CAN IT BE A GOOD THING?
NAME: Renee Catt FROM: Melbourne, Australia SINGLE MUM TO: Ethan ( 7) and Keely ( 6) SINGLE MUM FOR: Three and a half years
Looking into the mirror one night not long after she’d separated from her husband, Renee Catt was at her lowest of lows. She hardly recognised the woman staring back at her. She was lonely, she was lost and she was tired. It was that moment that she decided her divorce would be an opportunity; it wouldn’t be the end of her world, it would be a beginning and she set off to find her sparkle again.
Being in the travel industry for twenty years, she started by taking herself on a divorce holiday to Las Vegas. She got a new hair do, threw out her Kmart trackies and changed every aspect of her life that wasn’t working for her in what she calls ‘an inside job of epic proportions’.
Now she’s known as The Divorce Go To Girl and is dedicated to helping women go from break up to break through. In this issue I spoke with her about something I regularly see single mums struggle with... the dark void that is loneliness.
Thanks for joining us Renee. You’ve mentioned to me before that women who come to you might feel alone and like no one gets them. Is this a common thing?
Yep, 100% - it’s really common. There’s three universal fears in life: not being loved, not being enough and not belonging. When your marriage ends it touches on all of those fears. For women one of our biggest things is that we want to be heard, understood and appreciated. After a break up you essentially lose all that from the one person who was central to your life, and may have been for many years.
This is exacerbated if you have shared friends too. It’s not uncommon to lose mutual friends after a break up. It’s nothing to do with you, but it can feel really personal and add to those fears. I remember the first night I went out as a single woman – it brought up so much anxiety and subconscious stuff. You don’t want people to look at you with pity, you start to feel really self conscious. As women we give so much meaning to stuff and it doesn’t always need the amount of meaning we give it.
So it’s easy to start hiding yourself, which then makes you feel even more that way!?
Yeah, it’s easier to stay safe, do what you know and stay in your comfort zone. And it’s easy to feel misunderstood. Unless people have gone through what you’re going through, they won’t get it, so it can be easy to subconsciously withdraw from people. You may be feeling lonely and like no one cares without realising that you’re the one creating that situation.
Even if it’s making you unhappy?
Totally, and people don’t want to make the change because it’s big and scary and they don’t know what steps they need to take – but they just really need to be shown how they can do it. If you keep telling yourself ‘I’m alone and no one gets me’ that’s exactly what’s going to happen to you.
Was loneliness part of single motherhood for you in the early days?
Yeah, because of where I lived. I lived away from friends and family and I worked from home so I wasn’t around people regularly. It really wasn’t working for me so I moved on from our family home, found my own place closer to civilisation because I really am a city chick and I thrive off other people’s energy.
And sure, I still feel a little bit alone sometimes, but I know that people aren’t far away. It’s so important in your recovery process to accept feeling alone and being ok with it. And if you really think about it, you’re probably not alone. We’re so much more connected than we’ve ever been, we can pick up the phone anytime and call someone. It’s more the fear of being alone and what that ‘means’ that’s the problem. We don’t want to face it, we don’t know what to do with it. But being alone lets you rediscover yourself and grow if you allow it. What’s important is having an awareness of why you’re feeling uncomfortable about being alone – uncomfortable is where the magic happens.
I had one of my toughest months recently. I wasn’t sleeping, my ex-husband had decided to stop paying child support. I felt so alone and so misunderstood and it was really challenging. Then I asked myself ‘Why am I feeling like this?’, ‘What is it that has changed things this month?’ I realised I had been dwelling on negatives and things that were totally out of my control which just made me spiral downwards. And what I’d done to get to that point was to listen to my girlfriends. When it comes to divorce sometimes your friends aren’t the ones to give you the best advice – they come from a good place, but they’re emotionally invested in you so they can inadvertantly add fuel to the fire instead of helping you find a solution. You need to go to a neutral place, like your therapist or your coach – go to Switzerland ladies! Sometimes we all have a moment when we get a bit out of control with our thoughts and emotions and moving ourselves out of that head space is a skill we all need to learn and practice regularly.
In your Beyond Your Break Up boot Camp, you say you teach that one is not the loneliest number. How do you do that?
You’re more alone as one half of an unhappy couple than you are if you’re happy and on your own. It’s about putting a different spin on it all. Now I get to do whatever I want, I can watch whatever I want, I have control of the remote and control of my life. When you make the change from living in a house with a partner and children to being in a home just with your kids, and sometimes your kids aren’t there as well, meaning it’s just you, it’s a sudden change… and change is hard for humans! You don’t have that constant background noise and hustle and bustle in your day. It’s ok to feel that, there’s nothing wrong with it – it’s what you tell yourself about it that matters.
There is absolutely a normal level of loneliness… and you can choose to sit there and think ‘Oh my god, I feel alone’ and play the victim or you can decided ‘Right I’m feeling alone, it’s ok to cry and feel it’ and then you release that emotion which gives you a fresh canvas to decide what you’re actually going to do about it. You can be grateful for time alone to do some soul searching or stuff you love to do – look at everything you can do and
use it as an opportunity. Take a bath, take yourself to the beach and not have to worry about what your little person is doing, get into nature, allow the feelings to come up and know that it’s ok. If you don’t let the loneliness feelings come up and deal with them, you’ll mask it and it will only keep coming back again and again.
