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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Almost there…..

 

ID-100107304.num_skymanIn regard to the marital property settlement I have recently passed through some major hurdles and have almost got the whole settlement across the line. The feeling I have is that I have been lost and alone in this thick dark gloomy impenetrable forest which I have spent three years trying to hack through, seemingly getting nowhere. Then I decided to go a different route, trudging uphill through an area of dense brambles, enduring much pain and suffering to go that way, but by that route I have slowly been edging forward. At last I have come to a clearing. Even though there is still a little way to go, I can at least now see the path ahead. The way to go is easy walking for me now and, just a little bit further down at the end of the road, I can see some light.

I am almost there.

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Joy within sadness

ID-100179599.MOtherKids.BoinsChoJooYoung

After my husband left me, I could not bear to think about the past because thinking about it caused me so much grief. It was thinking about the previous happy times that filled me with so much sadness; those happy times of my children as babies and young children and their care-free days growing up in our forested river valley. My now-grown children could not understand why that was, why I looked back on happy times with sadness, why I would cry over something that was clearly dear to them. They would try and convince me that those happy memories should remain happy. I could not see them that way and I spent many many months in deep pain grieving my loss of happier times. One by one I grieved for them, then painstakingly put those memories aside, thinking of them as something that I had to put them behind me forever. I then went through a process of stashing away any reminder – photos and memorabilia – as I tried to get on with my life.

More recently, when I have been staying with and caring for my mother, I have had more contact with my siblings and we have shared reminiscing sessions together. Out have come all the family photos and, at those times, the stories would begin. We have sat for hours telling the stories of us as children and the happy times that we have shared. This was the same in my world of growing up. I have fond memories of such gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins; the extended family getting together and sharing happy memories. In the sadness of my mother’s illness, we found this time of joy in the here and now, remembering the happy times of the past. In doing so we were creating joyful times in the present, interacting and being together remembering the happy childhoods that we had.

When I returned from one of my visits to my mother, I looked around when I entered my home. On the walls were pictures of places and momentos of various trips with my husband. Those experiential activities now meant nothing to me. In one of those rare moments of me acting on impulse, I took them all down. Then I spent the next day delving into my boxes of photographs, dashing into town to buy photo-frames, and putting up precious memories of my past all around my home.

I divided my walls in my entry, hallway, and living room into sections. In one section I put up photos of my children up to the ages of eighteen; and in another section them as adults. I made a section for myself and siblings growing up and of their families, my niece and nephews, and grand-nieces. My grand-children were given a special place of their own. Lastly, I made a place for my parents in their youth and their parents and grandparents.

When my two youngest children came to visit a few days later they made a joke of mother going just a little bit overboard with photos everywhere that the eye could see. Yet they smiled with joy at my change of heart as they looked intently at the now-allowed happy times on view. They began talking about memories that were triggered and spoke about how much fun they had growing up. We have two favourite photos. One is a photo of my third son, who as a three-year-old had a love of carrots. The photo has him at my brother-in-law’s place pulling a huge carrot from the ground beaming with joy at his carrot and his great discovery that carrots came from the ground. His joy had been captured forever. Another favourite is a photo of the back view of the four children – aged three to eleven at the time – walking hand-in-hand down the ramp at the supermarket.

We sat down that evening and spent the night reminiscing about happy times.

In amongst anxious days at a crucial stage of the marital settlement, and with my background concern at my mother’s failing health; I found joy in remembering previous happy times and shared that joy with my two youngest children.

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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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Divorce and weddings and families

 

 

ID-10067121.Stuartmiles My second son is to be married. This will be the first major milestone since the break-up. This will be the first time as a family where we will all be together, yet apart; where we will have to face not being a united family; and where my and my ex-husband’s siblings will see each other. I remember my eldest son’s wedding six years ago when we had that coming together of the two families and what a joyous occasion it was. How I so wish for this wedding to also be filled with joy and togetherness.

My son spoke to me by phone about some logistical arrangements for the wedding and I was dying inside as he spoke as I had been blocking those things out. I did not let on how anxious I felt. It was going to be his big day and I needed to put my angst aside. After the call ended I broke down. Everything hit me hard and I felt all mixed-up inside. I felt joy and sadness, fear and wonder, all mixed up together. I felt so alone that I could not share those feelings with my children, those whom I held dearest to my heart. The cruelty of divorce hit me as hard as it had ever hit me before, knowing that we were no longer the strong united happy family that we should have been.

