“Those held in highest esteem… are neither the great artists nor the great scientists, neither the great statesmen nor the great sports figures, but those who master a hard lot with their heads held high”. Viktor Frankl
In his classic book ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ about hope from the Holocaust , Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, describes three phases for those who survived the concentration camps. The first period was the shock of losses and admission to the camps. The second period was the daily life in the concentration camp. The third period was after liberation. Frankl goes on to describe that, rather than love or achievement, people’s main drive in life is having meaning and that he believed those who survived the ‘second phase’ were those who could find meaning in their bleak situation. His own vision and meaning was that he pictured himself after the war helping people find meaning in their lives.
Whilst a divorce is nowhere near the horror of the holocaust, I have found the concept of there being a middle ‘nowhere’ phase as liberating. I have found much divorce advice focuses on getting ‘over’ the loss (phase one – shock) or making changes to your life (phase three – liberation) and there is little help at accepting life in a transition situation; or of making a good life for yourself out of a traumatic situation even while you are still living within that situation. Involved in a lengthy property settlement as I am, it is not only that my life is caught between past and future, I am confronted by the ongoing turmoil of the process itself with little triggers on a nearly daily basis that keep throwing me back into a constant state of trauma and sometimes confrontation.
Focusing on the trauma, unfairness or injustice of the past or the trauma-triggers in my current daily life plunges me into darkness or anxiety. Likewise wishing for my future to come with an ‘I wish this process was over’ attitude sets me up for suffering.
What has helped me most to alleviate my suffering through this process has been instead to focus on:
(1) Creating a vision for my future with a purpose that can give me meaning for my life today. My vision of ‘finding my voice and promote human welfare’ whilst a vision for my future, gives meaning to my current situation. In my future role I will be more able to empathise with others because of where I am today and I see myself in a role alleviating suffering.
(2) Re-framing my transition as steps towards my future; has helped give me meaning to the thankless administrative processes I previously viewed as ‘mud-trudging’.
(3) Understanding and acknowledging my self-worth and significance; has enabled me to appreciate the good in what I am doing right here and now.
Other techniques that have helped in the more traumatic periods of discomfort have been building foundations of comfort and stability to create certainty in my world of uncertainty, breaking down my list of overwhelming tasks into manageable steps, enlisting help when needed, and making difficult decisions based on core values.
In summary, what has helped me through on a daily basis is acknowledging I cannot force things to happen faster. I cannot bypass the pain of the process. I cannot fast forward to my future. But I can learn to find a place of quiet, not allow myself to get dragged down by the negatives of the situation, and be content with where I am and who I am right here in this present moment. At the same time, I can still hold on to my dreams.
While I am not quite at the crossroads to my new life, I am finding ways of making joy in my present situation, appreciating who I am and what I am capable of, while still working behind the scenes at my dreams for my future, where I want to be for my long-term happiness, and continually striving for a better tomorrow.