Life After Divorce: Are you a difficult woman?

Being labeled a "difficult" woman contributes to the downward spiral of self-doubt that tends to happen to women during divorce.

We get that label not only from our exes, but sometimes from family or even from our best friends.  

We hear that it's the reason husbands cheated or decided to initiate the divorce.  Or the reason why we chose to leave, and wanted and needed something more than what the marriage had turned our life into.

Women hear things like, "You're too outspoken -- if you had just kept your mouth shut more, this never would have happened."  Or, "If you had just never, ever said no to sex . . ." Or, "You expected too much from him.  Men's self-esteem is too fragile.  You can't speak freely."  Or, "You need to be sweet.  You need to know how to butter men up."  And, my personal favorite, "You're too independent."

I want to suggest that by infantalizing men (the woman must always give in, the woman can't hold a man to his word and expect that he will act like an adult, the woman needs to read dozens of self-help books about how to cater to her man . . .) we keep all of these dangerous myths in play.

Why is this dangerous?  Because it casts women in the subservient role, as if this is the way it's supposed to be.  We need to be consistently fluttering around, making sure that everything is okay -- not only for the man in our lives, but for everyone.

When, for example, was the last time you saw a man poring over a self-help book to teach himself how to understand his wife better and cater to her needs?  Such books are hardly ever written because, as any publisher will tell you, men don't read them.  Most men are not worrying about how to please us, how to make us feel confident, how to build us up, and how to be sure not to slip up on catering to our needs -- and I'm not suggesting that they should be.  But, neither should we!

Are you a difficult woman?  I don't believe that the answer lies in relation to a man's opinion, or in relation to male/female relationships at all.  Rather, are you able to sustain good relationships with friends and in the workplace -- in a way that you feel your opinions are valued and needs are met, and the needs of others are respected, too?  That's not "difficult," that's healthy.

Cultural expectations for women's behavior in male/female relationships can't be held as the standard for whether or not you're "difficult."  So much is expected of women that is never expected of men.  Often, merely expressing an opinion is seen as "high-maintenance."

The same thing goes for how you're seen within your family.  Often families are structured to enable the needs of just one family member, sacrificing the rest of the family in order to keep up the charade.  If you're part of such a family, it would be devastating to trust their various biased opinions of you.

So, unless absolutely everyone in your life is telling you that you have serious issues, you're probably just a woman who dares to have a brain and an opinion, and who wants to be fully alive while she's living.

And that's a good thing.

Divorcees: Books *not* to read, and what to do instead

After my divorce, I read and read and read.  I bought self-help books.  I borrowed self-help books from the library.  Friends lent self-help books to me.  

I spent hundreds of hours reading these books, self-diagnosing and trying to discern my numerous faults (because, if I weren't so flawed, I wouldn't have made so many mistakes in my life -- including having married my lying, cheating husband).

Of course, I can't stop you from reading self-help literature as part of your healing journey, but I sincerely do feel that it's a waste of your precious time.

The top three self-help categories that will drain any woman going through divorce

  • Books about the stages of grief that confirm your distressing belief that it will take years to feel better)
  • Books about how to attract and keep a man which carry the message that we have to cater to their needs, never say no to sex, be sure not to overwhelm them with too much conversation . . .
  • Books about narcissism and co-dependency that anger you and frighten you in equal amounts.

If you feel you're becoming more exhausted and confused with every book you read, it's time to stop.

When your mind is constantly cycling, trying to figure out what went wrong and how you can fix it, self-help books seem like the perfect fit.  If you just read enough of them, you'll figure it all out.

It feels as if you're doing something productive.  Especially if you're too exhausted to actually "do" something else.  With a book, you can curl up in bed and just read.  But, after a few months of this (or a few years of this), why isn't it getting better?

So, I'm going to suggest some things you can do instead of reading self-help.  (But, no worries, if you absolutely must read this kind of book, scroll down to the bottom of this post for my top picks.)

What to do instead of reading relationship fix-me (or fix-him) paperbacks

Of course, you could watch an engrossing series on Netflix (and this will give you a break from the pain and anguish), but, how about learning something new that can not only stop the anguish for a while, but replace it with something new and fun in your life? 

