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DivorceWise Newsletter
Issue 17 - 2002 by Kari West - Garden Glories Publications
Topic: Touch

Welcome Survivor!

Touch represents our connection with the rest of humanity. It is the first sense infants develop and the last sense to fade as we age. However, many of us do not realize how much we miss being touched until there is no arm around our shoulder and no hand entwined in ours. Our longing for touch is especially acute after a divorce when we feel unwanted and alone. In this newsletter, we'll meet Lynn in Florida who wrestles with this longing and shares tips for handling it. Whatever you wrestle with, may you find belonging and acceptance in the sisterhood of survivors, who dare to be transparent and, in so doing, encourage all of us in the everyday struggles of our lives.

Personal Reflection by Lynn in Florida

When Kari first asked me to write an article about the need for physical touch and the longings it creates, I shuddered. I know a lot about this particular desire, but I have few answers on how to avoid the pitfalls it creates. The things I do know, I know well--because I have learned them the hard way. Is there any other way, I wonder?

During 15 years of marriage, touching and being touched were a normal part of everyday life/ It was something I enjoyed immensely and probably took for granted in equal measure. After four and a half years of being divorced, I realize physical touch is as important as the air we breathe and way more fun! In fact, at the last singles' Bible study I attended, I noticed an interesting dynamic. Upon entering and leaving the group, I saw much more hugging take place--more than I ever remember in a similar setting involving married couples. The touching that took place wasn't sexual in nature, but it certainly cries out to that aspect of our being.

As humans, we crave close encounters of the physical kind. As a single woman, I can go long periods of time without being held, kissed, or caressed. Do I miss it? You bet. Yet it's a topic we don't readily share because to say, "I want to be held" or "I need to be touched" or even "Somebody please hold my hand" might make us feel vulnerable, needy, or less independent than we want to be. We are also fearful of appearing carnal and worldly.

Truthfully, these are valid concerns. How easy it is to turn to the wrong sources to have these very real needs met in a way that satisfies momentarily but afterward provides guilt and shame. Likewise, it's common to deny that we have unfulfilled longings. So we just put on our "game face" and we pretend that we haven't a care in the world. Ultimately, neither extreme is beneficial.

The biblical principle of truth setting us free most certainly applies to this situation. First, I feel we must acknowledge what is real: we are creatures meant for companionship; human warmth makes us feel good; and as single women, we miss the expression of both nonsexual and sexual touch. Secondly, it's helpful to find different ways to feel connected physically to others. In my life that translates into more hugs and kisses with my eight-year-old daughter, occasional splurges on a manicure or pedicure just because it feels wonderful to be physically pampered. Ditto for haircuts and massages, too, along with regular exercise to take the edge off some of those unexpressed physical longings; and most importantly, a big dose of God-inspired self control.

Just like we have to say NO to inappropriate hunger pains, as in "Do I really need 10 cookies followed by a bowl of ice cream," likewise we need to say NO when we are stirred to respond to another's touch in an inappropriate physical way. I would love to report that this is easily achieved; however, I find it an uphill battle. I do know God's grace is sufficient, even for this, and the more I rely on Him to meet my deepest, innermost desires, the more strength I have in this area.

In his book "Shattered Dreams," author Larry Crabb writes: "We were created for happiness. Our souls therefore long for whatever we think will provide the greatest possible pleasure. We just aren't yet aware that an intimate relationship with God is the greatest pleasure. Without knowing it, we yearn for an encounter with God that creates an experience far more intimate than any bride and groom have ever enjoyed on their wedding night...but in our foolishness we look for that experience in all the wrong places. To use biblical language, we dig broken cisterns to satisfy our thirst and walk right by the fresh spring of water that is God."

It is my goal to remember these words and daily apply them. I want to be a woman whose most intimate needs are met by God. A woman who can say NO to the immediate in order to follow God in obedience. A woman who knows real intimacy from the mere illusion of it. A woman whose physical longings are voluntarily given to God for safekeeping until He provides the right mate with whom those feelings can be expressed and enjoyed. This is my prayer.

