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

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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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My H.E.A.L.T.H.plan – To begin at the beginning

ID-10041450.digitalartIn my first few weeks of freedom, after signing the marital settlement and selling the business, I was euphoric. The feeling of being alone and single and having full control over my own time, my own social life, my own family connections, my own finances, and my own responsibilities was intoxicating.

Then came moments of feeling overwhelmed.

It was as if three years ago I had been hit by a truck. It had taken me those three years to scramble from underneath the truck. For a long time, that became my focus and aim, to get out from underneath the weight of the truck, from the weight of the ‘process’ of legal and financial separation. So even though I finally became free of its weight, and that in itself was liberating, I could also begin to see the world beyond the truck.

It had changed. What’s more, I had changed. I had been waiting for that freedom for so long and yet when I got there, I realized an awful truth.

I must begin again.

Alone.

Initially I could not decide where to start. I was looking positively at this being a transition to my exciting new life, but it was still rather daunting. There was still so much to do and decide. I did not know where to start.

After a few fitful nights, tossing and turning, I woke one morning with my project for the next twelve months laid out before me. It was as clear as anything and I was excited about it. The project that came to mind was:

PUT YOURSELF FIRST

Begin.

Begin at the beginning.

Begin on the first step of the beginning.

For the next year, this first year of my new life, my first step would be to focus on me.
As clear as anything, I knew that was what I wanted and needed to do,

There were no excuses for me now.

Over a few weeks, I came up with a plan. It is more than a plan. It is forming new habits.

Headstrong Eating and Active Lifestyle Transition Habits

Ah! That spells out ‘Health’. What a great place to start!

However, there is more to this plan than simply good health. If you read the words carefully it captures everything I want from life. Good health. Sensible eating that allows social interactions. Becoming more active. Forming a balanced lifestyle of self, family, stability, relaxation, social connections, career, creativity, home, celebrations, community. Giving myself a year to transition into my meaningful life and find my life’s purpose. And making all this become habit so that I do it for life!

Wow! What a plan!

For too long in my life, I had been putting everyone and everything else first. I had suffered for that. My heath and well-being had suffered for that. I had gained some weight over the years of my distress (by my seeking comfort in food) and although I had made a start on health and fitness, things had slipped again. I had become less active. My blood pressure was labile. My blood cholesterol was OK, but higher than it had been. My home life had holes in it. My hobbies were in boxes, along with my dreams. I dropped social connections when I got caught underneath the truck. I had resigned from community groups. I had wanted to make something better for myself, for my family, and for the world, by making a contribution to worthwhile meaningful projects. Yet, it had become all talk and no action.

Yet I am no use to anyone, I cannot be supportive to my family, I cannot contribute to the world, unless I remain in good-health and my lifestyle returns to a better balance.That is the place I must first get to.

This has been a summary of my plan to get me to that better place.

Now to begin that first step.

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Image courtesy[digitalart]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stripping Back The Layers

ID-100147124.domdeenNow that I have moved on to moving on, I realise that it is “me” who has moved on; that is, the ‘thinking me’ inside ‘me’. However, some of my other layers are dragging their feet. Whilst I had always been aware of my main layers (me, partner, family, work, home, community) these past months of reflection has made me become more aware of the many layers upon layers, and layers within layers that make up ‘me’ and my life.

Me is my health, body, mind, soul, spirit, self-esteem, confidence, thoughts, feelings, memories, identity, personality, character, values, beliefs, attitudes, authenticity, choices, freedom, responsibilities, needs, desires, hopes and dreams. Whew! I did not realise before that I was so complex!

Partner is nonexistent at the moment (unless you count messy stuff that needs to be done disentangling the partnership that was).

Family is my children, grand-children, extended family, extended extended family, my roots, branches, wings, friends, work colleagues, supporters, allies, professional advisors, neighbours, and generally people who are there for me.

Home is my house, security, stability, safety, routine, peace, calm, sanctuary, comfort and my sense of ‘normality’.