What's important when choosing this activity:  Make it something totally unrelated to your divorce.  

Here are some things I did:

Learned to play ukulele.  Ukuleles are comforting to hold -- plus they're fun and easy to play.  There are hundreds of youtube videos that teach you how to play just about any song you love.  When I felt blue, I'd go to sleep and wake up by playing my uke in bed.  It never failed to make me smile and feel better.

Became certified as a yoga instructor, so I had trainings to attend on weekends with people who, like me, loved yoga.

Got outside my comfort zone socially (and I don't mean dating!).  I remember being so shell-shocked that it was actually easier to get out and try new things than it ordinarily would be for me, since I was too numb to know whether I was comfortable or not.  I started attending a singer-songwriter friend's weekly open mike night.  I showed up to a monthly experimental jazz evening with some acquaintances I hardly knew.  I said yes to literally anything to which I was even tangentially invited.  I turned up to business networking events where I knew no one. This was the perfect time to stretch my boundaries, because I was by turns too numb or in too much pain to feel social discomfort.  It was better than staying home with my tortured thoughts.

But, what if you really, really need a book to help you in divorce recovery?

If you're a book person and really need a friend (in the form of a book) as a companion on your divorce journey, there are a few I do recommend:

Eat, Pray, Love  Either you'll love it or you'll hate it.  I loved it.  Here's the story:  Author Liz Gilbert is married to an underachieving Peter Pan, who is pressuring her become a mother in addition to continuing to support him financially.  In the divorce, he refuses to settle until she gives him all of her assets just to get it over with.  Having to start her life over, from scratch, she gets a publisher to fund a year-long odyssey in which she heals by traveling to three distinct places which have always intrigued her.  Even though we may not all be able to engineer this level of divorce healing, it's inspiring to read Gilbert's journey -- and it may give you some ideas of your own.

Ask and It Is Given  The Esther Hicks classic.  I don't know whether Hicks' advice comes from channeled beings or not, but it's simple to understand and easy to put into practice in daily life.  You'll learn the importance of (and exactly how to) feel good, no matter what is going on in your life.  And, in the process, you'll learn exactly what kinds of thoughts have been habitual for you, and you'll have many aha! moments about the path you've been on so far.  The book gives specific advice and "processes" to put yourself on a path that takes you where you want to go.

I Need Your Love -- Is That True?  A simplified version of self-inquiry questions used in cognitive therapy (although author Byron Katie claims to have originated it). Katie leads you through four questions that truly work fast to slow down or stop tormenting thoughts.  If you're looking for a quick fix that has a logical basis rather than positive self-talk/affirmations, this is it.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  Is there anyone who hasn't heard of this book?  One of the things I love about Marie Kondo's decluttering system is that it's based on having only things in your life that "spark joy."  Post-divorce life can be made more difficult when you're still carryiing around all sorts of mementos of your married life, as well as objects that keep reminding you of your ex.  One of the most empowering things you can do is to go on a decluttering rampage, keeping only the items that feel good to you, or have an important practical purpose in your daily life.

My parting thoughts on self-help for women in divorce

Truly, if possible, stay away from self-help books specifically related to divorce, your ex, your ex's problems, and male-female dynamics.  There will be a time for trying to figure out who did what, why he did it, what to look for in a new partner, how to find a new partner, etc, etc, etc.  

That time will be after you prioritize yourself, remember who you are, decide what you want as an individual, and start to feel strong and confident.  After that, when you are feeling terrific about you, there's plenty of time to read a book or two about narcissists, co-dependency, what men want, or whatever will give you a better understanding of what went wrong in your marriage.  You'll be in a better position to be objective and understand his part in what went wrong as well as your own.





Divorce guest blogger: Don't be afraid to let go of old friends as you change

So many major changes have been happening in my life of late and I have grown and changed considerably as I continue to move into my full sparkly self.

As a result I have found recently that a number of people I once considered to be good friends seem to be no longer there. For a while it baffled me that some of them seemed to be getting really angry and upset with me, lashing out and blaming me for the problems in their own lives, playing the victim and telling me what a horrible person I am.

