… maybe you need to change the record!
During that first year on my own, I just had to hear a piece of music from 1977 onwards, and it could bring me to floods of tears as I associated it with some part of our marriage. (Think Bridget Jones in her flat singing along to All By Myself.)
So I decided – in the short term – not to listen to music on the radio because I never knew what they might play and didn’t want to be caught unawares. Instead, I listened only to music from before I met my ex-husband, and indulged myself in all the kinds of music I’d enjoyed when I was young; Broadway Musicals, The Beatles, Early Stones, Early Bowie, Early Elton John, The Monkees (I blush), and classical favourites amongst others. After attending a folk festival in Scotland, I also started listening to artists I’d heard performing there – Dougie Maclean, Duncan Chisholm, Ross Ainslie, Dallahan – brand new music that had no associations with my married life.
And you know what? It helped – a lot – allowing me to remember who I was before I became a wife and mother, and who I was now becoming.
I also created myself a playlist of empowering, inspiring songs. Here are just a few that helped me.
That cliché about time being a great healer is a cliché because it’s true. Now and then I’ll hear something on the radio and I might feel a pang, but time, and taking that deliberate enforced break, gave me distance… and strength.
If you have any particular songs you feel have helped you through your healing process, we would love to hear what they are.
On Beauty…………and Aging.
+I know what worries me most when I look in the mirror and see the old woman with no waist. It’s not that I’ve lost my beauty — I never had enough to carry on about. It’s that that woman doesn’t look like me. She isn’t who I think I was. Ursula K. Le Guin
I found these words in an article on Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org), a free website that publishes fascinating articles on different topics by a wide variety of distinguished authors.
One caught my eye with its title, “Ursula K. Le Guin On Aging and What Beauty Really Means.”
I recently turned 65 and crossed the numbers threshold of being a SENIOR. Amazing! Scary! I look in the mirror and still see a blurred version of the face and body of whom I’ve always been. I look at other women my age or older and I just can’t see me there–am I also covered in dark spots with lumpy fingers and sagging jowls?
Truthfully? The true answer is “yes.” And if I really take a close look in that mirror, I can see myself all saggy and soft and…old. It’s a tough one, isn’t it?
In this article, Ms. Le Guin writes about how to accept the disappearance of the beauty that is defined by youth and recognize the true beauty within ourselves. Letting go and accepting–the journey of life.
There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.
I found a lot of comfort in this article, a new way of looking at ME. Yes, my skin is saggy and wrinkled and that spare tire around my waist has taken up permanent residence. My knees and hips hurt, and why are they putting jar lids on so tightly these days? But there is the flip side to this. I’ve lived and loved and done things. I’m still here. Those age spots on my hands are tattoos of experience: gardens planted, letters written, loving touches. Everything I’ve done so far is recorded on my skin, in my heart, in my soul–a portrait of a life lived.
And I have lots more to add before it’s finished
I always thought I was a pretty solitary person, and that I didn’t have many friends. How wrong I was. They say ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’ and when I was in need, they showed up. I can only hope that in future, I can be such a friend to others.
The following is a letter of thanks I sent to those amazing people who helped me through that first year. I’m posting it here for the following reasons.
- During that year, there were countless nights (and days) when I was literally on my knees with grief. The pain was so great there were times I dreamed of going to sleep and never waking up. But there were good moments too – more than I realised until I wrote them down – and I survived. And you will too.
- Friends and family were – and remain – crucial. They will be there for you. Accept their help.
- An acquaintance read my letter. She had a friend going through something similar, and she said the examples I gave, suggested ways she could help her friend.
Tomorrow, August 5th, 2016, is a day I never imagined would, or wanted to, happen. I will be signing the final settlement papers on my divorce.
When I took my wedding vows back in 1977, I meant every word, yet here I find myself, 39 years later, a soon to be divorcee. What the hell happened? If you’ve been told that we ‘drifted apart’ or that our split was a ‘mutual decision’, please know that’s not what happened. His ‘office wife’ demanded – and was given – a promotion.
The last 15 months have been hell. They say grief is the price we pay for love. Trust me, I have paid. Big time. I never realized grief hurts so much, both emotionally and physically, and there is no way I would ever have got through the terrifying sensation of teeteering on a high wire with no safety net below me, or the countless nights that found me curled up in a ball on the carpet sobbing, without the support of YOU – my family and friends. So if I have spoken to you in any form – in real life, by phone, skype or digitally – since that morning he walked out on me, please accept a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart.
