Penetrated Composure

Continued from In-Between Spaces

“I am more and more convinced that some people are put in our lives solely to try our patience and tamper with our tolerance levels.” ~ Richelle E. Goodrich

I’m not sure we – as a culture – consider the expression of emotion as a strength but after hearing Ellie say it I was able to ponder her words. It’s true that we want mostly want to run away from or fight back when we experience negative feelings and surely, moving them out of our awareness seems like the most logical plan to feel better. Facing them, experiencing them, processing them, and allowing them to ‘BE’ is far more difficult than putting them in a box and sticking them on a mental shelf. Admittedly, feeling some things is just too hard and there are appropriate times to shelter our psyche from the pain of *some* emotions but generally – it is better to feel them and allow them to move on – away and out of your sphere.

I will say however that hearing this and truly learning it are two very different things. I recall one afternoon in particular where I failed at this principle completely. We were meeting at the office of Hubby’s attorney; he and his attorney, me and mine. Additionally, our corporate accountant was also there although I still have no idea why except for the potential for them to collectively intimidate me. I was choosing my battles carefully and so meeting there was a deliberate concession. We sat around a large table with Hubby’s attorney at the head – she was managing the discussion. I seem to remember that we were attempting to ‘line-item’ the specifics of asset distribution and support details. What I do remember is a challenging series of questions from his lawyer – we probably could call her the Queen Beeatch – about my impending Psychology degree. She determined that it was a waste of time because it was ultimately worthless without going to Grad school and he “definitely wouldn’t be paying for that”.

We went back and forth about the value of my contribution … trying to establish my ‘worth’ in the business and marriage. They were attempting to determine my employability and how much money I could earn outside of the business that we owned together. It was a rather ridiculous conversation as I still didn’t have a degree and all my ‘earnings’ had been run through the business so there wasn’t anything concrete from which to reference. In addition, I would be required to sign a ‘non-compete’ agreement when we terminated the marriage – rendering me unable to work in that industry within a certain mile radius for years to come. All the knowledge I had acquired over twenty years would be irrelevant.

My attorney was good, arguably equal to Queen Beeatch in qualifications but in terms of attitude, she was a delicate flower sitting across from ugly, spiteful, demeaning, bitchy, arrogance. I needed more power. I thought we were prepared but having never been through it – the things I had on paper were inconsequential compared to the pompous energy and disposition Hubby’s lawyer brought to the table but I did not stand down. My heart steeled up… protecting me from disintegrating there on the spot, from melting into oblivion, which is what I wanted to do. What was accountant Steve thinking? I was pretty sure he knew the scene… he had been around in the early days of discovery and exposed to my fury when I found financial items in our books that were corroborating of my fears. I felt betrayed now by him as well… how does one do a job regardless of the integrity of one’s client? The attorney I understood… the accountant?

As anyone who has been down this road can attest, no matter how congenial your intentions, emotions can supersede the best. I drew weary, exhausted actually. Emotionally drained of any recourse that I had planned and simply wanted the afternoon to end. We took a break to allow each of us to conference for a moment with our representative and my attorney’s only question regarded education. We didn’t have anything in writing about college for the girls. I couldn’t imagine any situation that would have prevented Hubby from providing college funds if he was able so I bowed out of the need to further the agony of this day. I wanted to leave. We got the green light without much more circumstance and I left the building, I left everyone behind and walked to my car feeling alone and crushed. It wasn’t what we had been discussing per se, but the tone of the meeting … as if there was some unseen overarching power that Hubby’s ‘side’ had over mine. I don’t know how his attorney slept at night. I won’t group her into the whole of the legal profession but she certainly upheld every negative stereotype I’d ever known. I wondered how much he was paying her compared to the fees I had accumulated. Our divorce was costing tens of thousands of dollars.

I got to the parking lot where I had quickly pulled into and thought perhaps I had walked the wrong way because my car was not there. Everything else about the scene was memorable, the same, except my car, was missing. I then noticed a sign which had not entered my awareness when I pulled in, warning customers that the space was explicitly for another business and all others would be towed.

Are you fucking kidding me?

I pulled out my cell phone with shaking hands and called the number on the sign only to find out that my car had been towed to a local impound yard. Shit. Crap. Damn. Seriously?? The impulse to sit down, cross-legged, right there on the asphalt and throw a temper tantrum was exceedingly strong. ‘What would that solve?’ my mind cautioned. As a carousel of possibilities circled in my head, I found myself walking back to the law office.

Hubby was still there speaking to his attorney in a different office and had to be summoned by the secretary. I explained what had happened and he offered to take me to where the car was located, not far from where we were. I hated that I had to ask. I wish there was another logical and simple solution but we were both there and I had spent fifteen years depending on him to get me out of a tough spot… I was doing it again.

