness. Remember to bend your legs instead of just bending at the hips when you lower yourself down to the ground. Kick your feet back to create a strong plank shape for the push up. Once you have performed the push up, bring your feet back in and jump from a squat position. Aim to do 20 reps, 3 times through.
Medicine Ball Push-Ups Build Strength & Confidence For Women

These exercises are high in intensity and require a lot of energy. The aim is put all your efforts into jumping as high as you can, or propelling yourself from side to side in the push-ups or kicking that bag as hard and as fast as you can.

These dynamic exercises are exhausting, and rightly so. They work many different muscle groups, they  require balance, power, speed and coordination and intensity which is the perfect recipe to channel that anger.
Getting in a class environment or hiring a trainer will help motivate you if you are feeling shocked and depressed and the coach or trainer can hold you accountable if you miss a session.  So whether it be divorce or a traumatic event in your life that is causing you to experience grief, adopting some healthy strategies such as these will help you along the process and make it more manageable.

Almine Barton:  @alminebarton
Sophia McDermott:  @sophiamcdermottbjj