The next step is the first step

Two years ago marked the financial settlement of my divorce, ending three years of trudging through rain and mud. I felt I had finally reached a sunny place. Spring was upon me. Free of my divorce, I saw myself in a new transition, tidying up my old world, letting go of all that did not serve me well, trying new things, planting seeds ready for bloom in the summer to come, and readying myself for the vision I had of living true to my beliefs.

I did the sorting, packing and letting go. I tried new things and had new experiences. I devised my own HEALTH.Plan and became healthy and fit. I packed up and moved. Now – at the age of 63 – I begin my new life as a single person branching out in a new world, a world which I craved for during the process of my divorce settlement.

However, in all honesty, I have been drifting the past twelve months without much direction.

To be truthful, moving on has not been easy. The move was not without hiccoughs. I am struggling financially trying to make it work. Making new friends and finding new social circles is not easy. Nobody knows me here and at times I feel quite lost and alone.

The little bit that feels lost is that of my identity. I had been a wife, mother and business manager. Then I became a sufferer of the unexpected collapse of my marriage. Then I became a strong woman recovering from that with grace and dignity. Now that I feel lost, I wonder if that became my identity and whether I am lost without it. I do not want to be remembered as the ‘one who recovered from divorce‘. I want to make a difference in the world. At one stage I felt writing in more depth about my experiences may help others. However, I was scared that may also send me emotionally back to that dark place that I had crawled out of. I wanted to be free of that. I had moved on.

Or had I?

I am outwardly strong and contented and the pain at the pit of my stomach has long gone. However, the person who recovered from a difficult divorce; the person previously at risk of ill-health who became fit and healthy; and the person brave enough to move alone to a new area after 40 years – those three parts are still fragile inside. So my writing stopped.
I felt that because I was still going through some fragility and further tough times I had not reached my destination. I wanted to get to the part about the rainbow and the sunshine. I felt I hadn’t quite got there. I felt no one would want to hear about black skies in springtime.

While I was trying to fathom out what to do, people were somehow still finding my blog and sending me encouragement that what I had written had helped them. This made me conflicted. Would writing about my difficult experiences take me back to a dark place? Or instead could it shine a light for others? If so, which experiences should I write about? Divorce – Nutrition – Relocation. Which voice was mine? Which truth should I share?

As so many times I had realized before, when I get stuck and can’t move and I want to get somewhere else, the best place to start is at the beginning.

The first step for me is to become proficient at what I do. I have therefore enrolled in a University course, and am now buried in books and research. I am doing a Masters in Nutrition and I am also planning two units in writing and publishing.

And so I start a new beginning.

I have come to realise it is all new beginnings. Every step I have ever taken has always been the first step towards the rest of my life. While some steps did not seem to lead me anywhere except getting me out of a hole, every step led me to the next step.

And all those next steps all took me to here – at my new beginnings.

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here at last

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.Viktor Frankl

 

I am here at last settled into my new house with BMW views (Beach, Mountain, Water). The house faces north so I get the sun all day. I walk to the beach twice a day and am keeping fit, well, and healthy. I am only 30 minutes from my eldest son and his family, and my daughter is also nearby.

Yet I feel a little bit home sick, pining for something, but uncertain exactly what.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

In his ground-breaking book about his experience of surviving the holocaust concentration camps Viktor Frankl describes three phases. The first phase is the shock of first arriving at camp. The second phase is entrenched in life at camp. The third phase is after liberation.

Frankl describes how in the second phase of complete uncertainty, stripped of everything from their former lives, people could still retain the freedom to choose their inner response to the situation. As opposed to feeling only misery, bearing suffering with dignity and finding goals for the future even in the midst of uncertainty, is what “makes life meaningful”.

Whilst I hesitate to compare my situation of divorce to that of a holocaust survivor, it is similar in that there were three phases. The first phase was that of my marriage collapse and being thrown into shock and chaos. The second phase was trudging through the marital settlement which took nearly four years. The third phase was the liberation from that process. Reading books like his helped me cope through many dark days of that second phase, the phase of prolonged suffering, by helping me form a sense of normality during that uncertain period, and an inner peace knowing that I still had choices.