Following a blog post I read, it occurred to me that the reason for this is that I am no longer resonating with them energetically, we simply aren't on the same wavelength anymore.

As I have changed and raised my energetic vibration, I am just out of sync with them now so they are being drawn to others who are still vibrating on the same frequency as they are. That doesn't mean I am any better or worse than they are; it just means we don't resonate anymore.

It is not my job to rescue them or to try and force them to change, as they have their own life lessons to learn and will do so in their own time. It simply means that they will be drawn to different people than me and may continue to play the victim, blaming others for their problems until they realise that everything that happens in their life is their responsibility alone.

I'm just not going to accept their issues and blame anymore.

However there are still lots of wonderful friends who support my growth and continue to resonate so beautifully with me, no matter how much I change and grow as a person and as an energetic soul.  And many wonderful new people are starting to come into my life who resonate with me at a whole new level of understanding and love.

Don't be afraid to let go of old friends as you change, and don't be angry or sad, just send them love and compassion and understand this is you moving on with your life as you grow.

Debbie Holland is a spiritual life coach and writer based on Darwin in the NT. From here she runs her blog, is finishing up her first book and runs a variety of workshops and events including full moon meditations every month. To learn more, visit Debbie on Facebook.

Coping With Divorce: Healing Through Creation

Grab some fingerpaints, and let those feelings out. And bonus: You might get something beautiful to hang on your wall.

Grab some fingerpaints, and let those feelings out. And bonus: You might get something beautiful to hang on your wall.

What is it that scares people about exploring their creativity?  Is it because it feels like a pointless luxury, or that it's somehow against our cultural or religious beliefs?  Or that our drawings or music or voice or dancing was ridiculed back in childhood?

One of the best ways to start the emotional healing process during or after divorce is to find ways to vent and express your emotions through an art or craft.

A few days ago, I asked our 1100+ Facebook community as well as 1000+ Facebook friends to chime in with ways that they used their own creativity to help them get through tough times in life.  

Crickets.  Not one comment (even though I invited women to remain anonymous and message me privately).

What do I make of this?

I'm not surprised.  Creativity is such a scary word to most people.  I know this because the mention of doing something "creative" gets the same sort of response from most of my coaching clients.

What, me creative?  That's crazy!

I think that's one of the reasons Liz Gilbert wrote an entire book about how "real" people can get in touch with their creativity, and why they might want to do this.  She called the book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear, and I bet she chose that subtitle because she understands how much fear is involved in holding creativity at arm's length.  And that most of us have internalized, a deep, unspoken message that it's not okay to express ourselves through the arts and crafts. 

So, if you've never considered yourself an artsy person, why would you want to add some creative self-expression to your life right now?

1.  Because it feels good, and it lets you explore some beautiful parts of yourself that you may never have known were there.  It lets you open a door to playfulness and stop having to be a grownup for a while.

2.  It gives you a way to vent your emotions without making you feel sick to your stomach or ending up starting a fight with someone you care about.

3.  There's always been a form of expression you've wanted to try, or something that you were a little bit good at when you were younger and would like to explore again.

4.  Or, maybe you were shamed last time you tried to express yourself through the arts.  Did you take some criticism for singing off-key, painting the sky the wrong color, making a mess of your piano recital, having two left feet in dance class, forgetting your lines in the school play?  It's time to take your power back!

5.  Have you always been a perfectionist?  Give yourself the excuse to make a mess.  It's liberating.

6.  Creativity isn't just about the traditional "arts."  Creativity includes any activity that is a step beyond the mundane and strictly useful.  That means you can include absolutely anything you already like to do -- and make it your art.  Cooking, gardening, needle arts, home decor, working with shop tools . . . anything that gets one of your senses involved in a playful, "what if" sort of way.

How creativity helps:  Story #1

Once, during a period of heartbreak and betrayal, I began to fear that I wouldn't be able to pull myself back together again.  I decided that I would heal myself through creating an icon watercolor of my ex, in which I could work out my feelings.  Surrounding my neon-toned portrait of him (wearing the tense and dismissive expression with which he eviscerated me), I painted symbols of all of the ways he had hurt me.  I hurled insults at his image as I painted.

