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.

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

ID-100137301.rakratchada.torsapIn my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan, H = Health Habits encompass all the other targets of keeping myself Headstrong (mindful), Eating right, remaining Active, adapting my Lifestyle, and keeping myself on Track. It became easier when all these became Habits. This is the hardest step in the whole process as it meant forming healthy rituals, sometimes against a prevailing wind of less-healthy rituals that only serve to drag me down.

The Foundations

Many of my winning habits have involved getting the food issues correct. I have done this from a very early age by giving up confectionery and chocolate at the age of twelve, switching from frying foods to grilling foods after my father had a heart attack when I was 15, cutting out deep fried foods and high fat foods in my early twenties, and cutting out most added fats and refined foods in my thirties.

The Crumbling Walls

In the busy years of caring for young children, working almost full-time, maintaining the house and managing the business, everything took priority over me and my health. The flimsy walls laid on top of what could be regarded as strong foundations began to crumble. This happened ever-so-slowly resulting in a gradual weight gain of about 1 kilogram (two pounds) every three years. That is not very much and indeed almost unnoticeable but over forty years it added up.

On reaching that point, of being unhappy with my weight, I began blaming myself and thinking there must be some food I was eating that was ‘bad’ (there wasn’t) and should be avoided. I will make a point here that I do feel excess fats, sugars and refined foods can contribute to weight gain. However, in my case, I wasn’t eating many of those because of the strong foundations I had laid. That wasn’t the problem. Nevertheless, because of all those diet-scare books and blogs proclaiming on one hand that all poultry, eggs and fish should be avoided (vegan diets) or all potatoes, pasta and bread should be avoided (low-carb diets), I found myself in this culture of a sacrificial approach to weight control. Any attempt by ‘dieting’ made me miserable (giving up foods I enjoy), guilty (if I broke the diet) or stupid (if I regained weight) which simply fueled me feeling bad about myself.

Rebuilding

Like an epiphany in January 2015, instead of focussing on avoidance I began thinking about what I was doing right (the strong foundations) and what had led me to sometimes eat more than I should or eat in an unhealthful way or not move as much as I could.

It comes down to four basic reasons –

  • comfort (using food when I was feeling distressed, depressed or anxious)
  • convenience (grabbing something quickly rather than taking my time to prepare a balanced healthy meal)
  • celebrations (being sucked into the cultural shift of a need to celebrate four times a week, 52 weeks a year)
  • culinary delights (dining in style – with all the trimmings – four times a day).

It took much self-therapy to get over the distress of my marital break-up before I stopped turning to food as a comfort and taking the time to get back into the routine of having healthy foods and regular exercise. These are not to be understated as important contributory factors of taking me back to the road of good health. It is, however, the last two reasons that are for me the deal-breaker. Celebrations and culinary delights.

Traditions have slipped into our culture that I incorporated in my own lifestyle that did not serve me well – daily cafe lattes, regular meals out (where the meals tended to be higher in fat, sugar and alcohol), any excuse to celebrate, and indulging in culinary delights every day of the year. Some foods and meal-types I had been having regularly over the past two decades were in my younger days special treats for me indulged only about four times a year. It wasn’t that any of these foods or meals or celebrations were “bad” or needed to be avoided … it was just that they had become too frequent.

Nevertheless, wanting to remain healthy and see my grand-children grow up has been a major driving force for me to form new habits to counteract this societal pressure to celebrate four times a day 365 days a year. It has not been easy (yet thoroughly worthwhile) to develop the habit of a hierarchy of indulgences. There is much merit in same-old basic foods every day, saving some special foods to have with my social contacts twice weekly (for me, cafe lattes and / or alcohol), and reserve meals with “all the trimmings” only for tribal celebrations once or twice a month. 

I believe this has been the main reason for success of my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan that I am winning and yet incorporating my social encounters into my plan and thoroughly enjoying those times.

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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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