You can say it. “Frankie Ann is slow on the up-take.” As I was writing this post, the light bulb finally came on to explain why divorce is such a traumatic loss, even though it’s in-your-face and undeniable. Unlike most other traumas, the losses involved in divorce cascade. They just keep coming for a while. (Until they don’t.)
Let’s start with a quick review from part 2 of our Traumatic Grief series and the interview with counselor and Traumatic Grief expert Liz Taylor.
Liz relates that moving and loss of a job each create “tremendous grief.” She tells us about all the things people lose when they move… home, friends, school, knowing where things are located—your post office and grocery store—and much more.
Peaceful Readers, what else did you lose in your last move? Your church? Your best friend? Your marriage?
You may be thinking I didn’t have to move. I didn’t lose my job in this divorce. But think about it. Was being a husband or a wife a big part of who you were? In a very similar way, everyone who divorces has suffered the loss of their family role(s). I know that we don’t call being a spouse our job, but it’s much more substantial than our job or career. It’s both our family role and a large part of our identity.
If part of your family role and job was Family provider, that may change in your divorce. If part of your family role and job was Full-time mom, that may change in your divorce. These losses and changes are huge.
Your life has changed.
Losses, stresses, changes
Divorce is traumatic because of the volume and severity of losses that surround us in a short amount of time. It’s like a war zone. It can feel like a hostile takeover.
The losses, stresses and changes in divorce can include:
♦ The death of your marriage
♦ The part-time or full-time loss of your children
♦ The loss of your daily family roles (husband, wife, father, mother)
♦ The loss of friends
♦ The loss of extended family
♦ The loss of your pets
♦ The loss of your home
♦ The loss of your financial status and/or stability
♦ The loss of your job or a job change
♦ The loss of your church
♦ The loss of your confidence
♦ The loss of your belief in the goodness of marriage
♦ Dealing with your ex-spouse’s new significant other
♦ Visitation issues
♦ Changing your name
♦ Legal decisions, appointments, costs, court hearings
♦ Changing bank accounts, your Social Security card, driver’s license, etc.
♦ Dividing up the belongings
♦ Taking off your engagement/wedding ring
♦ Taking down/discarding various items (e.g., photos, memorabilia)
♦ Adapting to your new life
♦ Grieving traumas, abuse and/or neglect from the marriage and the divorce
You may be thinking, Why would a divorce tie in with the loss of someone’s church family? Well, many couples who are divorcing do not want to encounter each other while they’re at church. The depth of the pain and/or hostility would make regular encounters with the ex-spouse way too disruptive. Depending on the reaction of people at church to you and/or to the divorce itself, sometimes one or both spouses need to make a fresh start somewhere else.
A word of encouragement
Peaceful Readers, I don’t want you to think that your divorce presents an insurmountable trauma that you can’t successfully grieve without intense intervention. That is not the case—largely because you can’t stuff, ignore or deny it. However, your divorce will require you to proactively grieve—to actively do the work of grieving. It will require your active attention for a period of time—anywhere from one year to many years, depending on the legal and custody issues involved.
By using the words active attention, I don’t mean that you must keep your constant focus on your divorce. No. What I mean is that you must keep an appropriate focus on the things you’re doing to successfully grieve your divorce and all the associated losses.
Most importantly, keep your eye on your destination—healing and peace.
Obviously, a marriage is much more than just a piece of paper.
So is a divorce.
There are people involved. Many, many people. There are feelings and memories involved. There are also places, belongings and patterns of daily living involved. Jobs, money and more.
A divorce can feel like you’re at war with someone who was once your closest ally. Now you have to protect yourself from this person you loved and trusted. This person you looked in the eye when you vowed “‘Til death do us part.”
Betrayal…. Lies…. False perceptions….
The Lover became The Enemy.
It takes time and energy—and sometimes, effective strategy—to fight a war.
Can you effectively do the work of grieving while you’re at war? Yes, you can.
Grieving to-do list
Let’s start walking through some very practical steps. Do you remember our To-Do List for The Season of Grieving from Time for Grieving, part 6? Here it is.
To-Do List for The Season of Grieving
4. Attend a quality support group.
5. Read books that will help you.
6. Remember happy times (and/or God’s faithfulness).
7. Look for humor and joy.
8. Spend time with people who are good to you.
9. Attend church weekly.
If you’re going through a divorce, re-read Time for Grieving, part 6—except for the content about item 6. Item 6 will be addressed very specifically in part 4 of this post.
I’ll expand on the first four items in the to-do list below. We’ll go through the remaining items in part 4.
Why is crying so important? Tears of sadness actually remove stress hormones from our bodies. They also tell our body to start manufacturing our natural pain-relief hormones. For more information, read “The Health Benefits of Tears” from Psychology Today.
Bottom line? Crying makes us feel better. When you have a painful splinter in your finger, you pull it out, right? Think of the techniques that encourage crying as your emotional tweezers—the necessary tools for immediate relief. And think of your actual crying as that successful yank that gets that sharp splinter out of you. Ahhh. Much better….
Crying isn’t a one-time thing. It’s something you’ll feel the need to do routinely for a while. When you feel the need to cry, do it as soon as possible (but not at your desk at work; go to the restroom for a few minutes).
Every morning—after my Bible reading time—I journal about the previous day. It is very therapeutic time. I learn while I journal. I express feelings while I journal. Sometimes I write down significant Bible verses from my daily reading or notes from our pastor’s Sunday sermon. I come to understand patterns and relationships between people, events and other things. I write down significant dreams in my journal.
The Holy Spirit reveals truths to me while I journal.
Later on, I go back and highlight significant content in my journal. When I re-read sections from my journal, I celebrate how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come. And I give God the glory.
I can’t recommend this healing step strongly enough.
Earlier this week, I went to Mardel and bought my journal for next year. It has a beautiful Bible verse on the cover. I bought my new journal before I even bought my purse or kitchen calendar. It’s that important and central to The Healing Journey—to my life.
Begin and end your day talking to God, either out loud or in your thoughts. Bear your soul to him. Cry out to him. Tell him what you need.
Give him thanks throughout your day, every time you encounter something good—before every meal and snack, when you see the sunshine, when you feel the breeze, when you see someone smile at you. Give him thanks.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights….
James 1:17a, New Heart English Bible
4. Attend a quality divorce support group.
I attended a divorce support group at a local church. It was extremely helpful to walk through the initial months of this journey knowing that other people were going through the same thing at the same time. For more information on how to identify a quality support group, read the end of this post, starting with Getting It Wrong.
I do wish that my divorce support group had followed a more structured curriculum. For this reason and more, I recommend DivorceCare®. (I’ve been impressed by the quality material I’ve read from GriefShare®, created by the same team.) Go to the DivorceCare website to find a group near you.
In addition to the emotional and physical loss of this person who was so significant in your life, there’s the weight of being responsible for many new tasks—as the only adult in your home now, most likely. It’s a heavy weight at a devastating time. But the weight gets lighter as you adapt to the changes and take each positive step.
Your quality divorce support group will help you in many ways. You’ll receive encouragement to take the positive, active steps you need to take—personally, socially, legally, spiritually, etc. You’ll move forward one step at a time, one day at a time.
Every small step that you take forward will lighten
the weight of the burden you’re carrying.
It will also build your confidence.
Coming next: Next time on Choosing Peace, you’ll learn about Aunt Greta and the photo on the wall.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Psalm 33
Song for Healing: “Jesus Sees” by Meredith Andrews