By Lisa Arends
From the chilled and vacant bed to the endless evening hours to the loss of a trusted confidant, the void left in your life after divorce can be both vast and agonizing. The emptiness begs to be filled, the cracks call for smoothing over and you try to distract yourself from staring too long at the vastness of the crater in your life.
Watch Out For These Unhealthy Ways to Fill the Void-
In an attempt to soothe the initial pain from divorce, many of us first turn to one or more of the following unhealthy (and ultimately ineffectual) methods of trying to fill the vacuum:
Filling Your Belly to Try to Fill Your Heart
When you’re feeling gutted and vacuous, it can be natural to turn to food for relief, mistaking the temporary physical fullness for emotional satiety. There is a very real link between emotions and food – we often speak of “comfort foods,” bring food to those in mourning and bond with others over a meal. Yet the real comfort comes less from the sustenance and more from the nourishment of the connection with others.
When you attempt to feed an emotional hunger with food, you will never be completely satisfied because you are addressing the wrong area of need. Repeatedly turning to food may have a detrimental impact on your health and will also serve to widen the disconnect between your mind and body.
Avoiding Reality With Alcohol or Drugs
Emptiness is uncomfortable. A sense of free falling through space is frightening. In those dark and lonely hours when you’re alone and worried that you’ll always be alone, it can be tempting to numb the pain and quiet the fear through chemistry.
And there will be relief in the moment, those blissful moments where you are able to forget reality and embrace a dream world. Yet reality always bursts back in, throwing open the door and blinding you with its harshness. Trying to avoid it only delays the inevitable confrontation and acceptance.
Bolstering Confidence With Shopping
It’s no wonder that shopping is a common pastime for those that are feeling down – the hunt of a good bargain and the acquisition of new baubles rewards us with a feel-good burst of dopamine. Those who have experienced an esteem hit after infidelity and/or divorce can be especially drawn to the appeal of covering the vulnerable skin with fancy clothes, new cars or a designer house.
Shopping gives us an opportunity to briefly occupy a fantasy world where the advertisements and markers have us convinced that material goods are associated with a particular life. But the thrill is always temporary, the boost short-lived. Chasing the tail of this dragon can ultimately be devastating to both your wallet and your well-being.
Distracting From the Pain by Dating
When you’re facing the heartbreak and the hollowness that follows the end of a relationship, there can be a powerful craving to experience the excitement and potential of new partnerships (even if they only last the night). Giving in to this desire too soon is like going to the grocery store hungry; you are not going to be able to make good decisions.
Additionally, when you’re still vulnerable, dating can often serve to highlight the void you feel as you realize that this person in front of you is really a stranger and that your early feelings are more hope and projection than actuality. It’s often better to wait to re-enter the dating scene until that compulsive desire to replace your partner has faded.
Passing the Time By Consuming Media
What is easiest is often not what is best for us. And nowhere in modern culture is this more apparent than in the consumption of media. In a moment of loneliness, we may turn to Facebook for the sense of connection, yet studies show that browsing the platform leaves people feeling even more isolated. When we’re feeling low, we easily give in to a Netflix binge, expecting to feel more rested. When instead, television (especially when consumed in binges), only intensifies feelings of sadness and fatigue.
Instead, Try These to Fill the Void –
The previous strategies may work for a short period of time but ultimately, they will cause more harm than good as they prevent you from healing the wound from within. Instead of leaning on those quick fixes in an attempt to fill the void left from divorce, try building yourself up through the following strategies. Be patient – these methods may take longer to work than the unhealthier ones, but their results are lasting and authentic.
Finding Purpose Through Work
With divorce, you lose one of your major life roles, that of husband or wife. It can be an uncanny feeling as you wonder what position you now occupy and what purpose you now serve. Depending upon your particular circumstances, this can be an opportunity to allocate more of your energy into your career.
You may find that the changes in your life allow you to take bigger risks or to break out of your standard mold. Changes in your home life may have given you extra time to commit to your job or financial matters may necessitate that you undertake a new endeavor.
Often, when you’re feeling like a failure in your personal life, successes at work take on even greater meaning. Use this opportunity to recommit or reinvent your work persona. Strive to carve out a position where you feel needed, appreciated and interested.
Building Strength and Poise Through Movement
Divorce has a way of making you feel weak. Powerless. And exercise in any form is an excellent way to begin to reclaim your strength and feeling of control over your life. The best form of exercise to undertake is the one that you enjoy and that you can pledge yourself to.
It’s harder to feel powerless when you accomplish the goals you have set for yourself. It’s harder to feel vulnerable when you feel the increase in your performance capacity from week to week. As you throw yourself into movement, focusing on form and breath, the void no longer seems so vast or so dark.
If you’re struggling with sadness and isolation during unstructured hours, use exercise to build a framework around those times. If you flounder without accountability, sign up for group or team exercise so that you have others to answer to. And if you’re feeling disconnected from your body, opt for yoga or weight training so that you can again reconnect with yourself.
Reclaiming Vitality Through a Passion Project
What endeavor encourages you into a state of flow, where your entire focus is on what is at hand and time seems to stop? What activity did you used to enjoy in your youth or dream about turning into a career? What is something that you have always been curious about trying but practicality and circumstances have stopped you? These are hints about your passions, your interests that both consume you and fuel you.
The period after divorce provides a wonderful opportunity for pursuing or restoring a passion project. I know of people who have picked up the violin again, started stand-up comedy, written a book or chartered a non-profit charity. Others, selecting a more physical approach, sign up for a marathon or strive to earn the next belt level in Jiu Jitsu.
The “what” matters less than the enthusiasm you have for the enterprise. When you throw yourself into something that you enjoy and find success in, you breathe life back into the hole in your heart. When you’re passionate about something, you focus more on creation rather than any residual emptiness.
Rising By Lifting Others
When we’re feeling alone and eviscerated by divorce, we can easily become a captive of our own minds. The thoughts cycle and the self-pity begins to grow in our emotional isolation. Perhaps the best way to both put problems in perspective and help jettison us from our thoughts is by empowering others.
If you have children, strive to help them become strong, independent and compassionate people. Reach out to your friends and family that are in need and find ways to help to liberate them from their struggles. Help strangers through your church or a volunteer organization, selflessly sending positivity into the world. If you find people overwhelming, consider helping by adopting an abandoned pet or volunteering in an animal shelter.
Giving to others helps you feel better about yourself and also allows you to shift your focus away from your pain. As you give to others, you will find that paradoxically, you become filled yourself.
Generating Legacy Through Creation
Some of the most beautiful and lasting art, music and prose has been born of heartbreak. Even if you’re not destined to be the next Shakespeare or next year’s Beyoncé, you can still use your pain as an impetus for creation.
Even if it never sees the light of day, the mere act of using your sorrow as a conduit through your medium of choice helps to transform your relationship with the heartache. As you create, you’re building scaffolding throughout that void left from divorce. Scaffolding that you can then use to begin to climb your way out of the darkness.
By Lisa Arends