Divorcefilter: steps to recovery
April 4, 2018 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Looking for tips to move on with my life, three years after splitting up. Snowflakes inside.

I have moved out of a dream house and chose to end my marriage due to infidelity from his side, excessive drinking etc. Here I am three years later at 38 years old struggling to move on, despite my so far best efforts to do so.

I understand that each person has their own time to process these things and I now realize that this whole situation has hurt me and messed up my life more than I thought it would. I dealt with all the divorce-related stuff in a very rational manner but the mental burden of it all on me was actually enormous and I can only look at it right now.

BUT. I think I am finally ready for a new push to make things happen. It's overwhelming to tackle so many points at once though, so what can I do? I will list my main concerns below:

- Health: I have been diagnosed with PTSD in the aftermath of my divorce and have been treated by a psychiatrist with antidepressant and sleeping drugs. However I have always been highly skeptical of this despite doing the treatment for two years an a bit. I have agreed with the psych I would reduce the dose progressively (by partly pretending I was OK, but to me getting rid of the medication and focusing on the actual cause of the problem was more important than taking drugs for a lifetime) and now I am doing alternative therapy with florals and acupuncture. I have also developed stomach problems (stomatitis) as a result of the whole situation. The alternative therapy seem to be more effective but I am still feeling like my body is about to collapse. I have become a vegetarian when I split up and lost a fair bit of weight but it seems I am always weak and unhealthy. I like exercising and would like to have more energy to do these things and generally feel better. What can I do?

- Social: I have developed a pattern of hiding away from everyone and not going out to meet people. I work from home mostly so that tends to aggravate things - I have even rented a small space to work outside my home so I can at least see the world and people every now and then. I go to work events sometimes and press trips. I can see that's a good opportunity to meet people and make good contacts work and social-wise but I am slowly becoming the person who stays close to the coffee table and I feel I am losing my social skills, but I was never like that.

I am (very carefully and gently) dating a very nice person who helps calm my mind about all these things I am mentioning in this post - but he is a bit of an introvert, so that doesn't help in terms of meeting people. We also see each other only on weekends so I have the whole week to do things on my own. I am trying volunteering and try to go to coworking spaces but the big truth is that I am scared of people. Scared. to. death. I wasn't like that. I refuse to let that current frame of mind to define me going forward but I am struggling with that mental block. Help.

- Family: When I got married I kind of pushed my family and my mother especially out of my life - I actually lived for him, so my divorce came as a surprise to everyone. Even with all of the obvious difficulties I have experienced over the past few years, people now sort of assume I am OK on my own but the reality is that I need help and support. How can I do that? I am paying for enough people to help me out but sometimes all I want is my mother's lap. How can I get closer to my family again and get them to help me?

- Spirituality: I have been told I should focus on my spiritual self. I am a God believer but for many reasons I have distanced myself from Him. Just to simplify as I can't find the words to explain the setting here I am going to a focus group where we pray and study. I have been constanly told that I need to cultivate joy, perseverance and faith. But sometimes I feel lost and lately, when I listen to these things I just want to cry and I am not even a crying person. I am very grateful for what I have and where I am and how I have survived all that has happened in the last few years and everyday I say this out loud and to God. But I need to go further - so how can I open myself up to become more open spiritually and actually ask God to help me?

- Work: I work in tech writing/comms industry and have been getting enough work to keep me going but my real passion is psychology and I am working towards a degree on that subject (I plan on making a career transition in the medium-long term) but in the meantime I have to make ends meet. As a freelancer I am constantly scared I might lose everything. So I have been applyng for freelance/contract roles on LinkedIn but haven't been successful despite having a really good CV. To put it bluntly I am good at what I do but I am in stagnation at present. Considering my other concerns above and the next (money) I am thinking of getting a part-time job on something unrelated that will help fill my mental space. It could be anything I don't need real qualifications for, including waitressing. I am thinking of things I can do to push me into the world while giving me some sort of income. Advice from people who have done something similar would be great.

