Grieving for self after divorce

“When the pain of what we are living becomes greater than our fear of changing, we let go. When our fear of drowning swamps our fear of holding onto nothing, we start to swim”. Louise Gallagher


As described in my last post, a grief is a loss of something you cannot get back. The end of a marriage is such a loss. I accepted that and accepted it would take some time to pass through grief and its stages. What I did not expect was to have to go through it twice.

As I mourned the loss of my life companion and marriage there were stages(1) – shock, pain, yearning, bargaining, depression (sadness), which I slid in and out of over time, until final acceptance, that what was lost was gone forever. This was followed by a contented period of living in the joys of today, a feeling of moving on and hope for the future.

Then THUMP! I was down on the floor again.

One day I stopped living in my la-la land of sunny moments, faced the reality of my situation, and did not like what I saw. I fell into another hole of sadness, dread, despair and fear for the future. I remained in this black state of stagnation for months.

When I hit this second grief period, others remarked I might be suffering depression. I feel it unfortunate the same terminology is used to describe both a symptom (or low mood ‘depression’), and an illness (or mental disorder ‘clinical depression’). Depression as a low mood of sadness is one of the grief stages. It is normal, a symptom, the bleeding from the wound of grief. Whilst it is important to recognise the bleeding may become so intense professional help is required (by medication, counselling or other); it is equally as important to recognise it stems from a loss and it will not end until the wound of grief is healed. My dilemma was I thought I had healed.

My first grief – the loss of ‘we’

I had processed my grief, passed through its stages, came to accept my loss (my companion), integrated that loss into my life, and got back to what I considered normal. I had survived. I did not understand why I felt low again.

My second grief – the loss of ‘me’

Then I had an earth-shattering realisation that, with everything else lost in my marriage, I had also lost myself. This came as a huge shock. There is nothing more tragic than feeling a loss of self, a loss of identity and a loss of a sense of purpose. My drive in life had been as a wife and mother. Recovering from my marriage’s end was not a simple matter of “getting on with it”. It was not a simple carrying on as before with one little (him gone) change. It was not one change. Everything had changed. My home-life had altered, my family unit had splintered, my self-esteem was in tatters. I had no stability and no feeling of comfort or security. There was no ‘normal’. It was gone.

I came to realise that after I had processed my first grief I had tried to get back my ‘normal’. That became living our life, my way and striving for the dreams we had had as a couple. However, as there was no longer us, no longer our life, it did not work. I was living in the pain of the past. Moreover, as I was no longer half of us, who was I? Where had I gone? Who had I become? I had lost me and I sank deeper and deeper into the pain and grief of losing me. I wallowed about in self-pity and deep pain for many months.

My epiphany.

One day something stirred. Like a bolt of lightening, I had an epiphany. I looked up to the sky and saw light breaking through from behind storm clouds. It was then I knew. I wanted my life. I wanted me back. I wanted to make my choices. I could choose to transform me.

I resolved to do so, like the Phoenix.


(1)Kubler Ross

Image courtesy [rattigan]

Dancing The Transformative Grief Of Divorce

Playing with the black dog of grief yet seeing the light

– Wrestling The Black Dog of Grief –

Sometimes I still feel low and I was wondering what that meant. Was this a normal part of the transitional stage of divorce or did I have a problem? I decided to do some reading. Here are some definitions and explanations that I found.

Grief – A grief is a loss of something you cannot get back no matter how hard you try. It can be felt after any loss such as after the death of a loved one, divorce, losing your job or dreams or your youth or your security. Psychologists(1) describe stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance with the predominant symptom of sadness. Symptoms come and go, eventually running their course to a state of resolution.

Trauma – A trauma is a distressing event which feels unreal. You may suffer flashbacks to the event and the predominant feeling is of terror. You may see yourself as a victim and develop a distorted self-image.

Depression – Depression can be a temporary low mood after a loss or stressful event or it can be an illness (‘Clinical Depression’). In clinical depression the predominant feeling is a pervasive one of hopelessness. There is a loss of enjoyment in pleasurable activities and a chronic feeling of low self-esteem.

Complicated Grief or Traumatic Grief – If suffering remains six months after a loss or there is difficulty reaching normal functioning, then you may be suffering complicated grief or traumatic grief. It is more common when there have been several losses overlaid upon each other or a trauma complicating the loss. In complicated grief there can be a terrifying feeling of loss of self. Treatment focuses on processing the loss, as opposed to depression where the focus is often on treating the symptoms. Sometimes depression may overlay grief and treating both may be required.

Grief After Divorce – It is recognised there can be grief after divorce. Many symptoms of complicated grief (intense pain, intrusive thoughts, confusion over identity, inability to trust, difficulty moving on, prolonged bitterness or anger) apply equally or more to divorce than after a death.This is especially true if the marriage ending was traumatic, sudden, or the divorce processes have been distressing or prolonged. There is difficulty reaching closure as the person you are grieving is still around and in the case of abandonment or betrayal, there is a massive attack on your self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. 

Trans-formative Grief – People can get stuck in grief in trying to get back to ‘normal’ rather than accepting the old normal is gone. In trans-formative grief the focus is on using the loss as a catalyst for positive change and growth. Trans-formative grief recognizes the multiple levels of change that have occurred, and focusses on finding a new ‘normal’ with meaning and fulfillment in the new changed world. It is not time that heals but rather living in an actively healing way. Instead of remaining stuck as a victim of a tragedy or trauma the person makes their own choices and becomes the creator of their new life.

My Dance

I recognised grief after divorce was a transition, but the suffering continued to drain me. Reading about complicated grief sparked changes in my thinking knowing my suffering did connect back to my losses and that there had been complications in my situation of a traumatic nature. This gave me a reason for my continued pain but no solution.

Reading about trans-formative grief provided that solution, of using grief as a way to transform my life. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Forming a deeper connection with my inner soul
  2. Artistic expression of my pain by writing about it
  3. Having a greater compassion for myself and others
  4. Personal empowerment to live my life to my full potential
  5. Reaching out to and helping others less fortunate than myself
  6. Becoming actively involved in a cause I feel passionate about

I am now ready to take first step to mark the beginning of my transformation, of letting go of my old me.

Let me try my Dance of Trans-formative Grief

Dancing The Transformative Grief Of Divorce

Dancing The Transformative Grief Of Divorce


(1)Kubler Ross
Images courtesy [vlado]