New Year – looking back and reaching forward – a significant turning point

ID-100176056.nongpimmyAs per my usual reflecting in my journal on the year that has gone, and setting goals for the year ahead, I noticed a turning point in my thought processes from previous years.

While all the ‘good’ things I listed were personal: the birth of my third gorgeous and precious grand-daughter, meeting three Canadian blogging friends (YAY!), and moving to Hobart environs to be closer to two of my children; I noticed that the ‘bad’ things I listed were all world affairs: political divides in UK and US, global refugee crisis, world-wide obesity epidemic etc.

It wasn’t that I did not have major personal things to tackle the past year, as I have had – such as sorting my mother’s affairs and moving home which were both huge life changes. It was the fact that I am now seeing personal hard times as issues to solve, rather than as problems dragging me down.

AND, I am now not so preoccupied with my own problems that I cannot see the world  events taking place. This is a huge step forward from when I was in the midst of trauma and thinking of such things was so painful and beyond me that I set those thoughts aside.

Now … on to solving world poverty …

 

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climbing out of black holes

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, its fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart.” Pema Chodron

ID-100136205,SweetCrisisWhen my marriage collapsed, and especially because of the way it collapsed, I felt stunned, vulnerable and scared. I felt like a knife had been pushed into my heart. I felt I had been wronged.

After the initial shock I began reading as much as I could, books, articles, blogs. Many of those sources tended to focus on the ex-spouse. In that regard, there is much space in the ‘divorce’ genre devoted to the diagnosis (usually by unqualified people) of personality defects (such as narcissist or sociopath) or them going through a mid-life crisis or similar that may have led the ex-spouse to do what they did. Because at the time I felt so bad about myself, then reading about that did provide some comfort that there may have been something wrong with “him”, rather than something wrong with “me” and I was simply a victim of my ex-husband’s action. As for my own writing, I didn’t focus so much on negative things about him but I did focus on the event of the marriage collapse itself, the suddenness of it, how painful it was and what a bad thing to have happened to me. In that regard, I was still a victim, of a bad event.

If bad things happen, I do think that one does have to work through negative feelings associated with the event. However, at some point, and this started very early for me and then grew, I decided to focus on myself and improving myself rather than focus on what had happened and why. Later on when I became overwhelmed by the amount that had to be done in the divorce process and financial settlement, I began to re-frame that process as a step towards my new life. In other words, I focussed on getting out of the hole, rather than being in the hole. I did not realise how far I had come until recently I read a post by someone I follow who – years later – is still focussed on a past event and being in a hole. I felt sad for that person that that meant they were still in the hole.

I still apply two vital techniques that I learned to get through the difficult days of climbing out of my hole, in getting through any difficulty in my current days.

(a) If something happens that I was not expecting that conjures up negative feelings –

After an initial anxiety period thinking about that ‘bad’ event, I instead turn my attention to improvement in one or more areas of my life:

  • protection
  • connection
  • contribution
  • creation
  • celebration

I focus on healing or protecting myself or family members; fostering better connections with my children, grandchildren and others in my life; or I focus on making a greater contribution to society, or becoming creative, or looking forward to and planning a celebratory event. In other words I try and focus on the positive in my life OR on making improvements in my life or in the life of someone else. If I do focus on positive things or on improvement, then it is impossible to feel sad or bad and the negative feelings about what has happened begin to fade away.

(b) If there is something horrible that I need to get done –

Instead of focusing on how awful it is, I try and focus on the better place that task will take me to. That can be a simple matter of getting mundane horrible tasks done (such as bills paid, or tax returns done, or tidying and cleaning finished) so that my mind is then clear to enjoy my days. For major necessary practical things that can sometimes literally overwhelm me, I focus on the better place that the tasks will take me to.

I applied these techniques to many of the steps of the marital settlement and I am now applying these to the practical steps of moving house.

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So much to do!!

ID-10026029.rawichWhen my marriage collapsed I was thrown into an emotional roller-coaster. At the same time I became overwhelmed with the practical, legal financial things that needed to be done due to the separation. In order to cope I went through a long laborious process of prioritizing everything I had to do, putting aside things I could leave until later and dropping out of my life anything non-essential. This was all so that I could focus on getting the marital settlement completed, which took nearly four years.

Some of those things put aside were very big things such as selling the business and selling the business premises, which then had to be prioritized once the marital settlement was done. For a long time there was simply no let-up!

More recently with the business sold (December 2014), the marital settlement completed (May 2015), administrative functions associated with its closure completed (October 2015), over 700 archive boxes of records sorted or disposed (March 2016), and finally business premises sold (July 2016), it is finally the end of the last joint financial tie with my ex-husband. It has been as if this huge ten ton weight has finally lifted from my shoulders and a black veil lifted from my eyes.

Over the past few months, even though I have had more energy and enthusiasm, I have also been able to see other things … normal things … I now been able to see all these other things needing doing and I have been busy getting them all done.

