11/05/2012 12:10 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

Scared Of Divorce? Keep Your Sense Of Humor (And Sanity) As You Move Forward

Divorce is not a joke. Rarely is it funny. Except for a refrigerator magnet that my friend gave me that said:

There are two sides to every divorce. Yours and shithead's.

I've been single for over ten years and that makes me laugh as much now as it did back then. That's a good thing because divorce can wipe away a smile and sense of humor -- at least temporarily. And like with many things, sometimes you don't even realize it's missing until you find it.

During one of my first dates after divorce, I was sitting on a floor pillow at a Thai restaurant. I may have been drinking my drink or eating a spring roll, I don't recall many details. I do know that we were in the midst of an interesting conversation and then my date laughed. Really laughed. That's when the little voice inside my head told me something important. He wasn't laughing at me. He was laughing because I'd said something funny.

And then I remembered: I was funny! I had forgotten. Yes, I'd forgotten I was funny. Isn't that sad? And right there and then I was me again -- someone I refuse to let go of, or ever forget about, again.

And it made me realize that even in the darkest days of divorce, allowing myself to keep it light -- to make it light -- would remind me that just because times were bad, they wouldn't always be bad. Of course there were days when keeping my head under a blanket all day seemed like a good idea, but that's not usually feasible with kids and dogs and jobs. While it's imperative to be realistic amidst life changes -- and those realities often included financial disasters (not unusual for women), revolving friendships (people don't always know what to do with ½ of a couple), reinterpreting perceptions of self (not a wife anymore) and just the whole failed-at-marriage thing -- it was also crucial to set it all aside. Sometimes.

No, it wasn't easy; some days it was impossible. But when it was possible, I found that, like it or not, every problem was right where I left it, even if I gave myself a break.

What worked, and continues to work for me in my effort to make life as a single-working-mom of (almost) two kids in college a little less scary are the following reminders and steps. They help me feel less overwhelmed. (Note: less overwhelmed. Not, not overwhelmed.)

  • I give myself a few hours off to do something I like. Sometimes even if I feel like I shouldn't or I don't deserve the break. It doesn't have to cost money. A guilty pleasure TV show, an online game of Scrabble, a favorite snack -- no, not a ten-hour "Real Housewives" marathon and a gallon ice-cream, although there are times that works too.
  • I've learned that being happy is not the enemy. Laughter heals, it doesn't hurt. It wasn't disrespectful or inappropriate to divert my thoughts to something besides the angst, sadness, disappointment and loss. It'll all be there later. (Lucky me!)
  • If I was heading toward a deadline, a court date, or just an anticipated run-in, I planned how I'd handle it (a little obsessively planning goes a long way) and then rewarded myself afterward. (See first bullet point, maybe add a little chocolate for good measure.)
  • I stopped listening to the clichés. Time heals. It's for the best. When one door closes another one opens. Blah, blah, blah. I invented a saying that worked for me! That I was living my life backwards but getting it all in. I'd been with my ex since college, and when I became single twenty years later at 38, I spent my first weekend alone (he had the kids) and I started dating. It didn't hurt that he was passing a kidney stone that weekend to add to my awareness of the need for humor, and divine justice.
  • I learned it was, indeed, all about me and that I had to take care of myself. People react differently to divorce news and new situations and continue to react differently as I live my life as a single mom. Not my problem. I put myself (including: kids, work, home) first. I did not and do not handhold anyone else. Just like me, they are on their own.

The key for me is remembering that a little bit of laughter relieves a lot of stress -- and that living well is truly, the best revenge.