Reclaiming my SENSE OF BELONGING after divorce, death, trauma, retirement, financial catastrophe and other life changes.

ID-10073599. vladoLast year, in the fourth year after my marriage collapse, there was the business sale, loss of my mother, finalization of the marital settlement and my retirement. I am now in the fifth year and finally facing the full impact of the divorce with its financial ramifications, as well as other life changes. Sometimes I feel I am left with the shadow of the world I had five years ago as many people in that world are now gone from my life.

When my marriage collapsed, I felt my whole social network had collapsed with it losing my partner, family unit, friendships, his extended family and community connections. With the business gone, I have lost contact with work colleagues, contractors and advisers. My mother’s death means less contact with siblings, extended family and Mum’s community. Still to come for me will be moving away from this area and its community.

I have thought about those people in my old life and the differing levels of connection I had with them. I am striving to create or reinvent relationships at the same level I have lost in order to provide for me a sense of belonging. These are my losses and gains –

Level One – one on one.

No longer partnered, I have strengthened my relationship with work colleagues, friends, children and siblings on a one-on-one basis. I periodically still see work colleagues. Since the death of my mother, I have connected with extended family members individually. My siblings and I stay in touch. I do not need a ‘partner’ to provide me with deep connections.

Level Two – being in a herd, a close-knit group of three to eight people.

I have had several herds in each phase of my life providing me with strength, a sense of belonging and intellectual stimulation. My herds have been my two nuclear family units (children and siblings), foursome couple friendships, friends to share coffee or a movie, interacting with parents of my children’s friends, and mingling with work colleagues in small discussion groups or meetings.

My herds have either changed or disappeared and it is this loss I am feeling the most. I have adjusted to my changed family unit of me and the children, and I am adapting to having sibling interactions without our mother there. Happy times are still shared.

However –

I am no longer half a couple, working or financially secure. Being retired and alone, my situation is different from friends still working, retirees in a couple relationship or in an easier financial position. My regular contact with accountant, banking adviser, book-keeper and IT expert is gone. I have lost that ‘connection’ with those previous herds that I had.

I am endeavouring to seek out and interact with people in similar situations as myself, for example retired singles. I am developing some hobbies and seeking out people or groups with those same interests. It is early days and changes have been small, yet positive.

Level Three belonging to a tribe, a larger group with a common connection.

My past tribes have been classes at school or university, work-place, extended family, sporting teams, choirs and community groups. Not as intimate as herds, there is nevertheless a sense of belonging to people with a common interest. I am feeling the loss of my work environment, and my mother being the matriarch and ‘glue’ of my extended family. Whilst I am focussing on strengthening my Level One and Two connections, I look forward to seeking out community groups when I move. In the meantime, my blogging world has provided for me a sense of belonging to like-minded people.

Level Four – being part of society at large.

In the early weeks of a crisis we lean on community services – police, hospitals, medical and counselling services. I have also given back at the society level providing a health service business for 35 years. Whilst there is a feeling that I am not currently contributing at the society level, I am at least engaging by using library services, browsing shopping precincts, and chatting with people in that environment daily. I am grateful our society is a free one and I feel safe.

Level Five – belonging to a cause of national or global significance.

I was involved in an environmental cause with my family and that interaction was lost when my marriage ended (although my beliefs still stand). Over the past two years I have found a new ’cause’ and have been directing my energies into research on this. My aim is to eventually contribute to this cause in some way.

It is difficult facing several life changes at once. One step at a time for me is the best solution, becoming stronger as my own self, then gradually branching out at the higher levels of connections.

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ImageCourtesy[vlado]FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Art Of Belonging. Hugh McKay

 

 

 

 

My H.E.A.L.T.H. plan – L is for Lifestyle

ID-10039860.digitalart“Unless you change your lifestyle for health, eventually you will need to change your lifestyle for illness.”

When an illness strikes, I make all sorts of changes to my lifestyle. I fit in doctor’s appointments, physiotherapy, getting prescriptions, taking medicines, having blood tests, hospital trips, surgery. I make adjustments to my routine, live at a slower pace and cut down on commitments. I accept that if I ever get something serious, I may need to accept being housebound, modify my home, or require a walker or wheelchair to get around. For both minor and major illnesses, there will be changes to my lifestyle.

Isn’t it crazy that we are willing to make changes to our lifestyle when we become ill, yet not willing to make such changes to keep our health. Most importantly, so-called ‘diseases of affluence’ (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, some cancers), can be prevented or delayed with changes to lifestyle.

The people of the world with the highest life expectancy and lowest rate of diseases of affluence live in five ‘blue zones’ of the world: Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California (Seventh Day Adventists). Of diverse cultures, they have certain lifestyle factors in common:

(1) A sense of purpose

(2) A routine to shed stress (moments out, praying, napping, or having a ‘happy hour’).

