Hello blog readers…I have been away for an exceptionally long time dealing with a personal matter that I chose not to share with my readers in real-time. There will be more on that later, of that you can be sure, but what has once again drawn me back to blogging is another reminder from the very sage Lewis Carroll, through the voice of the lovely Alice in Wonderland.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen. I often given myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it. And in this case the zebra is changing her strips. My very own Steps #9 and #10 (not to mention #1-#8) are applicable not just to the crisis of divorce, but to all crises, including the one I have recently endured. Rereading them the past two days has reminded me I have very excellent tools at my disposal to cope with the latest of life’s perpetual crises, and writing in one of them. So let me blog-blab a bit about denial and it’s awesomeness and we’ll come back round full circle.
It is time for me to walk the walk I talk so much about.
the 5 stages of grief and why they’re helpful but also not
There is a widely known and respected five-stage model for dealing with grief developed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. It has been adapted for numerous things, including break ups and divorce, and is so much a part of the vernacular that I’d bet most of you can name at least three of the stages. For those with less than stellar recall, here’s a little refresher:
STAGES AS APPLIED TO DIVORCE
Denial: What divorce? Whose getting divorced?
Anger: Mother f*@king, no good, bastard, jackass!
Bargaining: I’d give up my first-born just to get that mother f*@king, no good, jackass, bastard back!
Depression: I’ll never get past this.
Acceptance: EUREKA! Everything is going to be ok!
While I don’t hate this model as it applies to relationships, break ups and divorce, I find its helpfulness doesn’t outweigh its limitations. It tends to prescribe instead of describe grief. Upon learning of it, there is a tendency for people to rush and feel pressured to get through the stages, instead of letting them happen naturally. Some magical thinking happens when in the midst of the chaos appears a schedule of sorts connected to seemingly linear stages which imply a finish line. And who doesn’t want to charge for a finish line that represents the end of their pain and suffering, doubt and confusion, crying and uncertainty.
denial, anger, bargaining, oh my!
While we are not passive players in this process, we cannot actively control it either. And the linear nature of this model – despite all protests by its developers that it is not so – seduces us into thinking we can. So what of our poor friend denial then? The first stage, so often frowned upon by people as the weakest point, loses its footing fast and furiously, cast aside as stupid and pointless. It may feel good but we know at the same time it is temporary, a delay tactic staving off the inevitable tidal wave that is about to come crashing down.
So we rush forward to the protective red heat of anger where lashing out, swearing, crying, screaming, blaming, and raging feel cathartic and torturous all at once. But the energy this takes makes it unsustainable. We long for a return to the familiar, no matter how unhappiness or how much compromise is required. And so comes bargaining.
For my part, bargaining never took the external form of begging but manifested itself as internal pleas with the universe. I promised I would never take happiness for granted again. I swore I would make the changes to my character that my ex-husband now found so unpalatable. But I could not stay in that place long. My divorce process was too sudden and absolute for there to be more than a momentary sliver of hope. And so comes depression.
depression is rage spread thin
My depression came complete with camping equipment, signaling its intent to settle in and stay for a while. The crying, the drinking, the wallowing, the endless hours of just sitting and staring into space pondering my life’s gloom-filled future was the worst phase yet. I could no longer tolerate the anger because, rubbed raw with time, I saw it for the false protection it was and would cycle rapidly from yelling back to tears. Acceptance was so far away that binoculars wouldn’t have allowed me to even catch its glimpse.
No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get there, and I felt stuck. At that time, and during the past few weeks, I felt that same stuckedness set in again. It’s a horrible, desperate feeling. Even if I had some degree of faith that “this too shall pass,” I know from past experience that I cannot rely on faith alone. I must rely on my own power to shift my focus, propel me forward.
and so we are back to the beginning…
In the past few weeks so much has happened that I must wait for a future blog entry to fully and fairly capture it for you. For now, all I will say is that my recent, non-divorce related crisis threw me into a tail spin. I lost my footing, my mojo, and my inner survivor went off on unscheduled summer vacation. I have spent the last few weeks wrapped up in the details and realities of recent events so much so that sleep, eating, friendships, and this blog all suffered. I got stuck in the depression spiral and the false belief that my only option was to passively wait for acceptance. This did not happen. While it’s true that no matter what you do nothing stays the same and things will of their own volition change, they’ll do so on their schedule, not yours.
so where is the power? where is the DO?
It’s in remembering that steps to healing truly do not work sequentially, that the denial-weakness conflation is false, it appears the answer may be in stepping back to seek refuge there in denial. Denial is a lovely place if you can get there. Of course it’s not a destination, it’s just a pit stop on the greater journey. But if you treat it as the oasis it can be, you can be recharged, refreshed, and remade by the time you’re ready to leave it. And you will at some point be there. I promise.
My denial this week took the form of returning to my normal habits and routines as if nothing had changed. I read my twitter feed, called my friends to ask them how THEY were doing, washed my hair and put on makeup and smiled at strangers passing by on the streets. When the thoughts of the recent crisis creeped into my brain, I imagined a giant STOP sign popping up to halt them. If that didn’t work, I visualized myself gently packing those thoughts away in a box and placing them on a high shelf – still present and safe for when I was ready to go back an unpack them again. I did this same process when going through the initial aftermath of my divorce. It worked for me them. And it’s working for me now. I hope, dear readers, that it works for you too. I know I already feel my strength returning and the clouds lifting with each banging finger stroke on my keyboard today.