As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce ” I had the pleasure of interviewing April Kirkwood who has worked as a therapist, social worker, and educator in public and private sectors of mental health and education. She is the author of a riveting story, Working My Way Back To Me, which vividly shares the complexity of four generations of strong, independent women and their struggles with mental breakdowns, addiction, adultery, affairs and their tug of war with societal expectations and religious dogma. April’s experiences inspire others to find their story encouraging both healing and openness to love again as she did with her family and lovers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a woman with two masters at the age of fifty, I thought I had life pretty much figured out. However, one day, I looked out the window my heart broke open spilling out all of the sadness I had been hiding from myself and others. Yes, I was a counselor, but I had, until that point, always worked with children. In retrospect, I see I did that because it was safe. The last five years I have dedicated to diving deep and discovering the story of my life from an adult perspective. My first heartache was my parent’s divorce. The fantasys I created about my Dad were imprinted on Frankie Valli. Through tears and nights of quiet contemplation I finally arrived at a place where I could drop all that no longer served me and rewrite what and who I wanted to identify with. I found through the process that I could use my mind, body, and soul in connection with my present to heal the hurt, keep the love, and grow in awareness of all the wonder of my adventure. Today, I am an author, therapist, and speaker helping others. It is my desire that my presence will give others the freedom to do their personal work.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
Professionally I have worked with children as a social worker in a private mental health facility, a guidance counselor, a teacher, a consultant liason for an outpatient mental health center working in the schools helping bridge the gap between individual sessions and school goals. Personally, I am also one of the first products of divorce in America in the seventies and I well recognize the guilt, embarrassment, and sorrow of the breakup of a family system as well as the challenges that blended families face.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
My first year as a guidance counselor I was confronted with a fourth grader who cried and screamed and refused to go to class. Mom was at her wit’s end and so I met this very upset little guy in the office to guide him to his room. We didn’t get any closer when he threw himself down and went under a table in the library. So, realizing he was not going to budge, I decided to go under the table and sit with him. We sat there the entire school day. We had lunch under the table. Read books under the table and rested under the table. Finally, the bell rang and he was off to his bus never looking behind with even as a wave to me. I was bewildered thinking, “What would I do tomorrow?”
The next morning I shyed away from the front office when sure enough I got called in. The loud speaker scares the staff as much as the students. My principal stood there looking much larger then he actually was with the boy’s mother but no boy. Just as I turned to face them her face lit up smiling and giving me a bear hug. She asked looking totally bewildered, “What on earth did you do? He couldn’t wait to come to school this morning. He said he was ready. You are a great guidance counselor.” I looked at my principal smiling uttering a sign of relief. But as I went back to my office I realized this young man taught me more then any college class I’d taken. Quiet acceptance and being present with someone, without preaching and teaching, is powerful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A guidance counselor wears many hats. I shall never forget the time my principal gave me two lists of seventh graders; one boys, the other girls. It had come to our knowledge that there was an ‘oral sex’ club and my job was to call all of the parents and alert them. It was a task I dreaded. I delicately prepared a politically correct conversation for pivoting my words and phrases differently for the parents of the males versus the female participants. The results of the calls were shocking and left me taken aback. The parents of the girls were not as upset of their oral experimentation in the basement of homes often giggled like teenagers themselves. The parents of the boy were irate, disgusted, and accused the girls of blatant seduction. In short, they were ballistic. I’ll never forgive that. As a single mother of both a male and female as well as a counselor, these observations helped me to realize the importance of staying open, expecting the unexpected, and appreciating the fast differences between males and females professionally and as a parent.
Sitting alone at my desk, I shook my head, chuckled under my breath, and was glad I didn’t have to talk to the students about this myself. I did, however, get to pass them each day in the halls and watch their adorable little faces turn as red as a tomato.
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
The first piece of advice I’d offer a newly divorced close friend is to be careful about who’s boots you put by your bed. I’d bluntly ask, “Are you ready to invite a stranger into your personal space and those of your family?” Rebound relationships may temporarily take your mind off your problems and bring excitement but; unless you have thick enough skin, to love them and leave them, give yourself time. My advice friend to friend “Purchase some self-pleasure tools so your body is prepped when that truly fabulous person walks into your life dizzying your senses. In the meantime, go to the gym, get a great black little dress, and a pair a fabulous pair of high heels.”
Counselor’s tip: Great sex with the right partner is better then lasez faire sex with a hold over.
