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Divorce and the holidays: what a head trip!

Smooth Divorce Recovery, the Halloween edition.

Q: What do they teach in witching school?
A:  Ask my ex, she graduated with honors.

Q: Why does a witch ride a broom?
A: Because her ex got the car in the divorce.

Q: Why did the devil marry the mummy?
A: I don’t care, he can see whoever he wants.

It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means for everyone divorced or currently divorcing: The official opening of The Holiday Haunting Season.

This is the time of the year that our dashed (or perceived dashed) hopes and dreams materialize like ghosts of Christmas Past to terrify and intimidate us. The old pictures of how things were, and especially of how things were “supposed to be,” emerge out of the mist and suck the life out of our hope and conviction that life is good and there is still something vibrant and alive to live for.

In fact, just today a TV ad reminded me, through song, that this is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Thank you for sharing, but no thank you.

Ending a relationship is tough, but then add some seasonal messages about family, love, and picture-perfect moments. Ever-present holiday music that brings back memories. Questions like, “Who gets the kids on Christmas eve?”, “What’s wrong with having Thanksgiving dinner alone at my favorite bar?” and “What if I have to spend New Year’s Eve alone?”.

Now you’ll have a picture of the train wreck that can happen when divorce meets Auld Lang Syne.

The onslaught of holiday messaging will soon be upon us, and depending on where you are in your divorce recovery, I want you to remember a few basic truths:

If you’ve been divorced a while, but the holidays bring back feelings of regret and loss over that past marriage…
I want you to know that it’s normal to feel surprisingly sad, confused, and even seemingly longing for how things used to be. Often, we get confused when positive thoughts or memories about our past marriage creep back into our minds, even if it was in our best interest to end it. This is normal. It’s okay to feel ambivalent.

It’s also okay to feel sad about the end of the relationship. Some of your heart-felt hopes and dreams died there. But if feelings of regret and loss aren’t limited to the holidays, it’s possible that you’re NOT quite completely over your divorce yet. Time to take inventory.  Take a look at the current level of stress you are experiencing over the divorce.  Then, be open to completing any unfinished business left undone.

If you’re going through a divorce now…
I want you to know that you’re not alone. Many people have been exactly where you are. Almost forty percent of the adult population has been through a divorce. They will understand, if you just reach out to them. And while your greatest pain may be the loss of things to come, it doesn’t mean your future is completely void of holiday memories to be cherished. In fact, most of the holiday hopes and dreams you “used to have” still exist. Those dreams were yours, not your ex’s. They are waiting there to be scooped up and have life breathed into them again.

The holidays conjure up our idealized dreams about how we hoped life would be. Just because those fantasies are not our current reality does not mean that your reality cannot be beautiful, hopeful, satisfying, and rewarding in its own right. Our task is to acknowledge the dreams and enjoy the bountiful harvest of good that our reality has to offer. Dreams are good. Life is good, also.

Remember, holidays are a head trip. Will we focus on the good that we’ve lost, or will we focus on the good we now have to look forward to? This is our challenge.

Over the next few months, we’ll talk about the aspects of divorce recovery, as well as specific tactics for getting through the holiday season. If you have specific questions, just email me and I’ll address them in this blog. By the way, the real answers to the riddles are:

-Spelling.

-Vacuum cleaners get stuck at the end of the cord.

– and okay, we totally made this last one up.

The holidays happen every year. We’ll get through them again…. I promise you.

Divorce Recovery and Loss: Don’t Grieve It If You Didn’t Lose It

When it comes to divorce, we endure significant losses… and yet all too often we continue to add imagined losses to the pile. The more we do this, the more we distort our vision of reality, making it virtually impossible to see and solve the divorce recovery challenges ahead of us. Let me offer some quick insights on this very common reaction.

Intangible Losses Are Harder to Grieve than Tangible Losses
Loss comes in two types – tangible and intangible. Tangible losses hurt. Losing the house, car, financial security, or the comfort of the daily family routine is not fun. But at least the nature of the problem is clear and how to solve the problems is known.

Intangible losses in the form of lost hopes, dreams, and cherished beliefs cause the most havoc. They are not as clear cut, or obvious and, therefore, are most vulnerable to exaggeration and distortion. For example, some of the most common laments I hear from recently divorced folks are,

“I will NEVER find true love again. I will ALWAYS be alone.”
“My best years are BEHIND me.”

These people assume their original dream of living a fulfilling life with someone they love and want to grow old with is now utterly IMPOSSIBLE. The loss feels overwhelming. And a typical reaction — for anyone — is to jump to the conclusion that we will NEVER realize our hopes and dreams without our ex as our partner.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Are You Grieving Images or Dreams You Haven’t Really Lost?
If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: We don’t have to grieve anything we didn’t lose! By focusing on actual losses, we avoid wasting time and energy on the imaginary ones.

When dealing with the loss that comes with divorce, figure out what you are truly going to lose, and then grieve ONLY what you actually lost.

Ask yourself, “Am I really going to lose all of it? Or, just a part of it? Could it be that I am not going to lose it at all?” This is one of those times when a friend can provide a “reality check” to help determine if your assessment of the losses is accurate.

Do this, and your transition from divorce hell to a satisfying, successful life after divorce will be easier, faster and less traumatic. You will feel some much needed control over your recovery from divorce.

And you will discover that the romantic vacation on a remote island… is still quite within your reach. It just might happen with someone else.

Celebrating divorce? Doesn’t mean you’re over it.

There’s a popular term in our culture today: “closure”.

Well-meaning friends may decide that a clever cake, some beers with the boys, or an indulgent vacation will help a friend achieve “closure” after a divorce. And all too often, we tend to think that a new relationship or another marriage signifies that someone is “definitely over it!”

But here’s the real truth: A judge’s signature on a piece of paper doesn’t erase our hopes and dreams for what we wanted in marriage. We mistakenly assume that we’ll shed the past, much like a snake sheds its skin, and get on with life without looking back.

However, it just doesn’t work that way.

That’s why the first stage in the Smooth Divorce Recovery Program is called Stabilize the Present.  At the very beginning, I work with clients to sort out their real losses from the perceived losses and get a clear picture of their situation, identify their personal resources for this transition in their life, and assess just how much they’re accepting the transition of divorce. Whether someone is recently divorced or still carrying the wounds from a relationship that ended ten years ago, the Divorce Recovery Stress Indicator helps identify their barriers to enjoying life after divorce.

I won’t deny there’s real value in having a strong support system, and a rich slice of cake can make anyone feel better about a failed relationship — in the moment. But in the long run, a successful recovery from divorce takes highly focused action. Which ultimately makes the beer, the indulgent vacation or the clever cake all that much sweeter.