Getting my own health and well-being in order.
Sorting through my mother’s affairs.
Sorting out family photos.
Visiting my siblings.
Visiting friends.
Going to visit my daughter six times in a year.
Baby-sitting my grand-children.
Changing things into my name that used to be joint names.
Sorting through my clothes.
Buying some new clothes.
Tidying out my cupboards.
Sorting out the shed.
Having my hair done.
Burning stuff off.
More baby-sitting of grand-children.
Helping my daughter move.
Storing stuff in a storage shed.
More baby-sitting of grand-children.
Helping my daughter set up a new flat.
Attending my daughter’s graduation for her Master’s degree.
(With my siblings) giving a talk to a local historical society about my parents.
Keeping busy.
Relaxing.

I have been SO busy!!!

In that period, sometimes when the phone rang or I heard the ping of an email coming through I would have a mini PTSD reaction and think to myself … ‘what now’. But then when it ended up to be some trivial thing or someone contacting me about normal things, I have gradually realized that life isn’t always one crisis after another. I remind myself that those distressing days are finally over and there is no need to be fearful anymore.

So that is what I have been doing the past six months.
Keeping very busy, in a happy sort of way.

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My need for people – to receive and give back

ID-10021833.jscreationzsIn the early months after the collapse of my marriage, I felt disconnected from all those people I had previously known.

Then I read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Some parts of his theory made a lot of sense, that our needs develop one step at a time, beginning with basics (food, warmth, shelter); then stability (safety, routine); before moving to higher needs … connections with people, self-esteem, and self-actualization. I am not an expert in psychology but I do know that after a crisis working ‘up the scale’ had always been a powerful tool of recovery for me, (with an understanding that after divorce the “crisis” may last several years with no end-point to the requirement for stability and a feeling of protection!) …

HOWEVER

What I didn’t and don’t understand about this theory is how “connections” appear in the middle layer, something to move up to. Whenever I have faced a crisis of any kind, I have always felt that I have needed people as much as, if not even more than, when feeling ‘normal’. This has been especially true after a separation such as a death or my divorce because it was the loss of that connection (due to the loss of that person who has died or left, or loss of associations with that person) that was at the very root of the crisis in the first place.

After and during my divorce process, there were losses of many connections or sense of connection for me.

  • My partner, companion and confidante.
  • My nuclear family.
  • My extended husband’s extended family.
  • The circle of friends that had been ‘ours’.
  • The community groups that we had jointly belonged to.
  • The loss of sharing management of the business.
  • In selling the business, the loss of belonging to my work ‘tribe’.
  • In selling the business, there was also a sense of loss of me contributing to society. Many people going through retirement experience this same sense of loss.
  • Feeling disconnected from others, who have not faced the same financial pressures
  • On retirement, feeling disconnected from friends and family of the same age who can now move into their next phase of life together.

Some of these ‘disconnections’ happened immediately, while others dissolved further on in the separation process. In some the connection remained but with a need to redevelop that connection in new ways, such as redefining the concept of ‘family’. So a year ago at the ending of the marital settlement, four years after separation, everyone said ‘now it is all over for you’, whereas in reality the changes to my life had only just begun. For the first time in my life I was truly alone –  practically, financially, legally, emotionally, and socially.

Yet, throughout all this separation process, I have moved up and on. I believe this was what was happening to me. While I did move up a hierarchy of needs after my crisis, concurrently with that, I also moved up a hierarchy of a need for people. This moved from needing comfort from them, to standing alone, meeting them as equals, to giving back.

This is my hierarchy of needs for people –

  1. Protection. In the beginning I needed people to comfort me, protect me, advise me.
  2. Aloneness. I then had to reconnect with myself. This was important, to stand alone.
  3. Partnerships. I formed deep connections with close friends and family, one on one. They were initially replacement confidantes and support – for that lost marital ‘partnership’. In time, those people began to lean on me for my support of them. I became strong for them in their own hours of need.
  4. Herds. I have formed like-minded groups of small numbers of people. I re-formed my connections with my nuclear family, my siblings, work colleagues and small groups of close friends. These groups have become mutually beneficial to us all. I have both received and contributed as friend, sister, mother, daughter, grandmother.
  5. Tribe. I have reconnected with my large extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. I have formed connections in my blogging world. I belong.

Three levels of hierarchy that I previously had that are still lost and yet remain as a burning need within me. These are a contribution to –

  1. Community.
  2. Society.
  3. Global needs

This has become my new sense of purpose and goals – to use my voice on speaking out for a world of peace, a safe environment for future generations and universal health for all.

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Does grief really have stages and if you work through them are you over it?

ID-10046632.Vlado

When my marriage collapsed and dark emotions ran rampant, it was a comfort to me to learn that I was in a state of shock and grieving, similar to what one goes through after someone has died. The intense feelings I had were a normal part of grief with its supposed stages of shock, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. It helped me to know that I would pass through those stages. In fact, I made an aim to accelerate through quickly. I felt that if I got to the last stage – that of ‘acceptance’ – then the pain would go away.

How wrong I was.