- Money: Related to the above. Post-divorce I have moved to a place that is not aligned to my financial reality (that was a big mistake) so I will have to move out, but cannot break the lease until August. So I need to review spending and find ways to optimize my cost of living according to my new financial means. I am trying to do that but are there any examples/methods/apps that you can show me to help organize my financial life?

- My dog: We have adopted a dog together that is adorable and I love him very much. We have been sharing time with him over the past three years but it has been hard for me given that I still feel sad (nothing beyond that) when I see my ex. The reality is that my ex has more financial means to keep the dog and more space, but I don't want to antagonize him for now (we still have a joint property to sell) or seem unsensitive towards the dog. I am absolutely sure I would miss him and mourn this dog as if he was dead if I have to give him up, but how can I do this?

So there. Phew. I started crying as I was writing this. It is sometimes so hard to restart a life! But I have to be able to do it.

I realize the above is a mixed bag of questions - and apologies if this seems long and confused but there are many areas of my life I need to tidy up. I am hoping the hive mind can help me shed some light on some of them and organize my thoughts. Thanks so much for reading this, I really appreciate it.
posted by longjump to Human Relations (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need therapy to help you process your divorce... and a support network to help you move on. This is where friends, family and, in your case, religion come in handy. Not sure why you pushed your family away but now is a good time to go see your mother and tell her you miss her.

Everything else (rent, money, work) I think are just the travails of living in the modern world and. All you need is emotional and spiritual stability and the rest will follow.
posted by Kwadeng at 5:10 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Family is family...Reach out to your mom and reconnect. I'm sure she would want to be there for you, especially if she knew you're having a tough time.
posted by watrlily at 5:19 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I found after my divorce that something that helped me enormously was to dream new dreams for myself. By that I mean that I spent time saying to myself, "If I could be anybody, who would I be?" I was finally at a time in my life where I had freedom to think about those things since I was no longer burdened with a difficult marriage where I put aside my dreams in favor of OUR dreams, or HIS dreams. For me, that meant a couple weekends away with a journal, some poetry books, and lots of time to write and reflect.

Ten years on, I have achieved some of those things (more travel, a new smaller home that I love), but not others (I wish I was kinder to others.) But recognizing that divorce is in some ways an opportunity to pivot in life was personally helpful. It sounds like you have already done some of that since you have some new career goals.

Be kind to yourself. Do things you enjoy. Spend time with people you love. Let go of some of the things that are stressful. It will get better over time.
posted by eleslie at 5:39 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I got divorced after being married for 17 years and know what you mean. I think you actually do have a far better handle on this than you realize.

The biggest things are to just start finding things to do an DO THEM. Train for a 10k, find a running group (or not), start daily yoga breaks, make fun flavored water, take a ceramics class, etc. Plan a trip. Go somewhere crazy.

Start picking teeny things you are willing to try and commit to them for a while. Some things will stick, some things won't. But what matters is these things will be YOURS.

I would also get your very own dog. If that means getting sole custody or getting a new one; having to keep seeing your ex because of the pupper really needs to end. You can't really move on when you're seeing him constantly.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:55 AM on April 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

In the middle of a divorce now. I’m framing post-divorce life as Act II of my adult life. Assuming each act of my adult life is 20 years in length— what is it that I want to actualize now?
posted by Doc_Sock at 5:58 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

>But I need to go further - so how can I open myself up to become more open spiritually and actually ask God to help me?

Asking for help is a practice like anything else. Anne Lamott (problematic, I know) wrote a book called "Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers" which I love the premise of. You already have the "Thanks" covered. All you have to do to start to open up is squeak out a tiny "help." The quietest "help" you can muster. I was raised (Catholic) that prayers had to be formal recitations or itemized lists. Nah. Just a little "help." That'll lead to "help me" and then "help me get over my dog."

Assuming that you are on still on some sort of speaking terms with your family, your "help" practice could work with your Mom.
posted by kimberussell at 6:06 AM on April 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Get your own dog. Cut your ex as far out of your life as possible, even if it means taking a financial loss - this is someone you have to be nice to or they will retaliate financially? Then this is someone who will find a way to Make Drama Happen no matter what you do. You're better off building very firm boundaries that they can yell at such as they communicate only by email or through (reasonably priced for you) your lawyer.