Help for today by Kari

Touch is necessary for our survival. Research demonstrates that without it a baby's growth is stunted, animals become aggressive and violent, and humans experience more anxiety. Touch tells us that we are not alone in the world and that someone out there cares.

University of Miami's Touch Research Institutes found that touch facilitates weight gain in pre-term infants, reduces stress hormones in adults, alleviates depressive symptoms, reduces pain, improves immune function, and alters EEGs from a state of mental lethargy to heightened awareness. Their studies also reveal that with touch adolescents with ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder) fidget less, that autistic children listen better, bulimics experience a better body image, burn victims report less pain and anger, migraine sufferers sleep better and have fewer headaches. Multiple sclerosis patients report improved self-esteem and social functioning. Those with post traumatic stress disorder notice greater calm. Asthma sufferers demonstrate increased pulmonary function, and diabetics show improved glucose levels.

I can't help but wonder what researchers would discover if they studied the effect of touch on divorced women, who miss not only the physical soothing that touch brings but the human connection that conveys we are worthy of someone's time, attention, and embrace. In fact, I vividly recall the exact moment after my divorce when I realized how much I missed being touched. I was getting a hair cut. Somebody was actually touching my scalp! From then on, I knew I had to learn to make touch happen. I started by treating myself to a manicure; then a pedicure. When I could afford it, I indulged in a facial. Eventually, when life stresses got the best of me, I discovered that a neck and shoulder massage eased the tension. Ouch! But, oh, yes, the pain was worth it. Muscles relaxed. I began to unfurl my brow, unclamp my jaw, and unclench my fist.

Divorce has a way of forcing us into these unfamiliar almost self-indulgent places. After a lifetime of catering to another's needs, we begin to recognize our own needs that we've put on hold or didn't see. Years later, while revisiting the photo albums of my first marriage, I was startled that there are no snapshots with my exhusband's hand in mine nor his arm draped over my shoulder or around my waist!. Why I had I never noticed this before? I wondered. I'd lived with this man for 22 years, but had I truly known him? More importantly, had he ever truly known me? Sure, there was sex in the bedroom, but little, if any, supportive touch or sympathetic nurturing elsewhere.

At the time, I couldn't "put my finger on" the sense of estrangement I had often felt during those years whenever I reached for a hand that always seemed allergic to mine. But I have a good grip on this topic now. Touch is vital; it's our handle on the world. Life is too short to live without it. A pat on the back says, "I think you're great" or "You did a good job." A hug conveys sympathy or support, comfort and closeness. A handshake means contact and connection.

Wherever you are, you, too, can make touch happen. Give, and ask for, hugs. Snuggle with your children. Pet your dog. Link arms with the elderly and help them across the street. You see, touch acknowledges both a shared humanness and our individual worth. It amplifies our sense of safety and security. Touch heals not just physically but psychologically by affirming our need for belonging and acceptance. With 19 square feet of skin on your body, don't be embarrassed about seeking appropriate life-giving touch. Your immune system and emotional health depend upon it. You are worth taking care of YOU!

Poetic Reflection

"I Wish For You" - Source: The Internet; Author unknown

I wish for you:

Comfort on difficult days

Smiles when sadness intrudes,

Rainbows to follow the clouds,

Laughter to kiss your lips,

Sunsets to warm your heart,

Gentle hugs when spirits sag,

Friendships to brighten your being,

Beauty for your eyes to see

Confidence for when you doubt,

Faith so that you can believe,

Courage to know yourself,

Patience to accept the truth,

And God's love to complete your life.

A promise you can trust

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with favor as with a shield. ---Psalm 5:11, 12 NIV

In the meantime

Don't hesitate to write. I am here for you, however I can encourage or help. Please feel free to share what helped you through your divorce so others know they are not alone and that they too can and will survive. E-mail by Clicking Here or write Kari West, Garden Glories Publications, P. O. Box 11692, Pleasanton, CA 94588. 

Copyright 1998 - 2002 by Kari West