When I was twenty-four years old, I became a divorced woman. I had been married for four and a half years and in relationship with this man/ boy since I was eighteen. Getting divorced rocked my world, turned it upside down, pulled the rug out from under me, and knocked me on my tushy. All the old clichés applied. At the time, I was a middle school English teacher and I remember the head of the music department saying to me, “Look at you Ilene. You’re pretty and smart. You’ll be remarried in two years.” Fifteen years, and many lessons later, I met my second and forever husband.
Here’s what I learned in those fifteen years.
Give yourself permission to grieve: Ending a relationship, particularly a marriage, is life altering. It changes your perception of yourself and your place in the world. Do whatever you need to do to calm and soothe yourself (safely, please). At the time, I thought that talking about my divorce was a sign of weakness (Can you believe I became a therapist?) and as a result my grief process took longer. Talk, talk, talk to empathetic friends, family, and maybe to a counselor.
Take good care of yourself – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually: The same principles of self-care apply whether we’re single, divorced, or partnered. It still amazes me how my view of the world completely changes with a good night’s sleep, healthy food in my belly, and coffee or lunch with a dear friend. I know this is challenging when we’re in pain but so necessary to avoid isolation and depression. And…in the midst of emotional upheaval, it helps to look out at the lake or the mountains and appreciate the beauty in the world.
Learn to love yourself and others: For twelve years of my single life, I lived with big, beautiful Sammy – my teacher, my guide, my dog. Sammy opened my heart and taught me how to love again. Find a way to open yourself. A dog works miracles. So do children, gardens, and good friends.
Don’t expect someone else to complete your life: Fill your own holes – from the inside out. Be your own gardener. Dream your own dreams. I made the mistake of thinking that the perfect (or not so perfect) partner would make me feel whole and special. I had to learn to be more own perfect partner – or close to it!
Build a life worth living: Endings are exquisitely painful. And… after the initial shock, they give us an opportunity to take another look at ourselves, and how our lives have taken shape. Some of us reinvent ourselves. I did, by changing careers, going back to school, buying a condo by myself. Go within. Is there a seed of a dream that needs nurturing? Now might be the time. It was at the moment I could honestly say, “I like my life and I am happy” that I met my husband (walking my dog, by the way).
Don’t settle for less than you deserve: You are special! You have gifts and talents that the world needs. Please don’t let anything or anyone (including yourself) make you feel “less than”. The next person who enters your life should recognize your uniqueness, your spark, treat you accordingly, and feel blessed by your presence.
And this last lesson comes with the perspective of time and distance…
Sometimes the biggest hurts are actually the greatest gifts: Thank you, Ex-husband!
Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed, clinical social worker with 15 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who want more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who are in conflict with weight, eating, and body image. She can be reached at 518-570-6164, Ilene@primelink1.net, or www.ileneleshinsky.com.