We walked out to a rear parking lot that I hadn’t been told about or offered… his truck was there and I got in. Immediately I noticed a woman’s touch. His and her sunglass holders, lip gloss in the center compartment, and a ‘frilly’ bottle of flavored water that I knew he would never drink. Oh, my heavens, when would this shit be over? I found myself, once again not being able to breathe. My heart was racing and my thoughts screaming to let me out of the truck but I was unable to speak or move for fear that my body and thoughts would connect and betray my wishes to exhibit composure.

We drove into the garage where my car had been taken and I got out as quickly as Hubby stopped. I moved toward the office so that I could pay the fines and leave but he got ahead of me to open the door and I noticed, pull out his wallet. I was obviously shaking at that point and my restraint was dwindling rapidly; my eyes were swelling with tears and I was afraid to attempt speech. I let him pay the ransom and swiftly grabbed my keys, said “thank you” and turned to go. He followed me. Please… just let me get the hell out of there.

“Are you ok?” he asked as I slid into the driver’s seat of my car and turned the key. “Really, thank you,” I whispered as a tear finally escaped its hold and ran down the side of my face, fortunately, on the side he couldn’t see.

Photo credit: flickr.com/volver-avanzar !!! via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

In-Between Spaces

Continued from Back to School

“One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.” ~ John Lennon

My family was still divided over Abee’s involvement in my marriage; so many little things had surfaced over the course of a year that it made it impossible to distinguish truth from fantasy. We hadn’t celebrated the holiday’s together and it seemed as though I saw Mom less and less. She was doing great though. She had finally acclimated into her community and made friends. She was getting involved in a number of activities and that alone may have diverted her attention but in part, she continued to be torn.

I discovered, quite by accident, that she had enlisted Hubby’s help around her home – the one she shared with Abee – to do some maintenance items. It was an impossible task for me to be unreactive as the man who had so deeply betrayed me was now doing favors for my mother… didn’t anyone in my family have boundaries?? Of course, because I loved Mom, I wanted her to ‘be taken care of’ and it was nice of him to offer but I just couldn’t reconcile it. In my mind, he was doing it for Abee too… she lived there. Was I never going to be rid of this pain? Was there always going to be this crazy reminder of how two people whom I loved deeply made a conscious decision to delude and abandon me? Was there never to be healing in my family unless I acquiesced, gave in and offered consent for this inappropriate relationship? It continued despite my pain, despite Mom’s disapproval, despite family fracturing.

I was grappling with a few conundrums… first, and probably most importantly, I came to realize I had control ‘issues’. I can hear at least a dozen laughs in the universe as I type these words and while I know that I liked to ‘be in charge’… my intent has never been to ‘control’ people – only situations where my involvement was necessary. If there were people in the peripheral… well then, they got sucked into the control vacuum. It’s important to understand, and I preach this to my clients, that control is what we utilize – as human beings – to feel emotionally and physically safe. If I can be directing my environment, then I know what to expect – I am can be more prepared for uncertainties. Without control, I am vulnerable and vulnerability means that we run the risk of experiencing pain.

I had assessed this assertion a time or two in the past when it surfaced and had been identified as problematic but this time it was in my face – I was noticing it, or rather, the lack of it and I identified the crux of the problem each time Mom told me Hubby had helped with something or if someone said they had seen Hubby and Abee together – out in the community. I’m not sure why people felt the need to disclose their observations, but it was much more common than one would imagine – they were not inconspicuous. There wasn’t anything for me to do but to learn how to ‘accept’ their transgressions. The place of acceptance was still w.a.y. down the road on my growth journey so for now… I was focusing on letting go of the things over which I had no ‘control’.

And that was my second ‘issue’. I needed to ‘let go’. Really – there were so many things that I had to ‘let go’ of that I literally, made a list. I wrote letters to people who had slighted me (but didn’t mail them) and meditated on the things that needed to go… I imagined each of them in a bubble and watched as it drifted away… I pictured each item as a leaf that dropped onto a stream and swiftly floated downstream… I cut the list into a thousand pieces. Each of those ideas worked a little and after each technique was completed, I felt a little lighter. I warn clients of the expectation some of us develop that if we commit to ‘let go’ of something that it disappears… it may not – in fact, it often does not. We need to practice letting go. Today, one of the most effective methods I use is to open my hands. The brain is powerful and if I am thinking of something and deliberately open my hands – there is a perception of letting go. For me, driving is when I usually allow my thoughts to run away and one may frequently observe me controlling the steering wheel with flat palms.

What I really needed to ‘let go’ of – was needing control. That was my prayer. It may be a cliché to say “Let go and let God” but what is the choice?? It doesn’t matter if you believe in an old man God, or Mother Nature, or an energy field in the Universe… opening your heart to the experience of vulnerability, of not knowing, is the challenge. It became important for me to chant “trust” to myself in meditation and while perfectly conscious throughout my day. I was constantly reminding myself of my most basic spiritual beliefs… that everything happens for a reason; that I was walking a specific journey; that there was ultimate balance in the universe.

