A friend of mine is in trouble. Her marriage is in ruins, and she is in the midst of a dysfunctional divorce process. She’s uprooted, disheartened, lost. And I can only begin to imagine the effort it costs her to get out of bed each day and get her kids going.
I’m sad for her, and I’m at a loss. This has been going on for almost two years, and the path seems to be a downward spiral. She can’t seem to break free, to reset.
I know something about sadness, and life not working out the way I thought it would. I don’t have visible tragedy in my life; I have the drip, drip, drip of missed opportunities, lost dreams, or no dream at all…just a kind of wandering in the wilderness, wondering, even as the externals of life look pretty and orderly: “is this all there is?”
My husband and I have had it all, and at times we’ve known that, and celebrated it. And we’ve had it all, and at times, thrown it away with both hands…couldn’t grasp the goodness that was in front of us for looking at what was wrong. That’s an easy trap to fall into, one that I think most people are guilty of sliding into on a regular basis. Isn’t that what movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” are all about? The reminder that with all the negatives, life is still pretty sweet…well, we know it. But how hard it is to live that reality day by day! No matter how often I re-learn that lesson, I find it waiting around the corner again. And each time, I have to internalize it like it’s new knowledge. Some things take an eternity, apparently, to really sink in.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think this is one of the most common failings of modern life, modern Americans. Maybe people in general… I don’t know…is this just a common human trait?
This morning I was thinking about my friend. She doesn’t have a job, because bringing in her own income impacts the settlement she is able to get from the divorce. She’s depressed, understandably so. She’s lost in regret for the past, and regret for the future. She’s mourning the loss of life as she knew it, and life as her kids knew it.
No one can change any of that, and what’s done is done. No going back. But I want to tell her there is still an option to go forward. I’m not sure she can hear this. But this is what I want to say to her:
Get up! I know you’ve been paralyzed by everything that’s happened. But you can’t live in that state. You have to begin. Begin today, this morning. Set the smallest of goals, and mark it off your list. Then set another. Keep setting them until you’re really moving. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. What matters is that you see what you do as accomplishment, movement, and an act of will…your will. Energy and accomplishment produce more energy and accomplishment.
Look for a job. I know that may be against the advice of attorneys, but having your own income is liberating, and will give you renewed self respect. What if you eventually don’t need alimony? What if you could stand on your own? How sweet that would be! Going back to the work force when you’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for many years is challenging and intimidating…and invigorating. It will bring new people, new experiences, new thoughts to your life. It will broaden your horizons. It will give you a goal, and foster ambition. And it will give you money in your account.
Start a gratitude journal. This may seem like salt in the wound, to even suggest this. But I believe so strongly in the power of attitude and the healing that a thankful heart can experience…I don’t think a wounded soul can move forward without this step. Yes, life is unfair. Yes, life is hard. But we don’t complain when we are “unfairly” gifted. We just accept it as a natural thing, that we should be healthy, have food, have a roof, have healthy kids. Open your eyes, open your heart!
Finally…and again, this may seem like salt in the wound…I would suggest connecting with a women’s shelter…volunteer for an hour or two, or more, each week. This is not about building one person up by looking down on the misfortune of others…this is about recognizing that we all have something to give, even when it seems we have very little. And giving is the best cure for our own heartaches. Yes, there is a need to receive, and to cocoon, and to lick our own wounds. But that works better when we’re also giving, reaching out, making ourselves go beyond the comfort zone.
My route to work in Ketchikan takes me past a women’s safe house. When I’m distressed, I often think about the women who seek haven there. My problems become much more manageable when I recognize: no one beat me up, or threatened my kids, or blew money for this month’s bills. Does that mean I don’t have legitimate issues? No. And certainly my friend has sorrows that are real, and wounds that will take years to heal. But I’m reminded that things could be worse. You have to begin somewhere. I choose to begin with acknowledging: even when I’m struggling, I have people in my life, things in my life, that bless me. I have a place to start. And so does she…she just can’t see it yet.
I want to infuse my friend with determination, and to say: don’t let this sorrow, the end of your marriage, and the way you’ve been treated, don’t let it rob you of what you can do for yourself, for your children. Starting over is hard, and I understand the paralysis that comes with depression. So get help for depression if you need that. But act! Move! Get up! Do it for your kids, if not for yourself. One of these days, you’ll realize you are doing it for yourself as well, and you’ll all benefit in the end.
Even as I write this, there’s a little voice inside my head that says it’s never as easy as it reads. No. But what’s the alternative? She’s already lost two years of her life, and her kids’ lives, to turmoil and anger and sadness. How much more will she give? Eventually, it is counterproductive to mourn. It becomes a way of life; but not a healthy way to live. I’ve learned this for myself, and I know how hard it is to make that shift in thinking. I’ve done it. My circumstances were different, but in their own way, no less debilitating. But I don’t know how to jump start someone else. Sending her a to-do list, or a book to read, or listening to her, or suggesting that she see a doctor and go on anti-depressants…are these just band aids? I can’t put my hands around what she most needs. I’m at a loss for her. I keep coming back to the same thing. She has to reach down inside herself and want to take her life back. She has to want control enough that she pushes through the barriers. She has to want it. Others around her have wanted it for her. We’ve been sad, and seen the legitimate distress of her life. But now it’s down to her. Really, rock bottom, down to her will, and her strength.
I choose to live by choice, not by chance; to make changes, not excuses; to be motivated, not manipulated; to be useful, not used; to excel, not compete. I choose self-esteem, not self-pity. I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the random opinion of others.