Transitioning out of post-divorce survival mode. Now what?

women marathon

Part of how I survived my divorce and the trauma that preceded is the same tools that get everyone through crisis: You tap into inner strength you didn’t know existed, find new skills and resources that you were previously blind to. And then, if you’re like me, you thrill in the wonder of your accomplishments. When I emerged from my divorce I felt stronger than ever. I couldn’t believe I was doing all I accomplished! Despite my fears of living on the street with my shoeless children, I was more or less keeping it together. The kids were fine! Business was booming! Everyone said how great I looked! Despite bouts of overwhelm and doubt, for the most part I couldn’t have been better!

That was like the endorphin high after running a marathon. The sugar buzz after devouring three red velvet cupcakes. The liberating relief of leaving a bad relationship and wrapping up gruesome divorce proceedings, and the tantalizing optimism of starting life anew, finding a brand-new love. It is heady stuff, this post-divorce life building.

But that wears off.

Then you find yourself in a new phase. Less glamorous, and less invigorating. It is called life.

This is the part where you wake up in the morning and think: OK, this is more or less what it is. Sure, things can certainly be better. Yes I am very proud of all I’ve accomplished. But the drama is over, and so is the adrenaline rush that comes along with it. Now I must be fueled by sheer will — not an urgent sense of survival that propelled me at super-human speed.

I happened upon an article by Dan Steenerson, a small business consultant who has a whole program helping entrepreneurs power through this very phenomenon in business — he calls it the “middle mile” — the period of business ownership when the start-up excitement is over, your windfall has not yet landed, and the drudgery of building a sustainable organization  is upon you. A friend whose family survived being displaced by a natural disaster is now miraculously back on her feet — her life from the outside looks even better than before. But she, too, reports these post-trauma-survival blues.

So how do you cope? How do you re-activate all that energy and sparkle that got you through those darkest days? Here are some tools that work for me:

1. Look forward. When your in crisis there is a critical goal: Survival. You hit that goal, but with that accomplishment came the loss of a clear objective. The momentum of change in your life has slowed, but you will continue to do great things. Now the onus is on you to set your own goals. Big, scary goals. Come up with a plan to meet them.

2. Maintain your community. When someone dies the mourners are often inundated by support from their community. There is protocol for reaching out and comforting the loved ones. But grief can take months and years, and that support usually tapers off. Same with divorce. When my friends and family learned about my separation they swarmed around me in a beautiful blanket of care. But we all need care and support for the long-haul. Don’t try to go at this life business alone. Keep all those loving people close. Ask for help — and be open to receiving it.

3. Look back. When you feel full of doubt you can keep up your powerhouse life, reflect on all you have accomplished. A year or so ago I was seeing a therapist during a dark period and I said, “When I look back at everything I went through for a couple of years I almost cannot believe I did that. I don’t know where that strength came from.” She assured me I still have it. You do, too.

4. Keep on keeping on. Whether by sheer force of will or extra coffee or by bribing yourself with booze — get your ass up in the morning. Put on your grown-up shoes. Feed the kids a healthy breakfast and hug them a few more times than you’re in the mood for. Smile more than you can tolerate at work. Some days — not most, over the net of your life, but sometimes — you fake it till you make it.

Until the next crisis hits. 

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

5 thoughts on “Transitioning out of post-divorce survival mode. Now what?

  1. Exactly where I am at! Perfect read for me. 16 month out from finding out my husband was living a double life with multiple mistresses and 14 months post divorce. Last of the drama two weeks ago when he married the one mistress that kept him. If only co-parenting didn’t cause drama every few weeks. However, I am learning to ignore what I can’t control including his unwillingness to pay for his children.
    I have made a few goals but didn’t have the energy I did when I was in survival mode to make myself stick with them. New fresh start with big scary goals… Here I come!

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