In therapy, you can give yourself a timeline for processing if you want for the big emotions. You don't mention anywhere above being super angry. Women get a lot of implicit and explicit pressure to not express anger except as sadness. It is totally okay to be furious and angry with your ex. Anger can give you the energy to change a lot of things and clear away confusion. It doesn't last forever, and it's not inherently bad (or good).

YNAB is great for budgeting and has an active community. You might see if you can airbnb or get a roommate or sign over your lease or something else. One of my siblings does AirBnB not so much for the income but because she's a very solitary person and likes having the occasional company of people.

Get your iron levels checked and if you're on the low side, take supplements. Push because doctors tend to be meh about mild anaemia and it can really suck. Stress can screw over your thyroid too, so that's worth checking.

Joining a sports group helps - another friend's social life is built around a casual dance class that turned into a dance group, and it's exercise/socialising combined. Classes mean you're expected to be a beginner which helps if you're nervous. You can volunteer at a church for a social outreach program too, which is another way to combine two needs.

It's understandable you're nervous around new people. Are you understating your PTSD diagnosis because you are trying still to cover for your ex? Like "It wasn't that bad, it's not like he tried to strangle me every day..." because it's such a habit to protect him out of love and fear of the consequences if you disappoint him?

Did your psychiatrist do therapy or was it more diagnosis/meds and check-ups? Counselling is basically talking, usually cheaper and you can work through all this stuff and start feeling and seeing progress in 6-8 sessions. With PTSD, they might suggest EMDR if you have nightmares and disturbing memories, but basic counselling is probably going to make a huuuuge difference emotionally.

Plus a pet of your own. If your ex is an asshole and you can keep the dog, then ask for sole custody. Otherwise, maybe get a smaller easier pet.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:52 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went through a traumatic experience about 2 years ago - not exactly the same, but it did result in the end of my marriage and left a lot of difficult feelings behind. Here are some things that helped me:

EMDR: I did a lot of talk therapy, and it was helpful, but the short course of EMDR I did really made a difference in the intrusive thoughts and emotional distress. It felt weird when in was doing it, and I didn't think it was doing anything, but in retrospect it really helped. If you're only seeing a psychiatrist (I.e. an MD who prescribes drugs but doesn't do weekly or biweekly talk therapy sessions), I would also start seeing a therapist.

Lab Work: I also really struggled with fatigue, and I asked my doctor to test me for all the usual suspects for this (thyroid, anemia, vit D, etc. ) and came up with a significant vitamin D deficiency. I take some inexpensive OTC and prescription supplements now, and what a difference. I spent a lot of time beating myself up for being lazy, but I really was just missing a nutrient.

Spiritual retreat: I'm an atheist with some openness to spiritual ideas and practices as tools for self-management and improvement - so definitely not a religious or spiritual person. But I went on a yoga-based spiritual weekend retreat last summer that helped a lot. I had a powerful experience of cleansing and healing there. I went to this retreat. Something similar that fits with your faith traditions could be helpful.

I agree with others that you either need to fully adopt the dog or get your own dog. If you were splitting custody of children, it would make sense to suck it up and keep seeing him. It doesn't make sense for a dog.

Best of luck to you. You got this!
posted by jeoc at 7:07 AM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your considerate and caring answers so far. It truly means a lot.

I thought I'd add that I have been doing threapy for two years now and it has been enormously helpful in working through some of these issues (I was way, way worse than this). Regarding my mother and the rest of my family, I have been raised to be very independent and when I got married, I locked myself in a world where I gave others (my family and mum included) the impression that I didn't need anyone apart from myself and (maybe) my husband at the time. This, clearly, turned out not to be the case. Regarding my ex, I have been as civil as I possibly can (esp considering that he ended up with a former friend of mine) and I'd like to get the house sale finalized before making any decisions, but it is clear that seeing him and sharing the dog is not making things easier for me.
posted by longjump at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2018

Best answer: Stop pretending you're OK to your doctors, to your family, to God, to yourself. It will not help you resolve any of the root causes behind your PTSD, health problems, etc. You could start by asking your therapist to help you figure out why it's so hard for you to ask for help.

