Life around the corner

“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”               from Kindness, poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

ID-10052519.digitalartLife around the corner (that corner that I got to after I got out of the mud and went a little way down the path and found a bend in the road and I took it) is sunny and warm; with blue skies, green grass and kind friendly people having fun.

This has surprised me because they are the same people who were there before, when I was stuck in the mud, yet for some reason I failed to see their kindness, I did not notice their friendliness and I most certainly had no time to join in their fun.

OR …

Is it that I am acting more with kindness and friendliness to those people and they are responding to my warmth and opening their hearts. We are laughing, having fun together.

It wasn’t that I didn’t chat before, or I that I was unkind, or unfriendly; it was just that when I was in the mud I had to keep going or I would get stuck. I had to keep going and going and had no time for idle chit-chat. I could not extend a hand to help others because that may have pulled me under and make me sink. I had to protect myself from the storm clouds above, from the driving wind blowing in my face, and the mud below and ahead of me.  I was so busy protecting myself and looking down at the mud that I did not notice the people and their situations and their faces. Those people are people – just like me. Sometimes they have been in mud of their own, and sometimes not.

Now the road is clear and I am looking up at their faces.

I can hear their stories – of the young gentleman at the firm where I had my car serviced who did not like the atmosphere at his previous job; of the lady from whom I bought my new kitchen pots who has a husband who is unwell; and the twice-divorced receptionist at my lawyers with a 30 year old son whom she adores, yet is lonely living on her own.

I can see their friendliness – the doctor’s receptionist embracing yet joking about their new computer program; my hair-dresser encouraging me in a new style for my hair; the sales-lady in the department store offering colour suggestions for my clothes.

I can feel their kindness – of that same sales-lady taking me around the store to find some matching accessories; of the manager of the department store allowing me to take my time with my purchases and then escorting me down the lift (elevator) as it was a bit spooky being the only one left in a huge department store 45 minutes after closing time!

These are interactions I am having with people in my everyday life as I now have an everyday life. I am now doing everyday things – an annual doctor’s check (six months overdue), hair-cut (four months overdue), car service (two years overdue, so low was its priority), buying new pots instead of putting up with old ones with no handles, luxuriating in buying new clothes rather than wearing the same clothes day in and day out for four years; and attending to my own legal affairs after years and years of attending to joint affairs.

In life around the corner, I have time for everyday life and within that everyday life I have found kindness and friendliness. It is all around me, everywhere I look, flowing from the crucibles of human life stories, pouring forth for me to drink and quench my thirst.

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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

serenity …. satisfaction …. softness …. sparkle …. simplicity …. sixty ….

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I had always considered turning sixty would be a defining moment in my life. I believed I would be at one with myself, comfortable and secure in my place in the world, calm and at peace. Two years ago, when my whole world turned upside down, I questioned whether that would ever be possible. Previously I wrote of seeing my life as a tree passing through seasons. After my youth of spring and the happy summer of motherhood, in the autumn of my life I felt my tree had been cut down and I had plunged into an early winter of despair.

However, after some time, I realised that the roots of my tree (family) and my trunk (experience) had not been destroyed. Moreover, I was growing new branches (friendships and opportunities) and I had managed to save some seeds from my younger years. Then as I saw green sprouting all around me, I realised I had reached a new spring, and some of those saved seeds I had already planted and they were beginning to grow.

These are the seeds that I saved and this is where they have come from:

  • Kindness: Although living a hard life herself, bringing up nine children through two world wars and the depression, my grandmother always knew someone older or sicker or more lonely who needed her help. My grandmother taught me kindness.
  • Pride: My father did not see me graduate or marry yet his look of pride in me, whenever I did anything of value, is imprinted in my memory.
  • Laughter: One of my uncles, taken from us too young, filled our family gatherings with fun and laughter.
  • Serenity. My aunt who died of cancer at age 33 was always serene and calm.
  • Boldness: My cousin nearest to me in age was killed in a car accident on his 21st birthday. He was daring. I was cautious. I still hear his voice ‘go on, you can do it’ that urges me on to begin things I am afraid to try.
  • Courage and resilience: My mother lost her mother, sister, husband, an aunt, two brothers, two friends, and two nephews over an eight year period. Widowed at 47, she worked for the next twenty years in order to educate my two younger brothers and provide for her own retirement. She never complained and has been the rock of support for everyone else in our large extended family.
  • Fairness, Standing up for others: When I was about ten a friend of mine taunted a disabled girl in front of me and I said nothing. When my mother found out she said to me “if someone ridicules someone less fortunate and you do not defend them, it is as if you said the words yourself”. My mother taught me to stand up for fairness.
  • Community: My mother and father were community minded people.
  • Wisdom, tenacity, endurance, gratitude, hope and optimism:  from my mother
    (my mother is 87 after-all, and she keeps throwing me more and more seeds)
  • Family and loyalty: As well as sharing happy times, my large extended family and close friends continually support me and each other, no matter what.
  • Belief in me: My sister and best friend have shown an unswerving belief in me
  • Parental love: I had a strong belief as a mother of not only doing things for my children, but also doing things with my children; coupled with family togetherness.
  • Patience, humility: My four beautiful children have taught me patience and humility.
  • Justice, Free Speech, Humanitarianism, Ethical Science, Protection of the Environment: My whole family including all my children have lived by these beliefs and have spoken up  for these as essential elements in a free compassionate society.