During that horrible place, I got myself into a familiar routine and coped well with grace and dignity through all my suffering. I believe now, in a strange sort of way, I actually made a ‘career’ and new life for myself out of coping with my suffering. I branched out into a long phase of inner reflection and I began writing. I enjoyed writing and I felt I did it well.

When the settlement was finalized, I was free at last.

Since the ending of my trudging through the marital settlement, life has been unsettled as I have been in transition yet doing worthwhile things such as living life, visiting friends and family, sorting out my mothers estate and travelling.

I have now moved into my new home by the sea, ready to settle into my new life. But in many many ways, I have now been thrown back into another era of uncertainty.

What do I do now?

Winding the clock back six years, there was me in the certainty of my marriage, career, and community. I knew who I was and where I was going. The crisis of my marriage ending brought with it a loss of my identity that is now long gone which I grieved.

In my second phase world of trudging through the marital settlement, coping with the suffering and writing about it had become my new identity. It had become my place of certainty. As horrible as it was, my trudging through that mud had become a familiar place and I was safe in its familiarity.

Now life is again unfamiliar to me.

I am finding that I have been through or am going through another “identity crisis” of wondering who I am and who I will become. That identity I had made for myself, of writing about positive aspects of coping with my suffering no longer exists as I am no longer ‘suffering’. Then what will I do with my life? What will I write about?

Now I realize that is my answer.

Find out.

And write about it.

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

ID-10060518.maya pictureOne of the ways I have kept myself motivated while on my H.E.A.L.T.H. plan is tracking my progress. There is nothing better for inspiration than to see numbers going in the right direction. I am a bit obsessive with fine details when I set my mind on a project, and my good health became my project during 2015. Here are the things I have been tracking:

  • Weight. I weigh myself every day, record an average for each week and month. I have also been recording my weight every 31st January for many years. This gives me a better indication of any overall weight gain (or loss).
  • Body Mass Index is a measure which standardizes weight against height. The healthy range is BMI of 20 – 24.9, overweight is 25-29.9, and obese is 30 and over.
  • Waist measurement monthly. Excess around the waist is a risk factor for some diseases of affluence such as heart disease and diabetes.
  • Blood pressure. I have a home machine and measure this 2-3 times a week, more often if I have shown a rise and less often if it has been OK.
  • Blood tests. I have an annual check with my doctor who measures fasting glucose, blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), nutrient levels (such as iron and Vitamin D) plus some other things she likes to keep an eye on.
  • Blood glucose. I am not a diabetic or prediabetic. However my mother and aunt were and some cousins are so I keep an eye on my own levels with a glucometer. I measure my fasting glucose level and sometimes take readings throughout the day.
  • Foods eaten. I do not count calories but I roughly write down foods I eat every day which keeps me on track that my ‘moderate’ (weekly) foods are not creeping into my daily intake and that my ‘tribal celebration’ foods are not too frequent. Every three months for a week I take a more accurate history and run it through a food analysis programme.

Here are my results:

  • Weight. Until 2010, my annual records showed a slow but relentless rise of about a quarter kilogram a year (half a pound). Not too bad. However, this ‘almost good enough’ for forty years meant I slowly gained ten kilograms. Another eight quickly followed in a crisis year and I was in trouble. Since my HEALTHplan commitment in January 2015, my daily and weekly weights have fluctuated but monthly average has shown a steady decline. It is now beginning to stabilize.
  • Body Mass Index. My BMI is now 22.5, in the middle of the healthy weight range.
  • Waist measurement. My waist measurement has slowly declined and is now less than half my height which is a criteria for being of lower risk.
  • Blood pressure. I previously sometimes had morning highs, and rises after stressful triggers. Now my readings are routinely low (110/70) and do not rise as much after stress.
  • Blood tests. My cholesterol levels were OK from the start and have improved even more. Readings are in fact now very low as is my triglyceride level. Iron levels have improved since menopause. I take Vitamin D sometimes as living in Tasmania doesn’t afford me enough from the sun in winter months.
  • Blood glucose. My fasting glucose levels have dropped 15% from the readings of a year ago. There is less spiking after meals and lower levels two hours after meals. I attribute this to modified diet, smaller portions, losing weight (thus lowering insulin resistance and improving glucose tolerance) and a higher activity level.
  • Foods eaten. The occasional detailed analysis shows I consume ~4500 kilojoules (1100 calories) on strict days; 5700 kilojoules (1,400 calories) on moderate days and 7500 kilojoules (1,800 calories) when indulging. I am very short 155cm and require less than taller people. On ultra-low days I average 50% calories as carbohydrate (153g), 19% protein (51g), 19% fat (23g) and 2% alcohol. Most fat is from cashews. My indulgence days were 42% carbohydrate (199g), 21% protein (66g), 25% fat (48g), 5% alcohol. Most fat from added fats and oils. Moderate days were between those figures. Percentages give a poor indication of my overall diet. During ultra-low periods I ate less and mainly ‘good’ stuff. During splurge periods I ate more of everything and more ‘bad’ stuff. Relative percentages overall mean nothing.

