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

Wedding wobbles after divorce

 

ID-100125771.StuartMilesMy second son was recently married. People have asked me whether there were any ‘awkward moments’ due to the divorce. I would be lying if I said, ‘No’. However, I am pleased to say that most of the awkward moments were in my head. I did not let thoughts in my head control my actions. I paused and thought through anything before responding or, more importantly, not responding. I also noticed a difference to what I actually did think and experience compared to what I had been anticipating that I may experience.

When a mutual friend’s daughter married two years ago, I was raw inside. The vows spoken at the church made me cry and cry. As they spoke their vows, I thought about my own wedding and what I felt as the breaking of those vows. This wedding of my son was different. Those same thoughts did not enter my head when my son and his soon-to-be-wife spoke their vows. That same sadness did not surface. When they said their vows, I thought only of them. I thought only of their love for each other and the wonderful life they were to have together.

The ‘awkward’ moments came at different times, prior to the wedding ceremony itself; and afterwards at the reception.

As described in an earlier post, the wedding was six days at a resort on the Cook Islands, so there was six days of togetherness with family and friends, six days of happy times with others. Yet, in those happy times, there was that edge for me of being alone within myself, of not having that soul-mate to look out for me and, although I am beginning to revel in my independence and am quite capable of looking out for myself, seeing the togetherness of other couples looking out for each other stung me a little. My children having to spend separate times with each of us, stung me a little. The speech given by the father of my new daughter-in-law, speaking with pride of his wife and soul-mate of 40 years and their life of sharing and living out their promises to each other, stung me a little.

I had anticipated awkward moments with my ex-husband, even though he had decided to come ‘alone’ which made it easier for all of us.

Due to my mother’s health crisis in the weeks before the wedding, I had not had time to have “the conversation” with him, that of: ‘Please do not come up to me and insist that we should be friends. Please do not hug me in front of other people, as if nothing has happened between us. Please do not ask me to dance with you after the bridal waltz’. 

So the conversation had not happened and the awkward moments did happen and, surprisingly, I did not care. I was able to act with grace and dignity, smile, shrug those moments off, quickly move aside to other people, and put it all behind me.

However, those moments were defining moments for me. They were the first one-on-one, face-to-face contact I had had with him on a personal level in over a year. What I came to understand in those moments was that I have reached a place of emotional detachment from the man who left me. When he came up to me at the wedding, I no longer saw him as the man I had married 40 years ago. For three years I have felt pain whenever I thought of being abandoned by the man I had been married to. In those moments at the wedding, I realized that person no longer exists. He is not the same person as the man who left me. In those moments, I felt no pain regarding being left by the man who my husband had become. I felt no emotion for that man, I felt nothing for him, for the man who left me.

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Image:Courtesy[StuartMiles]FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Ticking the boxes

 

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My last post, alluding to my tendency to often being late, was actually about whether I had lived true to my values. It drew some interesting responses. One that surprised me was from a follower who had perceived me as an ‘always on time’, well-organized ‘super-woman’. The comment made me wonder who the real me is and what masks I had been hiding behind since being alone. After my husband left me I courageously worked through my grief, detached emotionally from him and made steps towards forgiveness. I perfected the art of living alone and embracing each day in all its glory. From six months after he left for about a year, I remained in that space with my life compartmentalized.

The stoic everyday me

I went about my everyday life in the scheduled daily routine I created. I would rise, watch the sunrise, write in my journal and go for a walk before heading to work, four days a week. I put aside the angst surrounding my divorce and pretended life was normal. I interacted with staff in a normal fashion and focused on work. I socialized on a casual basis. I connected with friends one-on-one for coffee or lunch. After work I would return home to my evening routine of dinner and relaxation. Regularly I would ring my family and friends.

Mother

I desperately yearned for what I had lost, my intact family unit. I tried to put it back together. I regularly drove four hours to see my eldest son, his wife and my grand-daughter. My two younger children lived in the same area and I saw them often. I would mark dates on my calendar to keep me going until I saw them again. I came alive when I saw them. I put my heart and soul into being mother and grandmother. I would cook, bake, read stories to my grand-daughter and play this role I loved. When I was on my own again, I would fall flat and feel very sad.