I think the most difficult part of this was that almost every day there was something else to ‘let go’ of. As long as Hubby was living at the house I was aware of his movements and I tortured myself by keeping tabs on the company’s balance sheet. I still had access to the American Express cards and the checking account. I could see that when they traveled for business they were only getting one hotel room instead of two. I could see what restaurants they dined in with dates and times. Part of me convinced myself that the investigating was due diligence for the divorce – which it turned out to be – but it was entirely unhealthy. It was agonizing to watch, week after week, the manifestation of disloyalty but I couldn’t pull myself away from it.

I existed in this space between being the person I wanted to be…. strong and growing – contrasted with a person who was trapped in the anger and dismay of a failed dream. I vacillated constantly between the light and the dark. There were days when I simply couldn’t talk to anyone because I was ashamed of how negative my thoughts had become. It took all my strength to stay up…

One morning as I was driving to school I was talking to Hubby about some of the divorce details. We were at very different points of agreeableness. It was a difficult conversation and I felt as though I was getting the short end. There were days when I felt explicit loathing – as close to hate as I had ever come – even though Love was supposed to be ruling my heart. I had a meeting with one of my psych professors to discuss research I was doing for her. I sat in the parking garage and cried – again – it was almost a daily habit as we hashed out our agreement and then took a deep breath and walked across campus to her office. I was thankful for the early winter air as it quickly hid the emotional evidence of tears.

I sat down and began the dance of small talk in preparation for moving on to more specific topics. She asked me a series of questions that somehow triggered an emotive response and tears once again, sprang to my eyes despite my strong opposition. “Damnit”… “I’m sorry,” I said, “I hate it when I am this weak” … “so sorry”.  I shared that I had a hard discussion with my soon-to-be-ex-husband on the way in this morning as I tried hard to control myself and she looked at me with genuine empathy. It’s important to describe her because she was indeed my professor, but she was all of 28 or 29 years old, tiny… very petite, and gentle. She was soft spoken and quite deliberate with her words even though her smile was seemingly spontaneous. “Silly lady,” she said as she reached over to touch my hand “don’t you realize how much strength it takes to show emotion?”

Back to School

Continued from Love’s Journey

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ~ Henry Ford

I believe that I survived because of meditation. It allowed me to ‘reset’ so that my emotions didn’t stay elevated. I eventually learned about stress and cortisol levels… that when we are experiencing extreme emotions (stress), our bodies create hormones designed to help us in that moment (fight or flight response) but our systems are not designed to support consistent levels of those organic chemicals. As such, it’s vital that we learn how to work with our bodies and reduce the amount of time that we allow stress to dominate our life.

I started school full-time in the fall of 2005 and while I was ‘the old lady’ in most of my classes, I loved every minute that I sat in class learning. Of course, I was in the front row and raised my hand twice as much as anyone else… maybe because I was asking all their questions too?? I started all over again with French and literally, every single person in that room had just graduated from high school, but me. It was there – in French class – that I learned the meaning of true humility. I embraced the experience and learned to laugh at myself as I tried to recall the vocabulary I had acquired twenty-seven years earlier. I formed a study group with a couple of gals in my Bio-Psych class where we talked a LOT about the behavior of rats and brain function… Dr. Gans was exceptionally  patient with me as I put three kids on a bus in the morning and then hi-tailed it thirty miles to campus.  If I didn’t time it ‘just right’, I would get behind school buses that stopped at every driveway for more than ten miles. The universe had my back most of the time but every so often, and twice on exam days (Murphy’s Law), I would be ten or so minutes late… entering right in the middle of her lecture kick off. It was pretty hard to ‘slip in’ when my seat was way up front.

The cool part of going back to school in mid-life or for any ‘non-traditional’ student is that the only reason we are there is … to learn. I found out that professors love us. They, of course, entered teaching to teach and we were there to absorb everything we could so it was a perfectly sound, symbiotic, thing we had going. I was serious and demonstrated it by preparing lists of questions, highlighting my textbooks, taking copious notes, and utilizing office hours before tests and after.

I became undeniably fascinated with human behavior. My appetite to understand why people do what they do was almost insatiable. Between the ‘self-help’ library that I was amassing and the academic perspectives I was acquiring, information was being absorbed faster than any other time in my life. All of a sudden, the prospect of browsing through Behavioral Journals became enticing rather than frightening as it has when I first sat through Statistics just a few months earlier. When I was compiling research for a paper on cognitive distortions or adolescent development cycles I would approach the customary sources and then get lost in a sea of collaboration and philosophies from psychology professionals all over the world. Thankfully, academic libraries are available online for registered students and it was fairly typical for a paper to take twice as long to research as it did to actually write for the simple excuse that I was easily distracted on topics ranging from the science of gratitude to deleterious effects of daily stressors and more.

