What’s worse: a jet lagged 3-month-old? Or a jet lagged toddler? Or the 8-hour solo flight to said destination, which makes the children jet lagged?
It’s not a trick question. It was my reality as an expat.
On this particular day, I was recovering from jet lag but happy – happy to be back home with my husband after a trip to see family and introduce the newest member of our clan.
I was nursing a 3-month-old and keeping a watchful eye on the super-charged toddler bouncing off the walls and doing anything he could to get my attention.
I was 35. And today, this very day, I learned my marriage was over.
In hindsight, I can now see that there were “trouble in paradise” alarm bells ringing for a good few months prior. But, on this day, I was completely oblivious to that fact. As a sleep deprived mama trying to navigate the joys of childbirth and a young family, the idea that my marriage was about to fall apart hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I clearly recall the unimaginable and awful rollercoaster of emotions experienced that day (and for the weeks and months thereafter).
It was brutal.
That first night, I heard every tick of the clock. I heard every crumple of the bed sheets as my toddler tossed and turned. I just sat. I sat all night in the rocking chair in my baby’s nursery and stared at that beautiful, peaceful angel (until she woke, softly whimpered and lovingly latched on for yet another feed). It was a mixing bowl of, ‘I’m sure this is one of those really bad dreams people talk about – surely I’ll wake up soon’, and, ‘I can fix this!’, and, ‘what in the hell just happened?’
I wondered. I cried (no, actually I sobbed uncontrollably till the tears were no more). I repeatedly asked myself, ‘what on earth am I going to do now?’, but, for once I was lost for words.
The empty feeling in my heart was debilitating and made me feel physically sick. The voices and moment-by-moment replays in my head drove me crazy. I couldn’t get a moment of silence. It was as if I had been transported to the medium strip of the M1 during peak hour.
In an instant, I went from someone who knew every next move – to someone who had absolutely no idea: no idea what to do next, or what life was going to look like from that moment on. I was experiencing the full force of despair. It was petrifying. I was completely lost. And, I was in a foreign country.
If this sounds familiar to you or you can relate in any way, welcome to the club. You are completely normal and you will be okay.
So, what are the emotions you’re likely to experience in the initial stages of a separation or divorce?
Adele Theron from The Naked Divorce played an integral role in my healing journey. She’s kindly allowed me to share the following piece on completely normal responses to the initial stages of getting separated or divorce.
Numbness – numbness can be physical, emotional, or both. The numbness lasts for different periods of time for different people.
Disrupted sleep patterns – not being able to sleep or sleeping too much is completely normal.
Changing eating habits – it’s normal to have almost no appetite or a need to eat nonstop, or both, alternately.
Roller-coaster of emotional energy – extreme ups and downs. As a direct result of these emotional highs and lows, you may feel emotionally and physically drained.
Depression – feeling low and depressed is normal.
Despair, desolation and desperation.
Feeling strong anger or rage.
Experiencing dramatic mood changes. Exhibiting a change in personality.
Losing interest in most activities.
Experiencing a change in sleeping or eating habits.
Performing poorly at work.
The turning point
Adele says, “you will feel low for the first few weeks, even months. That’s normal. After that, you’ll start to feel more like your old self. You’ll start to rationalise things and you’ll begin to work out what to do next.
This is a turning point, and it means you’re thinking about your future. The pain will still be there, but it will become easier to bear and you’ll find many things you can do to work through the pain and speed up your recovery.
You may feel it tempting to keep busy and avoid being alone. However, if you want to heal, the KEY is to FACE your emotions and process them. I know this may sound like a frightening idea. I remember thinking that my own sadness and grief would swallow me whole.
What I did realise after a few days was that every single emotion had another emotion underneath it, almost like there were layers of emotions which needed to be peeled off.
My job was to simply move through each emotion, find the boundary or ending of the layer and move onto the next emotional layer. There was actually a natural ending to each emotion but only when I truly experienced and acknowledged the preceding emotion. When you resist your emotions and avoid being with them by indulging in Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics, you prolong the healing cycle unconsciously.
You will consequently have no say about how much time your healing will take or what will happen.”
