Your wife left you and you’re feeling despondent; you’re not sure how you’re going to make ends meet.
All of a sudden, you find yourself with a cigarette in your mouth. Your father died of emphysema ten years ago and, until this moment, you hadn’t picked up since.
The stress of divorce has pushed you to the cigarette’s comfort, even though you know it can kill you.
You’re living alone and you just went on a date with an interesting guy. He told you he doesn’t want to see you again, so you return home alone and rejected. Your kids are sleeping upstairs. Your mom just left—she watched them while you were out. You rarely drink, but you find that half a bottle of wine is already gone. And you’re almost finished with a carton of ice cream.
Examples One and Two aren’t evil, but on a repetitive basis, they are surely destructive to your health and well being. Both situations are examples of regression; when a person returns to a less mature way of functioning because they are under stress, they are, by definition, regressed.
Note that the emotional instability and a sense of helplessness, so common in divorce, can be precursors to resuming bad habits.
Example One is very common. Data from 2005-2007 revealed that, in the US, the population of divorced and separated men and women had almost twice as many smokers (30.6%) as the married population (16.2%) (Schoenborn and Adams, 2010). Once you start smoking again, it’s difficult to stop. As hard as this fact may be to swallow, we’d like to point out that the life expectancy of a chronic smoker is ten years shorter than that of a non-smoker (Kaufman, 2004). Since your kids need you alive and well, this fact is as precious as the statistic on car accidents.
Example Two is also common. Schoenborn and Adams (2010) found that obesity was more prevalent and healthy weight less prevalent among divorced and separated women than among married women. Heavy drinking was also more prevalent in the population of divorced and separated men and women than it was in the married population. If smoking and drinking or binge eating were your coping mechanisms of choice in the past, you may now find yourself returning to old standbys.
If you’re hurt or angry, alone, sad, or worried, there are wholesome and intelligent ways to manage your pain – ways you can take pride in and that will make you feel good. Ways that can help avoid a loss of control, regret or, even worse, medical illness.
First, acknowledge that you have regressed. It is not as bad as it sounds. We all do it. Regression is common for everyone under stress, married, single or divorce. The problem with divorce is that the stress can take years to abate.
Now deal with your upset with both long term planning and short term prevention strategies. Take pleasure in knowing that you are alive and well and that this will get better one day. I mean it. Find pleasure in taking better care of yourself. It is a good antidote to the destructive pleasures of pigging out, drinking or smoking.
Long term, take care of your body through healthy exercise and eating right. Have people around you to call or hang out with. There is such healing in experiencing that you are not alone. Finally, when alone and in despair, call someone.
Have a buddy who is on your side and beat the need for a destructive pleasure.
After all, the best mistake is the one you don’t make.