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In this conversation, I talk to Separation and Divorce Coach Alice McDonald about the decision to end her long-term marriage out of love and respect for herself at the time when her children were approaching adulthood. She went from being a wife and full-time mum to a single, empty nester in a short space of time.
In the past few years, Alice has spent time crying on the floor of the shower, trying to keep her sh*t together for her kids, rediscovering who she is, what she loves and her purpose in life. She has come out the other side of her divorce happier than ever and is enjoying creating her life by design.
Full of heart, giggles and honest conversations, Alice now uses her experience to empower women to move beyond divorce and motherhood with their own version of success and happiness.
If you’d prefer to watch, head over to Instagram when you’ll find the recorded conversation or click play below to listen while you multitask.
Tell us about your journey and how you came to be where you are today
It’s a long journey!
I ended of my long term marriage. I was with my now ex-husband for 23 years which is a really long time – actually more than half of my life – at the same time my kids were approaching adulthood.
And it was really bloody scary because I had been a stay-at-home mum for a really long time, supporting my now ex-husband in his corporate job. It made sense for me to be at home with them but I was already approaching that stage where the kids were needing a lot less of me so I was already looking at what I was going to do with my future. It’d been a long time since I’d worked or studied and then it just became apparent that staying in my marriage was going to make me miserable for the rest of my life, it just wasn’t going to change.
So I chose to end my marriage even though I had no idea what was on the other side of it.
And the last few years has just been about recovering from that, and stepping through so many different parts of life. You know, questioning who I am, what my purpose is, my worth and rebuilding myself from scratch really.
In terms of becoming a coach. As you know, we trained through the same Academy. I decided to become a life coach and when I was looking at where I wanted to niche, I really wanted to look at (to start off with), the kind of safe version which was working with mums now having to do something else with their life. And I’m like ‘Yeah, I can do that!’ but then the more I got really straight with myself, I realised where I could make a bigger difference was helping people do that at the same time as ending a long term marriage.
Even though it’s really uncomfortable for me, stepping back into that space, I figure if I can make it easier for one person then that’s wholly worth it ’cause it’s really really hard. To walk through it with somebody who is focusing on your future, who’s been through it before and knows all the ups and downs, there is just something really valuable about that.
Here at Vitalita, we believe wellness is about creating a life brimming with vitality. In your own words, what does wellness mean to you? And why is it important?
I love your definition of a life brimming with vitality and, in terms of where I stand on wellness these days, mental health is really high on my agenda.
When I think about wellness, it’s about all of those different elements of being well. So there’s mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing and really, it feels to me like being grounded.
And it’s important because we only have one life and I want to enjoy my time here, whatever that happens to be for the season of life that I’m in.
How has your experience of separation and divorce informed your approach to health and wellness?
It’s a huge change for me and, actually, it came about the moment I decided to end my marriage. How it’s different is that I look after myself first.
It means that I’m now caring for myself in a way that I didn’t before. I will put myself and my health above others. The only exception to that is my children, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that put them above my own needs but it does mean that I will consider their needs as much as my own…but not more than.
That is fundamentally it. That’s how it’s changed because I know that I can’t operate if I don’t look after myself.
So, in terms of how separation and divorce changed that, I look after myself a lot more. I’m quite happy to cancel a meeting. I’m quite happy to postpone something until next week. I’m quite happy not to answer my emails today if that doesn’t work for me if I’m too stressed.
You know one of the things that I think is quite different for a lot of people is I don’t have my email on my phone. Nobody needs to contact me all the time, email is not an instant form of communication. If someone needs me instantly, they can ring me or text me. So, I don’t have my email on my phone. I only check my email once or twice a day, little things like that.
It’s about me protecting my time, and looking after my needs. So that’s how it’s changed.
Recently you shared a story on socials about an experience buying groceries. The story highlighted the importance of recognising your worth and setting clear boundaries. How does self worth relate to self care?
So for those of you who didn’t read the story, I was putting some things on the conveyor belt and the lady said, “You have to empty your basket”. I said, “Oh, is that actually what we’ve got to do nowadays?” and she answered in an incredibly rude way.
