Our Stories

Very early in life we begin learning language and relating to the world in part by making associations; If I cry, mother will come. If I throw a block, everyone will turn toward me. If I take a nap, daddy won’t yell. Etc. These associations, coupled with our observations of the environment are woven into stories we tell ourselves. We come to believe that some of them represent truth.

A mother who goes back to work full time after years in the home may be the foundation for a child’s story that he had been too difficult to care for. An overheard and rather innocuous statement such as “I can’t wait to get back to work!” may be interpreted incorrectly and turned into a tale of unworthiness.

This happens over and over again to individuals and it can be more complicated when we share stories of experiential traumas over time. I was in a conversation not too long ago with three ladies from my family. We had all attended an event more than 20 years ago and yet as we sat there reminiscing, we all had different recollections of how things went down that day. Imagine how that plays out from grandparent to child to grandchild across many generations.

Keep in mind that as stories are told, we tend to color it from our position, our stance; both physically and perceptually. Furthermore, we are apt to wrap it in the emotional envelope of how we experienced it at the time or, how we imagined it to be. I tend to think of the stories that came from Holocaust survivors and their agreed perspective that it was tortuous and horrible yet there were some who found light and others who surrendered to the darkness of it all.

This is one of the intrinsic elements that make us individual human beings.  People raised in the south have heard stories all their lives about their heritage as have people raised in the north, east, and west.  Some of those stories are laden with the hatred their forefathers coveted. Others were woven with hope and perseverance. Some stories fostered helplessness and fractured into positions of surrender. Others defied the cultural climate and pushed boundaries; creating new stories with happier endings.

It’s important to wrap our minds around the fact that we create stories as a way to categorize people, places, and things. These same parameters are applied to conceptual ideas like love, religion, gender, and most anything we think to save for reference. 

If my mom and dad fought all the time, I probably have a story in my head that justifies marital discourse.  If my brother got away with punching me most days, I might tend to think that bullying is normal.  If I am consistently treated unkindly or belittled, the story I weave might leave me feeling unworthy.

All behavior is driven by emotion of some kind.  Emotions are born through our stories. They are neither right or wrong but may definitely be based on a fictional story rather than one of truth. For example – one’s value is never determined by how someone else treats you.

All of this is to help you stop and think about your stories… do they need rewritten? When you see someone behaving poorly, think about what their story might be? What is the underlying motivation for the action or inaction you may be witnessing? What story have they been told or are they telling themselves?

Culture is created and often delineated by these stories. Be curious. Take time to learn. If you are a couple in distress, talk about the stories you grew up with and the ones you tell yourself now.  If you are a family in distress – check the stories and cultural ideology you operate from and talk about the differences. If you are a person in distress, seek these same understandings as they pertain to the space you occupy in the world you live in.

Know your stories and listen for all the rest.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

TTAH

 

You can also listen to me on Try This at Home – a series of conversations about making life better.

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6 THINGS EVERY WIFE CRAVES

“A happy wife is a happy life” – Gavin Rossdale

…As the saying goes. After years of listening to wives talk about what would make them happy and what their partner can do to improve the relationship, I’ve assembled this simple list of free and easy items.

Spend time with me

When you spend time with me, I feel loved. Put your laptop, phone, and remote control down for an hour and ask about my day. Generic questions like “how was your day” are too broad. I want you to ask about ME… what did I think and feel today? Take a walk with me or cook with me while we chat. I want to spend time with you!

Help Me

When you help me, I feel supported. If we both work outside the house then it’s important to equally share the responsibilities of raising the children, keeping our home, and paying the bills.  If being at home is my job, then understand that it is a 24/7/365 job and I probably need a break and/or some time off!! Help me make that happen. The more help I get, the more time and energy I have.

Listen to me

When you listen to me I feel respected. Please don’t interrupt me when I talk. I may have to use more words than is comfortable to convey my thoughts but I want to know that they matter to you. When I say something, or ask a question it isn’t “because I’m nosy or stupid” – it’s because I am curious or wanting to learn. I don’t wake up in the morning with an intention of being bitchy. If I am… ask me “what’s going on” and listen to the answer without getting defensive. Also… you don’t have to ‘fix’ everything. Sometimes its enough to just let me vent.

Have My Back

When you have my back, I feel protected. Back me up with the kids and your family. Take my side or at the very least, say nothing until we are alone and you can tell me how you feel and what you think. If I am wrong, tell me privately. If I am afraid, hold me. If I am annoyed, just listen. I want us to be on the same team!

