Posts

Woman with pink hat post-divorce

10 Mind-Blowingly Good Things About Life Post-Divorce

Divorce is nothing to look forward to. It’s certainly not a line item on your walk-down-the-aisle bucket list. So imagining your life post-divorce isn’t likely to be on your radar until you are in the throes of losing your marriage. It’s also not likely to leave you feeling hopeful about your future.

But divorce, like every other unforeseen roadblock in life, is really more of a fork in the road than a block in the road. It forces you to choose not only which path you will take, but how you will take it.

And, as you go forward with your post-divorce life, that means embracing the odd notion that there really can be good things about divorce.

Sound crazy? Consider this Kingston University survey of 10,000 people at different major life milestones.

Contrary to all the joys of falling in love and planning a wedding, women were actually happier in the first five years post-divorce. They were more content, despite the financial difficulties that often befall divorced women.

While men were also happier after their divorces were final, their new-found joy was nothing compared to that of the women in the study.

Make of that what you will. But that is a strong message of hope for women going through what is perhaps the most vulnerable, frightening, deflating times of their lives. Obviously, these women became privy to some amazing things about life post-divorce. And now you can, too.

Beyond the steps to ensure your divorce recovery lies a treasure trove of mind-blowingly good things you probably never imagined could come with divorce. While this isn’t a cheering section for ending marriages, it is a cheering section for women whose marriages have ended.

Let’s dive into some of those perks by checking out some must-do’s for the newly divorced, independent woman. Here are 10 biggies:

  1. You realize that you are stronger than you ever knew. 

It’s all but impossible to recognize your own herculean strength for its potential when it’s always being used to fight.

Coming home every day to an unhappy—or, worse yet, toxic—marriage is draining. Add the divorce process to that, and you’re likely to think you’re clawing to stay above ground.

But once you’re in the post-divorce phase of your life, that strength starts to re-emerge.

Have you ever had a plant in your garden that you just couldn’t keep alive… until it decided to pop up a couple of years later? It’s kind of like that. And the realization is amazing! Like, put-on-your-Superwoman-cape amazing.

  1. Your free time belongs to you.

(That’s why they call it “free.”)

Nothing in marriage ever totally belongs to you, and that goes for your time, as well. Somehow you are always tied to the common good of your marriage or the family as a whole.

You will be surprised—maybe even thrown off a little—when you realize that your time really is your own.

  1. Bye-bye stress hormones, hello health. 

It’s no secret that stress causes a cascade of health-eroding events in your body. The price of worry, anxiety, and fighting is a flooding of fight-or-flight stress hormones. And those hormones throw your body into an unsustainable state.

Once your life is post-divorce, however, you get to come home to a haven that you have created. You get to sleep in your own bed without the source of your anger snoring next to you.

You will have a new set of pragmatic concerns and adjustments, of course, but you will be wearing your Superwoman cape, remember?

Just think of all you can accomplish when your blood pressure drops, your headaches go away, and you put the kibosh on emotional eating.

  1. You get to become a better parent to your kids. 

Divorce is never easy on kids, even when it’s a healthier alternative to a hostile environment.

Even if you’re co-parenting, you’ll now get to choose how you engage with your children. You’ll get to manifest all those Princess Diana values that will help your kids become stellar adults one day.

And, when your kids are visiting their other parent, you’ll have some breathing room to evaluate your parenting. How are they adjusting? How can you better support, encourage, and inspire them? What kinds of rituals can you all create together—rituals that will forever define your brave new life?

  1. Shared custody equals time for yourself. 

Yes, it can be painful getting used to your kids being away from you for days at a time. Hopefully, you and your Ex can at least agree on healthy co-parenting that will ease that transition for everyone.

If your kids know that their parents are putting the needs of their children first, everyone can win.

And suddenly those times when they are at their other home means you have more time to yourself. Time to reflect on your relationship with your kids. Time to get your home tidied up and feeling like a sanctuary again. Curfew-free time to spend with friends or indulge a favorite hobby.

Unless there’s an emergency, responsibility for the kids falls on your Ex during those times.

  1. Your goals are just that: your goals.

When was the last time you thought about what you wanted to accomplish in life without checking it against your spouse’s wishes? Now you don’t have to fear that your goals are too outlandish or costly or unrealistic. You can vision-board or Pinterest binge to your heart’s content.

  1. It is so much easier to dance in bare feet when you’re not walking on eggshells. 

It probably won’t dawn on you until you’re way into your post-divorce life just how much fear you lived in. Even if you weren’t in a toxic or abusive marriage, it takes an enormous amount of energy to dodge the constant fighting.