One of the things that shifted for me quite a lot after my divorce is really listening to that inner voice and that feeling that I have inside. And the moment that she spoke to me like that I felt there was a boundary that had been crossed in the way I allow people to treat me. I don’t allow people to treat me like that. I don’t care who they are anymore so I just picked up my groceries and said “I’m going to go somewhere else”.
But it is that self worth. It is because I care about myself. I value myself. It’s not how I felt when I left my marriage but nowadays I do care about myself, I do value myself and it’s been a long journey to get here.
When people think about self care, meal delivery services don’t usually come to mind. Can you speak to the importance of prioritisation and outsourcing when it comes to wellness?
In the context of separation and divorce, I really had to prioritise my wellbeing and how I use my energy so this is where prioritisation comes in.
I think the thing is, you have such as drain on your energy at that point in time, right. There’s the grief, there’s the shock and all of that uses up a lot of emotional energy and you’re physically lethargic and you know that in order to keep yourself well during this period, you’re going to have to eat well. We know that intellectually. But, oh my God, you’ve got to prepare meals for the kids. My kids are rowing and playing hockey multiple times a week so they need lots of carbs and meat and protein. I’m like “Fine, I’ll just cook for them in a little bit of that’. But what happens is I end up eating more than I should so it’s not really looking after me!
My priority was looking after me and I was like, how can I do that and not expend more energy?
I don’t want to be making two lots of meals, that’s not going to really work for me and so I had to give up perfectionism in terms of what I ‘should’ be doing. I should do my own shopping and I should do my own cooking and it’s expensive to get a meal delivery service. But I ordered a meal delivery service and that was one of the best decisions I made because I didn’t have to think about what I’m preparing, my meal size, nutrition. Everything was just taken care of for me!
I speak so much about outsourcing. If you can afford to outsource something that’s causing you stress, it is so valuable.
For example, I was looking at buying a house after having divorced and it was so stressful because I was doing it on my own. Not that I’m not capable but on top of recreating myself, building business and studying and whatnot, going to multiple open homes on Saturday, trying to negotiate prices, are not things I love to do.
I thought how can I alleviate the stress here? I have some friends who love house hunting, maybe I’ll ask them. It turns out that one of my friends knows a buyers agent. It was the best thing I ever did! This guy went to all the open homes. I gave him a budget and all the parameters. I’ve also got a large-ish dog and so that’s a consideration when you’re buying into a Strata property. He did all of the research for me and it was the easiest house purchase I’ve ever done. It made my life so much easier! I’m a massive fan of outsourcing where you can!
Research shows that divorce is one of the most stressful experiences and I can imagine there are many moments of overwhelm and uncertainty. What are some simple strategies people might use to alleviate stress or anxiety?
Yeah, it has been an incredibly stressful time and I’m only just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In terms of some simple strategies, one of the most valuable strategies is from my psychologists was postponement.
I’ve got Generalised Anxiety Disorder and clinical levels of stress and depression. Interestingly, a lot of that’s gone away since my divorce that was but let’s just leave that there.
Learning about postponement from my psychologist was really helpful. Basically, what that means is if you have something that’s really stressing you and you’re really worried about [it], and you’re ruminating on it, thinking about it, catastrophising about it.
What am I feeling stressed about?
Can I do anything about it right now?
Yes or no. You either can and you take action. If not, then I’m not going to think about it now. I’m going to think about it tomorrow. You pick a certain time the following day and you’ve got 5 minutes or 10 minutes where you can worry as much as you like about it. But not ’til then.
This really helped me in terms of feeling stressed. So, what am I stressed about? Do I need to be concerned about that right now? Can I do anything about that right now? Ok, not I can’t so I’m going to worry about that tomorrow.
But what I will say about that is it takes practise. It seems quite simple but not ruminating or catastrophising takes practise. Now I’m quite good at it but I still use it.
The other thing that worked really well is journaling and some of my clients use this as well. One of my clients has an Anxiety Disorder and often she’s just thinking about things and getting really stressed about stuff and she uses journaling. I find that if I journal, it helps me take things from my head, get it out on paper, slow down through the process and it makes things a lot easier.