About half an hour later my son rang me back. He had sensed there was something wrong with me. By then, I was in the middle of a puddle of tears. There was nothing to do but tell him how I felt. Out came three years of frustrated loneliness of never being able to talk to him and the other children about how I really felt. I felt that I had to protect them all from the pain of the broken family unit. I told him I felt I was supposed to put on an appearance of a happy united family for his wedding and yet we were broken. I felt that I was supposed to put on an appearance of his father and I being ‘friends’ when I did not feel that way. I felt that if I had to pretend we were that united unit, when we were not; and that his father and I were friends, when we were not; then I would be acting untrue to myself. I explained I wanted his day to be special but I did not want to live a lie. I wanted to stop pretending and hoping for the united family. We were two families now; my family and his father’s family. I could not act like the united family unit when we were not. From now on in my life I wanted to speak my truth. I wanted to act by my true self.

I had never spoken to my son about the break-up in that fashion before. My son assured me that I could always speak the truth with him. I no longer had to pretend. I felt a surge of bonding with my son that was stronger than I had ever felt before. I no longer felt lonely and that I could not share how I felt, with those whom I love. I no longer had to put on a mask. I had found my voice. I had spoken my truth. I was acting by my true self. I felt a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders because I did not have to pretend anymore. I felt free.

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Now that the suffering weight has lifted, I have six weeks to become strong and work out my self-strategies to ensure my son’s wedding is the joyous occasion it is meant to be.

 

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Foundations of comfort – my need for stability

 

ID-100123089.Stuart Miles

Since my marriage collapse, my confident, self-assured, caring, partaking-of- pleasurable-activities, I-know-where-I-am-going, healthy adult persona has often been replaced with a fragile, directionless, powerless, inner child. Just as a child in distress clings to a comforter, such as soft cuddly toy, I too cling to my comforters. Initially I survived by coping, whichever way I could by strategies that provided comfort during the initial crisis and the ensuing months of turmoil. While these were excellent coping methods (indeed I still use some or turn to them when feeling overwhelmed), they are coping techniques. They are not healing techniques. Well-suited for comfort in crisis or trauma, some can become maladaptive if used longer-term.

Maladaptive coping strategies are extensions of the ‘fright’, ‘flight’, ‘fight’ responses.
Fright (freeze) is to give up or become subservient and self-depreciating.
Flight (run away) is to withdraw, retreat into a private world, rely on soothers such as food or alcohol, numb out or become disconnected.
Fight is over-compensation with controlling, excessive orderliness or a rebellious ‘I-am-fine’ (when I am not) persona.

I have fallen into some of these maladaptive coping strategies, relying on my home and routine for certainty, using food as comfort, and withdrawing. I have stayed with these strategies because they work (in easing the pain). However, I have been clinging onto them as the vulnerable needy child instead of responding to my distress by my healthy adult persona.

What is the difference?

A child clings to their comforter when distressed for whatever reason – whether they are hungry, lonely, or tired. Conversely, an adult will deduce what the problem is and find a solution. If it is hunger, prepare food. If lonely, seek company. If tired, sleep.

In the complete disruption to the fabric of my former life, I clung on to what remained; my work and my home. Within that seeming framework of familiarity I propped myself up with pillows of comfort; connecting with family when I could; and following a routine. I was clinging to what I had left, to what was left of my ‘normal’. I was comforting myself with a (fragile) sense of certainty, while my real world was far from certain.

I had lost three main fabrics of certainty; my intact family unit, trust, and future certainty.  To regain trust in future certainty I began trusting the future one minute at a time, then one hour at a time. Gradually that grew to a day at a time. I spent many months watching the sunrise. It would always rise. I could trust the sun to rise. It gave me a sense of certainty and grounded me. I got myself into a weekly routine. I trusted my routine. If I stuck to my routine in my familiar place, life was certain. I regained my sense of trust in certainty.

It would all unfold whenever I went away or broke my routine. The pain would return.