Simultaneously, as I worked on the icon of my ex, I also painted an icon of my beloved grandmother.  I painted her sitting behind an enormous aloe vera plant, which looked so powerful and alive that it could vanquish any evil all on its own.  I didn't think too much about why I chose to paint her this way, but I think what I wanted to see and feel was the union of my most beloved and powerful female relative along with the power and beauty of a plant she had given me which lived with me in my home.

And, by the way, I'm not a visual artist, and no one has ever praised me on any visual art I've ever created.  All I needed was a couple of sheets of paper and a little box of watercolors.  No one ever saw these paintings but me.  And, after I completed them, the worst of my emotional suffering was over.  I could see that man for who he was, instead of as the person who had betrayed me, a person I believed was far more powerful and more important than I.

How creativity helps:  Story #2

I've healed myself through dance during all sorts of turbulent life experiences -- including the death of my mother.  And, although I've been a dance studio owner, dance teacher, and choreographer, no one ever encouraged me to pursue dance.  I loved dance more than anything, and so I found a place for myself in it.  No one gave me a big break.  No one held my hand and told me I was terrific.  (So, don't wait for someone to give you permission to do something that every bone in your body aches to do.)

When my mother died, shortly after my divorce was final, I worked through my emotions through dance.  But, not in the way you might expect.  Not by attending dance classes, teaching my students, or from performing my own choreographies, but simply by going out dancing at a club after helping to make funeral arrrangements on the night of her death.

I needed to deal with my sorrow at what she had gone through, the sadness I had always felt was an undercurrent in her life, and my guilty feelings of being finally free from her disappointment in me. 

While dancing, I had a conversation with my mom in my head, saying, "See this is who I really am.  I could never earn anyone's approval, but, this is who I am anyway.  I'm just a person who loves to dance and who wants to be free."  

Dancing through misunderstandings in relationships and dancing through differing points of view has helped me to understand that we are all just hapless individuals, with our own opinions that often can hurt others.  Just because someone is related to me or supposed to be in a romantic relationship with me doesn't mean that she or he will be able to love me in a way that feels good.  People do cause harm to each other and do abandon each other -- all the time.  In fact, it's almost the norm, for a wide variety of reasons.

Exactly why and how did dance help me to understand this?  I haven't a clue.  That's the mystery of the arts and how they create magic in our lives.  "Big Magic," as Liz Gilbert says.

Giving yourself permission to express yourself and create something from your artistic play allows you to become a new and growing person, a person who feels truly alive, day after day.  And it can give you the most powerful emotional healing you'll ever experience.  You can feel the support, from the things and experiences you create, that will give you so much of what you have always wanted (and missed receiving) from other people.

Things to try:

  • If there's already an art or craft that attracts you, and you've explored it in the past, give yourself 30 minutes to say hello to it again and spend a little time on it.  Maybe even let it know that you'd like its help in working through the feelings surrounding your divorce.  After 30 minutes, how do you feel?  If you feel mysteriously better, that's all the permission you need to let creativity back into your life.
  • What if you feel stuck, or have no clue how to allow creativity to become part of your life?  Ask yourself, "Is there any form of creativity that calls out to me at all?"  Think back to childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood before marriage.  If you get even a little glimmer of anything, explore.  Sometimes, the best exploration has nothing to do with finding a teacher or taking a class.  Get a piece of copy paper and draw.  Dance around in your bedroom.  Sing on your way to work.  Make a new recipe that's pleases only you.  Paint a wall a new color. 
  • Do something that's the opposite of your day-to-day personality.  If you're very detail-oriented, try something messy, like fingerpainting.  Does your life tend to be a disorganized clutter?  How about coloring inside the lines with an adult coloring book and gel pens?  Are you a quiet or shy person?  Singing might be a great release for you.  You get the idea.

Give yourself permission to have fun.

My parting thought in all this:  Creativity shouldn't be just another healing modality for your to-do list.  

Instead, I'm suggesting that it's fun and cathartic at the same time.  

How do you know if you've picked the right form of creativity for you?  It makes you feel like you've released a huge weight.  You're able to suspend judgment about whether what you've created is pretty, useful, worthy . . . and the only reason you're participating in this form of creativity is because you love it and it makes you feel good.  And, it somehow lets you release shock, sadness, despair, rage -- whichever feelings you want to release before they completely consume you.