If you say ‘this,’ you’ll be fighting all night. If you don’t do ‘that,’ you’ll never hear the end of it. Walking on eggshells is exhausting. And it gets you nowhere fast.

Now that you’re past that, you can take off your shoes and dance anywhere you damn well please! There is a sweetness to being alone after divorce.

  1. You find out who your die-hard friends really are. 

Divorce exposes people for who they really are. And that doesn’t apply just to you and your Ex. It applies to your family and friends, as well.

You will definitely see a shift in your Christmas card line-up post-divorce. You may stop hearing from those “couples-only” friends or those who stuck by your Ex during the divorce.

But you will be pleasantly surprised by the friends who were always in your corner. They will come out of the woodwork and be there for the ugly cries and the movie marathons.

  1. You make wonderful new friendships. 

And then there are the new friends you will make. Friends that reflect your new life back to you in wonderful ways because they have been where you are.

Friends that are also wearing Superwoman capes under their home-based-entrepreneur power pj’s. These may be friends that you meet in a divorce support group for women recreating their lives. Friends that reach out to you for comfort and advice.

And you will marvel that you had lived so long without them in your life.

  1. You become your own best friend. 

Ahh, this is the best gift of post-divorce life! Becoming your own best friend is far more than a sappy Oprah concept. You’ll look back on your wedding invitations that said, “Today I am marrying my best friend,” and you’ll smile.

You’ll smile because you will know now what you didn’t have a clue about then… that you always were and always will be your own best friend.

 

Helpful Resource

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are a discerning, newly divorced and independent woman, you are invited to consider Paloma’s Group, our powerful virtual group coaching class for women consciously rebuilding their lives. Visit here to schedule your quick interview and to hear if Paloma is right for you and you, right for Paloma.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages; however, for the sake of simplicity in this article, we refer to your spouse as a male.

 

Woman on a train

Table for One: My First Trip as a Single Woman

There comes a treacherous time when we stop feeling okay — divorced. Only yesterday, all seemed fine. We thought we were healed for the simplest of reasons: we’ve not been thinking (every minute) about our Ex. But at SAS, our divorce coaching consultancy, we know this stage too well — we call it “Stage 3”. And it’s a confusing, tricky time, colored by all sorts of emotions, but in particular, grief. We don’t necessarily miss our Ex, but little by little, or all of a sudden, we start to learn we are missing familiar patterns, beloved or taken for granted rituals, certain routines, or the “good old times” that bound us together. In this phase, it’s normal to be triggered, to suddenly feel an awful emptiness, a sadness, or a knockdown depression as we come to terms with realizing our life is never going to be like that again. In fact, our new life may seem completely NOT what we wanted.

I was triggered by the need to plan the summer vacation

In the past, like many families, mine got together for a special trip each summer. It was always my (now) Ex-husband, our two sons and me. There were many difficult, turbulent times in our marriage, but somehow, the summer vacation was a sacred time when we put differences aside and we agreed.

My Ex and I planned it all out in advance — together. Typically, we researched options separately, and together, we discussed the finer details of our potential trips. We talked so much about these potential trips, that oftentimes it felt like we took 10 vacations each summer, not one! Each one of them always had something interesting for the adults and something fun built in for the kids. When we finally began the trip, too, we were together in a different way than in our marriage. We calculated our budgets, we hustled around in rented cars, we struggled to ask for directions in a foreign language, we made sense of unknown parking machines, we negotiated toll roads, ATMs, and much more. We overcame these difficulties, these challenges, and savored the rewards, exotic beaches and startling new, wonderful food.

I have been divorced since January 2020

Now, it’s my first summer alone as a single woman, and it’s dawned on me that I don’t know how to begin vacation-planning as a divorcee.

I keep asking myself: can summer be anything else but a shared vacation with my children and their father?

So many aspects of this trip planning I assume I must now do solo — and they are untrodden territory. How do you embark on this first trip as a single woman? How do you plan for it? Whom do you share the anticipation with? What about the actual experience of it? The highs, the lows? How do you deal with foreign ATMs or quick currency exchanges? Whom do you discuss what kind of pizza to order? Who’s going to put the aloe on your back when you get sunburnt? Who will bail you out if the bank card gets blocked, or if you run out of cash? How do you rent a car on your own?

I don’t think I’ve ever booked a single room for vacation. For a business trip — yes. But not for a vacation. Is it even possible to have a single room? How do you choose food from a menu in a restaurant if you are alone? Whom do you share plates with? Is that, too, out the window with the divorce? All those little niceties or ways of being in my old life, must I leave them behind, too?
These questions may sound ridiculous to someone who has traveled alone. But they are not stupid for many women who saw their summer vacations as a rare time that the family floated in another realm, where Papa and Mama was more relaxed away from the hustle of their jobs. There was something heavenly about it — and that man who showed up as my husband, and the woman I could be if only for a couple of weeks a year.

