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Thank god for girlfriends (social rehab/divorce recovery)

     I’d had a massive stroke and was bedridden, and now I was expected to go run a mini-marathon.

     Not literally. But that’s how overwhelming facing the world of dating––and even socializing–– felt after my divorce.

     Like that stroke victim, when a patient is so debilitated that she’s become bedridden, the physical therapists start their treatment right in bed. Through passive exercises––doing the work for the patient by moving their limbs–– they slowly encourage the muscles to recover.

     I’d started my own passive rehab for my social skills months back.

     It was called Facebook.

     I opened my Facebook account when I was still debating asking for a divorce. That baby-step of breaking isolation and reaching out was one of the critical factors in my finding the strength to leave that unhealthy relationship. I re-connected with long-lost cousins (like most Dominicans, I have tons). I also found friends from high-school and medical school and remembered who I used to be. Even the nerdy, invisible alien I was while growing up was better than this joyless human being I’d become as an adult.

     A “like” here, a picture there, daring to express opinions or telling jokes through posts––My heart beat faster in joy each time people replied. Sometimes I think I should write a story called “Facebook saved my life!”––but I guess I’d made the point.

     But as any cast or crutch can be detrimental if not removed timely, now I had to admit that I was hiding under online interaction to say that I was socializing when the truth was that I was lying in bed in my pajamas. I knew I had to be weaned off Facebook and make it to real human contact.

     So what does the physical therapist do next? The next challenge is making the patient work against gravity. When my patient is able to leave the bed and sit up for meals, there’s progress.

     So preceding the finalization of my divorce, I took a giant step in my “social therapy” program: Meals out of bed. I started inviting flesh-and-bone girlfriends to go on one-to-one brunch dates.
     God bless girlfriends!

