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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Image courtesy[GraphicsMouse]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

climbing out of black holes

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, its fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart.” Pema Chodron

ID-100136205,SweetCrisisWhen my marriage collapsed, and especially because of the way it collapsed, I felt stunned, vulnerable and scared. I felt like a knife had been pushed into my heart. I felt I had been wronged.

After the initial shock I began reading as much as I could, books, articles, blogs. Many of those sources tended to focus on the ex-spouse. In that regard, there is much space in the ‘divorce’ genre devoted to the diagnosis (usually by unqualified people) of personality defects (such as narcissist or sociopath) or them going through a mid-life crisis or similar that may have led the ex-spouse to do what they did. Because at the time I felt so bad about myself, then reading about that did provide some comfort that there may have been something wrong with “him”, rather than something wrong with “me” and I was simply a victim of my ex-husband’s action. As for my own writing, I didn’t focus so much on negative things about him but I did focus on the event of the marriage collapse itself, the suddenness of it, how painful it was and what a bad thing to have happened to me. In that regard, I was still a victim, of a bad event.

If bad things happen, I do think that one does have to work through negative feelings associated with the event. However, at some point, and this started very early for me and then grew, I decided to focus on myself and improving myself rather than focus on what had happened and why. Later on when I became overwhelmed by the amount that had to be done in the divorce process and financial settlement, I began to re-frame that process as a step towards my new life. In other words, I focussed on getting out of the hole, rather than being in the hole. I did not realise how far I had come until recently I read a post by someone I follow who – years later – is still focussed on a past event and being in a hole. I felt sad for that person that that meant they were still in the hole.

I still apply two vital techniques that I learned to get through the difficult days of climbing out of my hole, in getting through any difficulty in my current days.

(a) If something happens that I was not expecting that conjures up negative feelings –

After an initial anxiety period thinking about that ‘bad’ event, I instead turn my attention to improvement in one or more areas of my life:

  • protection
  • connection
  • contribution
  • creation
  • celebration

I focus on healing or protecting myself or family members; fostering better connections with my children, grandchildren and others in my life; or I focus on making a greater contribution to society, or becoming creative, or looking forward to and planning a celebratory event. In other words I try and focus on the positive in my life OR on making improvements in my life or in the life of someone else. If I do focus on positive things or on improvement, then it is impossible to feel sad or bad and the negative feelings about what has happened begin to fade away.

(b) If there is something horrible that I need to get done –

Instead of focusing on how awful it is, I try and focus on the better place that task will take me to. That can be a simple matter of getting mundane horrible tasks done (such as bills paid, or tax returns done, or tidying and cleaning finished) so that my mind is then clear to enjoy my days. For major necessary practical things that can sometimes literally overwhelm me, I focus on the better place that the tasks will take me to.

I applied these techniques to many of the steps of the marital settlement and I am now applying these to the practical steps of moving house.

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Flying high

 

ID-100238072.suwatpoJust a short post to keep in touch …

I have been away for two months, visiting my son in Canada, daughter-in-law and my brand new gorgeous baby grand-daughter. I spent two weeks in Vancouver, three weeks travelling (Alberta, San Francisco, Whistler) two weeks back in Vancouver, then some time in Sydney with my siblings before heading back to Tasmania.

After a fairly intensive seven year period, this was a wonderful time for me. For eight weeks I was able to leave my ‘must-be-done’ things behind. I was finally spreading my wings. Even though I have travelled here and there over the past five years, mostly that has been going to or from people at one or the other end. This time, as I could not stay with my son as they only have a tiny place, I spent quite a lot of time on my own; seeing new places; navigating buses, trains, planes, accommodation, tourist events, shops, restaurants, food swamps, taxis, walking trails, and hospitals; and had many new experiences – all on my own.

  • I met some wonderful people including bloggers Ian, Diana, (she posted a picture of me)  and Louise.
  • I attended a stimulating conference in Santa Rosa and met many like-minded people.
  • I had an accident on a bus one day and ended up in Vancouver Accident and Emergency for several hours (but I survived!)
  • I navigated various restaurants and food swamps and – despite my very tricky diet balancing food sensitivities with a determination to have healthy food – I did manage to find foods to eat wherever I went. I came home the exact same weight as when I left.

Now back in Tasmania, my feelings about what I call ‘home’ are mixed.

I am soon to be moving on as I have purchased a house near two of my children in the Hobart environs. I will be relocating there in the new year. Hopefully with faster internet connection, when I move there I can return to more frequent blogging again.

I do miss you all.

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ImageCourtesy[suwatpo]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does grief really have stages and if you work through them are you over it?

ID-10046632.Vlado

When my marriage collapsed and dark emotions ran rampant, it was a comfort to me to learn that I was in a state of shock and grieving, similar to what one goes through after someone has died. The intense feelings I had were a normal part of grief with its supposed stages of shock, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. It helped me to know that I would pass through those stages. In fact, I made an aim to accelerate through quickly. I felt that if I got to the last stage – that of ‘acceptance’ – then the pain would go away.

How wrong I was.

I wrote a lot about those stages. I felt that I did progress through them but I never did reach a state of ‘acceptance’, where I felt that what happened had to happen. I did eventually ‘acknowledge’ that it had happened which was a turning point of sorts, understanding that my marriage belonged to a past world. In reaching that point however, of acknowledging my past life was gone, the pain did not simply go away. In many ways I had simply reached a beginning point, of learning to make my way in my changed world, with a new today, and a different future. The intense grief I had experienced was just the beginning of more pain for me.

Apart from my marriage there were other losses I mourned in the grief process such as the loss of my intact family and the loss of my financial security. Even now – over four years later and well over that grieving process – it is the here and now that is difficult, being a single mother and grandmother, and trying to make it financially with a bruised asset base. It is the practicalities of keeping on going another day, in another way.

In my case the stage theory seemed to work because I kept pushing myself to get through the stages. However, I can see now that it could have been a draw-back if I had thought any ‘stage’ (sadness for example) would magically pass and I would simply move onto the next stage. It didn’t happen like that for me. In fact I was so scared that I could become ‘stuck’ in a stage if I did not work to get through it, that I continually took steps to deal with the feelings I experienced, and learned to acknowledge my changed world of today. I do not know whether it really helped me doing that … or whether I would have simply passed through those stages regardless … or even whether I could have got through less painfully if I had simply let them happen, rather than trying to wish them away.

Another draw-back of the stage theory is that the stages can return again and again (although often with less intensity each time). By that I mean that I would seemingly get over an intense feeling such as anger or sadness and then that feeling would return. This is quite normal and yet when it first happened to me I thought there was something wrong with me. Once that happened it led me into a downward spiral of low moods and a new intense pain – the pain of feeling bad about myself, that I was not doing very well. It was only the voice of a dear friend who one day said to me ‘this is normal’ (what I was feeling) and ‘you are normal’ (how I was behaving) that brought me out of that deep dark chasm.

So here I am enjoying my new world of today (and I truly am) and looking forward to my exciting future (honestly I am) … but sometimes there is still that lump in my throat, that pain in my chest, that catch in my breath, and that intense feeling of loss.

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ImageCourtesy[Vlado]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

When home no longer feels like home

 

ID-100123089.Stuart Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough of all this negativity!

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

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

Here I go!

ID-100238072.suwatpo_______________________________________________________________________

Image courtesy[suwatpo]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

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