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

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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Images.courtesy[africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My H.E.A.L.T.H. plan – A is for Active – how doing ‘something’ every day grew to 10,000 steps

ID-10043382.digitalartTwo years ago I wrote a post on how my attempts at engaging in an exercise programme (such as running or going to the gym) repeatedly failed. That was because it was an all or nothing approach that I took. I would do lots of exercise. I would get sick of that. Then I would slip back into doing nothing at all.

At that point in time when I wrote that post, which was I might add a fairly intense period of my life when I was extremely busy, I resolved instead to simply do ‘something’ every day, whether that was a short walk or housework or similar.

Life unfolded again and again after that and so getting myself into a proper exercise programme was indeed out of the question. I simply could not commit that time as there was too much else going on in my life. However, I kept up with doing ‘something’. I told myself I had to do a minimum of ten minutes a day. That does not sound very much and indeed it isn’t and that is the point. There was simply no excuse for not being able to find at least ten minutes a day. But what that ten minutes became was a commitment to myself that no matter how bleak the day was, no matter how overwhelming the tasks in front of me were, I always deserved those ten minutes for me, for my health, for my well being.

The ten minutes grew to fifteen and then to twenty. I came to really enjoy those twenty minutes each day where generally I would go for a walk after breakfast. I kept up that twenty minutes through rain, hail, and sunshine.

Since I began my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan where I resolved to take fifty weeks or one year to get my health fully back on track [giving myself two weeks off over Christmas 🙂 ] and especially the last four months since the final ending of the marital settlement, I have been doing even more. The morning walk has gradually increased to forty minutes a day, and each afternoon I go into town and by doing so clock up an extra twenty minutes of walking. Then I have been giving the house a much-needed spring clean, room by room. It is amazing how many ‘something’ minutes are clocked up when you become a better house-keeping person. Last, but not least, a definite advantage of sorting the boxes upon boxes in the garage, is the fact that it has added to the little bits of ‘something’ that I have been doing.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a fitness app onto my phone that counts the number of steps I do a day. I was so excited when the first day I used it I clocked up 10,000 steps which the app told me is more active that 94% of the population. Some days I have clocked up 15,000. I have never considered myself a fitness freak and indeed I hate exercise and it did give me a thrill to realize that I was doing more than 94% of the population, simply by doing ‘something’ over and over throughout the day.

I have found the app is good as it does motivate me to go that extra distance, park the car a few blocks from where I need to so that I need to walk there and back and that adds up to my daily score. The children have similar ones on their phones or ones on their wrists and we text each other as to the steps we have done each day. So this has given me something to share with my children even though they are not with me – the enthusiasm for becoming more active. And now they are running and going to the gym to get their scores up, as they have to do that (after a sedentary day at work) in order to keep up with Mum who is simply doing ‘something’ – and more and more of it – every single day.

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Images.courtesy[digitalart]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

My H.E.A.L.T.H. plan – E for eating matters

ID-10082821.debspoonsEating matters to me, not only for my health and vitality, but also for my social interactions, for my sense of belonging and for participating in the celebrations of life. Unfortunately, over the past decades other reasons have clouded my judgement in choosing what is best for my long-term health and I had put on weight.

Earlier this year – once the pressure of the business and its sale lifted from my shoulders – I put my head up and looked around. I did not like what I saw. While I had my head down focussing on the crises I had been thrown into, the whole world had changed. Two-thirds of society had become overweight or obese. And I had joined them. I had gone from being ‘normal’ to being ‘normal’ – even though I had put on weight. I was still ‘normal’. I was ‘average’. I was one of the crowd. Yet I knew that, in this case, being normal (or average) and being overweight was not good for me. So I had this task ahead of me, to think of my weight in terms of ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ rather than being ‘normal’ (or fat or thin). I had to think so highly of myself that I could cut through societal pressure to be ‘one of the gang’ when ‘the gang’ put the supposed pleasures of indulging in fine eating and drinking (all the time!) ahead of what is good for me. I had to break out of that thinking pattern.

This was a tough call, to change the way I thought about myself, to see myself as being ‘different’ from others and yet where I wanted to be – in the ‘healthy’ third of the population. To do that I had to take care of myself and I had to believe that I mattered enough to get there. This was a big step, to have a vision to become that person, to want to be that person, that healthy person, and do what was required to get there.

I formulated a plan to get me back into the healthy weight range. The plan included all aspects of my eating needs and my social interactions so it would not fail. It has become what I see as my sensible eating plan for life.

This is a summary of my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan for my own Eating matters:

Why
1. I eat for my good health, to establish and maintain myself in the healthy weight range, avoid obesity and the development (or at least delaying the onset) of the diseases of western society, in particular heart disease and diabetes.
2. For the enjoyment of connection with others and participation in celebrations.
3. As a response to hunger, not boredom, stress, reward, or prestige.

Who to consider
1. Me. In this space I am my first consideration. When on my own, I eat ultra-healthy foods.
2. When connecting with family, friends, colleagues; I eat mainly healthy foods and portion control moderately healthy foods.
3. I plan for any celebrations, allowing myself an indulgence or two.

When
1. I eat at planned mealtimes and take a break at those times. No excuses.
3. I always eat breakfast.
3. I schedule planned ‘mini-meals’, not impulsive snacks.
4. I eat an early dinner and avoid eating afterwards.

How
1. I eat sitting down and use a knife, fork, spoon or teaspoon (except healthy snacks).
2. I have full control over my eating. It does not control me.
3. I resist manipulation by food manufacturers.

Where
1. I eat at home, dining area at work or friends or a la carte restaurant/cafe.
2. I avoid fast-food restaurants, food swamps and impulse food snacks.
3. I never eat in my car, at my desk, in front of TV, or while walking.

What
1. I eat real food.
2. I drink water for thirst
3. I avoid drinking my calories/kilojoules.
4. I have the planned occasional indulgence of less healthy foods.

Which foods
1. I eat a balanced amount of core foods from the basic food groups.
2. I do not “diet” or avoid any food category such as carbs or fats.
3. I avoid the sixth good group (fatty foods, sweetened foods/drinks, junk food).

I am pleased to report that nine months after changing my approach to myself I reached my healthy goal weight, three months earlier than my aim. My blood lipid levels are extraordinarily very low, my blood glucose levels well within the normal range, and I am feeling fit, healthy and happy. Moreover I am enjoying connections with loved ones and at times of celebrations knowing that any eating indulgences at those times are within my healthy eating plan.

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Images.courtesy[debspoons]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net