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Life After Divorce: The Power of Acceptance

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In “Divorce Recovery,” as well as any other major loss in life, acceptance is the most important and most difficult step we must take towards releasing the past and beginning a new chapter of life. By acceptance I mean the acceptance of your reality, as it exists for you right now: what is and not what we think should or could be. Acceptance means being conscious and accepting of your reality with no illusions or personal interpretations or filters. It also involves giving up blame, resentment, and regret. The ability to let go of those negative emotions is true acceptance, which ultimately gives you the freedom to move forward.

Recently, the profundity of acceptance was reinforced by the example of two amazing women. One is a dear cousin of mine who has been extremely ill over the last two years and the other concerns an Iraqi veteran. Both of these women have made me see that acceptance comes in many forms, some much more challenging than I could have ever imagined. They have proven to me that acceptance can be achieved and with it, remarkable possibilities for life.

My cousin recently sent me an email alerting me to another family member’s new business. I wrote back to ask how she was doing as she has been fighting cancer for the some time now. She has been near death innumerable times and has undergone the most aggressive forms of treatment available, including a bone marrow transplant.

As a side note, this is a woman who was divorced when her two girl were very young, one only six months old. She had to go to work and raise her daughters totally on her own plus she had a brush with cancer once before in her life.

For those of you having trouble accepting your reality, I want to share Cookie’s update to me:

“Hi Shelley,
How are you doing? How are the kids?

I am recovering … still. Unfortunately, I have Graft vs Host disease. The disease basically means that the transplant is not working right now. The host (me) and the donor (graft) immune systems are battling and hopefully my donor’s immune system will win. I am also suffering from severe osteoporosis. I have been left with a deformed spine, seven fractured vertebrae, which have led to quite a bit of nausea. Because my torso is now deformed to accommodate my new structure, I have trouble processing and digesting food. Let’s see, I have lost a lot of my sense and smell, I have an inoperable hernia. It is inoperable because there is a high risk for infection, so no surgery is allowed. I wear a spine brace and I am in a lot of pain. My physical demeanor is that of an elderly person. (Note: she is only in her early fifties.)

BUT on the flip side I am above ground and I do appreciate life. I have a big support system. I have good medical care and my friends and family are the best. I just want to get on with my life and stop being a patient.

My girls have been awesome through my whole ordeal; their compassionate character makes me proud. My best friend and caregiver is without a doubt, an angel sent from heaven. We live together and he is my shadow. He has been caring for me physically and emotionally and I am very grateful. Of course, without my mother’s help, I wouldn’t be here. So, there are many things to be grateful for, it is just hard to be me right now.”

It is simply mind-boggling to me that she can be talking about gratitude given her life situation! She could easily be stuck in anger, depression, or victim hood and we would not begrudge her at all. Instead she has accepted that this is her life now and there is no going back. Her life has taken a terrible turn by any accounting. Of course, she has depression … who wouldn’t given the circumstances? Remarkably, I hear someone who has acknowledged her reality yet wants to live the rest of her days with love, compassion and gratitude for what she does have … even if it is only, in her own words, “(being) above the ground.”

Next up, Melissa Stockwell. I saw an interview on television with this Iraqi vet who lost a leg in the war when a bomb hit her convoy. She has gone on to compete in the Para Olympics in Beijing in swimming. Despite the challenges of adjusting to life with one leg, she has taken on one physical challenge after another, proving again and again that she can still be a formidable athlete.
And she does not waste time with regrets or dwelling on the past. She was very clear in the interview I witnessed that there was no way she would waste a moment in blame or resentment or a yearning for what was. She let it go. She had a life to live.

“When I signed up, I knew I was taking a chance,” she said. “I’m proud of how I lost my leg. I was proud to wear the uniform. I still am. I’ve done more with one leg than I ever did with two,” she said. “I have bigger dreams than I ever would have had with two legs. I don’t know if things are meant to happen, but I’m very happy.”

I am struck by Melissa’s comment concerning how much more she has gone on to accomplish with only one leg. Instead of viewing her situation as an end, she saw it as a beginning. The loss of her leg became an opportunity for Melissa to excel in a new landscape and with each triumph; she went on to do more. Melissa goes on to say:

“I’d love to have my leg back,” says Stockwell, who also learned how to fit other amputees with prosthetics. “But the things I have been able to do have been valuable to me. I live a great life; I have no regrets and don’t want to go back to what was before.”

Life is always changing and for the most part, we don’t have control over the external events that we are handed. Life does not ask our permission. That’s life. Stuff happens. What we can control is how we choose to see things as well as how we handle what life throws our way. Given the past is gone forever, we are left with the present. What do we do now?

Choice is the most powerful gift we humans possess. It allows us to consciously decide for ourselves how we will live. We make choices everyday and every choice we make has repercussions. If we can learn to accept what is, we can move forward to make the changes that are needed to flourish in this new environment.
So, you are divorced. Do you choose to remain bitter and resentful and pay the price of that decision? I assure you, the costs will be high, and it will be you and not your ex who will have to ante up. Keep in mind, no one twisted your arm and demanded that you waste your time in negative emotions. This was a choice you and you alone made. How is that choice affecting the quality of your life?

Yes, it is easier said than done but nothing worthwhile in this life is accomplished without effort. Your parents told you that and like much of what our parent told us, it turns out to be true! Change is a matter of conscious choice, desire, effort, and a commitment to oneself. As I always say to my clients: you have one precious life to live and you get to decide how you will live it.

Once you have fully accepted your new reality, without harboring feelings of blame, resentment, and regret, you are granted the freedom to create a life based on your passions and values. It is never too late to do anything. I read recently about a ninety-year-old man participating in a triathlon! You can choose acceptance, gratitude, opportunity, and possibility as your mantra. Trust me, it feels much better than it’s opposite!

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