Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Five Life Lessons Learned Through Pain

Every time I commit to updating my blog, I always fall off the fail boat. This time though, I have a legitimate excuse. I am going through a divorce.

I'll spare you the sordid details--it's a tale of betrayal and deceit best told after a bottle of wine and/or Jack Daniels. Or it's just a heavy-hearted story about a stupid boy who had an affair. Whatever.

Divorce is definitely the worst experience of my young life so far. For the curious--I don't recommend it. Divorce is like a death, only the person is still alive and has chosen to go off and live a different life, with someone else. And they took your cat and some of your furniture with them.

I've put off writing this post for a while. Every day gets exponentially better and this distance provides forced perspective. Some days I have to remind myself "I'm 28 and getting divorced...and it will be OKAY." I just imagine that I must be leveling up in life somehow.

Whether it's a job loss, death or breakup, I've encountered a few universal truths about emotional pain worth sharing:

1. People will go to some pretty absurd lengths to not have to confront the reality of grief and pain.

This semester, I taught a seminar on death and rhetoric. If anything, it has implanted Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' model of grief resolutely in my brain: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. With loss, human beings have to run the gamut of these emotions. You have to confront the grief emotions, otherwise they will consume your soul and continue to affect you. Some people move through them faster than others. But if you deny these emotional stages, you will continue to relive your grief and it can manifest in some unsavory ways (e.g. becoming more angry or more depressed).

The thing that surprised me the most is how people reacted to the breaking news of the divorce. Some were extremely sympathetic and offered support. Some people acted like Mr. McFeely here (Aw nah, look at the time gotta go!):

We all react to grief differently, but offering just to listen is a good response to those who are grieving. As tempting as it is to withdraw, surrounding yourself with a strong support network helps with managing the grief also. I am SO SO SO fortunate for my support network of friends and family. I can't thank them enough for caring for me and helping me through the depths of depression. There were there to make sure I ate, got my house in order, drank with me at the bar, and listened to my seemingly never-ending crying. Don't try to manage grief by yourself. Let your support network support.

2. There is no such thing as a "nice" breakup.

Yes, some people can separate amicably. Yes, some can still have friendly relations. But at some point in the dissolution of the relationship--probably when you least expect it--one or both parties will turn into Godzilla terrorizing Tokyo. Something will inevitably turn dysfunctional. You have to completely cut ties with toxic people. Unfriend people that don't contribute to your well being. For the love of god, don't stay friends with toxic people on social media. As for stalking said toxic people, the lesson is this: If you go looking for dirt, you will find it. Stay in your own garden.

Or Godzilla vs. King Kong

Which brings me to my next point...

3. Lawyer up.

At first, I just sought out attorneys who gave "free consultations." I tried to go cheap because I thought "this will be an easy divorce." I learned [See #2 above]. DO NOT try to go cheap. I came across some questionable characters. Like the one attorney who said, "Well what are you, like 35, 38?"

OUCH. 28, D-BAG.

Some pretty awful decisions happen when we are emotional. A good lawyer will prevent those emotional decisions from becoming legal ones too. My attorney is efficient, knowledgeable, no bullshit, and above all, ETHICAL. That's what you want. Shop around, but don't cheap out. You will get what you pay for. Seriously, whatever the painful situation, if you think you will need an attorney, then get one. And get a good one with a proven track record of kicking ass and taking names.

4. Therapy. And yes, it DOES work.

I'm not ashamed to put it out there--I go to a therapist. Like an attorney, you have to shop around and find someone who works with your personality. Here's the kicker though--therapy only works if you want it to work, and if you can handle truth. There is validation, vindication, and realization that comes with hearing your own thoughts repeated back to you. But it's tough to swallow questions like, "Were you ever happy?" and "What will make you happy?" You have to want to hear truth. You have to want to reflect on your flaws. Therapy is not for the stubborn or the narcissists, but opening up to an unbiased party can bring so much closure and healing.

5. The human heart is impossibly resilient.

At the beginning of the divorce, I fell into a deep depression. It felt like someone had literally stabbed me 80 times in the chest, and instead of dying from internal bleeding, I became an emotional zombie. I kept setting expectations for closure. I thought things like:

If he apologizes, I will feel closure.
When he moves out, I will feel closure.
When the divorce is final, I will feel closure.
If their relationship falls apart, I will feel closure.

None of these expectations brought, or will bring, closure. The best way I've found to get closure from unbearable emotional pain is by just accepting it, and moving on. Don't forget about the pain, just don't let it take over daily life. Let that pain be scar or a birthmark. You didn't choose it and it didn't fundamentally change you. Let it remind, not become.

It's been less than six months since the rug of my life was pulled out (as a friend perfectly described it for me), and life is going on like it has too. I'm getting an awesome roommate. I have a wonderful and understanding boyfriend. I am happy again and it feels damn good. The heart is beating and I'm breathing and really, life just moves on. I am a hopeless optimist, so I truly believe this: Things fall apart so that better things can fall together. In every painful situation, there is an opportunity to develop momentous strength.