Divorce scared the hell out of me. Until I decided to face that fear head on.
Numb and terrified. I spent so much time scared out of my mind after my divorce, worrying about what might happen to me. My nightmares were so bad, I hardly slept. And eating wasn't happening much either, as I constantly felt nauseous and without an appetite. My thoughts looped around a racetrack, imagining one possible catastrophe that might befall me after another. I felt completely helpless to change any of it, but as strange as it sounds, I felt the best in moments when I could finally be numb.
They say that you have to hit rock bottom before you can make the hard choices required to truly change your life. For me to get through my divorce, that's exactly what I needed—to hit rock bottom. Only then could I start to grasp the idea that I deserved to be free from the tyranny of my thoughts and fears, and that I had to choose to overcome them, no matter what. I realized at one point that there was no magic wand to be found, no fairy godmother on her way, no knight in shining armor about to sweep into my life and make everything all better. There was only me ... very scared, very alone me.
So, I made a decision to become my own superhero and do whatever needed to be done in order to free myself from the clutches of fear that I had allowed myself to fall captive to in my life. No, I didn't start wearing a cape or a sassy spandex outfit, but I did start showing up more boldly for myself, handling the things that needed to be faced in order to get through my divorce.
How did I start being my own superhero?
I realized (finally) that, as much as I wanted my therapist, or someone from my divorce support group, or one of my family members, or one of my friends to magically pull me free of the numbness and misery, they couldn't. And it wasn't their job to. Their job was to support me and point me toward helpful information along the way. My job was to pay attention to that information and start thinking differently so I could behave differently. My job was to realize that I was not a victim any longer (unless I chose to be). My job was to be the superhero of my own life.
Once I accepted that it was me and only me on the Karen Recue Squad, I realized I needed to build my faith. For me, that meant putting my trust in something bigger than myself (or at least bigger than I felt at that particular time) that was also still part of me—in other words, God. Despite part of me being terrified that God was going to "smite" me because I was getting divorced, I still found a way to recite the first verse of the Serenity Prayer over and over again every time I found myself tossing and turning in bed. Over time, this prayer (which is about appropriate personal power) became a balm and a comfort to me. I began to sleep again—and sleep was something that I desperately needed.
Some might argue that my reaching out to God was still looking outside of myself for a rescuer, but that's not how it worked for me. I wasn't escaping. I used faith and God to help focus me and harness my inner power. By reminding myself that I came from something bigger and better, I felt strong enough to rise into bigger and better. And, in doing so, I began releasing myself from my prison of victimhood and using all of the resources and talents available to me.
As my strength grew, I was able to start hearing more of the helpful information people were sharing with me.
Because most people thought I was extremely fragile, they were afraid to be frank with me. Many people said things like "you're looking thin," but one friend loved me enough to be blunt, saying without preamble and quite simply, "You're anorexic!"
When he said that, I panicked. I didn't have an eating disorder (did I?). How dare he say that about me? I was furious and ran to the bathroom. A few women in there were thinner than me, which meant I was okay, right? Wrong. Although it was one of the hardest things for me to hear, deep down I knew my friend was right. I'm 5-foot, 5-1/2-inches tall and I barely weighed 100 pounds. I was able to shop in the children's department for my t-shirts and had a hard time finding adult clothes that fit me. I was anorexic.
After about 10 minutes of coming to grips with what he said, I went back out to where he was patiently waiting for me. Despite my anger that was just covering up my intense fear, we were able to have a real conversation. I was able to commit to an eating plan that helped me start my road back to better nutrition. With the improvements in my sleep and getting better nutrition, I was able to think more clearly, emerge from the numbness and start to fully embrace my role as my personal superhero. But, there was still a lot to do.
I took stock of my strengths and weaknesses and realized that I'd been living my life to please others. It turned out that getting divorced was just the first in a long line of scary decisions I needed to make to rescue "me". You may think once a superhero, always a superhero, and to some extent you're correct, but each one of those scary decisions needing to be made were a challenge for me, requiring me to dig deep to find new stores of courage within myself. Each challenge was another chance to choose myself.
Even now, I still fall prey to a victim mentality from time to time. In those moments, I once again consciously choose to be a superhero, to step outside of my comfort zone, to resist blaming someone or something else, and to keep my eyes always searching for the good (because there is always good to be found) in even the most challenging situations.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.