Ultimately, you develop a relationship with your chosen form of creativity, and it becomes a faithful friend.  You can even have conversations with it, and ask for its help in figuring things out in your life.  It will be loyal and helpful to you in ways that people, often, are not, because people are enmeshed in their own busy lives.

Try it, and I would be beyond thrilled if you comment with whatever you experience along the way.


Divorce Recovery Skincare: My 21-Day Experiment Results

As promised, here's the results post about my 21-day, super cheap skincare experiment to transform the double whammy of parched winter skin that's also showing signs of being under extreme emotional stress.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am not a beauty blogger, I'm a divorce recovery coach, so there are no before/after photos below, just a log of how my DIY coconut oil/baking soda/essential oils regime worked for me.

To see the original post, detailing how I came up with the experiment (with the help of 60 women from my Facebook communities), and exactly what I used, click here.

Don't need the blow-by-blow?  Just scroll down to Final Thoughts.

21-day post-divorce skincare diary

Day 2: Alligator skin looking more moisturized.  A small difference, but it's there.  The big revelation was how much smoother my skin looked with makeup -- concealer wasn't settling into wrinkles, BB cream absorbed into my skin quickly without sitting on top of my skin in a greasy, slippery mess.  Vertical lines on upper lip are MUCH less visible.

Day 4: Bright sunlight today as well, so I'm still getting merciless views of my skin in my 10x magnification mirror.  Skin looking plumper overall, and, starting yesterday, I'm rubbing a little extra essential oil cocktail on my 11 lines between the eyebrows.  I'm definitely happy that I no longer look scary to myself, and it's only the morning of Day 4!

Day 5:  Bright sunlight persists, so I'm still getting non-flattering views of my face in the magnifying mirror.  Today:  The biggest news is that my crepey neck is much smoother.  Also, I have a persistent wrinkle along the side of my left cheek, and it's starting to diminish.  Eleven lines between my eyebrows are slightly better.  Who expected results like this in only a few days?  Overall, skin feels and appears thicker and much more hydrated.  Pores are smaller and clearer.  If these were the results after the full 21 days, I'd be pleased, but I'm not even through the first 7 days.

Day 7:  Wow, it's been a full week of bright winter sunlight -- 65 degrees today -- so I'm still getting scary views of my face.  Today:  Smaller and cleaner pores -- this keeps improving -- and plumper skin (it bounces back when I press my cheeks, instead of leaving finger indents where I pressed).  And, my hands and nails -- unexpected big change.  No wrinkles, and shiny, healthier-looking nails with no ridges.  When I wash my face with the coconut oil/baking soda concoction, I also rub some on my hands before removing with the wet washcloth.  Didn't expect to see a dramatic change in my hands, but, there it is.

Day 9: I'm taking a look at my skin in the magnifying mirror only every couple of days from here on out, and seeing a little bit more improvement every time I look.  The skin is just appearing younger and healthier.  I'm now seeing a slight lightening of sunspots -- very slight, but it's there -- perhaps due to the daily exfoliation from the baking soda?

Honey mask:  I was advised to purchase organic, filtered honey.  Have you shopped for honey lately?  Even non chi-chi grocery brand honey is expensive.  I am not someone who prioritizes organic groceries, and I'm not on a mission to spend as much as I possibly can, so I just used a jar of Goya honey that I already had in my pantry.

I left it on for 30 minutes, and rinsed it off in the shower.  Results:  Even cleaner, smaller pores.  That's about it, but I'll take it : ) .

Days 8 through 16:  I stopped scrutinizing my face . . . and fell down on the job a little bit (a lot).  I didn't use any products not on the menu, but, as I had earmarked several days to do nothing but generate content to share with my divorcees, no one was going to see me during those days, so I stopped bothering about using the products in the morning, and only did the regime at night.

So, Day 17:   My message is:  Don't love the results so much that figure you can slack off now.  The results are dramatic only if you keep at it, day and night.  So, if you're someone like me, who works in solitude in your creative cave and has the luxury of video conferencing (in less than high-definition) when with clients, don't skip doing the coconut oil/baking soda cleaning and moisturizing in the morning as well as evening.  My face went almost all the way back to square one.

