This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
Dawn: Bernadette Purcell, thank you for speaking with me. You wrote the most amazing book on divorce recovery, which is my current obsession: Divorced as F* In Seven Spiritual Steps. I’m excited to dig into all the deliciousness that is on its pages.
Bernadette: Let’s get right to it! The Divorced as F* In Seven Spiritual Steps book came to fruition because I was looking for a gift. A friend of a friend was going through a divorce, and I didn’t feel we were close enough for me to just pick up the phone and call her, so I figured I would send her a divorce recovery book. So there I was, walking through the aisles of the bookstore, looking for a nice little gift, and I was picking up all these fantastic books, but what I was looking for was something uplifting. I wanted it to be funny. I wanted it to have therapeutic coping mechanisms and ways to grow spiritually. And I just couldn’t find it.
So I walked out of that bookstore feeling deflated, and then this lightning bolt just hit me and said: “If you want this to exist in the world, you just have to write a divorce recovery book. If you want something to have the voice of a mental health professional but also the voice of a best friend, it has to be you.”
Dawn: You tell this story in the introduction of the Divorced as F* In Seven Spiritual Steps book about divorce recovery and with even more color and flair than you just did! Also, we’re both therapists, so it resonated with me. There were so many mic-drop moments and laughs when I was reading your book, as well as therapeutic suggestions. What does that mean for people who are not therapists? Homework. Because we women want guidance!
When you’re going through a divorce and you have low energy, this divorce recovery book is so freaking funny but also gives you what you need, and that is straight-up medicine.
I want to ask you this about your writing process. I highly recommend journaling, and I create a lot of guided journaling prompts for women who are going through post-divorce trauma, especially to help them get into their mind-body connection to better process and release what they’re feeling. I would love to know your thoughts on journaling, writing this divorce recovery book, and how that process changed you.
Bernadette: Journaling is so good for you, and it’s so accessible. No matter where you are, you can always do it, and it’s always readily available for you. I’ve been journaling for so many years, but when it came to writing Divorced As F* In 7 Spiritual Steps. I had a moment of panic when I said, “I don’t know how to do this! I’ve never written a book!” But a voice came on inside my head and told me, “Just begin.”
The actual writing of this divorce recovery book didn’t feel healing for me. It felt cathartic and difficult. The spiritual steps are what healed me, and journaling was a part of those spiritual steps.
Writing the book came to me because I had so much wisdom from all these different sources: my experience as a mental health professional, coping strategies, and spiritual insights coming at me from teachers, my friends, and my family.
I wanted to just compile all of that knowledge and deliver it in a way that could be understood best by the people going through their own struggles.
Dawn: If I’m a woman who is not a divorce recovery therapist, I could be listening to this interview and say, “But I’m not a therapist. You have so much wisdom!” You had so much experience going into it, and you’re sharing it in this book. It’s years of training, experience, and wisdom that readers now have at their fingertips.
Bernadette: When you’re in the middle of it, you need it to be practical and actionable.
One of the first steps is gathering your resources: Pick up the phone. You call your friends, you call your family, you call a professional, you call a therapist, and you gather your resources.
Dawn: I love how the Divorced as F* In Seven Spiritual Steps book can shorten how long a woman is in pain or any person.
Bernadette: Sometimes, the solution is crying. Sometimes the solution is really feeling it. Sometimes the solution is picking up a pen and journaling. Sometimes the solution is getting out there – for me, it was hiking. It is different for everyone, but you need an arrow that’s pointing you in the right direction.
Dawn: There is a point in the divorce recovery book where your support system says: Go take a nap. It’s so easy for women to see themselves in this book and to say, “Oh okay, thank you. Yes, I’ll go take a nap now.”
Bernadette:Yes. Go take a nap!
Dawn: Let me read a brief quote where you wrote,
“I did not need to search for something that was already inside of me.”
Tell us more about your spiritual beliefs.
