Divorce. Death. Job loss. Moving. Daughter leaving home. Empty nest. Really empty nest. Two dogs, no job. Financial insecurity. Fear.
In 2009 I went through almost the entire list of life’s most stressful events. To say I got hit by what felt like a tsunami of loss would not be an exaggeration. I was in so much pain, I could barely take a deep breath.
I was never a big crier and suddenly I found myself crying. A lot. I cried in my therapist’s office, using all the tissues. I cried on subways. I cried in Central Park, which had always been my sanctuary. Walking in the park usually brought me a feeling of peace, but there was no peace to be found. I barely noticed the trees, the flowers, the beauty. Nothing, no food, no nature, no chocolate, no man, not even George Clooney (seriously) would have made me feel better.
Once in a while I could laugh and I found any film about divorce was helpful. One of my favorites was Living Out Loud with Holly Hunter. I loved that she had a romance with Danny DeVito and we almost kind of believed it. She found joy in dancing in a lesbian club and eventually found her calling in life, she went to medical school. I’ve considered that, but remained on the couch.
I didn’t even have the energy to dance, or do much of anything at first. Walking my dogs three or four times a day was, at first, almost all the energy I could summon. Thankfully, I had the dogs to walk, or I might never have left the couch.
One idea I had was to call friends who’d been through traumatic divorces. I also tried to think of friends who had multiple losses simultaneously, as I’d had. That’s fairly unusual, but I did know a few people who’d had similar hellish stories to share. I would listen to their stories and find comfort in knowing they had found ways to move on, in time.
And then I remembered Friends In Deed, a “pragmatic, spiritual crisis center for people dealing with life threatening illness, caregiving, and grief and bereavement” and I started going there. I had attended their big groups a few years earlier, when I began being a caregiver for my mother. “Caregiver” — another word for dealing with one crisis after another. I was also raising a teenager, working full-time and living with a depressed husband whose business had failed. Back then, I was simply depressed and feeling in over my head. In 2009 I was in real pain.
Sitting in a room full of people at Friends In Deed who had their own difficult stories to share: HIV/AIDS, cancer, death of a spouse, death of a parent, or a child, caring for a spouse or parent, relationships ending while dealing with the death of anyone, multiple losses… the stories would devastate anyone who had no experience of difficulties in life. Which is a lot of people, at least until it happens to them, as it always does eventually. And still, no matter how sad the stories, we always found a way to laugh.
I knew I was in a hole, but then suddenly I felt less alone. As I began talking and sharing and crying more tears, I wondered if they would ever stop. But I also noticed that each time I cried, I felt better. Physically lighter.
I did something else during that time that was equally as helpful. I wrote every day. I kept a journal of my darkest thoughts and I also wrote a blog — which was about sharing what I was learning about, Buddhism, meditation and other spiritual and life lessons. I also wrote about my early and sometimes ridiculous attempts at dating again after divorce.
I think now, four years later, that the talking and the writing were invaluable. In fact, now that I’ve looked into it, I know they were.
Writing and speaking about traumatic events actually improves your health. It improves your immune system. It physically affects you and literally makes you healthier.
I know that because the research shows that to be true and because I feel like a different person than I did a few years ago, before I began my journey of writing, speaking, and healing. Years ago, I lived on caffeine to get through the day and sleeping pills to get through the night.
Now my weight is at least twenty pounds lighter than it was (the divorce diet helped with that). Someone told me I looked like I’d lost a layer of myself and that I seemed to be glowing! (Okay, not every day, but most days.)
Like Holly Hunter’s character, I started dancing, which gives me great pleasure.
And yet–this year has brought another round of losses. I lost one of my best friends. She died last November. And then in May, my beloved dog, Lucy, died too.
And in June, my ex-husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He and I have reached a place of… well, let’s say we are communicating and though he lives 3,000 miles away and I can not physically be a part of his daily support system, we are in touch. I am grateful we are able to communicate again and I genuinely hope that he can get through this health crisis.
So once again, I am writing through the sadness and the trauma of loss and worry. It isn’t a magic wand that removes the grief, but it is a way of relieving some of it. And I know, ultimately, it will get me through to the other side.