I recently read the book, Deep Survival —Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, by Lawrence Gonzales. As I read I realized that divorce itself is a survival situation. The trauma of divorce affects the brain chemistry is the same ways a shipwreck or shark attack would. It elicits the same reactions from us. Divorce isn’t usually a life or death situation. Sometimes it is. There are however, a lot of internal things in you that will die on the way to the final divorce decree. The internal shifting that takes place is one of the biggest surprises. We are unprepared for such upheaval.
As difficult as it is, being aware of, and being willing to let go of, things that no longer serve you like old behaviors or an outdated image or yourself or even friends you no longer relate to will help you make the transition more quickly.
If I were to write a book similar to Gonzales’ about surviving divorce I could call it, Surviving Divorce, Who is Empowered by it, Who is Destroyed by it, and Why. Some folks make it to the other side of divorce happier and healthier. Some don’t. There are some very specific reasons for that. At the end of Gonzales’ book he summarizes the survival keys that he discovered as he researched his book. They are so appropriate to divorce that I have paraphrased some of them below. They will not only help you survive divorce, but thrive beyond it. This is part 2 in the series.
I’ve numbered Gonzales’ principles below and italicized my comments that pertain to divorce below each principle. Because there are so many I’ll only cover a few at a time in each post. Principles 4 through 8 are below.
People who survive dire situations apply many of these skills. Here are the next five.
(Did you miss: Surviving Divorce Part 1)
4. Survivors are able to transform thought into action. They are willing to take risks to save themselves and others. They are able to break down very large jobs into small, manageable tasks. They set attainable goals and develop short-term plans to reach them. They are meticulous about doing those tasks well. They deal with what is within their power from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day. They leave the rest behind.
Much of the time our thoughts run us. Learning how to think about what we are thinking about is an important skill. Being hostage to unmanaged thoughts is as bad as being on a runaway train.
There is so much to do when going through divorce that it is imperative that we break down those tasks into manageable chunks. It isn’t useful to try to do everything. Doing one thing at a time makes for a much peaceful time. If the dishes don’t get washed so you can read a story to the kids, that’s ok.
5. Survivors take great joy from even their smallest successes. That is an important step in creating an ongoing feeling of motivation and preventing the descent into hopelessness. It provides relief from the unspeakable stress of a true survival situation.
There are many small successes within the scope of a divorce. They may be mixed with overwhelming tasks and lengthy to-do lists, but they are there. Completing your financial papers, learning how to balance your bank account, operating a crock pot, or getting the plants watered before they die are all small victories. Remember that what we focus on expands. Focusing on anything that you are doing well prevents that descent into hopelessness.
6. Counting blessings and being grateful is how survivors become rescuers instead of victims. There is always someone else they are helping more than themselves, even if that someone is not present.
Taking care of yourself for the sake of your children, your parents, your siblings, or other people you care about can be key to your survival. They need you to stick around, to be present, to work through to the other side and engage in their lives again.
The Beyond Divorce program provides opportunities to help others rather than remain a victim to your own story. Listening, empathizing and helping others helps you. There’s always someone who is worse off than you, and although you have compassionate for them you are at the same time grateful to know that your Ex isn’t as crazy as some of the others.
7. Play. Survivors search for meaning. They engage the crisis-almost-gone game. In so doing they discover the flow of the expert performer in whom emotion and thought balance each other in producing action. They act joyously and decisively. Play can lead to invention, and invention may lead to a new technique, strategy, or a piece of equipment that could save you.
How can you lighten your situation? It may seem very unnatural to make jokes in a survival situation but what if it actually helped? What if you could find the lighter side? It certainly couldn’t hurt. What would it mean to “act joyously and decisively” in your situation.
8. Survivors are attuned to the wonder of the world. The appreciation of beauty, the feeling of awe, opens the senses. This appreciation not only relieves stress and creates strong motivation, but it allows you to take in new information more effectively.
Calming your mind and your nerves is imperative. Trying to push through without leaving space for beauty, wild places, creativity, music, just general white space around all the ‘stuff’ of divorce will cause your soul to shrivel from the inside out. It’s just a life experience. Learn to live through it, not destroy it.