Like many divorced women before me, I packed a bag the day I decided to leave my ex-husband. I threw in shirts, pajamas, socks, underwear, and comfy pants. On top of that, I dumped my makeup bag, toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. It didn’t occur to me then, but this was a very important bag. It was probably the most important bag I would ever pack.
When I opened that bag at my parent’s house later that first night, I realized I didn’t do a very good job packing. The shirts didn’t match my pants or skirts. I packed a pair of pants that didn’t even fit me anymore and I forgot my favorite sweater.
Thinking back to that frantic packing session, I now realize I neglected to pack many more things. These things would have helped me greatly during those first weeks and months of separation. Alas, hindsight is 20/20 and I did the best I could.
Divorce, like any other loss or grief, is a zig-zag journey. There’s not so much a beginning, middle, and end as there are pit stops and cul-de-sacs and exits and U-turns. This journey also includes surprise detours and beautiful sunsets and miles of wide open spaces.
A trip such as this requires a carefully packed bag. Below are 5 things I wish I would have immediately packed when embarking on my divorce journey.
A Pause Button
Divorce is a strange creature that turns the most civil, patient, and understanding individuals into emotional, screaming wrecks. The amount of stress and emotional weight you lug with you during a divorce, especially in the early days, is quite literally staggering. Simple questions turn into 3-hour long arguments. Innocent behavior is over-analyzed and blown out of proportion. All of this is normal and natural during such heightened amounts of stress.
A Pause Button reminds you to take a breath and wait before responding. It’s so hard at first, especially when emotions are so raw. Pack your Pause Button now to help you get in the habit of taking a few minutes to breath and evaluate your responses and reactions.
Your Support System
When most people think of support systems they probably think of trusted friends and family. However, your support system can include many different things both tangible and intangible.
In my eBook, The HeartFull Separation (http://bit.ly/theheartfullseparation), I have a worksheet to help you build your support system. The worksheet helps you build your own unique support system comprising of music, books, trusted friends and family, quotes, and even yummy food.
Keep a notebook with you to record imagery, quotes, books, songs, and anything that gives your heart a little hug or empowers you to keep moving forward. Add to your list as needed. These items will be your go-to when you feel sad, angry, alone or anxious. Use them in abundance.
The Word “No”
“No” is a powerful word. I highly recommend packing the word “No” in an easily-accessible spot. You will need it.
While going through my separation and divorce, I was so exhausted and stressed from dealing with all the divorce minutia that I didn’t have any time or energy for, well, basically anything else but eating and taking care of my daughter. However, that didn’t stop friends and family from asking me to do things at the last minute or asking me for favors or trying to give advice. And while I knew they were only trying to help, I just didn’t have the energy to deal with interruptions or any more “well-meaning advice”.
So, I started the artful practice of saying “No”. I wasn’t used to saying “No”. I love to help people and I like spending time with my loved ones. I just didn’t have the energy. The first few times I rummaged in my bag for “No” I wasn’t prepared for the opposition to my refusal. It turns out that humans don’t like being denied. So I also had to learn to stand my ground and reply gently but firmly (I told you, it’s an art form) that my “No” was final.
It takes practice but I guarantee you will eventually be able to cultivate a strong and firm “No”.
A List of Your Rights
As a person dealing with grief, you have certain inalienable rights. First and foremost: you have the right to deal with your grief in your own way. Well-meaning friends and family might try to hijack your healing process. “Advice” in the forms of “Well, if I were in your position…” and “Just forget him” and “There are other fish in the sea” will be freely given out like junk mail.
Arming yourself with a list of your rights can help you fend off hijackers and give you confidence while going through the healing process.
I have become extremely protective of my alone time since my divorce. Alone time, especially when you are a single parent, is a rare and precious commodity. Pack ample alone time in your divorce luggage and guard it with your life.
Being alone, even for a few minutes, will do wonders for your stability and emotional state. The time you spend alone does not have to be extravagant or costly. Use this time to collect your thoughts, get your mind off your separation and divorce and just be. You can meditate, write in your journal, pray, read, go for a walk or just catch up on chores. It doesn’t matter what you do as long you make a conscious decision to take that special time for yourself.
Don’t let single motherhood discourage you from taking the alone time you desperately need. You can wake up 30 minutes earlier to enjoy a warm cup of coffee. Or read for 30 minutes before bed. Enlist the help of friends and family to take the kids for a few hours a week. You can also see if there’s a babysitting co-op in your community or if your local gym has a daycare. You have many resources available to help you sneak in alone time. What will you do with your alone time?
“(She) who would travel happily must travel light.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Bonus: Use a Small Suitcase
I wish I would have immediately packed these 5 things in that very important Divorce Journey bag. I also wish I would have left many things unpacked. Like self-doubt, anger, and fear. I don’t know if you can really leave those things behind when packing for a divorce. These emotions and many more are just something you need to go through. But I wonder if you choose a small suitcase and fill it mostly with things that empower and support you there might not be that much room left for all that other crap.
Pack light when preparing for your divorce journey. Choose a small suitcase, pack the essentials, arm yourself with “No”, and keep that pause button handy.
And hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.