Of course, I read hundreds of studies about dozens of topics but I easily got lost in the – then – relatively new ideas of Positive Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology. They were theoretical positions that moved beyond what we traditionally think of in terms of human behavior, the Freud, Skinner, and Pavlov postulations. Psychodynamic (Freud) and pure Behaviorists (Skinner & Pavlov) theories felt outdated, strict, and slightly contrite as compared to those who introduced the ideas of Transpersonal psychology; Carl Jung, William James, and Abraham Maslow. Indeed, I was so enthralled that I briefly considered bagging my life and trying to get into the University of San Francisco’s Consciousness Studies program. I was hooked.

“‎…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” ~ C. G. Jung

I devoured as much as I could read about Humanistic approaches, especially those in the Transpersonal realm. It was amazing to me that the ideas and thoughts which I had been focusing on recently, the idea that Love was critical (in some way) to our emotional wellness, was being a ‘real’ thing and being studied all over the world. I’m not sure why I was surprised as I have a strong belief in global consciousness and frankly, it wasn’t exactly ‘new’ but here it was – hundreds of studies that validated the direction I was headed.

Wikipedia defines Transpersonal Psychology as a “sub-field of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology” and elaborates “It is also possible to define it as a ‘spiritual’ psychology”.  It fit my ideology perfectly and became instrumental in the design of my approach as a therapist. Additionally, the field of Positive Psychology was beginning to garner lots of attention. Coming out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where Martin Seligman, known as the ‘father’ of this domain, was concentrating his research.  I was fortunate enough to have a professor that personally knew Dr. Seligman and was equally excited about some of the findings, especially in reference to ‘gratitude’. It felt as if I was approaching the epicenter of intention; the Universe was leading me perfectly into the place I was destined to be and introducing me to each element, each component that I would eventually need as I moved forward.

I discovered that professors will generally curve UP for students who are attentive, committed, and exemplify hard work. I tried to establish a thoughtful example. The girls and I would take turns sitting at the computer, typing our little hearts out as three of the four of us were knee-deep in homework most nights. Em was still in Elementary school and was an excellent student but the workload wasn’t yet all consuming. I’m sure that they would have been great students regardless of my personal scholastic efforts yet I’d like to think that I embodied study habits which, they carried on. With intense dedication, I managed to squeak out straight A’s.

Christmas arrived. It was going to be the first year as a partitioned family and Hubby was still living in the basement. I didn’t feel as though it was in the kids best interest to exile him, and I sure as H.E. double L. wasn’t going anywhere. By then, Frank was also living in the basement although he wasn’t home very much either. Christmas morning found us all – sitting in the den doing what we had always done. Hubby and I made it as normal as possible for the girls and managed to be beautifully civil to one another even though I knew he was going someplace else after all the gifts were opened. Perhaps that helped; I didn’t spend any time lamenting on how ‘normal’ it felt but rather used all the ‘tools’ that I had developed from my Positive Psychology studies. He did leave and I remember being only a little sad. The people remaining in the house were my favorite humans and I had everything I needed. I focused intently on gratitude and for the first time in a long time – I felt blessed.

Decisions

Continued from Soulful Expedition

“By your decisions, you paint a portrait of Who You Are” –Neale Donald Walsch

The entire year of 2005 felt disjointed… I vacillated between believing that I was making a good decision and wanting everything to go back to the way it was – well, not really… I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t want what I had but I did want all of the things that we had dreamt about. I didn’t make those dreams by myself. Hubby was right there, using his own paintbrush to create the portrait of our lives together. I thought we had been painting on the same canvas, using the same colors, and sharing a muse.

Existing in the same environment was unbelievably difficult. It fostered an obscure sense of hope during those moments that were like a transparency overlay of ‘normal’ on the reality we were living. I knew when Hubby didn’t come home at night and I couldn’t help but wonder where he was or who he was with. Even though I didn’t want that mania in my life, I didn’t want to be without it – another conundrum that fought to root in my mind. I just couldn’t get myself to a place where I didn’t care.  In many ways, it was like a slow, excruciating, painful death… seemingly absent of an endpoint.

Frank graduated from college in May that year and I made arrangements to take the girls. I had booked the hotel room six months in advance and shared the location with family so I was surrounded by love as Hubby and I shared the first major life event since decision day, partitioned from one another. We had agreed that we would attempt to ‘co-parent’ effectively right from the beginning but this was our first ‘major’ test. We would have to take pictures that Frank could look at for the remainder of his life – a celebration for him – somewhat tortuous for us as we understood the completeness, the totality of the end of our marriage. And yet, we struggled to believe it.

We would occasionally discuss a reconciliation but I had learned how to establish boundaries of steel. Actually, my boundaries by then were made of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams… the kind you find in skyscrapers that keep them vertical regardless of violent summer storms. Those limitations included an exit strategy for Abee from our business and some kind of treatment initiative, a long-term – evidence based – plan to eliminate the potential for infidelity to ever again exist in our marriage. I was unwilling to budge from those two ‘deal breakers’. They were my ‘hard limits’ and they represented the dead end of every bridging conversation we attempted to have. He also had deal breakers.