Family Vacations are a BIG THING

The importance of family trips is not to be discounted, I realize! It’s a shared family experience that for many is the best time of the year. These vacations are so important that I’ve heard of people who have divorced – amicably – and who continue to travel together on family trips. Actress Mayim Bialik, famous for her role as Amy Farah Fowler in “The Big Bang Theory”, talks of her “Divorced Family Vacation” and says, “There are things in life that should be experienced as a family because of their importance and significance.”

As I write this, my Ex, for example, is boarding a plane with our younger son and my Ex’s pregnant sister. I can fully understand his desire to replicate a family unit as they embark on their summer vacation.

What do I choose to do? What can I do? When it’s my turn to travel with our two sons, should I organize friends to join us so we feel like a love-in, hippie family? Should I travel with a group of friends, stay in hostels and pretend we are students? (Maybe not in the time of COVID, but what about the future?) Do I volunteer my services somewhere and see who turns up on my path? Should I try to identify – amid my peers or friends — another divorced woman, and travel with her? Do I go solo, and when there, invite some random adults I meet on the beach to join me for at least a couple of dinners?

I am already feeling lonely, scared, and even embarrassed about my singledom. I am imagining how wrong it will feel to be going into a seaside restaurant and admit that I am one, yes, the only person. (“No, I am not waiting for somebody else. Please seat me fast so nobody sees.”) It will feel awkward asking for a half plate of their famous seafood starter, or asking for a half-bottle of wine. (Maybe, I should order a full bottle and take it back to my room?) Will I need to have a book to read and hide behind? Or do I put on my headphones so I don’t look so lonely and wretched?

The anxiety of not having the same summer vacation I’ve had for the past 17 years of my marriage was getting the best of me, until it stopped. Why? Because I looked honestly at my past. As I did, I began to feel grateful for the good things, those summer vacations, at the same time, I began to recognize it was time to own the bad times and say goodbye to them.

Below is my list of lovely things I am grateful for:

1) I was happy when my Ex-husband and I shared planning, anticipating and living through travel experiences as a couple

2) I loved spending time with the kids during these vacations, and giving them my full attention as opposed to being overwhelmed by my corporate job

3) I appreciated exploring new unknown places for me, like amazing Mediterranean resorts

4) I appreciated the convenience factor that came with sharing expenses and shared problem-solving

Next comes the list of things I will not miss and my takeaway thoughts:

1) In all honesty, I was the one who planned most of the trips, and had to lobby hard to get them. My Ex “graciously” accepted my plans always — but made sure I understood that he was doing me a favor by agreeing to them. Take away: I don’t mind planning, but I want to be appreciated for my efforts and ideas

2) Whereas we always started talking about the vacations months in advance, we never actually had the trips planned or paid for in advance. My Ex always had job-related uncertainties. Takeaway: Maybe he even pretended to have uncertainties to feel more important and influential?

3) We often had to compromise … on the destinations, the budget, and the length of stay in each place. My Ex-husband had his pet hates of some places that I loved and he would never spend more than 3 nights in one spot. Takeaway: I prefer to have more time to fall in love with a place

Doing this exercise with myself was in no means intended to expose my Ex-husband as evil or bad, but rather to show me, and divorcing and divorced ladies, that there are always good and bad things about a marriage. It was the good that kept us together for so long probably. But while I may miss the good things, I am very happy to let go of the bad ones. Seeing the pros and cons of our romanticized vacations, brought me back from daydreaming to reality. This in turn allows me to go forward with my eyes open.

After I listed the good and bad things about the trips with my Ex, I realized more things that I can’t wait to share …

1) Reflecting back I realize a lot of beautiful things have slipped by into history. There are many precious things that are no more — not because of a divorce — but because of life itself. For instance, there will no longer be vacations with my small babies or toddlers, or even young kids, because the kids have grown up — not because we divorced as their parents — but because of the fleetingness of life itself, and change

2) Looking back at the wonderful moments that I love and miss — the atmosphere, the warmth, the laughter, the smell of lavender, and the tickle of chilled sparkling wine —I ask myself, how much of this was my own making? For instance, our trips to France were fabulous. And I was the one who planned them in precise detail and paid for half. I was the one who spoke French and planned the routes and ordered in the restaurants. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to organize more lovely trips again?

3) I guess my new goal is to grow to love my own company on a vacation as much as I believe I loved my Ex-husband’s

As I wait here in Moscow for international borders to open up again, I dream of my first trip as a single woman. What will it be like? Will I go on my own — to breathe in the air this time as my own person? Or will I take the kids to nurture our closeness in this new world we find ourselves in?

