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While we all have different circumstances, most of us struggle in the months or years following a divorce.   Common emotions include sadness, anger and/or disappointment.  Many of us also suffer from an overwhelming sense of failure and low self-esteem.   

Where did I go wrong?

It's common to have self-doubts during and after a divorce.  You may ask yourself, "Could I have been a better spouse?  Could I have tried harder, listened more, expected less?" 

At times, you may feel your life is spiraling out of your control.  You may wonder what to purge and what to add in an effort to move forward.

Some days you may be making good healthy decisions and other days you are just doing what it takes to get a bad day behind you and tomorrow in your sights. 

You're not alone.

It's common to question your current lifestyle and/or choices that led you to where you are today.  This will usually lead to self-initiated changes in your life.

As a quest for a renewed sense of self, you're right to purge some of the old while adding new activities, relationships and goals.

However, this is often a little harder than it initially seems.

Moving forward after divorce

How do we get over someone we loved.  How do we forgive them for whatever it is they did to harm us?  How do we forgive ourselves, our own faults?  The questions seem endless and the answers hard to find.

Many of us focus so much attention on what has been done to us that we often fail to address our individual problems and/or feelings of guilt that harm us more than our failed marriage or former spouse.

The cold truth

One reason so many of us fall into this trap is that our guilt is often cloaked by our anger, sadness and blame. 

Somehow focusing on our ex's mistakes allows us to feel less guilt and shame associated with our own problems, behaviors or past.  Unfortunately, ignoring our own issues is unproductive and grows negative energy that binds us to the problems of the past. 

We can't control other's behavior, take responsibility for it or change what they have done to us.  Thankfully, we are only responsible for own behaviors and choices.   

This is a liberating revelation and very helpful when emotionally processing a breakup.  But, realizing this still won't solve your own personal problems regardless if it relinquishes your stress over the actions and behaviors of others.

You still must take action in order to improve your life, find lasting love and personal happiness.

None of us want to think of ourselves as the antagonist in our marriage and divorce

And perhaps, we weren't.  But, being the victim isn't a good identity to cling to either. 

In some ways, without necessarily realizing it, we focus on the problems that we can't fix, those that belong to others, because they put no burden on us directly.  Even if we are right about their problems, poor choices and behaviors and how they negatively impact us, we have no control of them. 

Focusing on our own problems for which we are responsible means we need to take action, ownership and responsibility.  This is difficult to accept.  

It's not easy to get to the end of your sad story

I'm not a clinician, psychiatrist or psychologist.  But, what I have experienced in divorce and it's persisting after effects is that an important step in healing is to let go.  Sometimes, when doing so, we may feel a void, a greater sense of loss than the original onset of the breakup.   If you don't add new, positive changes and/or seek the help of a professional (counselor, life coach, physician) your loss may lead to depression, anxiety and/or isolation.

Out with the "old"

Ironically, anxiety, drama and negativity in a bad marriage or during a divorce can energize you.  Albeit the wrong way and at the expense of your overall well-being, it can still light a fire inside you that motivates you to take action.   Perhaps such action includes the first step to divorce, hiring an attorney or making immediate changes to improve your chance for personal happiness.  But, eventually you realize it takes more than it gives.   

If drama was an ocean of salt water

Think of it like you are stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Dying of thirst, naturally you may attempt to drink the ocean water.  There's so much and you're crazed with thirst. In a short amount of time you realize the water (otherwise known as drama) is laced with salt (stress, anger, anxiety) and therefore more detrimental than drinking nothing at all.  So, you abstain from all that water that surrounds you and continue to grow more dehydrated.

In reality, that dehydration is emptiness, loneliness and boredom you may experience as your marriage concludes and you distance yourself from the drama and problems you faced while ending it.

Ironically, when letting go of all that misery, many of us experience some form of mental health crisis.  It's like a sudden calmness sets in and you finally have the time to think and fester over all that happened, all you let go and lost.  Not everyone who experiences this seeks treatment, but the crisis is real and painful just the same.

Knowing what to accept and what you have the power to change

One key to disallowing depression from overtaking your life following a breakup is to know when you have let enough go.  You'll need to know when you have let go of enough tangible and emotional garbage you formerly hoarded.  Upon discontinuing this stage of your divorce you will commit to moving forward with your life, separate from your former spouse and fully responsible for your own life, mistakes and accomplishments as a single person. 