Day 18:  Back on track, with coconut oil and all of the other ingredients twice a day -- morning and night.  The twice-a-day regime is essential to keep getting the results that I was getting early on in the first ten days, so do stay with it.  Otherwise, your skin will go back to Day 1.

Day 21:  By the final day of the experiment, there was just one thing on the regimen left to try:  The DIY coconut water mask.  (Soak a paper towel in coconut water; apply to face for 5 minutes, and approximate the results of a high-priced Korean or Japanese sheet mask.)

I'm not a big fan of sheet masks, since, at $6 or more each, I feel there should be significant bang for buck, and that's never been the case, no matter how expensive the masks I've tried.  I usually leave them on for a minimum of 20 minutes.  But, I wanted to follow my correspondent's instructions to the letter, and she said, just five minutes.  If I could notice an improvement in just five minutes, I'd be more likely to do this little ritual on a weekly basis, since I'm not much of a fan of lying still with my eyes closed when it's not sleepytime!

So.  I tried it.  Didn't notice much of a difference after five minutes -- maybe a slight tightening effect, but no discernable difference in the way my skin looked pre- and post-mask. (I went to the magnifying mirror after the mask dried, before applying any other products.)  For me, it had kind of the effect of a toner (which I don't tend to use), so I may start using my left-over coconut water (there's lots left over!) as a toner.

Or . . . I have enough left to do at least 30 additional masks, so I'll probably try again and leave it on for 20 minutes.  The sequence I used was dermaroller, coconut oil/baking soda cleanser, then the mask (and don't wash it off).  Then I continued with the essential oils, my Roc retinol product, and finally, the Cetaphil lotion.

Why bother?  Maybe you're thinking:  "I can hardly make myself get out of bed in the morning."

#1  The coconut oil is soothing and feels good.  The essential oils smell great and have aromatherapy benefits as well as helping your skin.  The honey mask feels gooey and nourishing.  It all costs next to nothing.

#2  You'll be looking much better by Day 2 -- and when you see your true self in the mirror, rather than someone who looks like your grandmother, it's a big, emotional lift.

#3  You'll start getting compliments -- and who doesn't feel better when people ask you what you've been doing because you look well-rested, chill, and, well, like your old self . . . only better. 

#4  Because of #2 and #3, you'll feel an uplift in your mood, and be able to look around you and have the first glimmers of what's next, what would be good, what might you be up for?

Divorcees:  Here are my DIY skincare results, and it's really worth a try!

Plumper, more hydrated skin.  Less-prominent 11 lines, upper lip lines, and nose-to-mouth lines.  Much much much smaller and cleaner pores.  Smoother-looking neck.  Even less-crepey eyelids.  Lightening of sun spots.

I haven't used any soap-based product on my face for 21 days, but my skin looks much cleaner than before.

Makeup goes on smoother -- so the results look even more incredible with makeup.  If you've given up on wearing matte lipstick because it makes you look like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, try again.  If you're like me, it will glide right on, and no feathering.

Plus, it's cheap, ladies!  A box of baking soda; tub of coconut oil; and 1 oz. sizes of frankincense, lavender, and lemon oils will last you for-ev-ah.

This is not a miracle, but it's pretty darn incredible, considering that no expensive products were used.  The only actual "products" were my usual Roc retinol day/night, which I buy in bulk whenever Roc is on sale at Costco.  I stopped using Strivectin during this 21-day test, and I can't say that I notice any difference.

Starting tomorrow, I'll feel free to resume using a favorite Fresh Farmacy mask or two from Lush, and figure out how to incorporate Strivectin again -- I'm not quite sure how to do that because I don't want to stop using anything that I've been enjoying for the past 21 days, and I like to keep it simple.  So maybe I'll wait until warm weather to change things up.

Thanks to all my Facebook crew who chimed in with their favorite products to help stressed out, post divorce skin!

If you try my 21-day skincare experiment, will you comment below with your results, or share your own nature-based DIY skincare regimes?  Thank you!