After hanging onto my marriage for way too long (to the point where things got Divorce Court ugly), I finally mustered the courage to end the 18-year union with my high school sweetheart. Although I was the one to finally walk away, I was devastated by the death of the dreams I'd held for myself and my children and the idea of a single future.
After a decade, a suicide attempt, several therapists, and a couple of antidepressants, I've come to understand that I was causing my own suffering by torturing myself with expectations of what I thought my life should be. Now, I realize that there are no "shoulds." There is only what is.
By ditching the "shoulds" and consciously accepting and being open to whatever unfolds, I have been able to alleviate most of my pain and suffering. Suffering comes from our attachment to our thoughts about what happens, not what actually happens.
In Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie explains, "A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It is not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering."
She continues this idea with a metaphor, "Thoughts are like the breeze or the leaves on the trees or the raindrops falling ... through inquiry we can make friends with them. Would you argue with a raindrop? Raindrops aren't personal and neither are thoughts."
In other words, Katie advises us to meet our thoughts with understanding and productive questions. She proposes that behind every uncomfortable feeling, there's a thought that's driving it. To change stressful, painful feelings, we must understand the original thought causing it rather than looking outside of ourselves at circumstances or people.
Learning to loosen my attachment to my thoughts has changed my life for the better and allowed me to see the humor and wisdom in the uncomfortable growth period after my divorce.
Here are 18 lessons I learned from my life after divorce:
- I've learned that you can be in so much pain, so lost, and so broken that you can't eat or sleep.
- I've learned that you can be in so much pain, so lost, and so broken that you eat a whole coconut cream pie and all you want to do is sleep.
- I've learned that you can be married to someone for 18 years, look at them sitting across the table from you in a lawyer's office, and realize that they're just as much a stranger to you as the lady who led you to the conference room and gave you a bottle of water because your mouth was dry.
- I've learned that taking well-timed naps is a viable, self-defense mechanism. When asleep, you don't have to think, feel, worry, or even exist.
- I've learned that little boys don't value sleep the same: if you zonk out on the couch one Friday night, they might stay up until 4:00 in the morning playing video games.
- I've learned that you probably shouldn't attend a wedding too soon after getting divorced because you'll likely end up crying until snot pours out of your nose.
- I've learned that little boys don't like to see their mother cry.
- I've learned that if you read too many self-help books in a row, it isn't really all that helpful.
- I've learned that dogs make good cuddlers, but sloppy kissers — and leave little hairs all over your sheets.
- I've learned that a cat rolling around on her back in a sunny spot on the driveway can make you smile, even if you thought you had nothing to smile about.
- I've learned that I should be more like my cat. She's aloof, entertains herself easily, and only allows those who have earned the privilege to touch her.
- I've learned that, if you do nonstop yoga for two days straight to get your teaching certificate, you might giggle childishly when they ask you to "vibrate your chakras."
- I've learned that it's better to buy two 50 foot extension cords instead of one 100 foot cord for when you cut the bushes with electric trimmers; if you slice through one cord, you still have the other one, until you cut through it, too.
- I've learned that visualizations and positive affirmations can make you stronger, even if you don't really believe what you're saying at first.
- I've learned that regrets are just lessons we haven't learned yet.
- I've learned that goodbyes are just as much a part of life as hellos and that you better get used to both.
- I've learned that it's much more important what you think about the person staring back at you in the mirror than what others think about them.
- I've learned that you are much stronger, way smarter, and far more resilient than you ever thought.
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