To do this, you will need to accept what you can't change (actions of others, divorce, past) and be willing to take action to change the things you can.  

Yes.  It's a popular sentiment and yet one that many of us struggle with throughout our lives and during many life events, happenings and relationships.

Why it's so hard to let go, accept and move forward

Divorce is a loss.  It will always feel like a loss following marriage.  After all, nearly everyone who experiences it losses about half of everything.

Most of you gave up half the time with your kids, half your assets and gained more household debts, responsibilities and chores.  It certainly seems like a loss.  Obviously. 

You need to employ new strategies to begin again.  Without committing to a new beginning you will be stuck here.

Think about it for a minute.  Without moving forward, the only thing you have to surround your everyday is today and yesterday.  If today is half of what you had yesterday, can you really be happy?

Think of divorce like an operation 

Many of us are too hard on ourselves regarding emotional trauma over a divorce.  The same magnitude of trauma that, if it were physical, we would likely be hospitalized.

Much like an operation that removed something you need, but that was diseased, a divorce is painful and requires a great deal of recovery and rehabilitation.   

Your divorce "operation" was a big procedure.  Few of us could jump off the operating table feeling ready to take on the world.  The anesthesia barely wares off for most of us, months or years, after it's completed and yet we think we are expected to keep going, business as usual. 

Regardless how smart, hard working or forgiving we are, eventually the problems associated with our divorce recovery need attention.  Get active, stay social, keep improving your life.  If you still feel unhappy, anxious, stressed or burdened seek the help of a professional.  

Stages of Divorce

The Stages of Divorce are common phases of the divorce process experienced by those considering, processing and/or recovering from a divorce.  While divorce is not black and white and each couple has it's own unique situation, many individuals go through a period of time similar to the grief cycle.  Regardless the order of the stages, most will experience some aspect of each stage at some point of the transition from being married to becoming single.

You won't skip many stages of the divorce no matter what a super human you think you are- 

You may mentally live in denial, but eventually, it will catch up to you.  Your divorce "operation" will require crutches, rest and physical therapy.  Just because the operation didn't physically remove a part of you, it will affect you.  So. Deal with it.

The hard part is over, but wait; there's so much more...

Many may feel some initial relief from this amputation.  Some part of your life was damaged and you had to remove it from your life before it caused more damage.  But the cost may lead to new problems.  These can block you from adequately processing your divorce in constructive ways to achieve the overall results you expected.

The "after divorce" is tough, but don't get comfortable until things get better

Don't get a negative outlook or denial confused with your new life. It's easy to mistake your new routine or lack thereof with what the divorce was actually meant to provide. 

Doing so leads to doubts about yourself, decisions and direction.  It's easy to then fester over the past and obsess over your losses rather than your potential.  This damages your self-esteem and positive outlook of your future.   

In with the "new"

You already agreed to take the next step in your family's happiness by letting go of a part of your life that was hindering your happiness. 

Now, do what comes next.  Grab ahold of your future.  Take this time to make you, you again.  The longer you were married and unhappy, the longer it can take to find the true you.  Be patient.   But, you can speed things up by being proactive; make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen.  Identify with being your own "hero" in your story and commit to making this story a happy one.

Two steps forward occasionally includes one step back 

While we seek to find ourselves we may mistakenly find our younger, less mature selves first.  This is a sort of "breakaway" from being in a committed relationship for any significant period of time.  While it's normal, don't allow your old bad habits, bad relationships or weaknesses reenter your life.  You ended them for good reason. 

It's also easy to drift towards old drama occasionally only to realize, you are so over it.  But, such realization is empowering and a sign that you're on the right path towards personal enrichment and happiness.

Your primary focus should remain on the new stronger you.  The person who was fearless in his/her youth, but wiser since life happened.   The more good stuff in your life, the less problematic the bad. 

Continue to process the Stages of Divorce so that you can expel the damage from your past.  Seek counseling or medical intervention when needed.  You won't ever let it all go; in some way's you shouldn't; some remembrance aids in future decision making.  Let enough go to make room for the better, new improved you. 

It isn't an easy journey.  But when the journey is most difficult, it is the best time to recognize the journey is a long one and know that now is not the time to stay stuck on yesterday.  Rather look towards a better tomorrow for a more productive today and life will be worth living once again!