A new and appealing thought is to have a solo trip

I think I would like to go somewhere familiar and safe. I will stay in one or two separate places, not more, to give myself time for tranquility and to truly enjoy the place. I will not rent a car to save myself the money, the hassle of finding one, or the ink used on the expected parking tickets. Instead, I will travel by train, which I’ve always loved. The train is a Zen way to embrace life and look out the window in a very ladylike, film-noir fashion.

If I go alone, I can spend as much time shopping and window shopping as I like. I can go into any restaurant I like, dress up, or on the contrary, eat a takeaway sandwich while sitting on a pier. I can order a tuna pizza which I’ve always liked but which my Ex always hated. Heck, I can even take my watercolors on the trip and paint. I can have long, lazy breakfasts and take a bus to the village market. I can talk to people at the next table and appreciate the flirtations of the waiters.

In the evening, I can throw on a long floaty dress and comfortable flat sandals. With the most possible grace and self-respect, I can hold my head high. I imagine myself walking into a restaurant and asking for a table — for one. I will nibble half a dozen oysters as I consider the small but intriguing wine selection. And when asked, I will say without hesitation, “Yes, you can take away the other place setting. No one will be joining me tonight.”

 

Anna Ivanova-Galitsina is an international expert in communications and storytelling based in Moscow, Russia. She is training to be a coach for women in transition. You can reach out to her via e-mail [email protected] for a test coach session or a discussion.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

 

Traveling with Another Divorced Woman 11 Things I hadn't anticipated.

Traveling with Another Divorced Woman: 11 Things I Had NOT Anticipated

Don’t’ get me wrong — traveling alone after divorce is wonderful and it shouldn’t be missed. Especially because, you are never really alone when you travel alone, for people talk to you. They walk with you. They take you in. They invite you to their family’s house for dinner. They introduce you to their friends. These people, their friends, offer to take you on an outing, a tour … of the Cape Peninsula, maybe, where en route, you’ll enjoy lunch at the seashore, taste local wines, and watch the sea lions eye the fishmongers on the wharf.

These people, all these people, soon become something more than “these people.” They become your friends. And life is fuller for you, even as you step away from your shared world. And yet, this serendipitous hum, unfolding good after good, is never predictable for the solo voyaging, divorced woman. It just happens. And because of that,

it’s the stepping into it where the fear lives.

Last August, I went to Peru. However, I did not go alone. I went with another divorced woman, the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends. This would be the last conventional descriptor I could ever use for her, I would learn. For like many divorced women, Alexandra had long since shed labels and skins.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

The mysterious Incan agricultural terraces at Moray, Peru.

At first, of course, the arrangement did elicit its own type of fears — the entirely selfish, all-about-me sort. How would traveling with another divorced woman 24/7 affect MY mojo? My wanting to go and see whatever I wanted? Was Alexandra going to cramp my style? What if, God forbid, I had to take care of her?

Funny thing about fears, though, and a fact I am reminded of over and over again, is that more often than not, we give too much space to them — in advance of their happening! Fears are a projection of a certain future; they are not here and now!

For within hours of joining Alexandra, and heading off on our adventure, a “new” here and now appeared, and those old fears would be forgotten. Gone! Poof! as quickly as they were replaced …. with new ones!

As a divorced woman I must remind myself of this, sometimes: Fears are transient. For this reason, when fears appear it’s important to not get tooooo emotionally attached to them.

This is all the more true if you are traveling with another divorced woman! Because I learned you need to make room for so much more. I share the following to inspire you … to help you imagine, too …

what if you could just go off to a foreign land with another woman who was also a survivor? How would you come to experience joy? What might move you? What might be uniquely shared and understood?

Here are eleven things I hadn’t anticipated about traveling with another divorced woman.

1. That there really is ALWAYS a first time

“Don’t worry,” Alexandra reassured me as we idled in standstill traffic, trying to get to the airport in a cab.“I’ve never missed a flight. IN. MY. LIFE.” Turns out 54 years of living can still bring new experiences. We did miss our first outbound flight, but not before Alexandra also lost her passport, and I knocked over the suspension line that kept the American Airlines queue full of (rather stressed) people, organized. Suddenly, they were as disorganized as the thousands of baggage tags I’d also knocked and scattered to the floor.

Traveling with another divorced woman

Arequipa street scene with the Volcano El Misti in the background.

Fast forward, we recovered the passport and made the standby flight at midnight to Lima. No extra charge! This saved us four transfers in the end (yes, the original flights stunk). We arrived in Arequipa, Peru, the country’s second largest and very beautiful city, a full day ahead.