Nevertheless, we continued to show up – separately – at swim meets, school, and scouting events but didn’t sit together. I wasn’t there yet. There were times when I could feel his eyes seeking mine but I refused to give in and glance back. I was insanely stubborn and unyielding, refusing to be flexible. This is the result of betrayal. It was the only way I knew to ‘fight back’ and the love I had for our children was bigger than the disdain I had for him. I put their interests first to the extent that it wasn’t complete and total disrespect of myself. I had finally learned to put self-respect first.

After being deceived by Hubby and Abee, our therapist fired them as clients but I still went. I was learning a lot about myself although I admit I was still a bit lost. I was directionless. I knew I wanted to share everything I was learning – about life, life lessons, love, God, spiritual growth, I knew there was a message there but I had no credentials other than my life and I was in the middle of some big stuff. I credited my therapist for being the map reader for me … helping me to lay it out and observe the roads, to help me decide on the destination and to plan the route there. I wanted to do that too… I decided that summer that I would become a therapist and was almost immediately dismayed at the expanse of the journey. Five years. I would be fifty. Shit. I felt defeated and bested. I was in the middle of a divorce; how could I make that happen?

Right after Frank graduated from college, I started. I was scared to death of Behavioral Statistics and even more so when this tiny, petite, old (really, she was 70 something) woman walked into the room wearing a full suit with a high collared blouse, buttoned to the top. It was 80 degrees outside and for some reason, there was no air-conditioning. She spoke in a low monotone voice and cleared her throat every 5th word. The chick behind me started texting a mile a minute (I could hear every button push) and I knew I was in trouble. Within a week, I understood that if I raised my hand, asked questions, and demonstrated (well-deserved) respect for my elders… It would all be ok. More than half the class had dropped but I survived. I got a B.  I was encouraged and so I registered for a full semester of Psychology classes, French, and Women’s Studies beginning in September. I had only a few months left before I became a full-time student.

I used that time to educate myself in a different way. I was more fortunate than many, many women like me… I owned half of a company that had some value. I was still married to a man who generated a healthy income and continued to pay the bills so I didn’t ‘have to’ work – not right then at least. I had to believe in divine direction because at any other time before, the circumstances were different, the resources less abundant, and so now… I had options. The timing of the reality provided the capacity for me – with much diligence – to investigate and navigate what would be in my (and the children’s) best interest. I was a hawk. My eyes and ears were everywhere from business evaluation to support allowances. I became an expert traversing Google; discovering resources and precedent for situations like mine and I waited.

With each passing day, I garnered strength. I used my support network, built new alliances, and got informed. I kept my finger on the pulse of the finances in our business and stood up for my rights as co-owner. I will comment again on how difficult it was to walk away from that part of me. The internal struggle to push through it and go to work even if it meant I had to be around Hubby and Abee versus letting go and observing it in action was at times, maddening. On the few occasions that I did drop in for one reason or another, it was like breaking through a barrier betrayal and disillusionment, like what football players do as they enter a stadium for a game rematch each week. I finally had to decide that constant exposure to such painful energy was simply unhealthy for me, keeping me tethered to the shadows of my soul. It was my first true experience of ‘letting go’ that I consciously practiced and it was laborious; a daily endeavor.

My goal was to stay focused on love. I knew that was the most important decision I could make for myself and for my future. I was tempted, so tempted to give in to my anger, my contempt, the humiliation, and sorrow… and occasionally I did, in the form of vile language directed at Hubby or the disparaging conversations I would have with friends or in my thoughts; my ugly thoughts. I am only human though and I knew that love was more dominate in my spirit and so I learned to forgive myself and to keep going.

Soulful Expedition

Continued from Splitting Delusions

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~ Buddha

Going back to school was only one of many decisions I made in the first couple of months’ post-decision day. I had to jump through a few hoops, gathering all the twenty-five-year-old transcripts from the five years I was in college as a young gal. I was told that anything with a C+ or better would transfer if there was a matching class. In total, 90 credits transferred which was amazing, leaving me to finish two years of psychology classes and French…  Since I was shooting for a Bachelor of Arts, I had to take four semesters of a foreign language. Ugh! I had taken French in High School and for two semesters way back when – in college so why not… maybe some of it would come back to me. I still remembered how to count.

