Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Divorce etc… podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
T.H.: Welcome Rachel Sussman to today’s podcast. She is a nationally recognized relationship expert, a therapist based in New York helping individuals and couples through private practice therapy, and the well-known author of The Breakup Bible. Welcome to our show today.
Rachel: Thank you so much. Hi, Jessica. Hi, T.H.
Jessica: Hi. Thanks so much for coming on.
T.H.: When Rachel and I first started speaking, we were talking about divorce recovery. How do you recover from divorce? It’s such a process, and you go through the divorce and then the recovery could be years. It’s not an overnight fix. Today, we really wanted to focus on the process that women go through because it is different than the process men go through, speaking in general terms, so we really wanted to hone in on that. Jessica and I are definitely in recovery.
Jessica: Probably forever.
T.H.: We’re happily recovered, but let’s get into it. When people first come to you, where do you even begin?
Rachel: When people first come speaking of recovery, they’re very despondent. Even if you’re the one who’s making the decision or have made the decision to leave a partner, you’re just filled with so many different emotions. Before we get into it, I’d really love to say to anyone, it is a journey. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.
I really think that a divorce or breakup, and the recovery, when you start off, it feels like it’s the worst thing in your life, but through the recovery, you can see that it’s the best thing in your life.
Jessica: That’s exactly the thing that T.H. and I are always talking about. It’s so rough, regardless of when you start. It’s a long road to such a happier existence. It’s just sometimes hard to see that through the clouds.
Rachel: You have to have hope, and that’s why I’m always telling success stories. I’ve interviewed and met so many people who have success stories. Case in point, I officiated a wedding a few weeks ago, of a former client of mine who came to me when her marriage was ending, and she was so despondent. Fast forward six years later, and she’s now married to the love of her life. He’s the type of guy she always should have been with, and it’s such a storybook happy ending.
T.H.: I love that. I was going to say, when we were talking about it, when you were saying it’s a marathon, you just need that first small victory. It could be the tiniest thing in the world. Then it’s like an addiction, and you can do this. But there’s so much muck, I know I can only speak for myself, there was a lot of muck. I can point fingers all I want, but I never want to be in a relationship like I was in, in my marriage ever again. I don’t remember honestly, what that one victory was, but I know that it was a stepping stone to a lot more that started to build momentum, and then I was excited. You just need that first feel-good second.
Jessica: You also need to know that there are people that have been through it. I remember when T.H. and I were first going through it, neither of us obviously were finished, but I had a very close friend that had gotten divorced several years earlier. I just felt like if she can do it, I can do it. If she could have gotten through it, then I know that I can get through it. There’s so much comfort I think in knowing so many people have been down that road before, regardless of the circumstances, and we’ve all made it to the other side, and you will too kind of a mindset.
Rachel: Absolutely. That’s the purpose of looking at the recovery as a long trajectory. Initially, in the early stages, you want to build a support group. That’s one of the most important things because you get that validation. What you’re talking about when you know that friend who’s been through it and who’s recovered, you see before your eyes that someone else has been in your shoes and has come out of it the other end.
But when you’re in the muck, as you said T.H., it can feel like this is what it’s going to be for the rest of your life. That’s why it’s so important to give people hope, and let them see. You might not see this right now or feel this right now, but if you can just hold on to that hope and look down that street, that’s going to be you one day and you’re going to get through this. Talk about small things to make you feel better. It’s not a big thing, it’s a small thing. If you’ve been left and you’re very heartbroken, a small victory can be half a day where you didn’t think about your ex. A small victory can be going out with a girlfriend and coming home and saying, ‘I had the best time and I didn’t think about him all night.’
T.H.: Totally. And like the first time you had a belly laugh.
T.H.: It ended like, ‘I haven’t laughed this hard in I don’t know how long.’
Rachel: Or the first time you slept through the night, or the first time you told someone that you were getting divorced because there’s still so much shame around breakups and divorce.
Jessica: We talk about that all the time. With all of these things marinating around it, what do you find are the initial steps of the process with women that would really help anybody listening, where do I even start? I’m so overwhelmed. I’m feeling this or this and through the stages of grief.
Rachel: Well, I talk about the first stage of being all about self-care. It’s really about taking care of yourself, making sure you don’t allow your mental and physical health to get out of balance, pushing yourself to get up, to go to the gym, to get a good night’s sleep, to force yourself to eat something if you don’t have an appetite, or to force yourself to not eat something unhealthy if you’re bingeing. Self-care is really, really important. Little things like even redecorating your bedroom, since you shared a bedroom with someone, can be very triggering or organizing your apartment in a whole different way, creating a support system, and finding like-minded people to speak to.
Jessica: The first thing T.H. and I did, I don’t know if it was one of the first things, but I remember we went shopping together not long after we were getting separated. I remember buying all new lingerie and all-new sleepwear, and just a fresh start and just needing that kind of thing for myself. The things that you’re talking about, I think are so important. A lot of people will look at them and think that they’re superficial, or I don’t really have the money to be spending with my budget right now. But the truth is, those are the things for yourself and in your environment that are going to have the biggest impact on you psychologically and emotionally and how you’re able to put yourself out there.