(3) Emphasis on engagement in family life and loved ones.

(4) Belonging to a ‘tribe’ that supports a healthy lifestyle or spiritual engagement.

(5) Moderate constant activity throughout the day.

(6) Moderate intake of calories.

(7) A plant-based semi-vegetarian diet.

(8) Moderated intake of alcohol.

(9) Low incidence of smoking

When I was younger I got away with all sorts of dietary and lifestyle indiscretions. Too much food. The wrong sorts of food. Not enough exercise. An overwhelming to-do list. Too much stress. Must-attend important meetings. Activities that went on all night, or for days, or weeks, without a break. Not enough sleep. Using food as comfort when angry, lonely or bored. Too much sitting, at my computer, at my desk, or watching soppy movies. Using alcohol as a crutch when in crisis (actually that happened when I was older).

Eventually all that took its toll. It wasn’t one thing in particular. It became everything in general. Lack of sleep made me tired, leading to a low exercise tolerance. I had a healthy diet yet, when stressed, I turned to food for comfort or I would sit watching soppy movies.

I became overweight. I was in good health but knew the risk factors were getting higher for me. This was why I began my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan. Whilst putting in place healthy eating and higher activity has reaped me the greatest benefit (and I am now in the middle of the healthy weight range), I believe it was changes to my lifestyle in the years preceding that set me up for that success.

(1) Developing a new sense of purpose and vision for my future. This included a vision of me as vibrant and radiant; with good health as a goal.

(2) Putting family first. This included caring for my mother in her terminal illness, and regular contact with my children, grand-children, siblings and extended family.

(3) Developing strategies for letting go of stress that do not involve food or alcohol or sitting like a blob. These include phoning a friend, journalling, visiting someone, going to the library, walking, getting outside, spending time in nature, or time-out in finding ‘me’.

(4) Simplifying my life. Getting rid of clutter and letting go of too many commitments has been easier since the sale of the business and the marital settlement. Nevertheless, it has become my mindset, to prioritize those things that really matter.

(5) Non-food rewards. Essential to my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan. has been celebrating each milestone of success by buying new articles of clothing as the dress-sizes have dropped, going to a movie or having weekend trips.

(6) Belonging to a ‘tribe’ that supports a healthy lifestyle. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink to excess. I have been encouraged in my more active lifestyle and in non-food rewards.

 

One remaining lifestyle factor, that of ‘tribal engagement’ in celebrations surrounding food, will be the topic of my next H.E.A.L.T.H.plan post.

All these changes in lifestyle combined triggered a massive change in attitude a year ago to one of optimism and a more positive self-image that put me on the road to success.

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ImageCourtesy[digitalart]FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Blue Zones. Dan Buettner

Becoming an adult orphan

ID-100135811.supakitmodAn adult orphan is one who loses their last parent when they themselves are an adult. The first time I heard the expression was at the funeral of my mother. Someone described their own transition to that state as the worst time of their life. One would think one should be grateful for having had their parent into their adult years, rather than deeply mourning that loss. Not so. The more you have, the more you have to lose, the greater you feel that loss. So it follows the older the parent (my mother was 88), the older the adult child (I was 61) and the deeper the bond, the harder it is. In my case, here is why:

My mother was my constant

My mother was the one person who had been there for me all my life, who knew me completely, and who loved me anyway.

My mother was the reason for our frequent family celebrations

My mother was the reason for celebrations with my siblings. Now my siblings and I are having separate celebrations such as Christmas, proud to be the centrepiece of our own ‘new generation’. We will of course still see each other. However, it will not be the same as coming together for Christmas and birthdays and Mother’s day and having her there. This is more raw as the year before she died, we saw each other more often than previously. We will have new happy times. But it will not be the same. What we had is now lost.

My mother was the draw-card for extended family gatherings

At some family gatherings, my siblings and I would have members of our own families there. While each niece, nephew and children could not come to all gatherings, over the course of the last decade, there has been frequent contact with all of them. Now that my mother is gone, there is not the focal point for the next generation to meet as often. That frequent contact is now lost.

My mother was the glue that kept her own family in contact

My mother was one of nine children. In the last decade of her life, she was the oldest survivor and became the family matriarch. Everyone looked to her for words of wisdom and comfort. She kept in contact with her siblings, their children and grandchildren; and kept us informed of marriages, births, illnesses, crises. She arranged family gatherings for the descendants of my grandparents. During her illness, the extended family rallied behind her. We saw a lot of my uncle, aunt and many cousins. That contact is now lost.

