Lucy’s emotional journey: This graph below tracks the healing experience of one of Lucy, a 54 year old woman experiencing divorce which came as a major shock when her husband suddenly left her. It illustrates the first year of the past five years of her life as drawn by her.
Lucy’s rollercoaster started off with a big shock stage, an initial paralysis at hearing the bad news of her husband leaving her. She described it as a big kick in her stomach and an indescribable ache.
This was followed by a denial stage where she spent days trying to avoid the inevitable, telling herself it was not happening. This was followed by an anger and betrayal stage where Lucy was very angry with her husband. Unsure of how to process the emotions she simply ignored them, and began panicking that she had lost him. She spent weeks pleading for him to return, promising to be a better wife to him. When she realised that he wasn’t coming back, she again felt anger. She shouted and screamed at him. When he didn’t retaliate she felt humiliation and disgust with herself.
Pleading with her husband to take her back
This disgust soon turned into despair, closely followed by more anger, which she didn’t process and more pleading with her husband to take her back. She momentarily felt grief and loss then went out and unexpectedly slept with a much younger colleague from work. Afterwards she felt numb, briefly angry, then numb again. When the colleague didn’t call her back, she was overcome by loneliness and more grief and loss. She then started drinking more alcohol and soon returned to numbness. As the divorce came through, she felt momentary happiness. Her life continued along this path for several years. In the second and third and forth years, she continued the cycle of up and down. The numbness lasted days, then weeks, then months. She said for years, she simply went through the motions in her life. Almost feeling like she was dead inside.
Life after divorce a series of ups and downs
When Lucy and I started working together five years later, she was feeling very numb and resigned. She told me that life since her divorce was a series of ups and downs and that over time she just felt quite numb and had understood the numbness to be a form of acceptance. Upon examination, we actually found that deep sadness, resentment and anger were still very much present in her life. The numbness was masking the deep grief and upset over her husband leaving her. She has fallen victim to being passive over time and thought that simply the passage of time would cause her healing.
We also discovered that she made use of Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics (S.T.E.A.T.s) like alcohol, food, sex with random strangers, and spending hours and hours at work to avoid feeling the pain of her heartbreak.
She realised then that although she had learnt a great deal during the past five years, she had not healed from her divorce and did not know what to do to heal. She commenced the naked divorce journey and achieved the inner peace she had been seeking all those years. Lucy’s emotional rollercoaster is not too dissimilar to any of my client’s emotional rollercoaster’s after divorce. The problem for Lucy was that there was no knowledge of which emotion was coming next or how long the emotional ride would take.
Lucy’s healing cycle also didn’t stop, it kept going for five years and just when she thought she was had healed after an extended period of numbness or false acceptance, she would get knocked back by something that happened in her life and the emotional rollercoaster would speed up again, revealing another emotional dip or
bend or loop. To avoid feeling the feelings at each point, she sought out Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics (S.T.E.A.T.s) to bring her instant relief, and what she didn’t know at the time was that those Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics just prolonged the cycle of the rollercoaster ride. She felt extremely stuck in her life and that there was no way for her to get off the emotional rollercoaster, or exercise any control over decreasing the time on the ride. She was simply strapped into her seat and needed to hold on for the duration of her journey.
I could tell you hundreds of similar stories and to me this is the saddest part about divorce healing – the years of your life that are spent in purgatory. Because there is no clear process to follow to overcome the emotional grief, no grief cycle which maps out what emotion might come next, and no structured support along the way; so everyone deals with divorce as best they can. This can often lead to long-term depression and a lack of contentedness with life. Lucy was very brave when she proactively confronted and dealt with her emotions so they didn’t hang around polluting her life.
If you would like some idea of where you are within the divorce grieving cycle, you can take the How Hung Up Are You quiz here:
Till next time, when we will find out what is holding you back from healing from your divorce!
Sending you a big hug!