Make Love WITH me

When you make love with me, I feel sexy. Women get turned on by loving looks, gentle kisses, and patient cuddles. I need to know that you want to hug me even if it doesn’t lead to sex. Rubbing my shoulders and holding my hand goes much further than grabbing my breasts and fondling my crotch. While a quickie once in a while is fun, letting that be the rule of thumb so you can go to sleep, is not.

Talk to Me

When you talk to me, I feel valued. We don’t have to talk about emotional stuff to have productive and worthwhile conversations. I like to hear about your job and your friends but I also want to know what you think about; politics, spirituality, books, etcetera. SHARE yourself with me and let me share back. When you take an interest in the things I think about also, my desire for you grows.

Women who feel valued, sexy, protected, respected, supported, and loved are going to reciprocate in kind; forging a relationship that is resilient to outside forces and influences.

 

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Escape Route

Continued from Armoured Up

Running away from any problem only increase the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it. ~ Anonymous

When Abee said she “just needed to be alone” I realized that any progress toward a new beginning I thought existed, was only in my imagination. It was possible that she needed space now that the house was empty and she could privately grieve but I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when I was investigating company accounting statements that I actually understood. I noticed a number of charges to the corporate American Express card that were made at retail stores for hair products and swimwear. Obviously curious, I checked the dates on the calendar only to find out that it was the day I had offered to hang out with Abee. Remembering back in more detail I recall that Hubby hadn’t been around either. We didn’t tell one another our plans anymore but I was in the habit of paying attention to when he was or wasn’t home. Well, I’ll be damned. He had taken her shopping on the company’s dime…

A few other incidents occurred across a couple of months that forced me to keep very close tabs on how much money was being spent from OUR company’s funds. Also, the time that Hubby and Abee were spending together in public increased as I received frequent ‘reports’ of them being seen out and about. I had to surmise that now Mom was gone, there was no more voice of reason about the impropriety of their relationship. Hubby attempted to intermingle his weekends with the girls into spending time with Abee as well but they were confused as to why Abee was around with their dad, helping him find a new house, etc. No one was being honest and I was getting fired up.

No matter how hard I worked to cope with the depth of the betrayal from my husband and sister, it was constantly in front of me, requiring me to readjust on a daily basis. There was never time to build tolerance as every time I turned, it seemed as if there was another question from someone… “are they still together?” “What does she see in him?” “What do your kids think?” “I can’t believe it!” or something that brought it all back to the front and center of my consciousness. It didn’t matter what coping mechanism I was using at the moment, I had to find another one. It was as if I was building a tolerance to the methods most common and had to constantly find something better or stronger to help me get through the next round of questions or the next battle of nighttime tears from the girls. There were days when I would be driving into school crying out of frustration on how to put that relationship into perspective. There were nights when all of the broken promises bombarded me like slivers of fragmented glass, ripping metaphorically into my already damaged heart. I was tired of hurting. I wanted to escape.

It was a stressful spring all around. I had missed a week of classes while in San Deigo and so I was playing catch up with my classes. I was noticing my mom’s absence daily as I would attempt to pick up the phone and call to ask how she was feeling or to see how her bridge game went. One evening I was sitting on my bed thinking about mom, going all the way back to my childhood. I remembered, even after all those years, the day she had left to join the Army. As a twelve-year-old, I wanted to come home every day to my mom. I wanted her to teach me how to cook and sew (well, she didn’t really sew…) I wanted her to talk with me about girl stuff and play Barbie’s before bedtime. One this particular evening, as I was reflecting on the pain I felt as a child when mom left and the pain I was feeling that night, wanting to turn to my mother for solace… I cried out in deep desolation, for all of the times that mom had forsaken me. The sorrow escaping my body had been suppressed for more than three decades and yet it wasn’t only that, it was for everyone who had left me – intentionally or otherwise. In that one moment, I understood the intensity of my abandonment sentiment. I grasped right then how I had moved through my life from the footprint of rejection and desertion.

I wrote letters that night to Mom, Rocky, Dad, Hubby, Abee, and a couple of other incidental people who had left me or rejected me for what was to them – either nonvoluntary (i.e., Rocky & Dad) or conscious decisions motivated by needs that did not include me. I was able to recognize that outside of death, those people weren’t really leaving ‘me’… they were focusing on what was good for them. They were satisfying their own needs instead of considering the needs of others and while this is what most of us do… many of us are satisfying the OUR need NOT to hurt people we love.

This is the great dichotomy in which we live really… if we make decisions that make us happy regardless of how other people feel – will we ‘really’ be happy??  If I know that by choosing one direction of happiness for myself means that many others will be miserable… can I still experience the joy I was anticipating? Where exactly is that balancing line? Where do my needs and the needs of others intersect? Why does someone always have to sacrifice?