I can't tell if you stopped taking your medications because they weren't working or because you don't like the idea of taking them forever, but the stomach problems, feeling like you're about to collapse, low energy sound like you are still suffering effects from PTSD/depression. Please reconsider, the goal is not to be on medications forever but to give you a reprieve from your symptoms while you "focus on the actual causes of your problems". If your psychiatrist doesn't agree, find a new one. If the meds didn't work or had crappy side effects, consider different ones.

Also emphasizing getting a full checkup and bloodwork done, especially since you recently became vegetarian. Iron and vitamin B deficiencies can be problems for vegetarians and look like the symptoms you've described.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:14 AM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: +1 on the recommendations to have your blood checked. Or, if it had been recently, to bring the results to a practitioner who can use it to design a course to reverse your fatigue issues.

Your switch to vegetarianism seems to me like a smart, intuitive move to get your body in sync with your inner life. It is possible, though, that you are inadvertently missing out on vital nutrients. As well, stomatitis lists iron and b-deficiency as a contributing cause.

Would it be possible to consult a nutritionist (blood workup in hand)? If you live near a university with a nutrition science degree program, sometimes upper-level students do consultations for practicum.

When I was anemic, rather than take the ginormous, constipation-inducung iron pills my doctor prescribed, I got Floradix Floravital Iron tonic which took care of it and provided B-complex to boot with no side effects. It helped clear away the fog and anxiety I was having.

In terms of spiritual: A way to make that space is to set aside 5-10 minutes a day to opening up. This can take a million different forms! But the common ingredients are a bit of ritual and dedication, then a bit of practicing letting go of the inner monologue. I have an agitated flea of a brain, so I find practices like vinyasa yoga that use movement to get to the silence most helpful. Some say prayers or mantra and count beads. Some sit and focus on breath, some on candles or intention. If you were raised in a devotion that sings, a couple of rousing hymns may work a treat. Having that one little compartment every day that is solely dedicated to your soul's healing and aspirations can be a tremendous help in placing firmer boundries around all these other aspects of your life that are putting so much pressure on you.

Trying to do this in a social place with your study group is having a reverse effect of amplifying the social anxiety you are already feeling and snatching away the godhead you are earnestly seeking! Can you find mentors in this process that are more skilled at teaching? Or more compassionate and accepting of where you are at? It pains me that you're doing this focus and study to reconnect to your faith and all you're getting is a "you're doing it wrong try harder." It doesn't give me confidence in this group's methods. You are not doing it wrong. I can tell by what you have written that you are the trying as hard as you can.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:21 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have been constanly told that I need to cultivate joy, perseverance and faith. But sometimes I feel lost and lately, when I listen to these things I just want to cry and I am not even a crying person. I am very grateful for what I have and where I am and how I have survived all that has happened in the last few years and everyday I say this out loud and to God. But I need to go further - so how can I open myself up to become more open spiritually and actually ask God to help me?

If where you're at right now is sadness and anguish, and you're feeling like you have to turn that into joy for it to be acceptable to God, then no wonder you're having a hard time opening up.

Joy is nice, but it's not the only thing. Having other feelings come into your relationship with God doesn't mean you're ungrateful or "unspiritual," and doesn't weaken or diminish your relationship with Him. Pray from where you're at right now. He'll meet you there.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

why don't you call your mother?

I try to raise my girls to be independent but that doesn't mean I wouldn't drop everything if they needed me. And if someday they push me away further than I hope they will, well, I'd be hurt - probably devastated - but would still love them and welcome the opportunity to be there for them.