2. Sometimes a mess up can do you a world of good

Tragically (?), because one of us came down with altitude sickness and the flu, several days in, we were unable to face our ultimo challenge for the trip: the several day trek to Machu Picchu. We hadn’t planned to take the Inca Trail, mind you, but the less travelled, “moderately demanding” Salkantay; which would wind us around the glorious 18,000-foot peak. We are forever grateful to the expedition company United Mice for reorganizing our planned itinerary and getting us to Machu Picchu, another way.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

Baskets and vegetables vendor in Cusco market.

Rather than hiking, camping, and probably being carried, we’d go by train, and in the intervening days, go deep into the Sacred Valley, exploring the astonishing Inca ruins of Písac and Ollantaytambo.

On the day of our departure for Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo, United Mice informed us, however, there’d been another change.

Traveling with Another Divorced Woman

View from the Higham Bingham Train en route to Machu Picchu.

There was a problem with the standard train we were booked on, and to keep our itinerary, United Mice was putting us aboard the Belmond Higham Bingham Luxury Train. This twist was tantamount to ushering us aboard the Orient Express and pushing us back forty years to enjoy the consummate colonial and decadent experience of silver service, linen tablecloths, fresh flowers, flutes of champagne, and four perfectly timed dinner courses. These dishes and assorted wines were served in sequence to the unraveling view out the window of the sacred Urubamba River, the great Mountain Glacier Veronica, and a peek at the start of the Inca Trail. (Those poor souls with their walking sticks, mules, and heavy backpacks across the river … la gripe had indeed been a gift.)

3. How much I’d appreciate the space my friend gave me as I struggled to speak a foreign language

I was struck by the patience of Alexandra who let me try and often fail with my Spanish. She felt no urgency to fix the situation when I was interacting with the world, because she knew it’s only practice that builds confidence and competency. This was all the more profound because Alexandra spoke Spanish — fluently.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

Hiking in Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world, with our wonderful guide, Sabino.

There was that one time, though, when I called the men in the room “caballos” (horses) instead of “caballeros” (gentlemen). Then, and only then, did Alexandra correct me; if not to save me, then to save us, lest we be ridden out of town.

4. How beautiful the world is unfiltered

When I look back on my marriage, it’s sad to remember how my Ex and I argued in some of the most beautiful places in this world. Traveling with another divorced woman reminded me of how different everything is now. There is no one criticizing my decisions, second-guessing my hotel (or hostel) choices, or shaming me for my efforts to speak with the locals.

To experience a bit of this, too, I encourage you to think of a view in your mind’s eye —  a majestic view — and what it would be to take that majestic view in through all your senses. Your eyes, your nose, the sounds, the touch of a breeze. And to have all those things alive and uncomplicated, unsullied … by a distracting relationship, or the echoes of tending to someone else’s needs. Imagine this view is real and in front of you. You are looking down, down at a valley, hundreds of feet below. You see a slow-moving, snaking river, and between, in the air, hawks, eagles, and condors. There’s the smell of eucalyptus and across the valley going up the hills, the hills that are veritable mountains of snow capped peaks, the Andes, you see the terraces, the Incas’ undulating, agricultural lines, hundreds of years old, folding in and out with the flow of the mountains and the glaciers beyond.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

View across the Sacred Valley, Peru.

Alexandra and I both agreed we just wanted to sit on a mountain at different points in our journey, and be still. Sometimes, when we did this we took our boots off and just sat connecting to Pachymama. Mother Earth. We did it because it seemed obvious, and we could.

5. The luxury of washing your underwear in your hotel room and hanging it to dry anywhere you want

Enough said.

6. Being inspired by somebody else who’s got “Street Cred”

Between the two of you, divorced women, there’s an unspoken truth: you’ve each been through a lot. It won’t take much for you to inspire the other. You’ll tell stories about worse times for reference points. You’ll cackle! Suddenly this behemoth problema you are facing ( … maybe you’ve arrived in your hotel room, and the musty smell, lack of windows, and satin bedcover have one of you dubbing it, “La Casa de Los Muertos,” and you want out!) this is nothing when you compare it to any of the million problems you’ve solved, surviving your divorce!

Traveling with another divorced woman.

Beware that this attitude of being able to survive and take on the world can also work the other way, too. So aim to inspire and not retire for scones, warm milk, and bed at 6 p.m., as much as you may deserve that, too. (Except of course on the few nights when it makes perfect sense.)

7. The surprising impact of the doubled flirt-factor

Who knew that feeling free and flirty with your divorced friend doubles your odds at helping you attain certain goals? Your efforts will make you both laugh hysterically even if you have no success scoring free pisco sours with the Italianos. (But you probably will.)