Adventurer

I underwent ‘experiential pastimes’ that one is supposed to do when carving a new life. I put that in quotation marks because I was not craving that at all. I did it because it was expected I would want to travel and try new things after my world had upended. So I tried. Inside I was craving family so I combined ‘experiences’ with being with family; in Sydney, visiting my second son in Canada and attending a friend’s wedding in Ireland. Each time I felt on shaky emotional ground when away from home.

Mud trudging

The fourth me was (and is) trudging through mud of the divorce and property settlement. This has been horrid. At first I tried to avoid it. Then I tried to deal with it on the side of my life. That didn’t work. I felt resentful every single day I had to deal with it. Eventually I gave up two days a week for two years in order to do what had to be done to get through it. I pretended it was simply another part of my life. Some people study for a degree. Some people belong to a craft club. Some people write books. I trudged through the mud of our property settlement.

Soul searching

This is discovering who I really am. This started with me writing my journal daily, blogging then reading philosophy. And self-help books. Lots of them. My reflection became more and more intense as I delved into the core of my inner self.

Ticking boxes

After a year, I looked back to what I had been doing. I realized I had been ticking boxes.

I have worked through my grief. Tick.
I have detached emotionally from my husband. Tick.
I have spent time in nature. Tick.
I have enjoyed the moments of today. Tick.
I have spent time with loved ones. Tick.
I am contributing to society by working. Tick.
I have experienced new things. Tick.

Ticking boxes worked.
In those first four roles I remained in a relative state of calm.

However, each time I visited the fifth me, that part of me trying to find the real me, I was confronted with a question I could not answer.

Which role is the real me?

 

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ImageCourtesyOf[rawich]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

Foundations of freedom – freedom to do

“And the moment came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. “ Anais Nin

ID-10043380.digitalartWe are the lucky generation. Our forefathers handed us freedom from: freedom from slavery, tyranny and oppression. The next generations gave us our freedom to: freedom to vote, choose, express opinion, work, associate with those of our choosing, become educated, or be elected into positions of power. That has been followed by social, cultural and sexual revolutions since the 1960s. We are now free to pursue whatever we desire in terms of our dress, our leisure activities and our relationships with each other – in both the coming together or the breaking apart.

It seems to me each generation has wanted more freedom than the previous and, whereas in previous generations ‘freedom’ did mean the true sense of the word in freedom from oppression, our modern generation has put the emphasis on having freedom to do whatever we want. We want it all and we want it now. This is supposed to be something that we all desire. When my husband first left, people would say to me ‘now you are free to do whatever you want‘. When repeated back, that advice would catch me in the throat. Taking ‘freedom’ was foreign to me as I was craving stability and structure. I also saw it as being selfish. I thought I still had responsibilities and obligations to fulfill.

It has taken me nearly three years to understand that I don’t.

While it appeared I did, it really was an obligation to my own inner code of responsibility. I really did not have obligations to fulfill, except to myself. I am truly free to do whatever I want. Looking at it another way, I had to a degree been putting perceived responsibilities and obligations in my own path because of not knowing what to do with my freedom if I had it. It was easier to keep doing what I had been doing, even though painful, rather than taking my own freedom and basking in its sunshine. I could now undo my own imposed restraints of responsibility.

The big question now is not whether I have the freedom to what I want but rather, now that I know I do (nearly) have that freedom, what do I want to do with it?

That’s scary.

As I sat with a blank page on that question, a few overarching ideas of what ‘freedom to do’ means to me came to mind.

I have the freedom to live my own way.

I am free of external restrictions.

I have the freedom to impose my own moral code such as ‘first, do no harm’. As long as I impose it myself it is not a restraint, it is free-will. I cannot enslave myself. With no external restrictions, only internal ones, I have the freedom to think, speak and act the way I want.

I have the freedom to choose to be responsible for my family and friends. When I act out of devotion, there are no constraints – no matter what the responsibilities require of me.

I have the freedom to be part of my family, children and grand-children’s lives.

I have the freedom to be by myself whenever I want.

I have the freedom to choose my own direction in life and to fit that in with my own life’s purpose which I alone shall choose and I may take as long as I want to make that choice.

I have the freedom to choose my own goals by my own free-will and to work towards those goals unimpeded.

I have the freedom to choose my own attitude to develop a capacity by education, training or resolve to overcome any obstacle or impediment in my way.

I have the freedom to impose limitations, moral codes or constraints (by whatever definition) if that makes my new direction more comfortable. If my constraints are based upon my own goals or values – knowing where I stand will give me the liberty to act in complete freedom.