Work is what I do, what I learn, research, create, read, write, lead; it is my education, skills, talents, experience; and that which provides me with purpose, meaning and accomplishment.

Community is my place in society which currently is also my work because I dropped everything else in a fit of ‘I can only handle so much’ exasperation some time ago.

Over-arching all of that is the ‘inner me’ compass, the Captain of my ship driving all the rest onwards.

I had an epiphany last April when I realised that where I was heading (which was in fact back to my old life with bits missing) was not right for me. I decided then that I wanted to move on to something new, something for me, something with meaning for me. I decided that I wanted to start anew somewhere else. In making that decision, I did not understand how painful it would all be.

With my ‘partner’ layer gone; and my ‘family’ layer seriously fractured; my decision to ‘move on’ will (over time) strip the remaining three layers of my work, my community and my home from my life; and with it my financial security, my stability and my sense of normality.

That is what I meant in the first paragraph. Although the ‘me’ inside of me (my will to succeed) has moved on to the future, which is now becoming my present, the rest of my layers will be left behind; my stability and financial security, my home, my work, my community. Moreover, whilst my creative mind and lust for freedom are striding ahead, some layers within the layer of ‘me’ are also trailing behind with some memories and feelings still back in ‘pain’; and my self esteem and confidence still in ‘repair’;  That is part of what I described in my recent post on the unwanted passengers on my ship. I cannot wait until they are fixed, I have to take them with me as they are.

In moving on, I will be left with the bare shell of the inner ‘me’ as a nearly sixty year old woman, alone and starting over, dragging the bruised remnants of my former self with me; without guaranteed financial security or a sense of stability; without a sense of place in the world. Yet I have decided to move forward anyway. That is because the real me inside wants to go there. The decision to move on is because it feels that it will become right for me. As for the other layers of me and my life; I will need to rebuild them in my future, layer by layer.

I have spent the last eighteen months working on strengthening the most important inner layer of me. One of those strengths I have been building on is courage.

With not much else remaining, I am clinging to courage and will certainly be putting it to the test   …….

“It’s not what you lose, but what you have left, and what you do with it.”
F D Roosevelt.

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Image courtesy:[domdeen]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Responsibilities ++++

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I started writing a single post on responsibility in June. Three months and twelve posts later I felt I finally finished the first step of writing about the responsibilities I have to myself and the journey I must take. Why did it take so long and why the focus on me? That was because, now being single after nearly forty years as a wife and mother, it was a huge awakening to realise that not only should I take responsibility for myself, but finally I could. All those years of putting responsibilities to others ahead of myself were gone. It had taken nearly two years for me to reach that point – of finally (guilt-free) to think of myself. However, once that door was open, the ideas flowed on and on – hence the twelve posts.

Nevertheless, much of my responsibilities to myself are still thoughts on paper, ready to be actioned when my goals have been set. Responsibilities to others on the other hand continue to surface and occasionally (well often actually) take precedence. These responsibilities are not to be forgotten along my journey. I decided to list them as a reminder to myself to be grateful for them, knowing that in having them I am a worthwhile needed person and I am not really ever alone. Those in italics are moments that have happened while I have been focussing on my own self in my writing. They are all part of my real world.

1. Family

I have family and responsibilities as a grandmother, mother, daughter, sister and aunt.

My second grand-daughter was born 3 months ago and I enjoyed the happy occasion and have had regular visits to help out. I have visited my daughter, mother and siblings interstate. I visited and supported my daughter a second time after a sudden death of a friend. Currently I am playing mother, cook, and chauffeur to my third son who had knee surgery a week ago.

2. Friends

I have friends who have remained close to me throughout my life and its ups and downs.

During my visit to my mother I spent some time with my best friend who had been recovering from an operation and helped her choose the pattern for her new lounge suite.

3. Business

I am responsible for the continued survival of the business, its clients and staff.

That is my daily life and I try my best to be a fair leader.

