One of the hardest parts about divorce is picking up the pieces after it's all over. Even the friendliest divorce (like mine) leaves you with all sorts of lingering issues related to relationships, love and commitment. Like most divorcees, I came out of my marriage with so much baggage that I knew would impede my ability to find happiness in life -- and in another relationship. So I decided that I would to do something about it. I wanted to be happy and I was ready to do the hard work necessary to make it happen.
My therapist once told me that there are three steps necessary for people to fix* their mental issues. These are the steps that I have taken to get my life back on track, unload (some of my) baggage and find true happiness in my life.
Step 1: Be self-aware.
Two and a half years into my journey through my psyche (undertaken with regular sessions with my therapist, writing about my heartache and publishing it for the whole world to see on The Huffington Post and Notable.ca, and a whole bunch of soul searching), I've got self-awareness mastered. At a moment's notice, I can list off all of my major issues and their possible causes without even taking a breath. I like to think that I am supremely self-aware. I also think that acceptance of your issues is an important second part of this step because you can only start to make changes, once you've accepted that they are, in fact, a problem.
Step 2: Find a strong support system.
As I mentioned earlier, I've been seeing a therapist on a regular basis for more than two years. The first six months, I saw a traditional therapist and got a typical therapeutic experience. I'd go into his office, lay on the couch and talk. Then he'd offer some cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) stuff and I'd agree to try to follow his recommendations. The problem was that -- in those situations that required CBT to change my unhealthy behaviors -- I was never actually thinking about his recommendations at the time, so I just kept on doing things the way that I always had -- the unhealthy way.
Then I started seeing a new therapist who practiced a completely different type of therapy -- gestalt therapy. Gestalt therapy is basically the complete opposite of CBT; it is "an interactive and holistic form of psychotherapy that focuses on the total person, recognizing the unity of the mind, body and emotions". And for me, Gestalt therapy and my amazing therapist made all of the difference in the world.
Step 3: Share your true self with another (or others) OR Be vulnerable.
This step was not so easy for me. When you can truly be vulnerable -- sharing your best and your worst with another person, you are letting them look into your heart, your soul and your mind. For me, true vulnerability is one of the most terrifying, but also amazing and fulfilling experiences, especially when you're with someone who respects you, cares about you and who doesn't judge -- no matter what.
Recently, I opened up my heart and soul for the first time in my whole life with a boy that I had only known for 18 days. Yes, that's right, folks... 18 days... two weeks and four days. And it was a life-changing experience. (Find out how this crazy situation happened and how it has changed my life in my recent article on The Huffington Post.
So, I am happy to report that two years after starting with my current therapist, I have finally mastered these three steps. Self-awareness -- check. Support -- got it. Vulnerability -- hell yah!
For me, however, I saw true progress only after mastering these three steps, which lead me to believe that (with all due respect to my therapist, of course!) the three-step formula is missing a few important steps.
Step 4: Accept that bad things, bad people and bad experiences will happen to you.
Happiness doesn't come from having the best things happen to you, every single day, all day. Happiness comes from your ability to think positively, even in the face of life's most horrible messes. Rather than letting life's messes get them down, healthy, happy people know that it wasn't necessarily their fault and that bad luck befalls everyone at some point in time. They can pick themselves up off of the floor, wipe their tear- and mascara-stained faces, grab a glass of wine (liquid courage!) and get back in the game.
Step 5: Look inside yourself for happiness.
One of the key differences between my life today and my life three years ago, is that I have realized that true happiness comes from inside of me, because of me, not from any external source -- no matter how fabulous an external source may be.
Happiness doesn't come from living a lavish life, filled with expensive dinners, exotic trips and fancy apartments. Happiness doesn't come from having the smallest waistline or the perfect teeth. Happiness doesn't come from achieving professional success or promotions. Happiness doesn't come from having more money and or from having less money. Happiness doesn't come from other people -- even if you are dating the most wonderful person (or people) in the entire world.
All of these things do contribute to a person's overall sense of satisfaction and contentment in their life, but not to real, lasting happiness. Once you realize this fact, it becomes much easier to find real happiness because it is something that you can feel right away, today, simply by changing your mindset.
Step 6: Healthy people like (or love) their lives, even when they don't have everything that they want or everything that they aspire to achieve.
(Self-explanatory, I think.)
So now what? Am I in perfect mental health? No. Am I officially baggage-free? Unfortunately, no, but I do know that I am on the right path. I am working on integrating all six of these steps into my life each and every day -- and seeing amazing results because of them. For the first time, I feel truly happy with my life as it is. Every day is better than the last (except for the ones that suck -- because those just plain suck) and I am consistently choosing healthier thoughts, beliefs and actions. I am learning to appreciate my surroundings and my lot in life, no matter the successes or obstacles that I encounter each day. And most importantly (in my opinion), I am learning to appreciate the things that I have been given, the things that I have earned and the wonderful people in my life -- instead of focusing on the negatives. I now know that my life will only get better and I'm excited to see what tomorrow will bring.
Well, that's it. That is my complete formula for better mental health. Hopefully, these steps will be able to help you to make it through the aftermath of your divorce in one, happy, healthy piece.
And yes, I know that the title of this article should actually be Six Steps to Better Mental Health, but as everyone who has met me knows -- I may be making progress dealing with my baggage, but I am still absolutely terrible at math.
*NOTE: I am fully aware that, in many cases, there is no such thing as a permanent fix for mental health issues. I know that some people will struggle with an issue for their entire lives, no matter the amount of personal work they do. For the sake of this article though, I am going to use this word with this qualification: I am not suggesting that these steps will provide a 100 percent fix for everyone, rather it may provide a path to improvement.