There’s a certain strength to be drawn when you have an arsenal of coping mechanisms at your disposal. Like, no one can mess with you when you have this rock-solid backup plan for when you just lose it, you know?
A few of you have emailed me over the past few months to ask what these mechanisms have been, either because you are hurting or because someone you know is. It made me realize that I am sitting atop this nest of super helpful things I’ve stumbled on along the way, adding to it twig by twig, feather by feather.
I’ve resisted writing about a lot of this kind of thing because I think I have been feeling similar to how one lovely reader phrased it in her email, “I don’t want to pigeon-hole you as the divorce-lady…”. and I mean, I don’t want to be the divorce-lady! I don’t want that to be the only thing I write about because good lord I am far more interesting than these events and this divorce, you know?
But I also remember vividly the feeling of being at the beginning of this journey and feeling fucking terrified, swamped, and unsure of how exactly I was going to navigate it. The first thing I did was reach out to others and start researching, so it would be a bit of a dick move if I didn’t share some of what I found helpful with you in the hopes that your road might be made easier by hearing from someone who’s walked a similar one.
First and always, right? If you aren’t a voracious reader, please become one. You’re missing so much. There’s nothing I love doing more in this world. Nothing has done more to teach, inspire, awe, and humble me. Read. Anything, really. Anything that can get you out of yourself for a few minutes or hours.
But if you want specifics, here goes:
When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron: Not such a cheery title, but an absolute essential for me. I still re-read parts of it almost every week. It talks about letting go, not because you have to, but because it’s inevitable. Nothing is forever, nothing is guaranteed. And we hold so tight to what we love, or what has become familiar, we try so much to control the world around us, that we forget that. This book helped me loosen my grip.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy”
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
Women Who Run With The Wolves, Camila Pinkola-Estes: This is a borderline hippie read (Ha! As if the one by the Buddhist nun wasn’t?) but Pinkola-Estes had a good enough balance of hippie/feminist nonsense and academic sensibility to keep me into it. She examines the myths of our culture and others, and tears apart the ingrained systems that seek to strip every shred of wildness from women. I loved it. It made me realize it was alright to feel rage and anger, and stand up for myself.
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.That is the work. The only work.”
“Writing, real writing, should leave a small sweet bruise somewhere on the writer . . . and on the reader.”
I remember asking you guys for music suggestions a while ago – and holy shit did you deliver! I’m not a terribly music-obsessed person, but I fell deep for a few songs that helped get me through, and I think to do this, to walk through something like this, you need an anthem. Something to put on and listen to on repeat that will allow you to fill your lungs and stand tall and face each day until eventually you don’t need an anthem to get up in the morning.
Mine, without question, was Florence and the Machine’s What Kind of Man. In some ways, it felt like a quintessential breakup song- just enough anger, just enough loss – but it’s also Florence! And Florence is bad ass as fuck and takes no shit. I needed that. The segue from sadness into anger can be a tricky one, and she was perfect to usher me through it.
This song might not be your song, but try to find out what is. Find someone who seems like they are singing to you, about what you are going through, then play it on repeat at volumes loud enough to drown out what’s happening in your head and your heart. Play it until the bass feels like a heartbeat and your mind can stall for a bit.
It will feed your soul and soothe your heart.
A few days ago I was introduced to this one, which is far happier and lighter, and I can’t stop playing it. (Kitchen dance party, anyone?)
So, there are the two extremes of this journey represented in music.
Recruit your squad. Friends, family, medical professionals, call them up and ask for what you need. I was lucky enough to have a close cabal of people who know me well enough to understand that I will virtually never make that phone call, so they descended en masse and did without asking. Jesus, they were amazing.
As for the medical professionals, don’t be proud. If you can’t sleep, get sleeping pills. If you can’t cope, consider taking something that will help you get through. I’ll write more in-depth about this when I’m ready, but you guys know I am as hippie as they come and I can tell you that chamomile tea and warm milk aren’t going to even come close to touching this. I could have stayed awake for weeks. It was destroying me. Temporarily shelve your distrust of big pharma and just get something that can knock you out in a sweet second at the end of the day. There is no shame in this. You can not do anything without sleep, don’t be a martyr.
If you are the supporter
If it’s not you who is struggling to navigate this road, you might be wondering how to help. These tips will be pretty specific to my situation (a relationship breakdown with a dog and a child in the depths of winter) but they might be able to give you some ideas. I know the helpless feeling of wanting to do something and not knowing what.
-Bring over groceries (lots of easy-to-prepare meals please), or arrange for a grocery delivery service
– Arrange to take the child(ren) for a few hours every few days if you can
– Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t skirt the subject, and let them know you are there to listen to them rehash the same painful material for as long as they need
– Give something that will remind them to be gentle with themselves and take care of themselves. A massage? Something that reconnects the mind with the physical body
– If you are a mutual friend or otherwise caught in the middle, don’t feel like you have to take sides. Support isn’t a zero-sum game, you can support each party without needing to feel like you are betraying one of them. Let them know this.
-Help with the the aspects of daily life that just keep grinding on despite this event – shovelling the walk, taking out the garbage, preparing and eating three meals a day, doing dishes, walking the dog. It can seem overwhelming to keep those cogs in the machine turning so any help is appreciated.
The worst one, because you can’t rush it or skip to it.
But then, suddenly, it’s summer. The coats are off, the sun sits warmly on your bare shoulders, and you find yourself smiling so much your cheeks hurt. Life comes in seasons, and you will weather this one. It will pass. We both know it won’t ever disappear completely – would you want it to? That would mean you’d lose the lessons, too – but it will fade. The soundtrack to your life will change, and so will you, for the better.