I was sitting on my futon, huddled under the colorful afghan my mother had crocheted years before.
Snow fell outside my window, and I felt a giddy hollowness in my chest as I squirmed deeper into the warmth of my cover.
“He is a piece of shit. He is abusive. DO NOT TEXT HIM.”
The words were written in erasable ink on the white board hung on my wall. I was heart deep in a twisted relationship with a Ghanaian man I had met five months before. I was consumed by him. I had the bruises on my arms to prove it. I let him hurt me. Not intentionally. Just intense grabs, the quick shake here and there. The words. “You’re a dime, Sandeep. You’re a dime. You’re soft, which I like. I like BBWs. But you could use a little toning up.”
I was 155# of solid muscle. I was deadlifting and squatting hundreds of pounds of weights a day. I had nothing left to tone up.
But I let him say these things to me. Because I deserved to be punished. Didn’t I? For the horrible thing I had done?
You see, I was dead center in my own, personal Dark Age. I had left my ex-husband that fall. In February, I stumbled into a man who set my mind and womanhood on fire in ways I never thought were possible.
He was but one of a string of men I allowed into my life over the years following my divorce. Men from all walks of life. Wealthy men, struggling men, accomplished men, evolving men.
A “friend” (I use that word lightly, as it is only now that I am out of that Dark Age that I see she was not a good friend) had advised, “The best way to get over a man is to get under a new one.”
The layers of that advice are fascinating to me. She wasn’t fully wrong, but she also wasn’t right.
You see, dating as a way to get past a breakup or a divorce is a bandaid when used carelessly. Time and time again, I would meet people who felt the need to offer their sage wisdom on the best way to move past my divorce: “Meet someone new!” and “Go have fun!” and “You need some casual D and free meals to feel like a queen.”
The fact is, spending time with all those men distracted me from the real work I had to do on myself. And it was only after I did that work on myself that I was able to approach dating in a way that was productive, constructive, and healthy.
So, how did I (after getting lost in unhealthy relationships) finally survive my divorce?
- Acceptance. Accept that you might have to go through your own personal Dark Age. Everything will hurt, everything will be scary, and sometimes the loneliness will be so intense, you think it might actually end you. My biggest piece of advice is: accept this darkness. It will not go away if you fight it. You must lean into it and allow it to pass. The more you resist, the stronger it will take hold. Breathe into it, and eventually it will dissipate (cliches suck, but they exist for a reason. And time does heal a lot of things).
- Travel. I sought out new cities and new places. I exposed myself to things that had no connection to my ex. I challenged myself by immersing myself in new cultures and by even moving to a different city. This may not be possible for everyone, but even day trips to neighboring towns counts as travel to me.
- Exercise. I took care of my body. I moved it and tended to it with love and care, as if it was a child. Yes, I went through a dark time when I filled it with non-nourishing foods and an exorbitant amount of alcohol. But when that Dark Age passed, I realized that my body was the vessel that held me, my thoughts, my essence. And it should be treated with as much care as I would treat the children I do not yet have.
- Positive friendships. Be mindful with whom you spend your time. I sought the company of people who genuinely wanted the best for me. Who were kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and nurturing. Who were gentle but firm when they encouraged me to be better. I began cutting people out of my life who planted seeds of self-doubt or messages that did not represent a lifestyle I wanted to embody.
- Home. I came back to my home. I left the city to which I fled after my divorce, and I came back to my hometown. This will not work for everyone. But I needed familiarity even as I sought newness. Even though I came back home, I knew that having a change of scenery, finding a new job, and making new friends after such a big life event was a great way to reset my life and show myself what a world of infinite possibility was awaiting me.
- Hobbies. I took a comedy class for the first time in my life, and I loved it. I met a new friend and had an experience I will remember for the rest of my life: performing on a stand up routine on stage, in front of a room of strangers who were all there to listen to me crack dumb jokes. I began writing on Medium, which has also changed my life for the better. Getting notes and messages from readers who appreciate and even disagree with my work has been such an experience in self evolution and analysis. And I could wax poetic on the hiking habit I developed, but we’d be here all day if I did that.
- Date. Once you are no longer trying to fill a void and are genuinely ready to consider partnership again, date good people. Not rich people or beautiful people or successful people. Good people. People who will challenge your worldview, who will intrigue you and introduce you to new things. Who will listen to you and go out of their way to learn you, all of you and your passions and your dreams. Just remember: you will not find happiness in another person. So don’t waste your time chasing someone just to avoid being alone.
- Career. I realized once I moved back to California that I was ready to shake things up in my career. I applied to business school and am on a completely new path. It’s been challenging but also refreshing. It’s shown me how much I’ve grown and healed since my divorce, and it’s given me a chance to find my footing again. So, think about what you can do in your own career to advance yourself. And maybe, like me, you’ll even realize you’re ready for a change.
- Vision Boards. This one is cheesy. But after I left my ex husband and survived the Dark Ages, I needed some guidance. So I sat down and wrote out what I wanted my life to look like in 10 years. And I began printing out images that aligned with my vision. I look at my board every day, and it’s insane how helpful it’s been in helping me manifest the things I want for myself.
- Patience. Some people can heal quickly, and they are lucky individuals. I have to be very patient with myself. I still have my days where I hurt. Where I miss my ex. Where I wonder what my life would have been like. But those days are becoming more infrequent. And when they do happen, I’m patient with myself. I allow myself to feel, I explore why I’m feeling those things, and I give myself the proper self care I need.
There’s no right way to heal and move on from something as devastating as a divorce. But I promise you that time softens the edges of the most painful wounds, whether you want it to or not. Just be kind to yourself and remember you are your greatest champion.