If you're afraid you hurt her by pushing her away during your marriage, just call her and apologize.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:26 PM on April 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'll be 37 soon and this marks the fourth year since my 10+ year marriage-like (same-sex marriage wasn't legal at the time) relationship ended. I had to leave our shared home and rebuild my family and social support systems. I am, in a lot of ways, still working through this process. It is difficult and slow going. I share this not to be discouraging but to validate that recovering from a divorce can be difficult and traumatic and disruptive, even if you are the one that chose to end the relationship and even if the reasons for ending it were very clear and sound. If you, like me, feel some pressure to show that you have already worked through all the negative feelings and moved on and are doing better than fine now... no one gets to impose a deadline for this stuff. The stages of grief are not a linear path nor a checklist of deliverables. Be gentle and patient with yourself.

Some thoughts on the areas you raise:

Other comments have addressed issues like testing for nutrient deficiencies already so I wanted to touch on the psychiatry portion.
[B]ut to me getting rid of the medication and focusing on the actual cause of the problem was more important than taking drugs for a lifetime
Let me gently suggest that this is a false dichotomy. Psychiatric medication isn't something to take instead of addressing the root cause of a problem, rather, it's a tool for supporting you in addressing those root causes. It isn't the only tool (you still need to engage with therapy, make changes to your environment, look after other aspects of your health) and there is some burden of side effects and the effort of finding the right medication(s), but it can still be useful. You don't have to take the medication forever and it doesn't mean you have given up or failed in making positive changes in other ways.

Do you practice a social hobby like choir or orchestra, a team sport, etc? Or maybe you would be interested in an art/craft or language class? Work and work-adjacent events can be really challenging if you are feeling emotionally bruised because of the emphasis on meeting a bunch of new people and being bright and cheerful and impressive while doing it. A shared activity where you are learning or collaborating on something together, or where guided conversation is part of the teaching process, helps to take some of that pressure off. Ideally you have some activity where you either feel confident and comfortable in your practice, or where you are part of a class of rank beginners so you all have the cameraderie of struggling together.

I'm an atheist so I feel a little weird giving anyone advice about their relationship with God but I couldn't let this bit go unremarked:
I am going to a focus group where we pray and study. I have been constanly told that I need to cultivate joy, perseverance and faith.
I'll be blunt, these people sound terrible. Yes, certainly, it's good to cultivate gratitude and resilience—but that shouldn't mean sweeping your negative emotions under the rug or being shamed for asking for help. I don't know what your faith background is but I was raised in the Christian tradition. One of the things I learned (via study and performance of classical sacred music) was that the "everything is awesome! I'm so grateful and blessed!" attitude you maybe see in modern practice is definitely not the only way people historically have related to God. There was focus on humanity as being sinful and flawed (which can obviously be problematic) but also some really direct acknowledgement that struggle and suffering are part of the human experience, and direct appeals to God for strength and guidance. You can see what I mean in the lyrics to Bach's Jesu, Meine Freude: "Even though I must suffer much, let me not be separated from Jesus." I wonder if you would some comfort in studying these historic practices and expressions of faith.

Either way, I hope you can find another study group that is more compassionate about the full spectrum of human feeling and experience.
posted by 4rtemis at 1:08 PM on April 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have a son who is finishing college and, at this stage in his life he's pulling away from me a lot. And I miss interacting with him more frequently -- my nest does feel pretty empty. But it is normal for him to grow up and spend tons of free time with his girlfriend. I am not your mom, but as his mom, if there was an uptick in his availability, I would be happy to spend time with him, not miffed about his prior absence. I don't know how hostile things are with your mother, but if calling her right away seems too risky, then pick out a Mother's Day card and get ready to send it.

And while I'm channeling maternal feelings, it seems to me that you've been hurt and you need or want lovingkindness from people around you to be comforted. The advice to "Cultivate joy, etc" has an undertone of "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and comfort/hug yourself because I'm not going to do it." Yes we have to do a lot of self care independently, but having warm connections with other people can really nourish our hearts and souls.
posted by puddledork at 8:12 AM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Regarding money, here is a recent thread where the YNAB app is discussed. The scenario is perhaps not applicable but the types of analysis the responders are applying and their experience with the app may give you food for thought. Best.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:25 AM on April 5, 2018

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