8. How much being listened to and respected is underrated

From the very beginning, Alexandra and I listened to the other’s intentions about the trip. We each wanted to see and do certain things (that were often the same, coincidentally). And we both wanted to leave our everyday worlds behind so we could give our minds a rest.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

En route to the Sacred Valley, we met warm, friendly people in Chincheros.

We aimed to wander around Peru seeing it through the eyes of a wide-eyed child. Admittedly, these wide-eyed children sometimes risked being hit by cars in the tight alleys of the one-way streets of Cusco, where cars still drive in both directions.

9. The reinforcement that simple things deserve celebration

Pausing to play with children, bending down to pet a dog, such simple things anchored us in the moment or grew in importance when experienced through our particular female sensibilities. Toilet paper is cherished. A good night’s sleep is savored. Sleeping in the same bed saves money. And some meals are just worthy of a photo no matter how much you hate food porn.

In the picture below, the triangle on Alexandra’s plate, is actually a pyramid of quinoa. Peru has 5 varieties of quinoa and more than 2000 species.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

Peruvian cuisine (and its wildly diverse pleasures) was one of our biggest discoveries. Enjoyed here at the fabulous Zig Zag restaurant in Arequipa.

10. The power of reciprocity

Come a certain point in your divorce recovery, you’ve done the work: you realize the responsibility it is to yourself and to those you care about to care and what true caring really looks like. Alexandra and I didn’t need to draw boundaries or discuss roles.

In unspoken ways, we tended to each other because we knew what we ourselves needed and what we lacked in other times of our lives. We could look at each other and know exactly what the other was thinking; this grew into a state of being.

Sometimes this just looked like Alexandra telling me to take my jacket off when I was “negotiating” with an airline supervisor. My cheeks had become so pink she thought I would pass out.

11. The discovery that you are not alone

Because we had each other, we didn’t feel alone (emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually). Like when Alexandra was nearing the summit of Montaña Machu Picchu on her hands and knees ….

Traveling with another divorced woman.

Credit: Unsplash

Context: To reach the summit of Montaña Machu Picchu (elevation 10,007 ft), you must first arrive at the citadel of ruins, most often referred to as “Machu Picchu.” It’s interesting to know that the Incas didn’t call their city of temples “Machu Picchu.” They called it something secret, now long lost and forgotten, so it’s existence would stay unknown to the Spanish. Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain”) is in fact what they called their sacred mountain that looks down upon the ruins from the southwest. We hadn’t done the Salkantay trek. We had hiked, but we hadn’t really climbed for a sustained time. So determined that we experience something of this we began climbing the mountain’s steep, stone, narrow, Inca steps. Two hours in with Alexandra crawling to the summit, she resisted (she told me later) turning around to look at me as I followed her on the harrowing steps. Not only because of the paralyzing, sheer drop-offs to the side, the rainforest’s clouds coming in, the distant view of the ruins below, and the spinning risk of vertigo, but for the FEAR that I would be smirking at her. When she finally did look, she told me later she had been relieved, even buoyed, for she found me nearly prostrate on all fours behind her, too, not pink, but red as a rutabaga.

We had broken a record that day, we were told by the park’s guard. He accompanied us, the last two people on La Montaña, down. He didn’t need to tell us about breaking any record. We knew. We knew we had ascended a different peak than the one we had set off to conquer. A different peak that left us wasted but surprised by ourselves.

Traveling with another divorced woman.

Atop Machu Picchu Montana, Peru.

—————————-

If you, dear friend, are unable to go somewhere far away right now, a place you’ve always dreamed about, it’s all right. It WILL happen. And it is absolutely something to look forward to.

For what you will discover about the world and yourself cannot be predicted, but the delights might be compounded if you are lucky enough to do it with another divorced woman.

For Alexandra and me, we knew little about the other in the beginning —  except we each had a penchant for discovery. Among the biggest discoveries we made in the extraordinary country of Peru is that the trip we embarked on, and chose to give meaning to, could only have happened while traveling with another divorced woman; someone who has learned from life, the importance of savoring the view.

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the challenging experience of divorce and recreation. Now you can learn the Art of Reinvention post-divorce. Secure female-centered support, information, and smart next steps rebuilding your life with Paloma’s Group, our virtual, post-divorce group coaching class, for women only. 

To promote sisterhood and protect confidentiality, space is limited. Visit for details.

“I am so happy to have these sisters on the journey with me! Our connection is very powerful. It’s ended any sense of isolation or alienation that on and off, I’ve been struggling with. I feel understood — at last — because I know these women get it! They are going through the same thing. Thank you for bringing us together and creating Paloma’s Group!”

~ S.L., New York City

credit: weheartit.com

Midlife Volunteering for Women: Listening for the Wild Things

The air felt hot and dry against my face, but the breeze felt cool and fresh. I listened to the steam of air released and watched what unfolded below.