Rachel: Absolutely, Jessica. There are things that you can do that don’t cost a lot of money, even just buying a fresh set of sheets. You don’t have to redecorate your bedroom; you can reorganize your bedroom. You can paint it yourself. If you had a carpet, you can rip it up and have the floor underneath or get rid of a rug. There are just a lot of little things you can do. Equally as important, is going through the emotions that are coming. You can either do that with a therapist or with a really good self-help book, like the book I wrote on recovering from a breakup or divorce. But you must go through what I call the emotional roller coaster, which is trying to understand all these complicated emotions that are coming up. Of course, there’s sadness, and sometimes sadness can turn into depression. There’s anxiety, the normal anxiety and fears that we’re having, and we want to just talk those through and validate them. Then there’s some more complicated emotions like guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Then there’s anger, which can be rageful. We have to find someone or again, a friend, or do it yourself to go through all of these emotions because people tell me they feel crazy. It’s not crazy. You’re just having this rollercoaster where you’re happy one minute and depressed the next minute, and laughing one minute and shrieking the next minute. You just have to adjust to that new normal knowing that eventually it will even out.
Jessica: Do you feel the things that you just mentioned are similar to the stages of grief where you know that’s the order in which someone is going to go through those things?
Rachel: Well, there’s not necessarily an order because for some people, they start off with anger, and for other people, anger is really at the end. I do encourage people to get in touch with their anger. Speaking of divorces and women, anger is a very complicated emotion for women. There are a lot of messages in our society that we’re not supposed to be angry, and yet anger can be very healing. It can be very motivating. It’s propelled a lot of women I know off the couch and out into the world. Anger can actually be very helpful. There are other emotions that are a bit less helpful like shame and guilt. I really think it’s important to work through some of those. Anger can actually help you with that as well.
T.H.: I have to say that I didn’t really feel anger. I mean, I was very relieved. I couldn’t have been happier. Divorce sucks though, so the process is what brought on a lot of stuff, but I feel the anger really came with triggers. I wasn’t angry all the time until he did that, or until this happened. I would never have predicted it because you’re just going through the divorce, and you don’t know this is going to happen this night with the kids. It’s really pretty unpredictable. Talk a little bit about how triggers work with women and their emotions because I just feel like, for me, it’s almost autopilot. It really did take a very long time. By the way, going through the rollercoaster also really sucks. I would rather run 10 miles than talk about it. I remember that I actually injured myself jump roping too much at the gym to get my emotions pushed to the side, and my trainer made me leave the gym. Then I went to my therapist, I’m like, ‘I hurt my foot, I can’t go to the gym.’ She goes, ‘Great. So can we start really talking about what’s going on here?’ You can try all you want to push it away, but it will still come to you in your sleep, and it’ll come to you through a trigger, so how do you deal with that?
Rachel: Thank you for sharing that, T.H. It’s a very true real story, and I see much of that. Every now and then, women will come to see me and they’ll say, ‘I don’t really want to be here, but my sister’s paying for this and told me that I needed to go speak to someone.’ It is worth it to try to pause.
I always say stop, drop and roll. Running will only get you so far. If you run too fast and too far you are going to injure yourself, literally and metaphorically. For you, you literally injured yourself. There is a great benefit to sitting and talking through everything. Through sitting and talking through everything, you start the phase of understanding why you chose this person, why your relationship worked the way it did, why you behaved the way you did, why he behaved the way he did, and I call that firing a cohesive narrative. In order to come out the other side, and to look for a healthy relationship at the end of all of this, you need to understand what worked, what didn’t work, and why. Even though you might not understand this all at first, because you’re running from it, if you slow down and talk it through, or just listen to yourself, all sorts of interesting things come to you. For instance, T.H., I might have given you the advice to get out of the gym and go for a walk every day.
T.H.: I think I get that too. I will be like Forrest Gump if I can. Anything than to go back to that house and deal with whatever is waiting for me there, I will do.
Rachel: Well, because walking will allow you to take some time, and take some space, and slow down and listen to what’s going on in your head, and listen to what’s going on in your body. I understand not wanting to cope with this, of course, I do. I understand not wanting to deal with this. But again, what I say to everyone, is it will get you in the end. The sooner in the process, you roll up your sleeves and you say, ‘I want information. I want to understand what went on here and what my part in it is’ that is really the day you jump 20 steps ahead towards recovery and towards the finish line of the marathon.
Jessica: That’s so great. Your book, The Breakup Bible, everyone listening, definitely check it out, because it’s going to have all of this great information in it. Rachel, where can people find you and reach out to you? What are the best ways?
T.H.: We’ll have all your contact information up. Rachel really has great resources on her website as well. She’s available through Zoom too, so after you read the book–
Jessica: If this is where you are with recovering through your own circumstances, this is the kind of help that you need.
T.H.: I do want to say one last thing. Probably the best money I spent after my divorce as a gift for myself was really with a therapist. I was very fortunate that the two that I’ve used since then, I really resonated with. Give yourself a chance. You may not resonate with that person right away, so then maybe don’t even waste your time if you don’t feel safe there. But a therapist like Rachel, it’s someone who doesn’t have any connection to your life and can give you what you need. As long as you feel like you’re getting the emotions and the support you need, it really is a wonderful gift for yourself to help you grow faster and in a better direction.
Jessica: 100%. Thank you Rachel so much for being with us today. We really appreciate it.
Rachel: Thank you so much. It’s great to meet you both.
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