Taking classes was a great idea – in theory. However, I wanted to make sure that I would succeed so to garner an appropriate measure of my ability to successfully navigate college in middle age, I opted to take Statistics first. I wanted to schedule it over a ‘May-mester” … three weeks of daily class between the Spring and Summer session. I figured if I could master Statistics (which I had dropped as a nineteen-year-old because I was certain I was failing) then I would keep going. I registered for the class and kept my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the girls needed something to look forward to as it was feeling heavy and dark at home. We were all at dinner one evening… the three of them and me. I suggested that we plan a great vacation and they got excited. “Where do you want to go?” I asked.  “Disney!” “A cruise” “The Caribbean” … they shouted simultaneously and in non-agreement. Hmmm…. “what about a Disney Cruise?” I asked. Immediately there were smiles and hugs – a lifting of spirit that warmed my heart to an exquisite simmer of happiness. The temporary relief of change and uncertainty was welcomed by each one of us as we sat there and made plans to make it happen. We agreed that I would stop having the house cleaned once a week; the girls would take responsibility for clean bathrooms, dusting, vaccuming, etc., and we would redirect that money into our cruise fund. Their dad and I have always been strong proponents of fiscal accountability; also, believing that something earned is often more deeply appreciated. We agreed to create a special ‘envelope’ where we would accumulate funds and they were excited and eager to get home and decorate it. We sat together to research our options and set the date for January 2006 – we had twelve months to make it happen.

elegant-1769669_1280

My extended family was in an uproar. It was no longer a secret that Hubby and Abee had been indiscriminate. Our poor mother was still disbelieving and after listening to everything else I had discovered, she decided that ‘hate’ was the only thing she could feel. I can’t imagine how she must have felt watching her children divide, take sides, and disconnect from one another. A mother has so many dreams for her children and we were definitely not fulfilling the fantasy she envisioned. For almost a year she had watched and attempted to console one daughter while trying to direct another. We had allowed her to accept a promise of remediation and now, it was done. I was unwilling to consider any direction that allowed for the possibility of more philandering and emotional upheaval in my life.

On what would have been my fifteenth wedding anniversary, mom and I spent the day together shopping and exploring a neighboring county that was full of farmland and quaint villages. We were doing one of her favorite things to do – driving and exploring as was I… spending time with mom. I had stopped working by then. Our company was the brainchild of Hubby and mine. It was the cumulation of a dream that we had manifested through the years via long, deep conversations, relentless pursuit, and grave concessions. I had learned to cook hamburger – literally – one hundred and one different ways as we poured our profits back into the business. I scoured yard sales and consignment shops for children’s clothing so that we could buy office furniture for new employees. It was as much my dream at that point as it was his but I couldn’t go there every day and see them together; he wouldn’t fire her. I gave him an ultimatum… she had to go – or I would.

Had it been a mistake last year when I first found out about them? Should I have just bit the bullet then and said ‘good riddance’?? Had I been a simplistic fool to think that we could have risen from such a calamity? I guess it didn’t matter – it was impossible to turn back the clock and it was bigger and so much more complicated than a familial trespass. I perceived that my only choice was to rely on the ideology that was cementing in my soul … that each of us has a journey to walk; our own path. I continued to allow myself comfort in reading.

Another significantly profound book, one that will forever be implanted in my memory is Messages from the Masters: Tapping Into the Power of Love by Dr. Brian Weiss. With practically every page turn I related to his words, reputedly words spoken by Master Souls while his patients were under hypnosis. Here again – the exact origin becomes unimportant, inconsequential to the substance that was presented.  I read “forgive the past, it is over. Learn from it and let go.” … like I had never heard that before…

This time, however, it had true meaning. I read “come from the heart, the true heart, not the head. When in doubt, choose the heart. …when the intuition rings clear and true, loving impulses are favored.” I realized that many of my recent actions had been driven by anger and disgust. When I did talk to Hubby, accusations and attacks dominated my communication. I needed to choose a different tactic, one more consistent with the person I wanted to be today… someone who could love through difficulty. This task was way, way harder than it sounds. I struggled almost hour by hour to stay in a ‘love’ place and frankly, I failed more often than not. I was new at this – new at thinking of life as something that could teach me, help me even when I felt so much pain.

In a strange way, it helped to have mom be angrier than me. She was incredibly ugly, spiteful, hateful and it was so contrary to her normal, true self that when she talked to me sometimes, I was taken aback. Mom was loving and gentle 99.99% of the time but in this case, the father of my children had behaved in a way that splintered her family – her children into a bazillion pieces… and as such, she was inconsolably fractured. I found myself defending him, not his behavior but him – as a person… I tried to share my new (to me) theories with her, speaking about loving people – all people – and understanding that they are each taking their own soulful expedition.

Basically, she told me it was bullshit.

Beautiful Death

“Love your family. Spend time, be kind & serve one another. Make no room for regrets. Tomorrow is not promised & today is short.” – Unknown

I loved having my mother live near me. Coinciding with Mom’s move was hiring one of the twins – Abee – to work with our company; and so, she too… moved (in with mom). She was the perfect addition to our staff as we expanded and implemented a customer service position. I was elated to have family close by and my sister and I soon became great friends, expanding our relationship beyond sisterhood. We shared an office at work and enjoyed family time off the clock. She was a wonderful mentor to our daughters. She and I shared some of the medical advocacy responsibility for mom as they (Mom and step-dad) made frequent trips to Walter Reed. On one of those trips, mom asked Frank (her husband, my step-dad, sister’s dad – not to be confused with my son Francis also known as Frank in High School…) to have a mole checked out that had grown sufficiently to interfere with the arm of his eyeglasses.