I also definitely think that people should tap in with a psychologist or a counsellor, whichever is good fit for them. I think it just gives you an opportunity to have an independent sounding board to start off with but also have somebody who is trained because it’s all very well and good to be talking to your friends and family who are loving and very caring and very generous but you need somebody who is independent and can support you psychologically and can give you some really powerful strategies, and find things that work for you, and things that don’t work.
Now, to be clear, when I first went and saw a psychologist prior to me ending my marriage I did not want to go. As far as I can tell, all the friends I had that are psychologists (to be clear, I also studied psychology when I was at uni), I looked at their life and thought “you haven’t got your shit together!”.
But bear with it if you’re opinionated like me! It’s actually really helpful.
I think it’s very valuable if people use a therapist of some sort but also if you’ve got a really good GP that’s absolutely fundamental in terms of being able to help you look after your health and ask you questions that you might not have thought of. They see people going through separation and divorce all at the time and it will do things like impact your physical wellbeing so it’s incredibly valuable.
What about habits that inspire joy and enable you to find a sense of hope in those challenging moments?
The thing that I clung to the most was knowing that other women have done this and other women have done well on the other side of it. So, if there’s anybody watching who’s like “Oh my God, I don’t know how to get through this! I can’t see a future for myself”, know that other people get through it. I’ve got through it. That was what gave me hope because I didn’t know how it was going to work out. I really did not.
And, in terms of finding joy and happiness, one of the things is tapping in or checking in with what you feel like. That was really my indicator for those things that brought me joy.
One of the things that bring me joy is flowers! I love them and how I know that I love them and I’m like “Ooooh!” You know, like you get a little feeling inside and so I always have flowers in my house. It’s those little things that just bring those little bits of light. Again, spending time with people who also give you that feeling. Who lights you up? People who you feel good about spending time with, spend more time with those people!
I really looked at what brings me joy ’cause I’m not gonna survive this shit if I don’t do stuff that’s fun!
So, my second language is Indonesian and I just love it. It’s good fun. I decided to go back to classes, at the time when all this divorce and separation stuff was going on, to connect with people who also had a similar interest in Indonesia. One of the things that ended up happening is that they asked me to MC the virtual Festival of Indonesia which happened last year in COVID road and I found myself live-streaming across the world in front of all sorts of people, MC’ing this event. And that’s something that never would have happened had I not followed the joy. I just kept hanging out with these people because they made me feel good and they’re still my friends.
In terms of finding joy and what brings you happiness, it’s really about tapping into that feeling and it’s different for everybody. You know, the things that you love are probably completely different to the things I love.
For example, I was going through a phase where I just didn’t want to get out of bed. So I was working through a book called The Miracle Morning and one of the things you do is exercise every day, move your body but I really didn’t want to. But what I noticed was that whenever I have music on, I just bop! I can do that. I can put on a song that I can bop to every morning and the song that I listened to was Happy [by Pharell Williams]. I was in my pyjamas, getting out of bed, turning that on for 3 minutes and then going from there.
Finally, what would you say to women watching who are in the midst of separation or divorce?
The thing that comes to mind is to let them know that you have the power within you. And that sounds like a really big statement but you do and you don’t have to do it any flying rate, you can go slow. What matters is taking little actions every day and that’s all. And somedays you’re not going to feel like it but what matters is you get up and you take one more action, that’s all. And just be incredibly patient and loving and generous with yourself
The thing I don’t think is talked about is how draining this is. It is so draining, even now! I was talking with a friend about this right. We operate so much slower because our bodies are still healing, our energy is still healing but we know that if we just do a little bit every now and again it moves things forward.
So just be really kind and patient with yourself.
You won’t have the energy that you had before. It takes a lot to heal from a really long term marriage, the trauma that it is, to not only come to the decision that that’s what you need to do but then also to go through some of the separation process where you feel like you were betraying the person that you love the most. I love the guy that I ended my marriage with but for my own happiness I had to end it.
So be really kind and generous with yourself. You are brave and courageous and you have the power within you.