That is not so scary. That is all exciting …

Now to begin.

 

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Image courtesy:[digitalart]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Creating my revival identity

 

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When I was swept off course and thrown into a hole, it took every ounce of effort to simply survive. I refused to call myself a victim and instead I became a survivor.

A victim sees something has been done to them beyond their control. Someone else is to blame. The situation is unfair. A victim’s reactions are that of flight, fight or freeze (running away, retaliating, or doing nothing). Although these reactions are normal in the heat of a crisis, there is the danger of the mistreatment becoming part of you and seeing yourself identified with bad treatment, brokenness and weakness. This is victim identity.

As these flight, fight, freeze reactions are accompanied by intensely painful feelings of guilt, anger and fear that I wanted to avoid at all costs; an alternative response that worked for me was survival. In other words I focussed on self-protection. I did not want to see myself as a victim and so I channelled my energies into making sure that I never became one again. I created my survival identity of building up courage, stability and comfort.

Some time ago I read that the term ‘survivor’ is simply another label for ‘victim’. If you identify yourself as a survivor, you are still focussing on the event that happened rather than focussing on how to get out of the hole, heal and recover. Despite my brave stance at seeing myself as a survivor, not a victim, I was still seeing everything through the hurt inflicted upon me and trying to avoid more pain.

Over the past six months, I have been working through a process in a book (see below) which describes breaking away from victim or survivor thinking by creating a healing identity. To create a healing identity, you focus on your strengths, your values, your modes of resilience and a desire to improve your life. By creating a healing identity you overcome victim reactions of blame, retaliation and resentment. Many of the techniques suggested in the book have truly worked for me and especially looking beneath my pain to my unmet needs and striving to find new ways of fulfilling them.

One of the lingering aspects hard to overcome has been my survival comforts that I have used to ground me and protect me from further hurt. When I try to break out of my comfort zone I often go into panic zone and retreat.

Recently I read a blog-post by Ian from Leading Essentially that described how the two zones of comfort and panic can lock you out of expanding your horizons. He described one technique to break free from this mentality is to develop an understanding of your unique capabilities that you may draw on when you get out of your comfort zone. I took that to mean strengths and attributes that have aided me in past achievements, or resilience factors in weathering past adversities. In other words I could venture out from my comfort zone knowing that I had those attributes to fall back on, if needed. I decided to work on this by really thinking about my strengths and my resilience attitudes.

I see this as creating my revival identity as a bridge between surviving and thriving, whilst still in the process of some healing. Here are some attributes of my revival identity –

My education and life experiences provide a stable base for future achievements.
My thirst for knowledge and learning will give me the courage to improve and grow.
I am creative and inventive.
I can draw on my analytical and problem solving skills to get me through any challenge.
I will live by my core values of courage, fairness and kindness.
I will act only for protection, connection, contribution, and appreciation.
I have a new purpose to find my voice and promote human welfare.

While focussing on creating my revival identity, getting ready for my new life, some remarkable things happened.

I stopped thinking about the hole I was supposedly in.
I stopped thinking about being wronged.
I stopped thinking about the pain I was suffering.
The pain stopped.

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ImageCourtesyOf[Africa]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may want to read ‘Living & Loving after Betrayal: How to Heal from Emotional Abuse, Deceit, Infidelity and Chronic Resentment’ by Steven Stosny

Healing from the pain of betrayal

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive.
Eliminate the negative.
Latch on to the affirmative.
Don’t mess with mister in between.”

Johnny Mercer

 

 

Intimate betrayal is when someone very close has hurt you by abuse, aggression or constant criticism; or failed to take care of your well-being by deceit, infidelity or abandonment. The betrayal cuts deep because of the broken trust and an expectation of continual love and care. The resultant pain is intense and long-lasting. It is accompanied by the raging symptoms of anxiety, dread, deep sadness, guilt, shame and resentment.

Since my husband left me, many a day I have cried out, ‘please just stop the pain!’

Consider this situation.

Children are playing outside and kick a ball against a window. The window breaks and shatters. Inside, a shard of glass flings out and plunges into your arm creating a deep cut with profuse bleeding and deep pain. What do you do? You may run outside, work out who kicked the ball, then berate that child for his bad behaviour. You could look at the window, consider why it shattered and postulate why the glass cut so deep. You could grab a towel and mop up the bleeding. Alternatively, you may give painkillers to numb the pain.