Bernadette: That thought goes from a position of seeking to a position of owning. The example I gave was hanging out with my ex-boyfriend; he was giving me validation and reassurance. After I saw him, I woke up thinking, “I don’t need that from another person as that is already inside of me!”
I like metaphors. I like images, so picture yourself as the ocean.
You are the ocean, and right now, there is a storm coming through, and it’s getting heavy. The waves are getting big, now there is rain and winds, and you really feel the scariness of it all. Now, since you are the ocean, I want you to dig down deep, and there’s a current that is just whipping in. The current is strong, so you need to go down deeper, as deep in the ocean, there is stillness – even during a storm.
I want you to look back up at that storm. See that storm, see the tumultuousness, see those waves, and know that you are in a place of stillness and peace. You aren’t denying the storm is happening. You know that it’s there, but the storm will pass.
When you watch that storm from a place of stillness, you can see that it’s temporary.
This is what I was picturing when I moved from seeking to owning. That ocean is me, and the deep, still place is so powerful, and it is always there for me. So my spiritual beliefs are seeking for and receiving guidance.
Dawn: That ocean analogy as a metaphor is fantastic. Just like that, I’m able to see I am not the storm. I can see the storm. The storm is dancing on me.
Bernadette: If it’s not part of your practice, you need a practical guide to find it. What should I do? Where do I go? For me, it’s the simplest thing. I breathe. I take a moment to just do some deep breaths, and I get myself there. Sometimes it’s going for a walk or a drive.
Dawn: For me, it’s a hot shower. A hot, hot shower is like magic to me. I love how we’re just trying to do things that exist in our day. They’re not expensive or complicated or fancy techniques. It’s like, just let that be and then let it grow. Build on it.
Bernadette: If it’s all inside of you, you don’t need to rely on fancy gadgets to be what helps you find that stillness.
You need it to come from places that are always readily available to you.
Dawn: I love how you talk about being in therapy as a therapist and you also gave a very practical guide to selecting a therapist. One of my rants about consumers with therapy is that our profession is confusing to people. What is a therapist, what’s a counselor, what is a psychologist, what is a psychiatrist? All the different things, and which one do I need and which one is going to be good?
So your therapist, Betty, says,
“Loving a person is not a reason to spend your days with them. Love does not override toxicity.”
Bernadette: That is a hot topic. I was dumbfounded when I heard it. It was literally a mic-drop situation. I thought, “whoa, where did that come from?” It hit me right in the place that it needed to hit me. That phrase is two separate entities. It separated them out. There’s loving a person, the ‘love part’ and then there is the ‘spending your day’ part.’ At the time, I was stuck in the love part of it and I was trying to understand it emotionally and intellectually. Did I love him too much? Not enough? Did I show it enough? Not enough? What Betty said at that moment is:
“Stop trying to figure it out. You don’t have to. That love can just simply exist. You don’t have to deconstruct it anymore. You can be proud of it in its own entities while also, simultaneously, you could begin to spend your days in a way that would cultivate love in a new form.”
Dawn: It is hard to love a person, to know that there’s toxicity, and to feel shame about giving up.
Bernadette: Yes, and it shows those things can be separated.
We don’t have to question love. It can exist, but we don’t have to fix it. We don’t have to pour on more of the ingredient that caused the toxicity in the first place – that is not going to fix it – but you can just accept it.
Dawn: And I know that this applies to so many relationships, not just with your ex but with family, friends, you name it. There is the power to really start managing your life, your time, and your relationships differently.
Bernadette: Therapists love to talk about boundaries, which confuses people. Is it loving to create a boundary? And the answer is yes. Creating a boundary is loving yourself, and it’s loving that person because it is knowing where you stop and where they begin, and how the relationship needs to proceed.
Dawn: In the book, one of the chapters recaps where you’re given the homework.
You talk about creating distance between who you truly are and what you are feeling as a skill. That is what you were showing us in the ocean metaphor: creating distance between who you truly are: the stillness, and what you are feeling: the storm on the surface.
Bernadette: It comes down to thoughts. Before coming to this, I believed that you are your thoughts. We walk around with them all day! But, you can better manage your thoughts if you place distance between you and them.
