First Aid: Part 6 (3min)

Pain Killers



The pain of divorce and family breakup can lead to quick fixes such as medication and alcohol.

There can be a time when – surrounded by friends for safe-keeping – that going out to a party can be a perfectly good way to keep your spirits up. Just beware of excess.


Changing the way you perceive your circumstances is a much more powerful way to reduce suffering – speak to some life coaches to find out how, or even use hypnosis and other relaxation techniques.


  • The frightening truth about the true pain of divorce and family breakup
  • Suicide statistics and simple ways to support people going through a divorce

William Shatner once said: “Divorce is probably as painful as death.”

A Canadian father killed himself and his son in 2008 following his stressful divorce. In the US, a famous Dog Whisperer opened up in 2010 about his depression post-divorce and his attempted suicide.

One study by the National Institute for Healthcare Research indicates that divorced people are three times as likely to die by suicide as people who are married.

When a person is really feeling the pain of divorce, what they do NOT need are well-meaning friends and colleagues telling them to ‘get a grip’ or to ‘pull themselves together’.

When the pain stage of divorce hits home, it’s tougher than you can imagine, if you have been lucky enough never to experience it. Getting through daily life feels like trying to juggle 5 balls in the air when you’ve just lost an arm. Or walking a 10-mile hike when someone’s run off with one of your legs. And the Shock and Anger have now passed so you have nothing to block out the pain, and you are really beginning to feel it.

A friend of mine was so blown apart by the pain she had to be taken to hospital on a stretcher, where she was given antidepressants to numb the horror of it all. But she wasn’t depressed – she was in emotional pain – and pills weren’t going to help her in the long term.

When I was running Starting Over Show events in Surrey I called up the local GPs and told them about the events which support people going through a divorce and asked them to share flyers for the events with patients who may be in need. I would say to the practice managers “Don’t give them Prozac – just send them to the Starting Over Show!” And they would laugh – and accept the flyers because they knew that this was a better option than dishing out drugs. Not one surgery said no.

GP’s are often the first people to know about a divorce – especially if someone is really struggling or feeling too ashamed or afraid to tell anyone.

In the States, 61.5% of fathers described worse mental health during the year post-separation. 24.2% consulted healthcare professionals more often than usual in the year prior to separation and 47.9% did so in the year post, with GPs being the main health professionals consulted. (xviii)

In 2010, Dog Whisperer Caesar Millan hit what he calls “rock bottom” after the death of his favourite dog and the end of his marriage to wife Ilusion Millan. He opened up publicly about his struggle with depression after his divorce – even attempting suicide by overdosing on pills.

Dr. Robert Litman, a U.S.C. psychiatrist with the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center, maintains that a divorced man is twice as likely to commit suicide as is a divorced woman.

And it’s not just the adults who feel the pain. In the UK, between 15,000 and 20,000 couples go to court to resolve child access disputes each year. In a divorce survey by Mischcon de Reya, a quarter of parents said the process traumatised their children so much that they self-harmed or were suicidal. (xxii)

So when you spot that friend or work colleague is in the Pain Stage – Be gentle. Give them space – but don’t cross the street because you don’t know what to say. I remember when I became suddenly single with three young children, all the dinner invites stopped. Other couples treated me like I was someone to be avoided – as if the family breakup was somehow catching.

What people really need at this stage is some nurturing time. Counsellors and coaches can be incredibly helpful in providing coping strategies. But what you can offer that is of immense help can be as simple as a hug. Or just quietly listening.

Avoid the temptation to try to take the pain away. You can’t. The fever burns out a disease, killing off the root cause. In the same way, let the person who is suffering ‘do the pain’ rather than encourage them to numb it with alcohol or drugs – or god forbid encouraging them to start dating again – before they’re ready – which in the long term will not be helpful. Be patient.

In Canada, divorcee Rich Saunders killed himself on Sept. 28, 2008 after he brought a lit barbecue into a bedroom and sealed the doors, window and air vents.

“Had the legal proceedings been less stressful and/or had the measures taken by the authorities been more effective in reducing the stressful environment then the outcome may well have been different,” Provincial Court Judge McIlhargey said in the ensuing report.

What made this tragedy even greater, was that Saunders didn’t just kill himself, but his three year old son along with him.

So when you sense that someone is really suffering, don’t load them up with more balls to juggle or suggest they go on a nice long hike – be patient and let them ‘do the pain’ in a supported environment.

Margaret Atwood once said: “A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there’s less of you.”


  1. (xviii)‘The Fathers’ Journey’: a survey of help-seeking behaviour by separating and recently separated fathers Ross Jones, Adrienne Burgess & Vahsti Hale 28 April 2012)


Creator of Best Way To Divorce. International Divorce Divorce Strategist and TEDx Speaker.
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