Overall, I am happy with where I am at the moment.

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When home no longer feels like home

 

ID-100123089.Stuart Miles

Since my marriage collapse, my home has been my sanctuary, a bedrock of certainty; providing me with strength, stability and comfort. I have written about my need for stability and the comfort my home provides here, here, here, here, here and here.

Some time ago I wrote that I was now ready to move and make a new life somewhere else. It is interesting that since I made that decision, my home no longer feels like home to me. In part, this growing negative feeling has been been due to the sorting of the business documents which was a mammoth task and quite distressing at times – with painful memories and negative feelings surfacing as I reviewed records and documents. Then Christmas came and went. It was wonderful to have all the family home. I was back in my element with my home and family my comfort. But now, with everyone else back in their own life, my mood has changed again and the desire to move is very strong.

Over the past three weeks I have been away, spending two weeks with my siblings sorting through my mother’s things and a week with my grand-children. As I drove home, I started to become anxious and, once inside, instead of the usual comforting ‘home at last’ feeling that I would normally get, I felt suddenly and dramatically quite down. There are a few factors at play here.

Firstly, having had three weeks with other family members, the aloneness hit me hard.

Secondly, while sorting through things of my mother (who was a hoarder) I had thoughts that I should have a proper sort through of all my own things before I move. With that thought in mind, when I returned home and looked around at what that would entail, I became overwhelmed at yet another mammoth ‘sorting’ project ahead of me. I knew that if I sorted to my own ‘must do everything meticulously’ standards, I would be here forever.

Thirdly, I have been craving quiet time. I wondered whether I would ever get to that place of peace and contentment.

Enough of all this negativity!

I am actually slowly moving forward and doing well at the moment. I am taking baby steps, baby steps across this bridge that I must traverse in order to get to my new life.

  • I have organized a storage space for the business archives that need keeping for five years. I will be moving them out next week. That will be a load off my mind.
  • I have put my house ‘unofficially’ on the market and will formalize this once the estate agent gets photos done etc.
  • A friend of mine offered to help with some of the packing-my-house-up headache.
  • In a few months, one of my sons and I are going on a bit of a road trip to Sydney.
  • Mid-year, I will be spending more time with my siblings for the final sort of my mothers things.
  • Later in the year, I am going to spend some time in Canada.
  • I am getting excited about my new life around the corner and have been looking at houses and places I want to move to.
  • I am feeling really fit and healthy and that is great!

Here I go!

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My H.E.A.L.T.H. plan – T is for Tribal Celebrations

ID-100380287.ApoloniaWith the best of intentions, previous stints of me trying to become fit and healthy (AKA ‘lose weight’) have come unstuck during periods of ‘Tribal Celebrations’, enjoying other people’s company with too much good food and other indulgences. Typically when the weight returned (as it inevitably did), I would feel like a failure and give up.

I needed a system that allowed me to improve my health yet allowed celebrations with family and friends – so important for my well being. This time with my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan no food is forbidden. Instead I focus on foods to include every day, foods to include weekly in moderation (with family and friends) and foods only for monthly ‘Tribal Celebrations’. There are also foods and drinks I do not specifically exclude but I do not consider any occasion worthy of their inclusion (and therefore never have them). This is my strategy:

The Fabulous Five
(foods I eat daily)

These foods are low in energy density (calories).

