GUEST BLOG: Using Everyday Ritual to Get Through the Dark Days
When my ex and I first separated, everything about life was surreal and painful. Just getting up to move through the day hurt. Every moment, every decision… it was all excruciating. I felt like I was floating through a bad acid trip. All I wanted to do was bury my head beneath the sheets and stay there for a long, LONG time. Maybe I could have done this if I were young and solo. Maybe if I didn’t have a dog– and, oh yeah, A KID! But the fact was, I had these things, plus a mortgage and a job and a million other details of life that had to be kept afloat. Like a lot of grown-ups with trauma, I didn’t have the luxury of time, space, and money to really wallow in my grief.
The single, most-helpful tip I got from friends and therapy during these early days of divorce was to find a few simple, concrete rituals and cling to them as life shifted around me. Little things that I could turn to daily, or even hourly, or however I saw fit. It didn’t matter what they were, the one rule was that they had to be easy enough to incorporate into my everyday world. To keep me grounded and moving forward. And so, I did. And you know what? It worked! As a coach, using simple ritual is now something I actively promote to all my clients who are going through divorce or experiencing trauma around co-parenting or other relationship issues.
No matter what the ritual is, doing it repeatedly becomes something you can rely on when it feels like the world is out of control. Even something as simple as closing your eyes and taking three deep breathes can lift your spirits or just get you from one minute to the next to help shift the energy in your space. So, without further ado, I would like to share some of the little things that helped get me through the initial crisis period of divorce. This is by no means a complete list of potential rituals, and it is not everything I did to help deal with my grief and trauma. But these simple tools helped me tremendously and maybe one– or all– are rituals that can help you, too!
Make A List
One of the easiest, little ritualistic tools a divorced friend taught me to use when I was feeling stressed or anxious was to look around and speak the names of the things that I saw in front of me. Literally– chair, glass, car, dog hair, whatever. Just list them aloud or in my head. I did this A LOT when I found myself sinking into panic or unable to breathe throughout the day. It was simple and quickly brought me back to the present when I needed a reset. Not only did it ground me out and return me to my body, but it also made me giggle. Let me tell you, laughter was badly needed!
Trick Yourself into Feeling “Pretty”
If you know me, you know I am not really a make-up wearer in general. But I started wearing mascara and clear lip gloss every day for the first few months after my separation. It sounds silly, I know. Getting dolled up in whatever form that looks like to you isn’t really advice I would normally give. But for me, because it was sort of special-event level and different than my norm, taking three minutes every morning to “do my face” gave me a little extra boost of confidence throughout the day. It didn’t matter if I wore sweats and never left the house. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror throughout the day I felt more put-together, beautiful, and self-assured, even if my interior was Jell-O. When I ran into a store for something or passed neighbors on the street as we walked the dog each day, I felt more confident and radiant. That made it easier to smile and easier to accept smiles in return. And whether my neighbors knew it or not, I really, really needed all those encouraging smiles!
Find a Mantra and Repeat It
My first mantra during divorce was: “You can do this. You ARE doing this! Look at you go, mama!” So ridiculous. Yet, I repeated it to myself throughout the day for quite a while. Sometimes, I said it into the mirror. Sometimes, I muttered it under my breath while driving. Occasionally, I screamed it aloud when I was alone. After some time, the mantra shifted. It became things like “You are amazing,” or “I love you,” or other simple phrases that I needed at the time. Whatever it was, the repeated mantra worked to both ground me and pep me up with a little self-love.
I know, I know. Meditation is hard. And it doesn’t always feel like you have the time. And maybe you aren’t terribly spiritual. All of that is true. Yet, meditation is wonderful for creating a shift in your mindset, or just helping you start the day on the right foot, no matter who you are or what you believe in. I had a lot of trouble sleeping when I first became single (sometimes I still do!). I woke up early in the morning and didn’t know what to do with myself. I found it incredibly helpful to start my day with guided meditation. I liked the idea of guided meditation because I was too fried to guide myself. I wasn’t looking for a deep practice. I just needed help and I wanted someone else to lead me. I was very gentle with myself when I began meditating. Sometimes, I fell asleep during the meditation. Sometimes, my mind drifted away. It really didn’t matter. Just closing my eyes and listening to the calm, soothing guide talk me through the story was incredibly beneficial for my nerves.
There are a LOT of guided meditations available online and through phone apps, many of them geared towards divorce, trauma, self-love, you name it. My favorite app to use is Insight Timer. At the basic level, it is free, simple to follow, and has tons of different guided meditations to choose from. Feel free to use what works for you. Just do it! You will be glad you did.
Writing has always been a love of mine, so it was natural to let my emotions out this way. Just like meditation, journaling became a daily ritual. I spent about fifteen minutes before bed just spewing on paper. Journaling is effective at night (I think) because it helps clear the gobblydegook from the day and lets you sleep with a clearer mind. Whatever I was feeling, whatever I was worrying about, whatever happened in the day, no matter how silly, it all went down on paper. Just letting the mental garbage out and then shutting the pages so the words and thoughts were trapped there instead of in my mind helped me drift off to a more peaceful slumber.
For me, nightly journaling led to writing some meaningful content. I wound up sifting through a lot of my feelings to write a children’s book for kids of divorce. I needed resources to help my son feel comfortable with dad having a new girlfriend, and to help me come to grips with the situation myself, and writing the book was a natural extension of my journaling ritual. (You can find my book A New Special Friend here: https://amzn.to/3s6FdNM)
Regardless of my personal experience, journaling doesn’t have to be a formal activity, and you don’t have to be a good writer to do it. Write on a computer, dictate into your phone, get a beautiful paper journal and pen, doodle your feelings, however it works for you- if it works for you- just spew. The key part of journaling as a ritual is to not censor yourself and never to go back and edit it. Let it out and let it be. Maybe you want to save your journals and look back on them later to see how you have changed. Maybe you want to burn the pages in a releasing ritual at some point. Maybe you shove them in a closet where they collect dust forever, or you toss them in the garbage can. Whatever works. There are no hard and fast rules for journaling, it’s not a job or a contest.
So, what do you like to do? Maybe taking a bubble bath every night or receiving daily inspirational quotes via text is your helpful ritual. Perhaps finger-painting or reading dirty limericks makes you feel a little bit joyful. Grief and trauma have no real timeline, but the initial stages and dark days WILL pass. I promise! So, give yourself permission to take on any rituals– no matter how useless, unproductive, or silly they may seem- that help you get through the time with a little more grace and ease.
Tamar Burris is a life coach specializing in divorce and co-parenting. Her motto as a co-parenting coach is Co-Parent Without Shame, Blame, or Games. Her goal is to help people sift through their own emotions to find balance, joy, and prosperity in the process of divorce and co-parenting relationships. If you or someone you know needs help introducing a new romantic partner to children of divorce, check out her book A New Special Friend available on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3s6FdNM) or by request at your local bookstore! For additional help and resources, Tamar can be reached via her website www.tamarburris.com or on Instagram at @tamarburris