When my husband walked out on me only months after our first son was born, the shock combined with the new responsibility of being a mum filled my head like an over-stretched balloon about to pop. The world I’d been building for ten years was shattered in an instant. I felt like everything was underwater, like I was moving in slow motion. Nothing made sense, people’s voices were muffled, sleep wouldn’t come and the tears flowed so much that I thought I might just turn into one of those dehydrated shrunken ‘apple head’ people that folk-art fans love to make.
I remember being at my mum’s house weeks after it happened. I was sitting on the lounge room floor, the few worldly possessions I’d taken from my home squishing us into the tiny room like sardines. My four-month old son was hungry and my family were asking me what I was going to do, where I was going to live? Did I want all my things packed into boxes? I couldn’t tell them. I just sat there, staring at the floor, unable to speak, unable to think. How on earth are you supposed to know what the next step is when your whole world has been annihilated and the sleep deprivation you’re experiencing from feeding and rocking a new-born to sleep every three hours has stunned any still functioning brain cells you have left?
The answer is, you don’t.
You just put one foot in front of the other anyway.
I knew I couldn’t sit there staring at the floor forever. I knew I had a huge mountain to climb and I had to find somewhere to start, so right then and there, I decided to live by some simple daily rules. These rules became the pillars that got me through my divorce.
1. Have a daily focus
Choose something basic to start with and make that your goal every day. In the early days, my focus was simply to have a shower and get dressed. Some days I couldn’t even manage that. When it gets too hard, drop it back to an easier focus until you’re back on track again, then change it up. I moved from simply getting dressed, to writing my daily blog, to getting back into work, and finally committing to walk just one kilometre every day which led me to carrying my son on Hobart’s Point to Pinnacle half-marathon. The important thing is consistency and commitment. Do it every single day, no matter how small.
2. Have a monthly focus
In the early days it’s hard to even contemplate tomorrow, let alone next month, but give yourself something to look forward to. Every month I plan something fun, sometimes it’s something as simple as having a baby-free night to go to the movies or have dinner and beers with friends, sometimes it’s an overnight trek in the wilderness or trying something new like horse riding. Having something to work towards and spending just a few minutes a day taking steps to make it happen helps lift you out of the day-to-day challenges of divorce and into a more positive space.
3. Play a song every day… and play it loud
Pick a happy song, grab your kiddies and dance around the lounge room even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. I found The Jackson Five’s ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ was an awesome one for that. Or you might be in the mood to let the tears flow and wallow in self-pity for just a little while (yes, it’s ok to wallow and wail like a demon-possessed tribal woman, as long as you get back up afterwards), anything by Adele is good for that. If you’re feeling like giving the world the finger, ‘F*ck you’ by Lily Allen works well, and if you just want a good old dose of diva power, my favourites were ‘That’s Alright’ by Laura Mvula and of course, ‘Fighter’ by Christina Aguilera. But by far, my two favourite divorce anthems, if you can have such a thing, were ‘Free’ by Rudimental and ‘Lifted’ by Naughty Boy. Even now I still listen to them most days.
I know. Some days there will feel like there is nothing to laugh about. Ok, let’s be honest, in the early days, most days will feel like there’s nothing to laugh about. On those days I sat at my computer and searched for funny baby videos or cat videos or ‘people doing stupid shit’ videos on You Tube. Even on my worst days they managed to prize out a teensy smile even if I couldn’t manage a laugh. Now I laugh every. Single. Bloody. Day.
5. Ask for help… Or if that’s too hard, at least accept help
I know it’s hard. You think everyone’s watching you, expecting you to lose your shit at any moment and melt into a puddle of goo like the Wicked Witch of the West. You know what? They’re probably not, and even if they did, it just doesn’t matter. Every mum needs her support network, and solo mums need it just as much, so switch your mind off when someone offers and simply say ‘Yes’. ‘Yes, please watch my child for an hour’ or ‘Yes, please make me some toast’ or ‘Yes, please give me some tissues so I can clean up this big blob of snot and tears I’ve managed to smear all through my hair’.
6. Look after yourself
This is one of the key reasons I decided to start Lift Magazine. Your must look after you, and that’s all of the bits that make up you. Your health, your mental wellness, your happiness. In the early days when I was still riddled with grief and sadness, I started smoking, I stopped exercising, I couldn’t sleep, I hardly ate and I drank coffee by the litre. One day, by some fortunate co-incidence, that old flight safety analogy popped into my head, and it’s been my mantra ever since. ‘You must fit your own oxygen mask before you assist your child’. Suddenly, I realised that if I was unhealthy and unhappy, there was no way I could help my son grow to the best of my ability. So make time to go for that walk in the morning, make time for a grief counselling session (Relationships Australia have really affordable options), make time to meditate or finish that craft project you’ve been meaning to finish, spend a few dollars on a new pair of earrings or go somewhere like The Body Shop to get yourself a free mini makeover if you’re short on cash. The kindness you show yourself will be reflected in your attitude towards your children.
No one can tell you how long your grief and recovery process will take. It’s different for everyone and depends on so many factors, but I can tell you that the more you focus on taking tiny steps towards things that lift you up instead of devoting precious energy getting bogged down in your divorce, the quicker it will be, and the more positive your future will become, for you and your children.
About the author
Naomi is the editor of Lift Magazine and single mum to 19 month old Jim. For the last 12 months she’s documented her journey of single motherhood in her award winning daily blog ‘365 Days, a Diary of a Newly Single Mum’. When she’s not experimenting with new cookie recipes or planning her next trekking, climbing or snowboarding adventure, you can find her at her desk in the picturesque city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, weaving together solo mum stories… whether it be handy tips, triumphs, tragedies, exotic tales of travel or other tidbits to publish here. And before you ask, no, she doesn’t mind the freezing cold Tasmanian winters and yes, she had her second head removed years ago in an unfortunate accident involving a curtain rod and a drunk moose (and no, she’s not interested in hearing from anyone who doesn’t believe that drunk mooses exist in Tasmania… or those who may suppose that ‘mooses’ is not really a word).