During divorce, our work gives us something to hide behind. We aren’t ready to talk about who we are … because we don’t know where we fit any more.
Witness the following:
“My question was, ‘who are you, not what do you do?’” he said.
We leaned on the bar at the symphony fundraiser. He slid me a dirty Martini. I liked him and he was genuinely interested. Apparently, however, my answer hadn’t satisfied him: “I love what I do! I’m a ‘divorce recovery therapist’. You know, coaching people to stay sane and focused through their horrific divorce. I hold a lot of hands.”
“Nice elevator speech”, he said. “Now, who are you, really?”
A flashback to my own divorce interrupted us. I could see myself standing alone at my first foray back to a social life, a similar fundraiser. Someone asked, “well, who are you?”. I didn’t know what to say, especially to a total stranger of the opposite sex. I had lost my identity as a coupled woman, and exposing my newly single, lonely, and scared-to-death self was not going to happen. Instead, I turned to witty repartee about my work.
It’s a full-blown identity crisis – and it’s perfectly normal.
Our brains are scrambled. Who am I in this new life, besides alone and single? How do I describe my life when it’s always been “we”? How do I talk about my break up? What do I say about him/her? Am I ok as my new self, alone?
Exhaustion plays a big role, too, and it’s no wonder. Our brain functions best on familiarity and routine, those elusive elements so vacant in our lives right now. Starting all over again strips you of your comfortable patterns. The house is empty. Daily routines fall apart. Friends and alliances split. Lifestyles change. You’re uprooted emotionally. You may even wonder if you’re manic – high as a kite one day, in the dumps the next.
All of this insecurity is normal for divorce. That’s not much comfort, is it?
Be reassured that it won’t last forever. For a while, your brain needs to be scrambled to recalibrate and shape new habits – the new you. Think jigsaw puzzle dumped on the table. Your brain has to put those pieces back together again. It takes time.
There’s good news: You’ve still got the same strengths that you had before the break up and they’re waiting inside to help you. The sooner you set them free, the faster the “who am I, now?” will be clear.
Here are 6 steps to help you unearth those core strengths, rescue your lost self, and answer the question, “Who Am I, Now?”
- Accept what’s happened to you: Get a journal. Write an honest snapshot of you – yesterday and today. Accept the good with the bad, and tell yourself, “What’s past is over. I need to move on.” (You will need to do this exercise several times.) Next, open a communications lifeline with old friends you can trust. Feel alone and scared? Admit it and find help. Get a therapist/coach or join a divorce empowerment group, online or live. You’ll be happy to know you’re not alone in your fears.
- Adjust your self-talk: Your brain believes everything you tell it. Listen to your self-messages and change them. Tell the voices of fear to take a hike. Stop the soap opera re-runs of your life. Paste this sticky note on your mirror: “I can do this. Yes, I can! I’m not alone!”
- Appreciate. Good things are happening every day. That strong person inside you needs to hear about them. Start by thanking your body for enduring this stress. Write your friends a handwritten thank you note for their support. Keep your sense of humor. Be thankful for that good cry, releasing those nasty toxins through your tears.
- Adorn. Step out into the new world in outfits that make you feel confident and show off the real you– all the time, every day – 24/7 – even pjs.
- Abbreviate. Simplify! Get rid of old stuff. First stop? Your closet. Dive in and heave out anything that makes you sad, regretful, or simply isn’t you. A cluttered closet is a cluttered heart. Free up space for new energy.
- Actualize. “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Visualize the person you dream of becoming. Find your “courage keys” – three adjectives that describe the rediscovered you and carry them with you. I ask my clients to read them out loud whenever they feel down. During my divorce, mine were: Successful, smart, inspiring. Some days, I read them every hour to shove down the fear gremlins. Be bold. Say what you think of your very best self!
You’re finding a new identity. Be gentle with yourself. Be patient. There’s a new you and a new life on the other side. You will get there, I promise.
So, when he or she asks, “Who are you?” tell her/him to call in a couple of months. By then, you’ll have your sea legs and an answer! In the meantime, tell yourself, “Forward! Demons of doubt, take a hike! I can do this. Of course I can.”
New adventures (and the new you) are on their way!
(This post is also published at Kat’s blog at Divorcemag.com).