Ep 4 - Divorce & Separation: A Spiritual Process
This month, our community is focusing on healing through spirit-focused techniques, so it seemed perfect to speak with Jodie Stein, MFT, a therapist located in the Bay Area, CA, trained in attachment-focused, body-based therapies and drawing on nature, creativity and Spirit for healing.
The thing that caught my attention right away was her healing hikes for women in relationship transitions. This guided (physically, spiritually, and therapeutically) hike brings women together to “understand the way a breakup triggers fight or flight activation and can keep you stuck in negative beliefs about yourself and your future. With this insight about how ‘story follows state’, [hikers will] feel more in control of [their] emotions and [their] healing.” I love this!
Story follows state.
What does that mean? Jodie explained her meaning in my interview with her. She said that on the hikes, they practice healing techniques. When we start, we check in and talk about our thoughts, feelings about who we are, the story of ourselves; how our future looks, these are impacted by our nervous system – we’re assessing the level of activated state.
[Nervous system activated state = future looks bleak (maybe I’m too old, too fat, I made a mistake, etc.).]
Then, we do the hike and check in again. This is where we experience the state shift. Our story comes from our state. When we shift our state, our thoughts, story, and beliefs about our life, naturally shift.
With the introduction of a natural environment, social support, and physical activity, the body goes into an inactivated stress response.
Since so much of what we label as depression, anxiety, panic, during divorce and recovery, are triggered by nervous system activation, Jodie employs methods such as the healing hikes in a natural environment, which can bring about lasting changes in the hikers’ nervous systems.
Before the day of the hike, I educate my clients about the nervous system (via a workshop) so that they really understand how it works and specifically what they’re seeking to accomplish.
Jodie teaches her clients how to engage the top chronic stress mitigation tools (nature, connection, movement, and capacity) to manage their emotional fight or flight response that came with their relationship trauma and incorporates somatic therapy techniques for hikers to consider. These regulators are powerful and relatively easy to incorporate.
And since connection is one of the most difficult aspects to manage these days for adult women, Jodie helps women to connect socially via these hikes, but also to form and maintain friendships with people who really get it and have space in their lives for these connections.
We also talked about how our activation state is impacted by those around us and how to manage that.
So, why does Jodie do this work?
She came back from “ground zero” with her own divorce – an experience that left her feeling shattered, fragile, needy and messy. She witnessed first-hand how falling apart really touches people on a deep and spiritual level.
When our identities (as a husband, wife, partner) are stripped away, along with our life structure (financial security, job, living space, relationship with friends and families), it’s a massive dissent into the unknown and we don’t have control – even if we initiated. If we’re blindsided or left, it can be even harder. This experience sort of exposes us to the truth of what it means to be human.
These things we valued and perhaps took for granted don’t necessarily last – and this makes that apparent. It’s almost like the loss we feel at our own death. We like to think we’re in control, but this process rips that perspective away. This event fuels a deep transformation. We have to re-come into ourselves as a new person. How do we restart our life? If we can grieve and come to terms with all there is to grieve and reconnect in a soulful way. Who am I now? It’s so authentic and real because we’ve been through this process.
Divorce or separation can be the first time this sort of loss happens to someone; the first time they just can’t keep it together anymore. They fall apart.
During divorce and separation, your mind wants to solve all of the unknowns – but there’s just an inevitable period where you’re in process and haven’t reformed yet. You’re unformed. You’re wondering about the meaning of your life and about what’s actually important to you (now)? It’s a crazy, out-of-control time.
It’s a time where you may fear the future – and fear releasing the past – the life you had before.
Jodie explained how, though her divorce was a shattering experience, support groups really helped her. So, she still feels very connected to that approach to help others.
We often underestimate the power of the group and how it really helps. I’ve never shared vulnerably like that. Even some close friendships I have don’t go that deep. Finding your people, a place where you can show up and be accepted while working on things, an active group therapy session (such as a hike) can be really powerful.
During a major life transition (and always, really), it’s really important to have authentic connections – and there’s a skill to creating authentic, real connections. Jodie believes that the structure to achieve these is not in the world as it needs to be and that we need to create it or seek it out ourselves – and learn these skills for relating to each other. This is why she’s focused on therapy approaches that help her clients to create authentic connection, while they work through their transition.
So, what guidance does Jodie have for people thinking about trying something new for reconnecting around their grief?
- Do something new to make a difference in the way you feel. It may not be easy at the start. Try to trust and allow that there’s going to be a grieving/falling apart process and that you’re not going to be the same for some time, as you ride the waves of emotional upheaval and change.
- Try to acknowledge that there’s a way of giving permission for that to be a process that you’re not totally in control of. Accept that this healing process is not a mind process - it’s an emotional process. It’s not linear - but you can still bring structure to the healing.
- Build in time for support (therapy, therapy support groups, social connection support groups, workshops, space to be felt and talked about). Of course, you’ll have to push it down at times, but schedule time for air time.
- Understand how your nervous system triggers and protects your state (boundaries), and that managing your thoughts and emotions can be a key practice to getting through the toughest part. Consider social invitations that may trigger you at that time (a couple invites you out and that may throw you into a “I’ll be single forever…” etc. doubts).
- Do things that bring you joy, do something new, meet people who you can be real with. Connect to an activity if you’re too emotional to connect with others and learn how to connect without connecting in the pain (when that’s needed). Accept that sometimes, you just cannot show up because it’s too triggering - but give yourself permission to have that.
- Let yourself feel miserable and process that. It’s OK to protect yourself when you’re needing that.
- Know that it’s completely normal to NOT be able to talk about things to the general public (with friends even) for quite some time – so, create/find space to talk about it somewhere.
- Find the person who you can be with that doesn’t force you to bring your past with you and won’t trigger your old state.
- Engage the seeds of your new life (whatever that is).
- Take time to grieve. There will be things you miss – things to grieve. You’ll determine your relationship with your ex. And go through detachment and redefining your relationship (friends, acquaintances, coparents, no contact).
- Don’t skip steps. You have to feel through this process, you can’t skip steps (including feeling out of control).
There will be lots of tears and time – but there is healing on the other side of divorce.
About Jodie Stein, MFT
Jodie is a therapist who helps people navigate losses - relationship, identity, health, career, the life you imagined for yourself - and find the riches on the other side.
She believes these times of descent into the unknown are where transformation happens, and where, with the right guide, you can emerge with more wisdom, more meaning, and more presence to the joy of your actual life.
She has been an adventurer on the path of personal growth and awakening for over 20 years. No stranger to descents herself, as a human and a therapist she has learned how to be with the heart and mind through times of change and challenge.
Professionally, she has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies. She’s a licensed psychotherapist (MFT #80125) with clinical training and experience in attachment-focused, embodied therapies, mindfulness, and healing developmental trauma.