My mother was the bridge to my ancestors

My grandfather passed away when I was seven, my grandmother when I was seventeen. My father when I was twenty. They have been kept alive by stories from my mother. Moreover, there were stories of her grandparents (my great-grand parents) that were so vivid, I almost thought I knew them. With Mum passing away, I feel I have lost three generations: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. The link to my heritage is gone.

My mother was the road to a bygone era

Mum was born in 1927. She lived through the depression, World War 2 and the post-war boom. She knew life without hot-water, electricity, refrigerators, cars and telephones. She knew the value of friends, neighbours and family was worth more than any of those. With my mother gone, it is as if all life started in 1954. History has vanished.

My mother was the older generation

With my mother gone, I am now one of the older generation. I always felt safe and stable knowing there was someone there who was older and wiser. With my mother gone, I have no-one to lean on. In fact with my mother gone, others in the family are starting to lean on me. I only hope that I can be half as wise and empathetic as my mother was.

Mother, I miss you every day. I am grateful for the happy memories of family times and for all the extended family who remain and love me still. I draw strength from the values you instilled in me and am comforted by the fact that you live on within me.

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ImageCourtesy[supakitmod]FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I feel the glow …

ID-100376345.M-PicsIn addition to my practical aims for the coming year, I have thought of a word to aim for in regard to my inner self. Last year I chose light. At the time I was just emerging from a very dark place and I felt that I wanted to focus on the emerging light. Mid-year after the death of my mother, who had always been my inspiration, I wondered how I would manage without her until I realized that before her candle went out she had lit my candle and that had become the light within me – her spirit. Furthermore, as the administrative tasks surrounding the marital settlement were gradually completed, I felt less burdened, I felt light with a spring in myself. The chosen word had indeed been appropriate for 2015.

Following on from a year of light, I now feel strengthening into a glow is appropriate for this year. Rather than simply light, or the first sign of hope, my aim will be to –

  1. shine brightly and steadily
  2. overflow with warmth, good health and confidence
  3. experience deep pleasure and pride in achievements
  4. emit light and warmth
  5. flourish and bloom
  6. radiate contentment and well-being

I feel the glow
The glow is me

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ImageCourtesy[M-Pics]FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In with the new …

ID-10088168Over many years, rather than a list of resolutions of what I would like ‘to do‘ for the year, I had thought of new beginnings in philosophical terms of what I would like ‘to be‘ such as being responsible for my own destiny; developing a strong core of principled values, beliefs, and attitudes; and showing courage, kindness and fairness.

Whilst commendable, that philosophical framework did little to actually move me forward out of the mud of the nearly four years of the marital property legal settlement. For that, practical aims were needed and a return of that dreaded ‘to-do’ list. In that regard, I was buoyed by a suggestion to re-frame the processes for the settlement as steps towards my future, rather than thinking in terms of being stuck in the past. That suggestion was as if a light had come on. My mother, also recognizing I was suffering a dread of pushing through the legal steps rather than an inability to get over emotional aspects, later reinforced this. “You just have to get stuck in and get it all done”, were her words to me. So, even though I yearned for the luxury of starting my new life, in 2014, I had to push aside my emotional pain and set practical goals to get the marital settlement over the line.

In January 2015, the legal papers were finally signed. Even though there would be no going back, the actual processes would still take some time. Because of administrative tasks, I was not yet free. At the time, my mother was also gravely ill and I was sharing in her full- time care. My life was still on hold. However, with the sale of the business, and changes happening around me, I needed a new focus for the year – for me. On January 02, with a lightening bolt of an idea, I decided to focus on my health for a full year. Throughout 2015, while caring for my mother and grieving her death, while dealing with administrative tasks of the legal separation, while sorting out the 600 archive boxes in the shed, I have clung onto that one goal for 2015 as something for me. I achieved that goal. Now, rather than having a feeling of still being stuck because I have not moved on as I am living in the same house in the same town, I have not started a new career, and I have not been on any exciting adventures; I do have an enormous sense of achievement in keeping to that goal. Moreover, my health, weight improvement (and new wardrobe) have transformed me.

Keeping goals makes me feel good about myself and feeling good about myself is good for me. So it seems for two years in a row now, practical goals and the dreaded ‘to-do’ list have actually worked for me. Maybe there is something in my character or personality that responds well to set goals, at least for practical aspects of my life. With that in mind, let me continue and tick a few more things off my list…

Here are my practical goals for 2016:

  1. Sell my home and set-up a new home nearer other family members.
  2. Set my financial goals, including developing a new avenue of income.
  3. Spend time with my siblings in NSW, my son in Canada, friends and family.

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Images.courtesy[StuartMiles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Out with the old …

DSCN2382I have been somewhat absent from blogging the past few months for various reasons including good reasons (visiting my grand-daughters more often, sharing with my son the launch of his first book, and joyous family times with all children home for Christmas) and a not-so-good reason of my internet being slow and thus I have frustratingly not been able to download / upload the photos I want to complement my writing experience.

