The 40-something client sat in my office, despondent over his recent divorce. “I’m having trouble letting go,” he acknowledged. “But I know I need to move on.”
My client is not alone. All of us need to change directions at various times throughout our lives. Sometimes we intentionally choose to reroute ourselves, by getting married or moving closer to the grandkids. In these cases we’re usually eager to get things rolling. We experience minimal emotional angst.
At other times the choices are forced upon us. We hadn’t wanted things to be different. The change is unexpected and abrupt and creates a state of mental disarray.
The possible scenarios are as unique each person’s DNA. An injury forces a collegiate athlete out of sports. A man’s wife dies and he’s alone raising their small children. A young woman is dumped by her cheating boyfriend. A house fire burns a family’s possessions.
The key to recovery lies in accepting these circumstances and constructing a new life in the post-cataclysm era.
For some people this transition is a relatively smooth one. They’re able to bounce back and redefine themselves with nary a hitch. But others get trapped in emotional quicksand and are unable to pull themselves out of the mire.
It’s easy to understand why this happens. Their new lives feel strange to them. Abrupt changes have created both mental and physical instability. Nothing is the same as it was.
Friends and support systems have been drastically altered. Folks who once formed the core of their social circles may disappear as a result of the crisis. This is especially true during a breakup when his and her friends are inevitably forced to select sides.
To make matters worse, survivors are awash with psychological pain. Acute sadness may leave them feeling numb and unable to function. Guilt and regret can sap their energies and interfere with healing. Rage may cause them to blame others and to respond without control. Confusion and dismay can leave them shaking their heads in disbelief.
Abrupt changes may even trigger a bout of depression, especially in people who are prone to the disorder. Survivors may find themselves unable to get out of bed or leave their homes. They may feel despondent or hopeless. They may be unable to sleep or eat. Or they start having thoughts of harming themselves or someone else. In these situations it’s important to seek advice from a qualified professional to receive appropriate treatment.
Of course, it’s natural to experience a temporary period of grief and sadness following any type of reversal. But the sooner you start re-assembling all the pieces of the puzzle you’ll discover a whole new picture taking shape.
Tips for starting over
To help you start moving on with your life, try these ideas:
Accept your situation. Yes, you didn’t want this to happen. But life sometimes brings pain. The sooner you accept the changes, the quicker you’ll start to recover.
Create stability. Your existence is in a state of upheaval. That’s a natural response to trauma. Find little ways you can re-create normal, like taking your dog for a walk or cooking an easy meal that you love. Your efforts will decrease stress and help you feel in control.
Problem solve as needed. There’s a lot to respond to at the moment. Perhaps you need to find a new apartment. You may need day care for the kids while you look for a job. Addressing specific issues as they arise puts you back in charge.
Find emotional support. You don’t have to do this alone. Seek caring souls who can listen and lend a helping hand.
Be patient. Your new life feels strange because everything is so new. Know that each day will become more familiar as you progress further along this path.
Find daily joy. You may have gone through the wringer. But there’s plenty in life that is good. Watch finches at your bird feeder. Replay a YouTube clip that makes you laugh. Your mood will instantly improve. You’ll unleash brand new reserves.
Release disruptive thoughts. Notice your thought patterns. Messages such as, “This is so unfair,” or “I can’t believe this is happening to me” keep you locked in a mantra of self-pity. Replace them with a more positive thought (“I’m so ready to put this behind me!”) and allow the healing to begin.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com