So you think being alone is a good thing?
There’s a really simple way to move on after divorce and that’s not with someone else. You have to stand on your own two feet first. I learned that lesson the hard way. I got into a relationship ten weeks after my separation. Subconsciously I thought it probably wasn’t the right time, but I wasn’t aware how powerful my intuition was back then and so I jumped right in. My new partner and I bought a car together, then we decided to buy my family home from my ex-husband, but the day before signing the mortgage he ended things. It was a huge lesson. I realised I had made all those decisions from a place of fear and decisions based on fear are never going to work out well.
After that I learned to get comfortable with being on my own. I spent a lot of time by myself. It gave me a chance to ask myself ‘How can I learn from this’, ‘What really did go wrong in my marriage?’ and ‘What do I need to do so that doesn’t happen again?’. I understood that there was three sides to my divorce story – my ex-partner’s side, my side and what really happened. Acknowledging that gave me so much insight and clarity on how to move my life forward.
It’s great to have support, it’s great to be in a relationship, but how we stuff things up is believing that we’re not whole enough on our own first so we can be really clear on what the best decisions actually are for us.
What about things like Christmas and holidays? That can spark loneliness even when we think we’re doing really well.
Yeah, sometimes the stigma of being a single mum can get the better of us during those times. And you’re right, often it happens without us even knowing. We’re doing ok and then ‘wham bam’ we suddenly feel more alone than we’ve ever been. I get it, I know lonely. I remember my first Christmas on my own. I had Christmas day with some friends of mine and it was lovely and then I went home and suddenly felt so alone – and that’s ok. It reminds us that we are human. When most of the world is celebrating a special holiday and everyone’s all over Facebook with their happy snaps and you feel like you’re the only one not having that ‘special day’, it can be confronting, especially in the early days of life-after-separation and divorce or if you haven’t re-partnered yet. But remember, it’s natural and you are not alone, no matter what the shiny world of Facebook is showing you.
So how did you deal with those emotions?
I really just accepted the feelings and didn’t let it take up too much space in my head and heart. I focused on my kids, I bought myself gifts and wrapped them and put them under the tree and I reached out to family and friends. Then on the day I went home, had a big cry and watched The Fast and the Furious and just accepted that it’s ok to feel like that sometimes. But probably the biggest thing for me was making the choice to step back from these events, whether it’s Christmas or a birthday or the kids’ birthdays, and reminding myself that it really is just a day… just 1 day,
1 lot of 24 hours, there are 7 of these in a week and 30 in a month and 365 a year, so in reality, it’s just a flash in time and you never know what tomorrow or next birthday or next Christmas will bring.
So loneliness is all a state of mind?
Yeah, you can change your state and how you’re feeling in a snap of your fingers. Cry, move your body, release the emotion and move on. You can put a different spin on anything. There are six human needs: Certainty, uncertainty, significance, love and connection, growth and contribution. If love and connection is a high need for you, it’s normal that you might feel loneliness more than someone else but it doesn’t mean you are actually more alone or less alone than anyone else. And at the end of a marriage, we’re craving those needs even more. The thing is you can choose to meet those needs in an unresourceful way with things like alcohol or a new partner or you can realise you’re adjusting to a new situation and work out how you can meet those needs in a healthy and empowering way.
I also hear women say that they went through a stage of loneliness early in their separation, then they went through a period of being excited and empowered but then it came back in the two-three year period post separation. What’s going on with that?
This is because often when you’re going through stages of growth you’ll hit a plateau which can bring up old feelings again. It’s a sign you need to grow a bit more, so source some new information or try something different. If you want to learn from the lessons of your marriage you need to keep growing and learning. It’s really powerful to take in new way of thinking. When those tough times come back, when old feelings pop up, it’s really a time to get inspired. Get excited, you’re about to take on another big step! As Dr Demartini says “You’re either ripe and rotting or green and growing.” Change means getting uncomfortable, loneliness is just a form of discomfort while we’re changing.
You’ve been on a big journey the last couple of years, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since becoming a single parent?
That you can stand on your own two feet. I’m a completely different person now. I don’t regret my divorce. I learned the lessons it taught me, I found ‘me’ again and then I reinvented myself.
What’s your favourite pick-me-up movie?
The Fast and the Furious
And what about your favourite motivational go-to book?
I don’t have a favourite because I’m reading all the time, but if I had to pick a favourite of the moment, it’d be Brené Brown – Daring Greatly.
WHEN YOU MAKE THE CHANGE FROM LIVING IN A HOUSE WITH A PARTNER AND CHILDREN TO BEING IN A HOME JUST WITH YOUR KIDS, AND SOMETIMES IT’S JUST YOU, IT’S A SUDDEN CHANGE… AND CHANGE IS HARD FOR HUMANS! YOU DON’T HAVE THAT CONSTANT BACKGROUND NOISE AND HUSTLE AND BUSTLE IN YOUR DAY. IT’S OK TO FEEL THAT, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH IT – IT’S WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF ABOUT IT THAT MATTERS.