It wasn’t ‘just’ a mole. Within a week, it – the mole – along with a large margin of surrounding tissue and a series of lymph nodes had been removed. He had (literally) a monstrous line of staples running from his temple down the side of his face and across his neck to the base of his shoulder. Within another week, he was receiving aggressive radiation for what had been determined to be Stage Four Malignant Melanoma. It was just less than a year since we had moved them nearby to help with Mom’s illness and Step-dad (SD) Frank was receiving a cancer death sentence. After a couple of months, it was clear that radiation was not working and he was advised to call Hospice and go home; that’s what they did. It was early June.

Abee’s twin had been married a few years back and had a baby the prior fall. They came often to visit that summer. We all spent a lot of time at Mom’s house as a family. When we weren’t working, we were together in some capacity. We took turns nursing a garden for SD Frank, who loved gardening and sitting on the porch chain smoking. We would sit with him, smoking far too many cigs ourselves, speaking quite philosophically about life, love, and hope. One thing was sure. He loved our mother. He was more protective of her than any other man I’ve known in any relationship with the exception perhaps of my maternal grandmother and grandfather. It was a beautiful example of the chivalry that one thinks of when considering the definition of a champion – at least in my mind. Her well-being was foremost in his mind at any given time. It was endearing and I loved him more because of the way he loved my mother – the way he made her life better and easier. I wanted to be loved and taken care of like that.

I wanted to ask him to say hello to Rocky for me – to give him my love – when he finally made it to heaven, but it felt somewhat callous so I never actually spoke those words but I thought them each time we would sit together. He found a wonderful way of being present and in-the-moment with every person who was with him that summer. He was peaceful and gentle and loving and kind until cancer went to his brain. Then, he wasn’t himself. By then it was August and he was running out of time. I spoke to him pragmatically and told him how fortunate I was to have had him in my life as a father figure. I was so deeply grateful for his support of me over the years he was a part of my life. Much of any success I experienced was in part – because of his support. I expressed appreciation for all the patience he had with me through the years as I grew from a snotty little brat into a cohort of sorts. I told him how much I loved him and how we would all band together to make sure that mom was ok. I was sitting there as Hubby let him know that he would look after us, make sure our needs were met – all the gals.

If ever there was a beautiful death, it was his. We were prepared, we thought. He had been ‘out of it’ for several days and heavily medicated for two or three. He was peaceful and still. Mom was anything but… she was so immensely emotional that none of us could comfort her. The nurse was telling us that he should have passed hours earlier, she didn’t know why he was holding on. We, the twins, our brother, myself, Hubby, and my children, along with a few Hospice people, were in and out of the room – mostly in – as we sat and waited for him to take his last breath. We would all hold ours when we noticed any irregularity in his and then with the sound of an inhale, we would exhale and the wait would resume. In the meantime, Mom continued her outpouring of grief without control of her tears. Eventually, she crawled up, in bed with SD Frank and laid with him –  her head on his shoulder, sobbing gently, until she fell asleep. Then, without apparent hesitation – with his beloved resting and momentarily calm – he left. In a matter of micro moments, there was peace in the room – not in the quiet sense – but in the way of the spirit. He quickly and quietly slipped out of this existence, away from the living energy in that room and it was palpable that his essence had moved away.

He was the 3rd person ever and indeed, the 3rd most important man in my life – to leave. I found it very difficult to process that men I loved – died. Hubby was the only man of any importance left in my life and frankly, I was still having trouble trusting him.

SD Frank didn’t just leave me of course. He left mom (his wife) and his daughters. Abee was particularly close to her dad and his death hit her hard. She and mom hunkered down in their grief in a way that was almost impenetrable; mom especially. Within a month or two she was diagnosed with a Lung neoplasm that required resection and via wet slide was determined benign only to discover – two weeks later – that a fully developed sample indicated malignancy. They went back in – through scars not yet hardened, to remove a larger section of her right lobe. We – all her children – stayed close by, taking turns, caring for our grieving mother. Abee became her primary physical and emotional caregiver – they became extensions of my immediate family. In our mourning of SD Frank, we bonded with one another in a way that many families fail. Abee and Mom moved into a new house in an effort to begin a new life; still close enough to be a part of our everyday experience. I loved dropping in and having a morning cup of coffee with mom or coming home only to find her finishing my laundry as a surprise (for some quacky reason, she found laundry to be relaxing and offering her a sense of accomplishment). Of course, Abee, Hubby and I continued to work together and build a business that had somehow become a ‘family’ vision.

We developed a strong, robust connection – a form of ‘super glue’ – that we thought was impervious.