HOWEVER …

The main reason for my absence is that I have been making a concerted effort to shed all my past baggage (both literally and metaphorically) in order to move on to my new life.

I have been working on getting rid of the 600+ archive boxes in the shed and I am now down to ~ 150. This has been a MASSIVE task and at times sent me just a little bit crazy!

I have been losing excess weight in my so-far successful H.E.A.L.T.H.plan and, even though I am now down to my ‘healthy weight range’ goal, I am continuing with a new aim to get down to the weight I was at age eighteen. As the plan involves more moving, less sitting, there has been less time available to blog. (Oh, the sacrifices I am making for me!)

I have been continuing with the shedding of emotional baggage – which comes and goes with the sorting of the boxes in the shed and looking at photos, shared projects etc

I will write more in-depth on these achievements at a future date. For now, I simply wanted to let you know that the process of ridding myself of unwanted baggage and leaving behind the last remnants of my past life has left me at the end of this year 2015 feeling that …

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good’ **

Wishing everyone a peaceful and joyous 2016.

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** Quote and Youtube video clip from “Feeling Good’ 1965 Nina Simone
Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

Finding my stronger voice

ID-10083213In my quiet space, I have been having flash-backs to past events and feeling how I felt at the time (including negative feelings) rather than stifling those feelings. This has not been looking back at a past happy time and now seeing it in a sad way, it is looking back at a past positive experience that had negative sides and now feeling that negativity.

For example: one new year due to my mother-in-law suffering an injury, I stayed home two nights to care for her and my two younger children while my husband and two older children celebrated with others at the beach. The voices I listened to at the time were my mother-in-law not wanting to be a burden, my husband needing a break and my upbringing of doing the right thing.

My small voice

It was a huge step for me to feel my own feelings at the time of – sadness (missing that celebration with my family), anger (the event was not cancelled so we could be together), and unfairness (my own needs were neglected). I am now allowing myself to feel that pain as I too am vulnerable. I do not have to always be the strong one. My voice is being heard above the crowd. I too am important. I do not always have to stand aside. (Reading between the lines = resentment that he could not give up his NY party).

While it is enlightening that I am recognizing my own voice, that immediate voice I hear has been in some respects reactive rather than responsive. That voice has been my small voice playing the victim of being trampled on rather than the survivor who stands firm. My small voice is me being the warrior who wants to fight for my rights rather than the carer who wants to heal a situation.

The influences on my voice

My own voice had been influenced over the past four years by divorce advice and reading past events as supposedly “red flags” that I had missed. So the voices say to me ‘how selfish of him’, ‘he treated me badly’, ‘I was neglected’ (voice = he is the bad guy) OR ‘I did not stand up for myself’, ‘I became an enabler to his selfishness’,  ‘I created the situation for betrayal’ (voice = I am a weakling). Listening to either voice, someone has to be at “fault” with the casting of either blame at his choices or shame in mine.

In reality, at the time the choices were a compromise that in a good marriage happens all the time. Make allowances. Understand. Care. Quite often in a marriage when there is young children, elderly parents or someone working long hours; sacrifices are made for the greater good of the relationship or family. That is what happened at the time. It was not a missed ‘red flag’.

Finding my stronger voice

I began ignoring other voices including my reactive small voice twisting the past. Instead I looked at why I was feeling pain over an event of 27 years ago. The trigger was an example of me being ‘the good wife’. Perhaps (looking back) I would have preferred he had made the choice to move the new-year event to home so that we could have been together that night. However, I am not responsible for his choice, only mine. What I did that night was to put his mother and her needs as my priority. While at the time I felt I had been appreciated, his decision to leave me 23 years later now overshadowed that. The pain I felt was that my caring side was not considered in his decision. In the here and now, it was the wanting to belong to someone who deeply cared for me and who appreciated me for who I am.

My response

If I responded to my small voice I would get sucked down into the blame and shame game.

I am not a vindictive person so to impulsively demean or blame violates my own values with revenge-thoughts I do not like. Focussing on actions done or words said or how others have behaved towards me adds to the blame-game. I am not that person.

Degrading myself with critical ‘you are hopeless’ makes me think I should become more selfish, less caring and to stop thinking of others. I am not that person.

The truth is the lack of being appreciated by one person for my caring actions does not mean those actions or that trait in me were wrong or weak. Quite the opposite.

Appreciation and caring are a great strength and the greatest acts of human kindness.

I need to focus more on appreciation of others, and those who appreciate me.
I need to focus more on caring for others, and of those in need.

This is empowering.

This is my stronger voice. I have found it.

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