My inner child had been responding to pain. My adult persona is now recognising that it has been stability and future certainty I require, not simply comfort from my pain

There was a fourth source of stability I had lost from my previous life. It was me. I had been the rock, the stable one. I had been my own stability. Yet now I had become the vulnerable needy child looking for pillows and comforters instead of looking for solutions and answers.

While I can never again return to the world before my losses, I can rebuild myself. Instead of focussing on dulling my pain, I can focus on me and a vision for my real future, not my false comforting ‘week-at-a-time’ future. I will prove to myself that I am still stable. I will begin by focussing on the proof of how I have acted and what I have achieved since the collapse of my marriage. Here is the proof:

1. I am living by my reaffirmed values of courage, fairness and kindness.
2. I have provided a safe-haven for my children to come home to.
3. I have helped friends and loved ones through personal issues.
4. I have provided employment for 20 employees and services to the community.
5. I have journeyed the marital split with grace and dignity, keeping to my divorce code.
6. I have been supportive of others in my blogging world.
7. I am a rock.

I am my own stability.
I am my own future.

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The influence of divorce on my needs

 

house and family

Our needs can be grouped together such as basic needs (food, warmth), safety (home, security), relationships (partner, family) and higher mind needs (work, leisure).

After a crisis, our needs return to basics before moving to needs higher up. The ending of my marriage was such a crisis and as everything crashed down, I coped by focussing on the basics of eating a healthy diet, walking in the mornings, following a routine during the day and cocooning myself in the warmth of my bed at night. I was in a survival mind-set of fulfilling basic needs as all else was gone; my perceived safety, my security, my family unit and my companion. As I continued to crave the comfort that my home and routine provided, I wondered whether I would remain there. Could I ever move on to higher needs?

I had become confused about my needs.

There is a difference between my needs, including emotional needs, and those things that fill those needs. My needs have actually not changed. What has changed are those things that previously satisfied them. I had been clinging on to the concept that I needed the same type of ‘satisfiers’ to provide for my empty needs. Taking an honest look, my needs are not a home, a sound financial asset base, a life-companion, work, hobbies and experiential pastimes. They are satisfiers of my needs, not the needs themselves. My needs are stability, security, a sense of belonging, a need to contribute and create, and a need to celebrate the joys (and sorrows) of life. What is gone is the person and shared projects that previously satisfied those needs. What I need to do going forward is to find other things and other ways to fulfill those needs.

In regard to need satisfiers, you can receive them, be self-reliant, or give them. As a simple illustration: people in third world countries can be provided with food hand-outs or they can be taught how to be self-sufficient and grow crops. The first aids a continual need to be provided for, the latter aids self-reliance and improved community spirit.

One of the consequences of my divorce in regard to needs is that it moved me from a self-reliant ‘I need to do’ and contributing ‘I need to give’ strength to a fragile ‘I need to have, I need to be provided for’ mind-set.

My confusion over needs versus satisfiers and my fragile ‘I need to have’ mind-set together have influenced both life decisions I made in the months post separation as well as some day-to-day choices.

Life decisions:

I need to feel safe and comforted. My home provides me with safety and comfort.
I need security. The job I have provides me with financial security.
I clung on to my home and my job in the year post separation.
Those satisfiers for my daily comfort and security conflict with my long-term need for belonging as my children and family live far away. Therefore despite the daily comfort, there remains an ache. A year ago I looked at my real underlying needs as opposed to merely things that satisfy and I made the decision to change for my forward journey.

Daily choices:

I sometimes have feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment regarding my divorce. These are voices of pain ‘I am scared’, ‘I am lonely’, ‘I do not matter’ and ‘it’s not fair’.
These voices reflect my underlying needs of security, belonging, significance and respect.

In my last post I wrote how I now recognize those voices of pain as a call to protect my present. While it is tempting to go for a passive need satisfier providing comfort (watching TV,  over-eating etc) or leaning on a confidante who will provide a sympathetic ear; that keeps me at the ‘I need help’, ‘I need to be comforted’, ‘I need to have’ mind-set. I need to transform that ‘having’ mind-set into ‘being’, ‘doing’ and ‘giving’ strengths while providing for my own needs of *protection, *connection, *creation, *contribution and *celebration.

 

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*I have created these new terms for my own needs as creativity is a ‘doing’ need of mine and that is my start :).

You may also want to read:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Tony Robbins six needs
Max-Neef Human Scale Development.

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