This – in no particular order – is just some of what you have done for, and with, me over the past eighteen months: helped me carry 66 heavy packing boxes into my new apartment, refused to allow me to spend ‘trigger days’ alone; hauled me off for the weekend on my birthday; opened your homes to me so I can just ‘be’, cry, sleep and walk your dog; taken me dog-walking in the park at midnight; introduced me to Chinese food I would never have tried on my own; spent endless – endless – hours on skype or telephone calls assuring me I will be okay; accompanied me to legal or financial meetings; walked a labyrinth; tried to teach me to swim; taken me out on the lake in a paddle boat; taken me to the theatre, movies, a home music concert, a folk festival; invited me out for coffee, lunch or dinner; planned the entire itinerary of a holiday so all I had to do was show up; introduced me to live jazz; climbed hills and mountains; ticked a climb to a Highland lochan off my bucket list; written and thrown a message in a bottle into the ocean (no reply yet!); taken me to, and picked me up from, the airport; ordered in pizza and laughed with me at Graham on the Beeb; given me a hug just because I looked like I needed one; given me foot balm to ease my ‘soles’; made me laugh by signing yourself the founding member of FAAC – Frank’s An Arse Club; gone through my settlement line by line, time after time, helping me through the legal morass; stood under the Big Dipper, glittering in an indigo sky, and reminding me we were truly blessed; asked a musician to play my favourite tune for me when I was too shy to ask for myself; cooked for me; allowed me to cook for you; taught me Feelin’ Groovy on the ukulele at 8 in the morning; sat in the sun or round the kitchen table sharing a bottle of wine (or two) or a meal; walked – through fields, glens, parks, ancient historical buildings, city streets, shopping malls, lanes that Mary Queen of Scots once rode down; come with me to the vet when I had to put my beloved golden retriever down; shared a picnic in the park; played guitar and sung in front of an open fire in a Scottish pub; encouraged me to get back to writing; gone second-hand clothes shopping and giggling like teenagers as we mixed and matched outfits in the changing room; made me beautiful handmade Christmas decorations so I can start afresh with new holiday traditions; assured me that I wasn’t going mad – that it’s all part of the process; inspired me by surviving your own later-in-life divorces and showing me there is light at the end of the tunnel; shared the challenges of divorce from a kid’s point of view so I can try and understand what my own kids are going through; been present at the birth of my grandson – (was also present for the birth of both my granddaughters before all this began which was just as incredible); invited me to visit you, no matter which part of the world you live in – I hope you meant it because if I haven’t already, I will turn up on your doorstep (having given you warning and making sure the invitation is real) one day; encouraged me to (successfully) submit a photo to the BBC.
YOU ARE ALL AMAZING – EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU. To have you all in my life, to have your support and friendship, I truly am blessed. You know that saying, that when the night is the darkest, the stars sparkle the brightest? Well you have been my stars.
I know I’m not totally through it yet. In fact, the counsel from those of you who have already walked this path is that the sense of loss never – completely – goes away. Not 100%. My heart has been scarred emotionally, in the same way that the heart muscle of someone who has experienced a heart attack is physically scarred. You can’t love someone for 20, 30, 40 years and turn it off, just like that, when they do. There will still be days when it hits me hard, but I am stronger now because you were there when I needed you.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!
One thing I learned early on in the process of becoming single again was that I had to find a way to protect my health. The stress of having my world turned upside down and inside out was my biggest enemy to battle. And being 60 when it all began didn’t help! Getting older has its own stress menu to deal with.
I wasn’t sleeping well, to say the least. I worried about money, about my relationships with my adult children, with my friends, with my lawyer. At my annual physical, I broke down in tears when the doctor asked me how I’d been feeling.
I got so tired of hearing about how bad stress is for me. Okay, I know that but how on earth does one “deal” with stress? It just is, isn’t it? How could I eat healthy when the only food I could stomach was potato chips and chocolate? Stress wouldn’t let me eat healthy.
And oh, big revelation, stress affects sleep. Lying in bed, thoughts and scenes played through my head, a dozen at a time and all bad, all leading to other worries, other what if’s. It got so that I dreaded going to bed. It got so I drank two glasses of wine every night to buy myself a couple of hours of relief. And then I had that to worry about–was I becoming dependent on alcohol?
All not good. All building stress upon stress.
I googled “How to cope with stress,” and read about eating well, meditating, exercising…all things that seemed impossible to accomplish at the time. An entire day of preparing statements and information for my lawyer would go by and me not eating anything, not wanting to eat anything, not even feeling hunger. I lived alone now–no one to cook for or share a meal with. Yes, I felt sorry for myself. I became dehydrated from shedding tears. I couldn’t stop crying.
Meditate? I couldn’t focus enough even to read a book, let alone meditate. As for exercising- well, I went for walks with my dog, but that wasn’t offering much in the area of cardio. I was heading downhill fast. I knew it but I thought that I couldn’t do anything about it.
Divorce Stress is Different
One article that I came across in my search actually took a look at stress specifically in relation to divorce, arguing that divorce is the most stressful experience a human being can experience in that it is ongoing and affects every aspect of life.
In this article, the author recognizes that coping with (not eliminating) stress from divorce is an ongoing process that is different in many ways from the usual strategies. She talks about getting information and becoming knowledgeable about the legal processes, brainstorming options and making a plan. Working towards being in control of the situation as much as possible can really help. That was it! I had lost control of my life; I needed to find new stars to steer by. Maybe there was a way to get safely to shore on my own.
Dealing with stress was under my control.
After that, I did try to eat better; I didn’t always succeed, that’s for sure, but I became more aware of what I was eating and tried to see that it was my choice whether to go for the cheese and crackers or instead add some cheese to a quick salad. I went for rambling walks with my dog, deciding just being outdoors on its own was better than no exercise at all. (And it made my dog happy, which made me happier too!)
The arthritis in my joints wasn’t going to let me take up jogging or aerobics at the gym, so I had to stop berating myself about cardio. I kept track of my blood pressure and took yoga classes. I stated taking a mild dose of an anti-depressant to counteract the sleeplessness and emotional breakdowns.
These things all helped, but the strategy that benefited me the most was talking out loud about my situation, as difficult as that was, especially in the beginning. As I opened my own bank account, negotiated my first “single” auto insurance policy and having to explain the why of it, the kindness and understanding of strangers over the phone was a touching surprise. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but nevertheless, it just felt so good when someone would say, “I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through a divorce. It’s a stressful process.”
There was such comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in this sea of failure and rejection.
Expressing what was happening as a simple fact and dealing with what had to be done one step at a time, brought me out of my head and into the world. Casting light on my fears gave me the strength to find ways to overcome them.
And each time I achieved one step forward, I felt that little bit better about myself and my situation.