The image that I came up with was just a bubble, like a cartoon thought bubble. I would place my actual thought in that bubble and you watch it float in and you watch it float out. It can be as simple as that. It creates distance for you because it’s not who you are, it’s something you are experiencing. You become a silent observer of your thoughts. Distance helps perspective, which helps you to make good decisions.
Dawn: When people are in pain, the tendency is to over-identify with the pain, it’s as though they believe, “I have become pain.”
Bernadette: Individuals believe that you become something that you’re experiencing, but that’s a fallacy.
Every time a thought comes in, you see it as an entity. You watch it come in and you go and then again, just like the waves on the ocean, you’re experiencing them as temporary. It’s not who you are.
We don’t want to be pushing these thoughts away. You can have these thoughts, you can have these emotions. But experiencing them temporarily will give you that place to go right on to the next step that you need to be on.
Dawn: Why do we do this? What is the birthplace of this over-identifying with our thoughts? Would you call that codependency? And if it’s codependency, isn’t the birthplace of codependency around an unhealthy attachment style?
Bernadette: There are so many different sources. It could be your ego. Ego loves to get in the way of these things and identify with literally anything. I like to hike and my ego loves to say, “I am a hiker.” But no, that is just something I do, it’s not who I am. If you’re experiencing pain, your ego will want to latch into it and say, “I’m a pain girl.”
It could be past trauma or your attachment styles.
Part of the work is understanding the why and understanding what to do with it as it exists in the present.
What do I do with this? You need to have this moment right now where you’re managing it and then you also need sort of the long-term plan of unpacking the ‘whys’ of it all.
Dawn: I want to also talk about how you structured the divorce recovery book. I love the introduction. I read your book introduction from the first page. It’s entertaining as f*ck. You have that entertainment factor, but plus the therapy gems. It’s entertaining and definitely helpful but then at the end of each chapter is some very tactical guidance.
But there is another gem in your Divorced as F* In Seven Spiritual Steps book, which is the basic premise that what transforms us is much less important than the transformation itself.
Bernadette: When I wrote that, I thought about how that is going to make this apply to many scenarios of life. That sentence shows why the spiritual steps are evergreen because you can use them again and again.
If there’s one true takeaway from the message, it is that as you build this part of you, you create a foundation of strength that you can always come back to in your own time.
Every spiritual step is a step toward understanding your sense of knowing. What transforms us was never as important as the transformation itself. It could have been a divorce, a tsunami, or a breakup.
If you realize the difficult times as an opportunity to experience transformative, personal growth, you will feel that transformation in all that you do.
Dawn: What we’re really talking about is where we’re going and what we are becoming.
Bernadette: The journey is a common denominator. We all go through struggles and we all need to know how to get through it.
Dawn: Divorce broke enough things down for me that it delivered all of the forms of transformation. And I’ve become so great.
Bernadette: It’s so amazing to me. “Wait a minute, I just went through something that was so hard, and now I’m grateful for it. How did that happen?” When you really go through the steps, it becomes something that gets you to that next level.
Dawn: I know that your book Divorced As F* In 7 Spiritual Steps is changing lives, and I hope that my readers pick it up ASAP, because even as a therapist I got so much from it, which is such a powerful message and endorsement that I hope people hear. Where can people find it? And what do you hope people take away from it?
Bernadette: You can buy it on Amazon!
From our conversation and the book, I hope that people take away that when that voice comes inside your head to just begin, if you do the steps, you will know exactly what needs to begin, and then you will proceed with your journey. It could be sitting down and breathing or going for a walk. Whatever it is, just begin and do your next right step.
Dawn: Have you ever asked for a sign, gotten it, and then doubted it?
What I hear you saying is: listen to the voice and trust that it is a sign from the universe and do it.
Bernadette: Absolutely. Don’t doubt it. Just go with it.
Dawn: Love it. Thank you so much, Bernadette.
Bernadette: For sure. It was my pleasure.