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Lessons from Sarah Armstrong: Recovering from a Divorce Hangover (while still driving carpool)

Recently we caught up with our friend Sarah Armstrong, author of The Mom’s Guide to a Good Divorce. We asked Sarah to share with us some of the things she’s learned through the years as a divorced mom and co-parent to her daughter Grace. She has so many great pieces of advice! Here are a few key ones we wanted to share:

By Sarah Armstrong

There is no way to escape some sort of divorce hangover. Dealing with your own post-divorce emotions and helping your children adjust to a life without their normal day-to-day interaction with both parents is a challenge.

My advice over the years, “Everyone’s divorce hang-over is different… and recovery times vary… but the emotional headache is real. The good news is you eventually will recover and be able to move on with your life.”

Here are some tips to take into consideration as you are recovering from your divorce hangover…


1. Prepare for a Year of Firsts

The year after your divorce is a time of learning and firsts as a single parent…first holidays, birthdays, parent-teacher conferences, sporting events, family vacations. As much time as you put into thinking about how to approach these “firsts,” you will want to put into processing what went well and what you might like to do differently moving forward.


2. Develop Your Compartmentalization Muscle

We have all been told that we need strong “core” muscles…but no one talks about a very important muscle in life…the compartmentalization muscle. My friend, who is a therapist, shared this guidance, “You cannot move forward until you compartmentalize the past. This is a fundamental and integral part of the healing process and provides you with the ability to move forward.”

My friend shared how to do this…“Take the past and visualize putting it all in a big box and carrying it up to your attic. Close the attic door and lock it. If you feel the need to dig into your past, unlock that door and find that musty old box, open it, and reflect. However, as you are reflecting on the contents of the box, be sure to set a time limit to avoid the trap of stewing and over-thinking things. Once you are done reflecting, close the box, place it back in your attic and lock the door.”

This is especially important while raising your children. The reality is that your children are watching and learning from you each day…in terms of whether you are focused on rehashing all the details of your past or showing them the need to focus on the future.


3. Prioritize Self-care

Many of us are caretakers. We focus on our children, spouses, homes, and jobs. We put everyone’s needs before our own.

Healthy self-care is essential to prioritize when recovering from a divorce hangover. In some respects, you could view this time like you are in training for a marathon…focusing on getting enough sleep, eating well, and working out.

Self-care also should include ensuring you are taking control of your financial health. This can start with outlining a household budget and planning a retirement fund. The guidance from a divorce lawyer is to “Do the hard stuff first…and it will ultimately reduce your stress level once you have a clear plan for how to manage your financial details post-divorce.”

For many, taking care of oneself is a learning process that may require setting some new boundaries. This can mean defining new boundaries in terms of how many hours you work (so you can spend more time with your children or get some extra sleep) or carving out time to fit in a workout. I completely appreciate this is easier said than done, but it is essential because your children need a healthy mom who can positively engage with them on a day-to-day basis.


4. Focus on Giving Back

When your emotional hang-over is getting the best of you, step outside yourself by volunteering and doing acts of kindness for others…and if possible, include your children in this with you. This will become a special experience when you can all share in the important lessons and points of reflection from helping those who are truly in need…as the worries and challenges you are facing post-divorce are put into perspective.


5. Clean out the Clutter

There is a balancing act when it comes to cleaning out the clutter. Not surprisingly, during your hangover, your emotional state can cause you to overcorrect and purge everything all at once that involved your former spouse.

Before cleaning things out, reflect on whether there are items that still make you smile, whether they could serve a purpose in your new life or they should be set aside as possible keepsakes for your children. When you do finally clean out the clutter, it will be therapeutic and can feel like you have lifted a weight off you.


6. Embrace Your New Normal

Embracing your “new normal” is a process and the path you will take to get there will be unique to your situation.

No matter where you are in your recovery, there is hope. It will just take a bit of soul searching and personal reflection, with a dash of humility, to let go of the negative emotions and make room for the good things that the future holds for you and your children.

As a friend once shared, “You don’t realize the weight of what you have been carrying until you realize the weight of its release.”

A friend of mine who is a therapist said that she shares with her clients, “In six months, this change will not feel so overwhelming and all-encompassing. Over time, you will develop skills that you do not have right now. You will see a future and you will be able to put things in perspective. This is a learning process, as well as a grieving process, with stages of growing, understanding, and healing for both you and your children.”

Just remember that whatever you are facing, it will get better and your divorce hangover will eventually subside.


Sarah Madden Armstrong has a degree in marketing and played volleyball on scholarship at Georgetown University. For almost twenty years, she has worked at a global company in marketing where she is viewed as an industry leader in her area of expertise. She is also the author of the book "The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce: What To Think Through When Children Are Involved". Sarah loves traveling the world and managing the juggling act of being a working mom while raising her daughter, Grace.


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