A long time ago, I flew over Kenya’s Masai Mara — in a hot air balloon. Aloft the wind currents, my new husband and I marveled over the sweeping plain filled with buffalo, wildebeest and impala. And we shuddered with the thrilling descent over a river clustered with hippo. I still see the hippos’ jaws extended as we drifted down. Then landing elsewhere, we smashed into a towering red termite mound. I was amazed to see a pride of lions resting nearby, watching antelope when I stood up; and not far away from them, the outrageous — a luxurious champagne brunch prepared for us. The contrast — the height of civilization, complete with white linen tablecloths, crystal goblets and chinked silver service — and the “Super Natural” of Africa made for the consummate, romantic and fully colonial experience. Aside the birth of my two daughters, the safari honeymoon, filled with hope and possibility, would be the highlight of my marriage.

It has taken me 27 years to return to Africa. This time, I’ve come on my own.

I am in IMFolozi National Reserve in South Africa, serving as a volunteer with Wildlife Act – an organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered species.

What brought me here was an awareness of my own ticking mortality and things I must still do. Last summer I was forced to stay in New York City where I live in order to receive treatment, having been diagnosed with breast cancer. I worked a lot, rarely took time off, and reported daily for my “tanning bed.” I knew I was incredibly lucky to be diagnosed and treated early, to endure only a lumpectomy, and above all, survive. But on some level, too, I understood as well that if I were lying on my deathbed I would not be going quietly. I still had things to savor and getting back to Africa was one of them. Though the honeymoon safari would be forever imprinted in my head, there was something about its privilege and naiveté that rubbed me the wrong way now that I was older, wiser, and divorced.

Credit: Diana Doolittle

SAS Cofounder Liza Caldwell in IMfolozi National Park, South Africa.

Imfolozi is the oldest national park in Africa, and one of the most dazzling or so I am told. I discover this for myself as I scan the horizon holding a transistor and telemetric equipment from the back of an open-air truck. My colleagues and I are tracking African wild dog, cheetah, lion, and vulture (yes!) and it’s 5:00 am. The air is not warm but icy. This may be South Africa, but it feels like Patagonia.

For hours each day, we listen and measure the strength of signals given off from different collars certain animals wear. We hear the beeps and charge off to track, photograph and record a sighting. The routine is simple and not unlike a meditation. But each day brings the unexpected and the show-stopping that I feel singled out to witness.

From the rising of the orange disk sun to the sounds of the Cape Town Turtle Dove or roaring lions in the riverbed, I feel my life anew. Africa has a way of handing you “first-times,” like the climax I experienced yesterday, when the Reserve’s vet handed me the shot to revive a tranquilized wild dog. “Just grab the muscle in his haunch, pinch and wait for the signal. Then stick the needle in.” I certainly had not planned on touching the wild dogs, or smelling them. But I am still vibing and privileged in an altogether new way: to be in a place in my life that has me listening and at last acting on what my inner voice says I must do.

Turns out, that inner voice can find its choir, for I am surrounded by other powerful voices here; a group of women who have come from all over the world. Though each one’s story is unique, they are like me in many ways. They have transitioned through something and understand time is finite. If there is a calling of the wild, one must listen.

In the hope of inspiring you, I asked a few to share what it was that had them leave the familiar and find themselves immersed in nature, here in Africa, too.

Cathy Dawson quit her job and sold her house.

Cathy Dawson, 45 years old, Hudson, New York: 

“I have always been passionate about the wildlife in Africa. It’s been a lifelong dream to go and see all the magnificent creatures, especially the big five. However, there has never been enough time, money or courage to make the trip.

And then, my husband left me. I hit rock bottom for a few days, and then realized in my deepest, darkest moments that this was an opportunity, something I had been denied. I could create a new life for myself on my own terms.

So, not only did I cut ties with my ex-husband, I also quit my job and sold my house. Africa was calling! I had to respond, but I wanted my experience to be different than a safari. So, I decided to take direct action and help threatened species. I made plans to go to Zululand as a midlife volunteer and to join WildlifeAct to honor that part of my soul that has been neglected for so long.”

“I like to think about what Wayne Dyer once said,

‘I don’t want to die with the laughter still inside me'”

~ Penny M. from Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Dr. Diana Doolittle (not her real name), 45 years old, London, U.K:

“In 2015 I went on safari to the Serengeti with my husband and fell in love. In love, with the magnificence, the power and sheer presence of the lions! They inspired me in a way that was totally alien. I went back to London and explored ways that would lead me back.