I wrote a lot about those stages. I felt that I did progress through them but I never did reach a state of ‘acceptance’, where I felt that what happened had to happen. I did eventually ‘acknowledge’ that it had happened which was a turning point of sorts, understanding that my marriage belonged to a past world. In reaching that point however, of acknowledging my past life was gone, the pain did not simply go away. In many ways I had simply reached a beginning point, of learning to make my way in my changed world, with a new today, and a different future. The intense grief I had experienced was just the beginning of more pain for me.

Apart from my marriage there were other losses I mourned in the grief process such as the loss of my intact family and the loss of my financial security. Even now – over four years later and well over that grieving process – it is the here and now that is difficult, being a single mother and grandmother, and trying to make it financially with a bruised asset base. It is the practicalities of keeping on going another day, in another way.

In my case the stage theory seemed to work because I kept pushing myself to get through the stages. However, I can see now that it could have been a draw-back if I had thought any ‘stage’ (sadness for example) would magically pass and I would simply move onto the next stage. It didn’t happen like that for me. In fact I was so scared that I could become ‘stuck’ in a stage if I did not work to get through it, that I continually took steps to deal with the feelings I experienced, and learned to acknowledge my changed world of today. I do not know whether it really helped me doing that … or whether I would have simply passed through those stages regardless … or even whether I could have got through less painfully if I had simply let them happen, rather than trying to wish them away.

Another draw-back of the stage theory is that the stages can return again and again (although often with less intensity each time). By that I mean that I would seemingly get over an intense feeling such as anger or sadness and then that feeling would return. This is quite normal and yet when it first happened to me I thought there was something wrong with me. Once that happened it led me into a downward spiral of low moods and a new intense pain – the pain of feeling bad about myself, that I was not doing very well. It was only the voice of a dear friend who one day said to me ‘this is normal’ (what I was feeling) and ‘you are normal’ (how I was behaving) that brought me out of that deep dark chasm.

So here I am enjoying my new world of today (and I truly am) and looking forward to my exciting future (honestly I am) … but sometimes there is still that lump in my throat, that pain in my chest, that catch in my breath, and that intense feeling of loss.

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Transitioning to my Transition!!

 

ID-100294809.StuartMilesNo I am not moving (yet).

Later today I will be moving those business documents (that need to be retained for five years) into an official storage facility. They will finally be out of my head-space.

Yay!

With my old life packed away, I will be able to transition to my transition – that world where I will be on my way to my new life.

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Retracting forgiveness

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”  Pema Chödrön

ID-100136205,SweetCrisisIn a deep hole after my marriage collapse, I made it my mission to forgive as I wanted to move on to a place of peace and harmony. I used forgiveness in order to give up feelings of anger, betrayal, resentment and revenge. Fast forward another 18 months and I was in a dark place of resentment. With my financial security in tatters, trudging through marital settlement mud, I saw the unfairness of my changed situation. I blamed myself for being too trusting in my marriage and too kind after the separation. I thought back and wondered whether forgiveness had been right for me.

I had believed forgiveness would help me heal, become less angry and bring me peace. By any definition, forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning, excusing, renouncing efforts to obtain restitution, suppressing anger at what happened, or giving up a recognition that you deserved better. Forgiveness is none of those. Forgiveness is supposedly letting go of negative feelings towards someone who has harmed you. So what forgiveness did to me was make me focus on the action that was done, classify that action as a wrong-deed committed by someone else (my ex-husband) and made me feel like the victim of that wrong-deed. It kept me thinking about what had happened and then, when I still in a bad place, made me feel stupid in being too “nice” in forgiving him of that action. What I know for sure was that forgiveness did not heal me, make me less angry or bring me peace.

So in February 2014, I retracted my action of forgiveness. From that point, I focussed instead on healing, on living by my values and acting always with kindness, fairness and courage … no matter what. I decided to choose before each action or comment I made. I would ask myself whether the action or comment I was about to make was being made for protection (of myself or others), connection, contribution, creation, or celebration? If I could not answer ‘yes’, then I would choose a different response.

Over time, I healed and became strong. My self-esteem and confidence grew. I was focussing on me. I was connecting with others and acting with kindness towards them. I was acting positively in the world of my ‘today’, not in a place of my ‘yesterday’. I felt free.

I believe now, that I got forgiveness wrong. It was more important for me to heal first, than to forgive. I do not believe that forgiveness was a requirement for that healing to take place. Instead of feeling like a victim, I now feel good about myself.

As I think about it today, I realise that at some point during my healing process, I became truly emotionally detached from my ex-husband and could see things from a more neutral position. I could see all the good that was in my marriage. As such I felt grateful for what had been rather than sadness at its loss. Some things that previously upset me now have no positive or negative feelings. As an example, two weeks ago it would have been our 41st wedding anniversary. I did not remember the date until today. That date no longer holds any meaning. It does not make me feel sad, bad or mad.

Interestingly, during the process of my healing and subsequent emotional detachment, forgiveness (losing resentment) crept up on me.

OR

Perhaps it is now that I see myself better off. Therefore … there is nothing to forgive.

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You may want to read Living and Loving after Betrayal. Steven Stosny

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