So you wake up one morning and the person you had kids with is gone. Maybe they vanished into thin air, or maybe they’ve found themselves a quaint place on the other side of town, or maybe they’ve made themselves comfy at their new partner’s house, or maybe you’ve just put the last of their things on the front yard (with or without the gasoline and match) and have just turned your brand new lock. The family life you were living has changed.
And so begins the Emotional Onslaught. It doesn’t matter who left who. It doesn’t matter why someone left. The torrent of emotions happens to everyone. Oh, they’re all over the place aren’t they? Anger. Freedom. Guilt. Joy. Terror. Confidence. Doubt. Love. Hate. Contentment. Sadness. Clarity. Confusion. Pride. Insecurity.
Yup, they all slam into you. There’s no order, no sense. There’s no predicting what comes next. There’s no knowing you’ve definitely moved past one to another. You’re up, you’re down, and you’re turned around and around.
What the hell do you do?
Here are three very simple, very immediate things you can do to feel even the tiniest bit better one way or another.
“Pull Ups” by Mechtrose on Flickr
1. Pick a small physical goal and work at achieving it.
First of all, forget Couch to 5K. Forget half marathons. Forget losing a gazillion pounds. Forget dropping ten sizes. Forget some sort of crazy deadline.
Simplify: Think about something you can’t do right now and work at doing it.
For instance, during my separation, P90X was all the rage. Relax, I’m not suggesting you do P90X. The only reason P90X is relevant is because it involves a lot of pull-ups. I couldn’t do ONE pull-up. I tried. I couldn’t. So that was my goal: Mutant does a pull-up. I didn’t say by when or aim for ten. I just wanted to do ONE pull-up.
Oh it took me forever (no, seriously, like a few months) and one day, I did a pull up.
So, try to do a pull-up. Or a push-up. Or a sit-up. Or walk one mile. Or jog one mile. Or bike one mile. Do a freaking handstand. Just pick something physical you can’t do right this very minute but you KNOW you’ll be able to do at some point if you just keep trying and then do it.
And then when you do it, double it and make that your next goal.
This is a really great way to get a boost. There’s something about making yourself physically strong in some tiny way that brings reassurance. Forget the way you look, just prove to yourself you’re not a weakling. And trust me, you’re not.
“Restricted” by Dim.Gkatz on Flickr
2. Create the “List of Past Compromises”
“A compromise is an agreement whereby both parties get what neither of them wanted.” – Anonymous Genius
In a relationship there is a lot of compromise. You’re not in an active relationship anymore so you don’t have to compromise. Do yourself a favor and write down all of the things you compromised when you were with your partner.
How easy this task is depends a lot on your current emotional state which we know is insanely unpredictable. If you’re in that place where you’re grateful for your Ex because they’re a good parent and love your kids and wasn’t really too horrible with you, you might struggle at first. If you’re really bitter, your list will probably be never-ending so please don’t let me stop you.
For the strugglers, yes you could wait until that happy feeling passes in a few minutes OR you can start with something totally stupid and “irrelevant”. Think of the “easy” compromises and don’t be surprised when you start realizing just how many of those you made and how many really shouldn’t have been so “easy”.
Did your partner insist meat be served at every meal? Was there a food they couldn’t tolerate that you salivated for? Was there a color you liked but your partner hated? Do you have a love for throw pillows your partner barely tolerated? Did your partner hate the way you looked in jeans? Was there a smell that made them sneeze? Was there a place that intrigued you but never could get them to go? Did you buy that underwear because they swooned? How many movies haven’t you watched you really wanted to? What’s the one song you had to play when they weren’t around?
Got your list? Good. Now, pick one thing and let go of the compromise.
Make a vegetarian meal. Treat yourself to a favorite dish or full meal. Buy something, or paint something, in that color. Throw pillows everywhere. Wear your jeans every day for a week. Hell, buy new jeans if you can afford it (or even new to you jeans) and ditch whatever it was you wore “as a compromise.” Get that smell everywhere and in every form—candles, air freshener, shower gel, detergent, perfume, plug-ins, etc. Go to the places—the garden, the museum, the country store, the ballet, the opera, the friend’s house (you know, the one they hardly stomached), the restaurant where people dance on tables, the park, the marina, the wherever. Wear the panties that make you swoon (with comfort or sexiness or freaking polka dots). Use and abuse Netflix. Make a No More Compromise Playlist and blast it.
In other words, be naughty. Seek and destroy. You will find this to be very silly and therefore very fun. It’s also the type of thing that easily breeds. You do one thing and then you remember another. Believe it or not, people change during a relationship—substantially. Oh we say we won’t, but we do. And you’re going to love remembering Old You. No more we, no more us. It could be sad, but in this case, you’re going to make it fun.
“Journal” by MemoryofDon on Flickr
3. Keep a journal.
Get a notebook and write in it. If you can, write in it every day even If all you can muster is one three word sentence (there are lots of those to choose from).
Single parents can feel very neglected and alone. Sometimes, you really feel like no one cares, or everyone’s scared to death of you (because divorce is contagious, didn’t you know?), or everyone might mean well but you just can’t explain or relate right now.
Thankfully, journals aren’t full of human ears, they’re full of pieces of paper. And, there isn’t a set of eyes other than your own who will be perusing.
In a journal, you can get as ugly, whiny, pathetic, resentful, bitter, happy, joyful, jealous, panicked, crazy as you want to get. No one’s judging, because no one’s reading.
If you go back and read what you wrote and find yourself filled to the brim with nausea? Guess what? It’s paper. Shred it. Burn it. Soak it. Ruin it however you see fit.
You know how you keep bursting into tears at your desk? Or how you keep hauling ass as away from the kids so you can sob? You’re corked. You need to let something out. It’s better to let it out in little daily ways like writing in your journal than letting it just explode out of your poor abused heart.
I’m not saying the outbursts are going to magically disappear, but I think you’ll find they slow down, are shorter and easier to manage. Now when it starts you can tell yourself, “Not now. This is for the journal.”
Grief isn’t simple and it isn’t brief. When a family changes dramatically, grief is inevitable. These three small things aren’t the absolute ticket to happiness.
I encourage you to seek therapy (no, seriously, you need it). Get a lawyer to handle the yucky stuff (try and get a flat fee one and hope you don’t need to go to trial). I am telling you to give yourself a lot of time—at least two years. Read about it. Find others. Talk about it.
But, becoming a single parent doesn’t have to be a total nightmare either. We’re always reading about how horrible it is aren’t we? The thing about these three things is they all have an immediate effect and they all bring you in touch with YOU. Some will feel better than others. Some will feel awesome one day and only ok on another day. Some will have a lasting positive impression, and others will be just the briefest sense of positivity. But that’s their beauty.
Simple and effective—unlike pretty much everything else in your life right now.