Now that the physical needs are at least temporarily satiated, it’s time to focus on your mental health. Divorce is a major life changing decision whether you intiated it or not. It is traumatic. It’s not unusual to be depressed or anxious. In fact, feeling a jumble of emotions is part of the process of healing and moving on. Divorce is a death of sorts and it’s painful. Mourning is a part of saying good-bye no matter how it ends.
I recommend using these these darkest moments to take a personal inventory of when or how you might have gotten so off course. Clean up your mental health. Examine and reassess your entire life so when the right person comes you will be healthy and able to love more fully then you ever did before. Like it or not this divorce isn’t all about what they did wrong. A divorce is often an indicator of many issues that attribute to unacknowledged issues that happen to manifest in your marriage. It’s time to do your work and become your best self so this is a repeat chapter in the story of your life.
Counselor’s Tip: It does get better. One morning you will get up and you feel more like yourself again.
Thirdly, get off your butt. You’ve been complaining that it was all about them. Now it’s all about you for a change. Find something that you’ve always wanted to try but never had freedom to do before. Commit to YOU. If it’s reading more, DO IT. Dancing, DO IT. Sleeping in the middle of the bed with the dog, DO IT. Eating cereal for supper, GO FOR IT. It’s time to be courageous. It can be frightening to take responsibility for your choices after so many years of sharing in decision making. However, think about how much you’ve been through. If for some reason you make a mistake or two, you’ll get through it. You always do!
Counselor’s Tip: Learning keeps you from dwelling on what’s wrong with your life while improving your self-esteem.
Haven’t you faked it enough in your marriage? Seriously, stop pretending that this is the best decision you ever made. Throwing divorce parties, dancing on tables in clubs, or shortening your hem lines are only band-aides for the unhealed scars, endless questions, and fears about the unknown that are living inside of your being. Give up all of the hoop-La and pretentious laughter. Do you actually think that others believe this is the best event of your life?
Counselor’s Tip: The truth is your best defense.
Last but not least don’t put your dirt on the street. Your personal life is none of anyone’s business. If someone corners you to discuss your divorce urging you to spill the ugly details, please don’t make your ex sound like Satan. After all, you picked them! What does that say about you? If you are so distraught, create and practice presenting a sort of press release that is dignified. After the PR stunt, then you can ran back to your car and scream it out.
Select a small handful of true friends that you confide in. Know who they. For everyone else, pick your head up and continue with your life. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself in public acting like a silly teenager. If you accidentally run into your ex or their family or friends, be elegant and a bit aloof. It will drive everyone crazy, by the way.
Counselor’s Tip: The best revenge is happiness.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
When two people get a divorce, it often turns in to a community free for all. Families, friends, neighbors choose sides and it becomes a small war. Try not to allow that to happen. Don’t bad mouth your ex with elaborate stories of their cheating, lies, and cold hearted ways. Others will follow your lead to paly nice is you do. Be the leader of a decent separation. You’ve got class and this is the time to shine.
Children and pets are not leverage for punishing your ex. The divorce is between you both and no one needs to suffer. If you are beyond anger filled with rage and revenge tactics, get counseling. Hurt people hurt people; but that doesn’t have to be you.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan J. Elliot assists newly divorced put a postive spin on this traditionally painful life change with positive strategies to help get back in the game.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
I use this quote often to those who are grieving the loss of love:
Each time you fall in love more deeply then the time before and in that knowledge hearbreak is made more bareable.
— April Kirkwood
Counselor’s Tip: Life is about lessons and learning. The most important lessons are challenged and tested with those we have romantic relationships with. Let us bless our lovers for helping us become our best selves.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am now sharing my story to others both on social media, Youtube, and as a speaker. I am available to work one on one and offer webinars. Most importantly, I strive to walk the walk and be an example to each person that I am grateful enough to meet. If my life helps just one person find their life, their song, their enthusiasm to be their best self, I will be honored.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My humble hope is that my presence will give others freedom to bravely visit their story. Take it off the shelf of your memory no matter how long it’s been. Touch the pages of memories. Cry, wonder, dream, sit, and share with others if you are lead. Then with grace from above, invite healing to live again, love again, and smile. You are the author and you can rewrite the ending utilizing the Trinity of your soul, body, and mind. So it is.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love, love, love to share thoughts about spirituality with Shirley Maclaine. I had my first introduction to Eastern thoughts in the early 80’s about chakras and meditation on her VCR tape. She is so wise. I would love to hear what she has learned and how she can assist my life to live fully accomplishing what I am meant to do.