     And God bless brunch food!
     My love affair with crab-cake Benedicts and sweet potato fries made me put on a few pounds, but it was worth it. It was exciting to have something to look forward to those days when the kids would visit their dad. And it was healing to chat with friends in the same situation I was––manless and cautious.
     I wished sometimes there were a button in the brain you could click to voluntarily become a lesbian. (And one to erase the Catholic guilt). Around me, there were so many wonderful, bright, beautiful, sweet women––all alone. We all complaining about how there were no good men around. Wouldn’t it have been great if we could’ve just paired up with each other?
     (And by the way, around that same time, my soulmate and now husband David was having a campfire with his guy-friends at the beachside, complaining that there were no good women in town. But that’s another story)
     Let’s start with my friend Peggy, my former boss’ assistant. She was an exotic mixture of German and Hispanic, with double-D cups and Barbie-doll, mile-long legs. She was so gorgeous that when I saw in her CV that she’d worked for Victoria’s Secret–– as a cashier in one of their stores–– I assumed she meant she’d been one of their models. I couldn’t figure out how on Earth she was single. If that goddess didn’t have a man––what was the hope for the rest of us, mortal women?
     But it was beyond looks. Let’s talk about my friend Rosemary, a therapist a couple of decades older than me––she was in her fifties. Not only did she have a license in counseling, she also had a PhD in metaphysics (how cool is that!). Talk about hitting the jackpot! When the girlfriend you meet for brunch can discuss self-help books AND Law of Attraction books, you really have it made. She gradually propelled me out of my isolation by inviting me to lectures about goal achievement and a writers conference.
     Then take my friend Jill, a personal trainer and beautician, also older than me. We bonded when she volunteered at my cancer center offering beauty services to cheer up women going through chemotherapy (talk about a heart of gold). Jill had an amazing story. Ten years back she’d left rural Canada, and a dead-end marriage to a pastor; lost over 100 pounds (without surgery!); and traveled the world for a while, partying with a rich boyfriend who paid for her new boobs. And now, after having had her fun, she was hoping to settle down (like me, except I never had the fun!). She was my hero for having reinvented herself. With her blond-pixie-haircut, her blue eyes and her gym-freak body, she was one of the prettiest women I’d seen. She got me out of my isolation further, by taking me with her in explorations of a magical universe I’d never visited before: consignment stores.
     And then, my friend Mary, a nurse practitioner working at the hospitalist program and another beauty inside out. She’s one of those people who irradiate a soothing energy.
     Whenever I’m embarking on something new, I find a mentor . That was what my friend Mary became in the process of my divorce. Mary had been divorced for five years. She was ahead of me on everything. She knew about the stresses of time-share, and biting your lips not to badmouth your ex in front of the children. She knew about the stress of dealing with car-mechanics or trying to fix something broken in the house by yourself. Whenever we met for dinner (our schedules never allowed for brunch), we vented about our fears of facing the dating-scene, and trying to reconcile our conservative beliefs with the modern world. She’d even been on “Christian Mingles” once! (She was brave!) I ate up every story she told me and took notes. Mary was beautiful too, with her curvaceous body, her chocolate, Jamaican skin and her gorgeous jet-black hair. I envied how she could wear it straight and shiny one day, then bouncing in perfect curls the next.
     But getting to know those wonderful friends back-fired in one respect. I had to ask myself “If these gorgeous, sweet, successful, amazing women are single––What hope is there for me?!”
     Even my Victoria’s Secret-model-looking friend Peggy struggled with bad luck in love. (My theory with her was that she was too pretty, and normal men were scared of her. If a man dared approach her, it meant he was a narcissist megalomaniac. So there you go, even being too pretty has its disadvantages.)
     But do you know what’s the craziest?
My friends were thinking the same about me.
     In my mind, I was a mother of four, with a kid with special needs and the social skills of a NASA engineer (trust me, those aren’t good). Yet for them I had it easy.
     For Rosemary, the therapist, I had it easy, because I was younger. And while I saw her as the smartest gal in town, she kept beating herself up because, in spite of thousands of hours of experience counseling women, she still struggled with relationships in her personal life.
     According to Jill, I had it easy because I was a doctor and made better money than her (I could support myself, and a man’s salary didn’t have to be a dealbreaker for me). Every time I saw Jill, I saw a gorgeous blonde with a knockout body. Yet what she saw was different. She suffered staring at the (imaginary) hanging skin on her stomach and thighs, left from when she lost weight. “I should have gotten that old-rich boyfriend to also pay for that surgery!” she used to say.
     For my friend Mary, I had it easy…because something else, who can remember?
     But then the clouds parted and I understood.
     According to Law of Attraction, we attract into our lives people who are at our same level of spiritual and psychological development. I’d become a magnet for wonderful women who shared a trait with me: bad self-esteem.
     But even that was an improvement! Because my friends in the past didn’t have bad self-esteem, but horrible self-esteem. So I was improving.
     And also because not so long ago, I thought I was invisible, and I was attracting to my life––well, nobody. Nobody saw me.
     If I were designing a course on post-divorce recovery, or finding your soulmate, one of the pre-requisites would be spending time out with girlfriends. My Crabcake-Benedicts-girlfriend-therapy helped me to get ready for dating in many ways. The process eased my previous belief that I was unlikable. My girlfriends reminded me of what a stimulating conversation was––raising my bar for what I wanted a date to feel like. They also helped me see more clearly the traits I valued in a friend––reliability, loyalty, positivity. Only when I clarified that, I could start understanding what I wanted in that special friendship that a romantic relationship is.
     Eventually, Rosemary moved to Orlando, Peggy moved to Fort Lauderdale and Jill slowly disappeared from my life. My friend Mary kept evolving with me and––strange coincidences––met her soulmate almost at the same time I met mine.
     But before that happened, Mary proved being one of those butterfly-wing-flaps which changed my destiny. She ended up introducing me to a new group of friends which was not only critical in my healing, but also directly responsible for my finding my soulmate.
     But that’s another story.



To be continued...

What happens when a previously invisible Alien becomes visible? Uh-Oh…She ends up in Area 52?

Stay tuned for the continuation of this story and other surprises arising from my Writer’s-ADHD.

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Coming Soon:

It’s Never Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood (My beloved Peter Pans)

The Magical Power of Delusional Thinking