How to Heal After Divorce, No Passport Required

If you’re looking for a summer read, one of the best post-divorce books is Eat. Pray. Love. a work of non-fiction by Elizabeth Gilbert. The story is based on her personal experiences and how she recovered from a painful divorce, embarked on a spiritual journey, and reclaimed her life. (Spoiler alert: Gilbert finds happiness.) Along the way she also discovers a lot about herself and what it means to open up to the possibilities of life after going through a painful split.

Most of us can’t jet away for a year-long spiritual sabbatical, but if you’re divorced or divorcing, you can use Gilbert’s approach to help get through the difficult times — without crossing a time zone.

Eat: On the first leg of her post-divorce sojourn, Gilbert travels to Italy to replenish her body and heal physically. If you’re going to eat, there is no better place! But what she discovers is the pleasure of being present in the moment — neither lingering in regrets about yesterday, nor wistfully longing for what may come tomorrow. Although she makes friends wherever she goes, Gilbert learns to eat a meal alone without feeling sorry for herself.

Your turn to eat: Often when we’re under duress, our healthy eating habits go out the window. Either we are too stressed and nervous to eat. Or we compulsively down a bag of Cheetos or Chips Ahoys without a second thought. Take a tip from Gilbert and become mindful of your meals. If you’re suddenly cooking for one, set aside time to peruse Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or the local Asian or Mexican markets around town. Try new recipes. Experiment with exotic and seasonal veggies. Prepare simple, healthy, and beautiful dishes just for you.

Pray: Gilbert identifies herself as spiritual not religious. Yet, at a major turning point in her life, she finds herself huddled on the tile of her bathroom floor praying to God for guidance. This initial encounter with a power greater than herself leads her to the second stop on her worldwide tour: India. It’s there Gilbert learns to meditate, and through meditation, she gains new perspective on her life.

Your turn to pray: Meditation is a proven means of calming the mind, abating adverse emotions, and achieving greater focus. It can be a spiritual experience, but meditation is also used by therapists and clinicians to help individuals manage emotional distress and physical pain. You do not have to travel to an ashram or meditation center to learn this practice. In fact, there are scores of free resources online as well as apps you can download onto your mobile device. (Check out How to or the free Insight Timer app.) If you live in Central Alabama there are also many local centers to help get you started, including the Birmingham Shambala Center and Losel Maitri Tibetan Buddhist Center. Your church or synagogue may also offer meditation instruction. Or if you’re looking for a more in-depth approach, visit the Magnolia Grove Meditation Practice Center in Batesville, MS, or Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Cullman, AL.

Love: Yes, Gilbert ends up finding the romance in Bali, the final stop on her post-divorce tour.  After taking a year off from romantic relationships, she’s ready. When Gilbert finally becomes involved in a relationship, she discovers that love is about trust —both in herself and her partner. She also learns love is about being vulnerable and holding that space for your partner to be vulnerable, too. And she learns that love is about embracing the reality of yourself and your loved one.

Your turn to love: Bali is decidedly a wonderful, romantic locale to find love. But—thankfully—a tropical backdrop is not required. What is recommended is taking time to explore your own needs, wants, hopes and dreams. Many therapists recommend taking a yearlong dating hiatus, but there is no set rule of thumb. The main consideration is that you work through issues such as grief, resentment, and guilt before jumping into your next long-term commitment. Not sure if you’re ready? Gilbert doesn’t make her leap into new love without consulting her guru and neither should you. Working with a therapist or spiritual advisor (or yes, a guru) can help you recognize when it’s time for a healthy romance.