Looking at Layers

“I’m like an onion. You can peel away my layers, but the further you go, the more it’ll make you cry.”  ― Laura Carstairs-Waters

I really connected to this therapist and it turns out that a ‘connection’ with your counselor is vital to your healing. I tell my own clients this all the time; if there is no rapport, find a new one! Of course, one of the first things she wanted to know about is how my child hood was. I recounted the many moves, my parents’ divorce, my sibling connections, how I was a primary caregiver, etc., and praised the job my mom and dad did overall. I talked about how great it was to grow up in a small town and to see my parents happier with the partners they chose the second time around. I talked for almost the whole hour and her eyes got bigger and bigger as the clock ticked. I really do laugh about this today but then – I was dead serious. I thought I had a great childhood!! I was completely oblivious as to how my childhood shaped my thoughts, feelings, or perspective about the world. I just hadn’t ever given it a second thought. I was who I was and I had an image of who I needed to be. I strived to be that person regardless of the obstacles of distorted cognition’s that developed in childhood.  [We therapists are not looking back to BLAME anyone but to understand who the person on the couch really is – so many clues!] Nonetheless, she was wide eyed and I was smug. When I said, “it was great”, she said “well, OK then.” Little did I realize she was probably thinking about how much work there was to do!

I began to learn about myself bit by bit as she ‘peeled back’ the proverbial onion. I realized that I was a caregiver. Something that was blatantly obvious to many others was just being awakened in my consciousness. I knew that I always jumped in and took care of people but I never thought about why. I also learned that I took care of these people without regard to what I needed. In fact, I wasn’t aware of how to discern what my needs looked like and really wouldn’t for several more years. I realized that I did very little for myself and resentment of it lived in my subconscious, leaking out in the form of passive aggressive behavior more often that I would have liked to admit. I learned that I thought people would not like me if I said “no” to them. I had lots of thoughts really that were fairly misconstrued, some of which were based on ideas in my mind that were just plain false and others that I had due to some assumption that I had made over time. More on the specifics of these – later.

Most importantly, I learned how many of these things impacted my ability to be a good partner to my husband. I love to argue a point. I cherished my time on the debate team in school and probably should have become an attorney. I enjoy defending a position, especially if I feel like I am educated on the topic. In fact, my father and brothers are very much like me in that regard and I grew up in an environment where debating was the way that we communicated with one another on various levels. Well, Hubby did not. In actuality, Hubby felt like each time I entered into debate mode I was simply trying to be right, to run him down, to be better than or ‘one up’ him. That’s not what was happening in my mind – ever – but with counseling, I was able to see how my ‘debating’ behavior could have been interrupted in that manner. I never really cared to be right – only engage in the argument. Although, I will admit that I rarely entered into a full on debate unless I was certain of the information and the odds that I was ‘wrong’ were quite low.

I learned that having children was all consuming for me. I loved those kids to the moon and back – more really. They started my day with love and even though I was usually really ready for them to go to bed by eight, I tucked them each in with hugs and kisses, full of gratitude for their sweetness and genuine naiveté. Francis was growing into such a great young man, so self-sufficient and helpful. I was incredibly protective of him, often to the demise of Hubby’s discipline because I thought there was too much responsibility placed on him. Hubby was tough. He never had time to ‘grow into’ fatherhood – it just happened with my six-year-old. I believe that his interest was in developing character and integrity but our values on how to foster those qualities varied significantly and I often disagreed with his approach. As such, I became a defender and interfered perhaps too much (although I may do it again under the same conditions). The dedication with which I embarked on mothering used the majority of my ‘giving’ energy and generally left little for Hubby. On many occasions I recall asking him to be ‘an adult’ about this – that the children were only young for a while. In retrospect, I needed to assimilate ‘balance’ into this area of my life as well so that Hubby time was also a part of my day.

I learned also that I am a fast processor. I am quick on my feet to render information, decipher it, and respond on point. This, generally was in contrast to Hubby who had to think and consider what he heard before he could constitute a response that felt appropriate to him. Essentially, this made me ‘hot headed’ even though I didn’t have a temper per se, I sought a response quickly and would ‘chase’ down an answer. There was more than one occasion where I literally followed behind him demanding resolution with tone and frustration. It also was not perceived in the way that I intended but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I took my responsibility for change seriously. I knew that I had to learn how to give in ways that I hadn’t before. I was all geared up to be better, to be the wife that would be hard to walk away from, to be ‘all in’. It was possible that I had been ‘holding back’, unwilling to be completely and totally vulnerable in case something happened. I needed to be more open and emotionally available. I know I didn’t ’cause’ him to behavior poorly or cause him to be disrespectful but I was one half of this partnership and I wanted to own my part.

We learned about ourselves and about one another in so much as we were open to hearing. One can only absorb so much at a time. We both knew that we had to individually change some behaviors if our relationship was going to progress. I saw what I needed to do and I clearly communicated what elements I needed from him; fidelity, honesty, and respect. I think he tried, but it wasn’t meant to be.