4. Community and Society

I am responsible as a member of society to contribute to community and humanity and to speak out for truth, justice and the environment.

I have been contributing to online discussions on peace and social justice issues

I voted at the federal election on Saturday. Yes, I know, I know I do not have a choice as voting is compulsory in Australia. However, I did have a choice. I could choose between the candidates and the order I placed them, and by doing so contribute to either Tweedle-dee or Tweedle-dum becoming Prime Minister of Australia (or not).
What a contribution I have made!!

5. Marital

I am responsible to my children and myself and to everyone above to keep sane during the continuing process to end the financial settlement between my ex-husband and myself as soon, as fair and as amicably as possible.

For some bizarre reason deep-seated in my brain I continue to be the one to keep striving forward on this settlement, the administrative burden of which continues on a weekly basis. When is is over, I will be able to apply more of my energy to points 1-4 above.

I have thought through on all my needs and all my responsibilities. Now is the time to set myself some goals.

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This has been the fourteenth in a series of posts on ‘My Responsibilities’.
1. Responsibilities
2. My own needs
3. My basic needs
4. My health – diet
5. My health – exercise
6. My Home
7. My finances # 1 Sinking
8. My finances # 2 Survive
9. My finances # 3 Priorities
10. My finances # 4 Freedom
11. My joy
12. My contentment
13. My journey. Poem Ithaca.
14. My responsibilities to others

Image courtesy of [Smarned]: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My needs # 3. Financial security

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A need is something that you feel anxious about if you do not have it. Once you have it the pain goes away. The gaping hole in my life where my financial security used to be has caused me much gut-wrenching anxiety in the past 18 months.

Yet no-body, including myself, wants to talk about money.

People spend a lot of time talking about what can be bought with money but not the money itself. People will discuss their travel, clothes, gadgets, houses, and cars. However, they do not discuss much about the money itself or where it comes from or how to get it or how much you need. In fact, in some circles a discussion on money is taboo. It is almost as if you are thought less of a person if you discuss money; and that thinking about money, or the lack of it, it is not a prized value to have.

After my separation, I initially spent a long-time focussing on emotional aspects of losing my partner and soul-mate, my fractured family unit, and the pain of the overwhelming grief, sadness and anxiety I felt about my changed life. Then during my recovering phase I spent some time re-evaluating my values, beliefs and attitudes of trust, kindness, compassion, hope, peace, courage etc No where amongst all that was there anything to do with money.

Part of that relates to the guilt of putting any importance on money. In the very beginning after a separation, when you are faced with abandonment, you do not care a toss about any material possession. There is a cathartic realisation that none of that matters. What matters is people and love and care and kindness. So months later when you start becoming very anxious about your changed financial affairs, you remember back that you concluded that money does not matter, and you feel guilty that now you think that maybe it does.

The truth is that even though we all do not want to talk about it, we all do need it in some form or another, and the changed money situation after a divorce can be catastrophic. I am not talking about greed, such as having innumerable world trips or accumulating beautiful things, I am talking about survival. Having adequate funds so that you can pay the bank debt or house mortgage or rent, pay for utilities, afford good medical care, be able to afford to see your family, then maybe having just a little left over for some savings. But above all, there is the need for some reassurance that what you now have will also not be lost, that this ‘less than half of the former estate’ will not somehow disappear by some other catastrophe.

I know that the values of human kindness and compassion are important. I understand that true happiness lies in seeking out long-lasting experiences of savouring pleasant moments, being grateful for what I have, and seeking out human connections. However, I also do crave that one day I will again own my own home debt-free, that I will be able to comfortably pay my bills on time, that I will have no credit card debt, and that I will be able to put away so that I will have adequate retirement savings for me to enjoy a financial-stress-free old age.

Maybe when that time comes, the anxiety at the pit of my stomach will ease.

I have added “Financial Security” to the list of my own fundamental needs.

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Image courtesy [Stuart Miles] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net