I was blindsided. I did not see this coming. Sure, we had our issues, but I was not prepared for the volcano that would erupt and continue to overflow for a solid decade. I was a stay-at-home mom. I was focused on raising my 18-month-old baby when my husband dropped the bomb that he wanted to get a divorce and began to pack his things to leave the home we built together. The first question I had was,"What did I do wrong?" I was sleep-deprived, but I was meeting my baby's needs without help and figured that was quite the accomplishment. It is amazing how a trauma can suddenly wake you up in a jolt! Prior to the divorce, I was lucky in the sense that my biggest worry was, "What is the best diaper to buy?"
All of a sudden, I was in a new state of panic as I had to ask myself, "How am I going to feed my baby and keep a roof over our heads?" I was clueless, but fortunately, the clouds above my head lifted as I was offered a position at a local community center where I served as a volunteer. A year and a half later, I was let go. I recall looking up to the heavens asking again, "What did I do wrong?" I had finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel, only for it to return to darkness and despair. It appeared the universe had other plans for me. On a whim, I decided to use my unemployment money to start up a private practice. At that point, I honestly felt as if my angels showed up, as every courageous yet frightening step I took led me to somehow receive another client. To this day, I call it a miracle! I was able to keep my precious child and start a business that no one thought I could stay afloat for a day, let alone the last four decades or so.
So now you might be asking . . . Why the rollercoaster reference? Well, you start off with anticipation,worry, and fear.
You question every choice you make, like when you are waiting in a very long line for a rollercoaster ride that you have to talk yourself into every few minutes or so.
Once on the ride, you have to hold on for dear life as it twists and turns your fragile, human body. You feel as if the ride will never end, and even when it does, you are left with this sickening feeling in your stomach. I call this ride, "divorce."and it has several stages that require processing as well as learning life lessons.
So, what are these life lessons, and how can we establish a new hope as single or remarried parents?
1. There are no guarantees in life. Spouses leave. Jobs end. Friends fade away. Be ready for the ups and downs that life brings you to teach you to grow.
2. Learn to rely on yourself, and in that process, you will be learning how to love and care for yourself.
*After I experienced 5 different losses within eighteen months, I learned that hitting rockbottom has the benefit of pushing you to face your fears all at once. Yes, the process can be terrifying, but the reward is being able to rise from the ashes.
3. Trust comes first from trusting yourself. Trusting others will then follow.
4. Being a better parent to yourself will allow you to be a better parent to your child. Self-care is crucial before, during, and after a divorce!
5. There is no perfect way of reacting to a divorce. It is important, though, to see the big picture.
6. It is okay for you and your children to feel the pain and grief of divorce while learning and growing together.
*For me, my first response was shock. Then came the emotion of fear, and finally, my anger empowered me to move forward with the tasks at hand, one of which was the actual divorce. The other was to teach my daughter that she was entitled to her emotions and responses to the changes occurring around her. I was not afraid to allow my daughter to see me being imperfect during this time. I did not want to hide how I was feeling because I knew that my daughter would grow up learning to avoid her feelings if we did not make it a part of our daily routine. I wanted to normalize that we would have good days and bad days so she would know that no matter what,we would keep going.
7. Remember that you are the roots from which your children branch. How a parent reacts, i.e.,hopeless or hopeful, will directly affect the children's response to the divorce. (A stable parentDOES make a difference.)
8. Parents will need a "village" to stabilize themselves first before taking on their children's needs.Surround yourself with people going through this process as well as people that genuinely care for your well-being and the well-being of your children. It might be difficult to identify the people to keep in your circle.
*I was fortunate in that my mother took a very significant role in my daughter's life as well as my life during this difficult time. If my daughter was sick and could not go to daycare, I could call my mother early in the morning, and she would rush to my house to be there. This allowed me to avoid missing a day of work to be able to support myself and my child. I did not have many people around me that I could trust, especially with my child. Due to financial issues, I managed to bring in a roommate who was a dear, trustworthy friend in need who stayed with my daughter and me for many years. I was working two jobs to make ends meet, so the rest of the time was dedicated to my child, and it was difficult to develop a "village" outside of my mother and my roommate. But I am forever grateful for all that they contributed emotionally and financially to us.
9. Be aware that as an adult, you have some power over the outcome of your divorce and its effects, while your children are powerless.
10. In hindsight, you will be amazed by how courageous you were in this process, and you will learn who you really are.
My book, My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me, is the legacy that I give to myself, my daughter, and all who are going through or have already experienced the roller coaster ride of divorce.
My book serves as a healthy, creative, safe place for children to explore and process their feelings by initiating discussion, as well as discovering the power of self-affirmation and drawing.
Another unique layer of the book teaches parents as well as other professionals (i.e., teachers, guidance counselors, mediators, lawyers, etc.) to better understand the emotions and needs of each individual child who utilizes this book, without applying their biased viewpoints and/or influence.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."