The concept of healing may indeed be a far-off reality for you as you struggle to deal with the imminent onslaught of emotions at the beginning of this journey. However, when the time is right – take positive steps down this road. Yes, it is possible to heal from a separation or divorce. And, it is possible to be happy again. So, grab onto this piece of hope and take it with you as you venture forwards.
So, how do you survive the emotional roller coaster in week one?
Ensure that you and your children (if you have them) are in a safe environment
Safety must always be your top priority. If you have any concerns about domestic abuse or self harm, seek a safer location or contact the authorities immediately. If you and your ex going to stay put in the marital home today, agree on boundaries with regards to acceptable times, behaviour and conversations both in private and around the children.
Reach out for support
Let someone know what is going on. This could be a family member, a professional or member of your community (note: steer clear of mutual friends as they may pick sides – and quite possibly not yours). Give a relationship counselling support line a call (free services) if you need additional support or have questions.
Stop what you are doing and take 10 deeps breaths (try to do this every hour on the hour). Psychology Today recommends that by simply taking control of your breathing—slowly inhaling, envisioning good imagery (in contrast, during stress, to naturally hyperventilating from anxiety, causing us to use only a small portion of our lung capacity), and exhaling, releasing what is not useful, muscles relax and clearer thinking is restored.
Drink plenty of water. Fill a water bottle – whatever helps you drink at least 2 litres of water throughout the day. Try hot water in the morning and evening. Here you can read about how studies have shown that being just half a litre dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of those stress hormones. Staying in a good hydrated status can keep your stress levels down. When you don’t give your body the fluids it needs, you’re putting stress on it, and it’s going to respond to that.
Let it go
If you need to cry, scream or anything else – go for it (ensure the children are out of ear shot). Allow yourself to experience each emotion as it comes up. Don’t dismiss your emotions or suppress them. If you haven’t already organised the day off work – call in sick (and, yes – definitely for the rest of the week too). Focus on one step at a time. Listen to what your body needs. Hold on tight and ride out the wave of emotions coming your way.
If you’re like me, your appetite left the building with Elvis. Even the sight of food made me feel sick. However, it’s still super important to stay nourished. Easy does it and little by little. Perhaps some nuts, a whey smoothie, fresh chicken soup or a chocolate bliss ball. Try and arrange for family or friends to make you a few meals or snacks so there is food prepared. Call your doctor and check if you should be increasing your vitamin intake (multi-vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin B etc).
Think positive thoughts and prepare yourself well for sleep. Sounds easy, I know. But, unfortunately, those annoying little voices in your head often have no intention of letting you do so. Here is a suggestion that worked for me: when you lie down and close your eyes do your best to acknowledge each little voice as it speaks to you: thank it for visiting your head, tell it you will give it your full attention tomorrow morning, and then imagine your fingers picking up the voice and moving it to the side of your head and carefully placing it on the pillow beside you. Tell it to head off now and have a good night. Once your thoughts have been genuinely acknowledged, they do truly disappear. And after a while, the repetition of this action will become somewhat like counting sheep. You should find yourself drifting off to sleep in no time. (Here’s hoping!) If you need an alternative plan, The Huffington Post posted an article about Sleep During Divorce in 3 Peaceful Steps.
Stretch your legs, take a walk, do a yoga class – nothing overly strenuous that will pump you full of toxins but just enough to get you moving and producing your happy hormones. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. You can check out more here.
As soon as you are ready and able to start functioning, you need to start protecting yourself (personally and financially) and start the process of collating vital information about your relationship. This task will help you feel more informed and less vulnerable to the legal separation process ahead. The legal component of splitting up, splitting assets and possibly splitting homes for your children can be your second tidal wave of emotions. Getting informed now and protecting yourself financially will help soften the extremes of your emotional ups and downs in the future.
If you’re currently facing the reality of a breakup, separation, divorce, co-parenting journey or are a victim of domestic abuse, there is now an app to help you document absolutely everything – information, communication and evidence – so you’re ready for whatever legal obligations that may arise.
For more support, download my FREE e-book, 5 Separation & Divorce Hacks.
I’d love to know if you have any other survival tips for the first few days and weeks of a separation or divorce too. Let me know in the comments below!
You’re doing just fine. Take it one day at a time. And remember, be especially kind to yourself.
Founder | Hello Mojo