I stumbled across Wildlife Act. The NGO struck me as an ethical organization. There was no “cub petting.” They monitor the lions from a distance! When I told them at my job I needed to go to Africa, management was very supportive. They agreed to an “unpaid leave.” And my husband was supportive. He was surprised of course, as I normally travel with an extra suitcase – just for my hair products. But he said I must do what I must do.

The culmination of my experience so far has been the drawing blood from a wild dog. By training I am a doctor, but yesterday, I felt my whole life had geared me for this moment. And perhaps I should have become a vet. I understand now why people give up everything and undertake conservation work. It is a privilege to work towards protecting the vulnerable and the innocent.”

Penny M., 63 years old, Vancouver Island, British Columbia:

“The wild dogs called me. I’m 63 and had knee surgery 5 years ago. Both my knees are titanium! — Believe me, you can’t lose me in the airport. You hear me coming through security …. As for coming here I figured it’s not gonna get any easier. Now, is when I have the time and I couldn’t wait around anymore, or for those people who said they ‘might do it with me one day.’ I like to think about what Wayne Dwyer said, ‘I don’t want to die with the laughter still inside me.'”

Marumo Nene, Endangered Species Monitor for WildlifeACT at IMfolozi Reserve, South Africa

Marumo Nene, 33 years old, Wildlife Monitor and Volunteer Manager, KwaZululnatal, South Africa

“Growing up under Apartheid policies, I didn’t know anything about conservation or much about animals. The reserve and other national parks in South Africa were off limits to blacks unless we worked there. Only sometimes, when I was tending my father’s goats, would I even go near this reserve, IMfolozi. When I did, I’d catch glimpses of white men riding horses supervising black men fixing the fence. So when my father suggested I apply for an internship at IMfolozi where he had been working as one of the first blacks on the inside, heading up a project on alien plants, I told him, “No! I am not fixing any fences!!” But he insisted I check it out and so I applied to please him. And I found myself! I love animals and nature. After the internship I gave up what I had been studying — Public Relations — and became a field guide and then I got a job to monitor wild dogs, an endangered species. This is where I want to be — in the middle of it. Nature gives me peace of mind or what we say in Zulu, Kunothula – a quietness. I plan to stay involved here forever.”

Dr. Ivana Cinková, 34 years old, Litomyšl, Czech Republic/ Researcher Completing her Post Doctorate on White Rhino Communication: 

“I’ve wanted to come to Africa since I was around 6 years old. I was little and saw Joy Adamson’s “Born Free,” and then some time after, I read a children’s book about a Czech who moved rhinos from the Sudan to a Czech zoo. I liked his stories and in particular about a female Rhino who would smash the cell she was held in, just so the baby rhinos could get to her. She didn’t smash the rest of the pen, just the barrier to the babies. The workers would repair the wall, but every night she’d smash the barrier again to get to the young rhinos. I loved that. And now that I am here, approaching two years, I love being in the bush with them. Everything is so much simpler here, though it’s primitive and can be a struggle. It makes me appreciate everything I have. In Europe, life is easier, but you take it for granted.”

Midlife Volunteers

Fast friends: volunteers taking a break from work and meeting on the fabled “Rock” at Wildlife ACT camp, IMfolozi National Park in KwaZuluNatal, South Africa.

Kerry N., 56 years old, Tasmania, Australia:

“I’m two years out of an eight year relationship. I discovered my ex was living a double or should I say, triple life, with relationships all over the globe. Not only was he cheating on me, he made me feel like a fool. Like I was the one who was crazy! It was the classic “gas lighting.” But I am older now and wiser, and I’ve managed to survive.

I want my new life to be filled with color, fun and experiences. I want to know and love myself. I started with Africa, coming here as a midlife volunteer because of a near death experience I had more than 30 years ago – before any relationship troubles. It’s something I’ve never been able to shake off.

In that twilight space years ago, between life and death, I was in a tunnel on a dirt road. Along the road, there were brightly dressed African women, wearing reds and orange. The women were singing, chanting and jumping. It wasn’t happy singing. It was something else. Maybe they were telling me it wasn’t time for me to die. The image has stayed with me. I am here because of them.”

What is your soul aching to do? If you’d like to learn more about overcoming your fears and honoring who you really are, consider joining SAS Cofounder Liza Caldwell in 2019 when she returns to Africa to lead a small group of women to Cape Town, Johannesburg, and the Bush. The Asambe Tour (Zulu for “Let’s go!”) will be dedicated to self discovery and adventure and will include such highlights as Soweto, Robben Island, Table Mountain, and safari. Particularly special will be the unique opportunity to live and be with South African women and leaders as they share historical insights and the local ways to nature treks, cultural fourrees, wine tastings, braais (barbecques), and yoga in the wild. If you’d like to be considered for the group, please read more here.