THE BLOG

Divorce Recovery Time and Why You Can't Cheat the Clock

10/01/2014 16:28 GMT | Updated 12/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Divorce is the second most stressful life event, preceded only by the death of a spouse or child. That's according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale anyway. It rates a score of 73. Whatever that means.

My guilty secret is that it didn't seem all that bad. There was one occasion - just the one time in the year since it happened that I really missed the guy.

I was packing his stuff up, not long after he'd left, and I took a dry, clean shirt off the radiator. It was a kind of mock dress shirt, with frills down the front, punctuated with gaudy, crass red stitching.

I always hated that shirt.

Suddenly the emotion hit, leaving me breathless with the intensity of it. It lasted all of five seconds, and then I was fine, shaken more by the surprise of feeling that way, than the feeling itself.

Five seconds after seven years.

It felt like a fair trade off. "This must be how normal people feel," I thought, having been earlier chastised for an apparent lack of emotion.

If they do feel that way, if that five seconds segues into the 18 months to five-year period that is meant to make up divorce recovery time, then it has certainly earned its place on the winners' podium of horrors.

Recovery time seems to span a large, variable timeframe for different people, but for everyone, the timeframe is longer than they would want. When I started looking it up, in the early days, I was defiant.

"Five years. Five years? It's been three weeks, and I feel fine. Better than fine, great in fact."

In reality, it's only now, a year later, that I can look back and realise that I didn't feel all that good. It's hard to pinpoint why I felt so bad, when ultimately, and even with the benefit of hindsight, the overriding feeling was one of relief.

It's possibly a defence mechanism: knowing you're going to feel that terrible for that long wouldn't aid any kind of recovery process.

And what is recovery? It can't be a return to previous form? That would be some kind of regression. You have to adapt to your circumstances, and that means change. Maybe that means becoming a happier person, more capable of dealing with problems, more able to navigate through the daily minefields with less anxiety. It certainly involves becoming more self-sufficient, even if the impression of having support and back up was nothing more than an illusion.

Getting to this point is not easy: while I seem to have had it easier than most, it was a tough year. But having ridden out the worst of it, I can conclude that all the worst stuff is necessary. As the chimes ushering the end of 2013 rang out, I felt as though they took the last vestiges of the pain with them. My magic timeframe was pretty much twelve months exactly.

This couldn't have been predicted by any kind of chart, experts or other anecdotal evidence. The time it takes is the time it takes. Unfortunately it seems that time itself is a process that can't be bypassed, despite how much dating, soul searching or yoga you do. You have to wait it out. Sucks, but that's just the way it works.

The worst thing is the backsliding. It happens, and you just have to accept it. This is apparently one of the things that hits a lot of people the hardest: you're chugging along doing fine, and then it kicks you in the guts, as visceral as it is emotional. It's a cruel intrusion into your belief that you were doing well, and stirs up all kind of worries, one of the more potent ones being the fear of insanity. It's generally not insanity: and Kübler-Ross will back me up on that.

These intrusions become less and less regular, until suddenly they never happen, apart from on a minor scale. You may see a particular brand of marmalade on a supermarket shelf that sets off a synapse deep inside your brain somewhere, and makes you realise that the memories you carry with you will always be there on some level, but confronting them is no longer significant.

When the day arrives that you are genuinely able to look at the good times as good, the bad times as bad, and attach no meaning, importance or emotion to them, that's probably a good indication that you're pretty much there.

When that day arrives, you will probably be happy about how it all went down.