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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.


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