Forty Days Til’ Forty, Day 16: Reaching for the Good Stuff

While driving into work recently, I heard a story on NPR about the linkage between weight and the presence of junk food. The story cited that adults who left snack foods and sugary beverages out in plain sight weighed around 20% more than those who did not store those items within view. On Halloween I made the proclamation that I would not eat any candy which I nearly managed to do. After all the trick-or-treaters were gone, I couldn’t resist having one piece; two days later, however, when my kids were sampling their sweet loot, I ate, not just one but two, three and, well, you get the picture. Feeling as though I had deprived myself of the annual candy-binge, I scarfed down a few from my son’s stash without him noticing. It was true! I would be in big trouble if that candy remained on the top of my refrigerator all year, within sight, just barely out of reach.

Grieving after a divorce is an animal in itself. There is the loss of not only the relationship, but all the plans and expectations that were made within the framework of that commitment disintegrate as well. Add to that the complexity of feelings that can follow, depending on your circumstances, and recovering and regaining ones footing can feel tentative. Resentment, anger, sadness, regret are like emotional undertow. I am often surprised by how accessible those feelings are even when I’m feeling really good. They are right there, within reach.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is gaining some attention lately, perhaps because it is less focused on changing the inevitable, our feelings. Instead, the focus is on accepting and acknowledging our reactions, choosing a course that honors one’s values, and then taking action. Instead of dwelling in the negative feelings that resurface, through the ACT approach, we can become more objective of our reaction. This practice has been empowering to me as I’ve continued to pursue growth and healing following a painful divorce.

Up to now, my coping skills (exercise, prayer, journaling, self-care) helped me survive throughout a season of loss that broke my heart. More recently, though, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had also expected that I would eventually not be sad or brush up against uglier feelings. I’ve begun to recognize that the tension between grief and moving on to new-and still-good-but-different things may quite possibly always remain. When sadness or anger drift in like unwelcome houseguests, I acknowledge them but don’t make room at the table. They can stand ,or better yet, just get out. But I don’t beat myself up for knowing them.

Gratitude, creativity, and faith satisfy the apatite. Instead of reaching for regret, we can celebrate our strengths and hopes for tomorrow and satiate ourselves with food that brings real comfort. But we must take care in what we leave out on the counter, with life-giving choices in view and reach for the good stuff . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness.

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