So how do I feel my life is for me at sixty?

A new spring. A new beginning. A new chance. A new opportunity.
I will begin by continuing to plant those seeds I have listed and keep nurturing them into the future. .

Image courtesy[FredericoStevanin]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Peace, fairness and divorce

“Peace involves inevitable righteousness, justice, wholesomeness, fullness of life, participation in decision making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation. “ Desmond Tutu

ID-100129604In a recent post, I listed resources I felt I needed in order to move forward. I left out peace. When I read Desmond Tutu on peace in the quote above, I realised I was trying to race to joy, fulfillment and reconciliation without addressing justice. My last post outlined my struggle between justice (fairness) and mercy (forgiveness/compassion). Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the ending of my marriage.

I considered myself an equal partner in marriage right up to the moment my husband said he was leaving. In that instant he became judge, jury and executioner. I became the victim who was denied just reward, denied a fair trial, and who received punishment. My ‘punishment’ included an emotional crisis, a legal and financial mess (together with the burden of sorting it out), and an uncertain future.

When you become a victim, you can either stay there and become bitter, or you can work through things to get to a better place. This may mean moving forward, taking corrective action, or simply letting some things go.

Just reward (my marriage)

See the picture of the girl plucking grapes from the vine? That is the child within me, believing if I became well educated, if I worked hard, if I sowed the seeds of love and care with my partner; then I would reap rewards. For a long time, I felt I was denied my just reward. I was denied my time in the sunshine, with my partner of forty years caring for each other, with a comfortably secure retirement.

I have now let that go by looking kindly towards a different, yet exciting future for me.

Turning ‘punishment’ into ‘opportunity’ (my divorce)

ID-100200640I was thrust into the horrors of grief/trauma and the overwhelming burden of our financial disentanglement processes.  Whilst I felt otherwise for a long time, I believe handling this with grace and dignity has become a signature strength of mine which will serve me well in the future. I have become a stronger better person for what happened and how I handled this unexpected “opportunity” for personal growth.

Compassion (my life)

In keeping with the topic at hand (peace), I had to resolve within me my attitude towards my partner of forty years, the father of my children. Deep inside I am a caring person unable to intentionally hurt anyone. When I am wronged, although harder, I keep acting on that deep-seated value. That is, no matter what cruelty is shown to me, I cannot go against my own values by being cruel back. Therefore relatively early, I allowed myself to forgive my husband, and let go of any need for revenge. I continued showing him respect.

I believe I have acted by my own values of forgiveness and compassion.

Fairness?

Big failure.

Fair trial (the decision)

When your partner of forty years leaves you suddenly with no discussion, to begin with you believe that somehow you deserved it. You think there must have been something that you did or did not do to warrant that action.

Now I believe this: regardless of any issues that did or did not exist in our marriage, fairness would have allowed me equal participation in the decision, fairness would have allowed me some discussion, fairness would have allowed our marriage to resolve or dissolve on its own merits before he became entangled in another relationship.

I have let forgiveness, compassion and being “nice” overrun that need of fairness to me. In the over two years since separation, I have never expressed to him my feelings on our marriage’s end, or the manner in which it ended. By showing compassion to him, yet falling silent on my own feelings, I may have allowed him to think that I felt his actions were fair and reasonable.

Whilst I cannot undo what was done, I can begin to speak up for myself. I can find the courage to say “I too deserve fairness, consideration, compassion and respect.”

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Image[africa]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thanks to Louise, x2, Jolyn and coastalmom for recent posts and comments on this topic. You have helped enormously.

Priorities

Life is mainly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone; kindness in another’s trouble; courage in your own. Adam Lindsay Gordon

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Having determined my purpose in life was living to my highest self, I thought it timely to look at who I felt I was by reflecting on my earlier stated values, beliefs, and attitudes. When exploring these I had started with over 200, crossed off ones that didn’t apply, categorized, and gradually reduced the list to ones I felt most important.

I was amazed how closely my chosen values compared  to what philosophers and theologians describe as virtues. Virtues refer to moral attitudes, something ‘good’. Each virtue has either a ‘bad’ opposite, a vice (honesty vs deceit) or is the moral mid-point between a deficiency and excess (courage vs cowardice or foolhardiness). Virtues stated historically across civilizations and cultures are faith (belief), hope, charity (kindness) , wisdom, justice (fairness), temperance, and courage. There is no choice in virtues. We either have them or we do not.