  • Green, yellow and orange vegetables.
  • Starchy water-based vegetables: potato, peas, corn.
  • Wholegrain water-based cereals ie cooked oats, barley, rice and pasta.
  • Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soy).
  • Fruit.

The Moderate Middle
(skim milk I include daily, the others weekly with family and friends)

These foods are moderate in energy density.

  • Skim or low-fat dairy foods
  • Lean chicken, fish, eggs (at lunch or dinner with family or friends).
  • Bread (ditto).
  • Dry cereals or crackers (sometimes).
  • Nuts, seeds and oily fruit (olives/avocados) as snacks thrice weekly.

My Limit List
Condiments and high-calorie non-foods which add to the enjoyment of food

  • Alcohol twice weekly.
  • Sugar (small amounts twice weekly).
  • ‘Healthy’ oils (twice weekly, in small amounts).
  • Salt (occasionally).

The Terrible Ten

Tribal celebrations (monthly indulgences)

  • Full cream milk and dairy foods.
  • Red meat.
  • Sweet foods: ice-cream (my weakness), celebratory cakes, sweetened yoghurt.
  • ‘Healthy’ oils in higher amounts.

Foods I avoid

  • Deep fried foods
  • Baked fatty foods – cakes, biscuits, muffins, pastry, pies, croissants, doughnuts, ‘health’ and energy bars, crisps, corn chips, pizza, other snack foods
  • Confectionery, chocolate, dried fruit, jam
  • Margarine, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, butter, cream
  • Sweet beverages including soft drink, fruit juice, fruit smoothies, sports drinks
  • Processed meat, fatty meats

The reasons behind my choices

1. My ‘fabulous five’ are plant-based foods which are lowest in energy density and, in my opinion, foods to predominantly eat in order to maintain a healthy weight. However, I am not vegetarian and enjoy dairy foods, chicken and fish when eating with my tribe.

2. I include starchy vegetables and wholegrain cereals daily. These water-based foods are filling and low in energy density. While many lay-books advocate a ‘low carbohydrate diet’ for weight control, there is a lack of logic in that when you consider that countries with very low rates of obesity such as Asian cultures have high carbohydrate diets based on rice. I have lost weight including water-based cereals or starchy vegetables at meals every day.

3. In contrast processed dry cereals and breads are moderately high in energy density and I only include them weekly, basically socially. Being refined they are digested quickly which spikes blood glucose levels. Sugar is highly refined and high in calories. Thus I limit its use but there are small amounts in some processed foods I have such as soymilk and canned kidney beans. Typically about twice monthly I have a sweet dessert.

4. ‘Healthy’ fats (in nuts, seeds, oily fruit and oils) are not so healthy for me as they are high in calories and slither down easily, adding unwanted inches to my waistline. The concept fats supposedly blunt the appetite does not work for me. I put most of my weight on following a ‘healthy’ Mediterranean diet high in olive oil. I now limit their intake to an extreme but do enjoy snacking on nuts a few times a week, and the odd weekly stir-fry.

5. High-protein animal foods are moderately high in calories. In my heart I feel I should go vegan, but my tribe does not. Thus, I enjoy these foods as social indulgences.

6. Ditto for alcohol.

7. I do actually very occasionally have margarine, butter or cream, typically about six times a year at Tribal Celebrations. At those times, I enjoy those indulgences without guilt.

Everyone should seek advice from a doctor or dietitian as to what is best for them, so please do not take this as advice to follow. However, what has worked for me is the strategy of being strict, ultra-healthy and eating foods low in energy density (although I do not count calories) when on my own and having moderate and high calories foods only as indulgences when with family and friends. Using those techniques, I have steadily lost 20 kilograms in fifteen months and am feeling really fit and healthy. However, I do not feel deprived, am never hungry and I am enjoying my tribal celebrations without guilt.

Enjoy this scene from chocolate. Celebrations are, in the end, about people.

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