Meanwhile you bleed to death.

The cure for a deep cut is attending to the cut, not numbing the pain, mopping up the bleeding  or working out who to blame. I know that. Yet when I was confronted with the pain of betrayal and abandonment I spent some time analyzing my ex-husband’s behaviour, my behaviour; and our marriage with its strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to know, why, why, why? Then I spent some time relieving the gushing symptoms of anger, sadness, anxiety, loneliness and resentment. When that didn’t completely work, I spent a lot of time numbing out the pain by living in the joys of today, engaging in pleasurable and / or distracting activities; or keeping busy. More recently I have wondered why the pain had not completely stopped and I had not fully healed.

I had not addressed the pain. The pain went so deep that I had tried to ignore it, cover it up, numb it out or avoid it rather than face it.

Pain is a signal, a call to action.
If you put your hand on a hotplate, it is a signal to remove your hand or it will burn.
If you present to your doctor with a headache, it must firstly be ascertained whether there is underlying stress, migraine, lack of sleep, or brain tumour; before planning a course of action.

Emotional pain is also a signal, a call to action.
It is not a signal to heal the past, it is a signal to heal the present. It is a protective signal that there is something in your current life that you need to change.

While the obvious symptoms pouring out from the cut of betrayal, abandonment and its aftermath were anger, humiliation, resentment, sadness, anxiety and guilt; I gradually learned these were stemming from the emotional pain underneath of feeling disregarded, unlovable and devalued;  losing something valuable (my 37 year marriage); having a sense of dread for the future; and feeling that my own values had in some way been violated.

These signals of emotional pain are a call to action for me. In order to heal from this pain, I need to focus on raising my self-regard; becoming more loveable; increasing my competence; building on my relationships with family, friends and other connections; facing and planning for my future; and abiding by my conviction to live by my values.

This is my action plan: each time I experience any form of emotional pain, I will pause and recognise this as a call to action. I will eliminate any reactive ‘fright, flight or fight’ thoughts. I will remember my core values of courage, kindness and fairness. I will then plan an action response in one of the following areas:

  • Protection
  • Connection
  • Contribution
  • Creation
  • Celebration

These will become my Foundations of Comfort as I rebuild my life.

(Note: I think the last sentence in the quote helps a lot too 🙂 )

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

This is MY Life!!

I HAVE HAD AN EPIPHANY!

A light has come on.

When my husband abandoned our marriage, he went overseas. I was left with the business to run. I felt that I could not walk away from it. At the time, I was in the midst of all the personal angst surrounding the separation and I had not had time to process what had happened. I had not had time to fathom out what I needed or what I wanted to do with my life. Now I have. The business carries a risk. I am no longer comfortable to carry that on my own. So, at the stroke of midnight, I have pulled away from our draft settlement and it is back to the table for further discussions.

If you have never had an epiphany, it is a strange experience. For me it occurred when visiting my mother. Full of angst about the signing of our marital agreement and what I was taking on, I looked up at the sky. Light was breaking through from behind storm clouds and a strong yet simple realisation dawned on me. I still had a choice. This was my epiphany.

While I had not yet fully worked out what I do want to do with my life, I had worked out what I do not want to do and be.

I am not Mrs Fix-it anymore.

I need to begin to think of me and what is right for me going forward.

This Is My Life
as performed by Shirley Bassey

Funny, how a lonely day
Can make a person say
What good is my life

Funny, how a breaking heart
Can make me start to say
What good is my life

Funny, how I often seem To think
I’ll find another dream

In my life

Till I look around and see
This great big world is part of me
And my life

This is my life, today, tomorrow
Love will come and find me
But that’s the way that I was born to be
This is me,
this is me

This is my life
and I don’t
Give a damn for lost emotions
I’ve such a lot of love,
I’ve got to give

Let me live,
let me live

Sometime when I feel afraid
I think of what a mess I’ve made
Of my life

Crying over my mistakes
Forgetting all the breaks
I’ve had
In my life

I was put on earth to be
A part of this great world is me
And my life

Guess I’ll just add up the score
And count the things I’m grateful for
In my life

This is my life, today, tomorrow
Love will come and find me
But that’s the way that I was born to be
This is me,
this is me

This is my life
and I don’t
Give a damn for lost emotions
I’ve such a lot of love,
I’ve got to give

Let me live,
let me live

This is my life
This is my life
This is my life