In contrast the more recent term values imply a freedom of choice, with no good or bad, no virtue or vice. Any opposite is simply a different chosen way of living (spontaneity vs caution). With an emphasis in society on freedom of choice, and living by chosen values in order to reach lifestyle goals; values have become personality preferences aimed at something to have (health, wealth, success, prestige, popularity, happiness).

Conversely virtues describe something to be (honest, kind, considerate). As virtues become habits, they make the foundation of character. They become something that to give (trust, respect, courtesy) and guide us on what to do (show courage, care, fairness). They make us who we are. Virtues are what is now often termed ‘character strengths’.

Getting back to my own stated values, beliefs and attitudes; how was it that most of the ones I picked out could be regarded as virtues or character strengths? My upbringing had something to do with it as I am a child of the 60’s where these were taught at school, church and home. My circumstance contributed, as suffering a huge loss of my marriage ending changed the way I valued things. However, I feel the main reason was the inner priority I placed on my values, and the core guiding principle of someone to be as opposed to something to have.

My original lengthy list of ‘values’, was reduced down by thinking of situations where I had to prioritise, where I had to choose between my own values. In an ideal world I value many things – finishing tasks, excellence, good health, orderliness – to name a few. However, when a loved one becomes ill, if a family member or friend needs my support; some ‘values’ disappear. To me, punctuality, having a tidy house, or finishing a work project are of lower importance than being caring, kind and dependable. Without realising at the time, I was prioritising my values. I was dividing them into essential and non-essential. I was placing more importance on the values of ‘being’ how I wanted to be, and thereby ‘doing’ what I considered the right thing, over what I wanted to ‘have’. My stated lists were in fact my ‘core’ values, my top priorities, those values that always mattered, those values that I feel should never be compromised.

If I was to prioritise further, I would regard my top four priority values are to be courageous, kind, fair and wise; so that I may act with courage, kindness, fairness and wisdom. This is the way I feel I should be living my life. These values will enable me to “live to my highest self”. It is these core values that I feel will guide me to be the person who I want to be.

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My core “Values”, “Beliefs”, and “Attitudes” are listed and linked in 40 steps to me.

Image courtesy [nongpimmy]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My attitudes # 3 – As for those rose coloured glasses ……

My attitudes # 3 – Grace and Dignity

“Learn to be what you are, And learn to resign with a good grace,
all that you are not”
Henri Frederic Amiel

In my last post I spoke about optimism, in particular overcoming adversities by approaching difficult life events –  death of a loved one, divorce, disablement, disease, disasters – as challenges to overcome, rather than as obstacles to endure……… …

I left out some rather difficult situations …chronic situations involving another person ……  abusive situations, addiction in someone you care for, and chronic illness or disablement in someone you love. Is optimism in oneself enough to get one through any of these situations?

Herein lies the difficulty. Try as you might, as optimistic as you are yourself, you cannot change anyone else, or make someone do something, or make someone not do something. Even when someone is ill, you cannot make them see a doctor, take their medicine, rest, exercise, follow a diet or whatever it is that would be best for their situation. You can only keep loving and supporting them and encouraging them and helping them as much as you can. And you definitely cannot get inside their head and make them ‘look on the bright side’, or ‘make the best out of a bad situation’, or make them realise that ‘it could be much worse’. You can only do what you can do. You can only keep on keeping on and  keep telling them over and over that it will all work out and that you will be there for them always.

Then when they leave you suddenly with no choice or discussion and with blame cast at you – because somehow it is all your fault – you finally take off the rose-coloured glasses……………..

And you realise that by the action of abandonment, not only have you been betrayed, not only have you been denied a chance to speak; not only have you been treated with the utmost disrespect; not only have you had your love and care trampled on; but you have also – in your role as carer – been the victim of emotional exploitation.

And you didn’t even know.

So, Mrs Optimism, where is the upside?

Using the same acronym as in my last post turning F.E.A.R into positive action (Face Everything And Respond) …………

Sixteen months on, I now look at the ending of our marriage and the events leading up to it with full realisation I had no control over someone else’s choices, someone else’s actions, or over events that occurred; and I have dropped any remaining trace of self-blame for the marriage’s demise.

Sixteen months on, I look on my values of kindness and empathy as virtues. I no longer see myself as a victim, or those virtues contributing to a supposed victim role. I realise that just because someone took advantage of my caring compassionate nature does not mean that I need to change those qualities in me in any way.

Sixteen months on, I can now face the razor-sharp ending to my marriage and be grateful that it saved me the pain of having to make a choice; that of trying to save my marriage after the betrayal. There is in regard to our personal relationship nothing left to lose so therefore nothing left to fear. There is no need to ask or expect an apology that will never come. The only response I need to make is to continue to act with grace and dignity.

“I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog … on the floor, in the silence, in the dark”.  Anne Lamott