I considered my own pain. It was quasi-torturous to stay in that house, the one we built together – in the town where we had dreamed of raising our family… to hear people say that they saw my sister and Hubby at the such and such restaurant or driving down the road together… If I moved, I could escape all that. I wouldn’t have to be in the same town with constant reminders or notice the look on people’s faces who knew that my sister, the one I bragged so much about when we hired her to work for us, was hooking up with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I wouldn’t wonder how many people were whispering behind my back. It would be easier to leave – to start anew but the girls… they wouldn’t want to go; they had been raised here. They were embedded in our community, in scouts, sports, and school. They loved this house, their rooms, and the neighbors. I didn’t want to pull them away from their lives. I could go. But then, I would be just like my mom. Leaving my kids to pursue something that offered me personal relief even if it was going to be temporary.

Funny that my oldest daughter was almost exactly the same age as I was when mom left me. Is this life offering the same lesson? Can I break some kind of karmic string if I stay and stare down the temptation to relieve myself? It was so enticing… the possibility of ending in-you-face-betrayal simply by relocating but I couldn’t do it.

I sat on the edge of Sara’s bed one night specifically to let her know that I was there with them, that I would always be there and that from everything… absolutely everything comes something good if we are patient enough to wait for it. I explained that nothing was more important than self-respect and that no matter what happened in her life, no matter the man (or men) she would meet – that compromising self-respect should never – ever – be an option. I hope she heard me. I believed that maybe, just maybe – a reason for all of my turmoil was to teach my daughters and that – gave me hope.

Armoured Up

Continued from Another Goodbye

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”  ~ Kahil Gibran

It is difficult to describe the sensation, the emotions, of walking out of a hospital or facility with only a bag of personal effects. I’m not sure we are ever prepared to walk out of a building as a person so different than the one who walked in. I had done this twice now, first my husband and now my mother and while death is a part of life, how can we ever be ready to lose either? It doesn’t matter how old you are – we only ever get one mother and now mine was gone.

We all – including Abee – went back to the condo that I had rented for the week we were there. It was a surreal time for us as siblings too. The one thing that had bonded us at all through the debacle of my marital drama was mom. Now that she was gone, what would be the motivation for us to ever stay connected? I was hopeful that we could start over here – allow the bonds of family to be stronger than betrayal or deceit and reconnect. We sat together and cried when the feeling overcame us but mostly spoke about the woman that we all loved. We shared funny stories and discussed quirks that we admired. We eulogized her with our hearts that night in a way that would have had her blushing but feeling proud that her intent had been accomplished. There was no doubt that regardless of the differences we had as adults, this woman had five children who revered their mother passionately. I hoped to be so lucky.

The emotional roller coaster I rode while in San Diego was exhausting. There were times I took a break from being in the room to walk outside to enjoy the California sunshine. My instinct was to talk with Hubby because other than my siblings who were here with me, he was the next closest confidant – or had been. Because it was an ingrained habit, I called him to vent my sadness and heartache over the impending and eventual loss of mom. I must have talked to him two or three times a day just because it had been the pattern over that last fifteen years of my life. There was a strange sense of comfort in talking to him, perhaps the familiarity, perhaps the memories of a better time for us… I’m not sure exactly but my instinct dialed the phone and I felt better afterward so it kept happening.

The truly crazy part of this whole thing was that I wasn’t the only one… Abee apparently was doing the same thing. There were times that I would be talking to him and call waiting would beep in to let him know that she was also calling to talk. That week, it was somehow tolerable or perhaps it was that my brain couldn’t process more than one loss at a time, or that the idea of losing mom far exceeded the idea of losing Hubby. As I sit here and recall those moments of recognition that we were each using the same man for emotional support – in the same way – the absurdity of it is staggering to my brain, but that’s what we did. The three of us formed an interactive triangle that would have made the Kardashians raise their eyebrows.

Abee and our brother had early flights but the rest of us were on a red-eye and had the whole day to get through. We had a memorial lunch overlooking the Pacific in honor of mom and probably drank too many mimosa’s in her honor before we bought a dozen yellow roses (her favorite) to throw into the sea at the point in La Jolla. Just standing there, listening to the surf hit the rocks forged memories of mom onto our hearts as the ocean was one of her most identifying interests. She loved, loved the ocean. She was known to wrap herself in a blanket or two as to ward off a fifty-degree wind so she could sit on the Kitty Hawk dunes and read. It never mattered to her how cold or hot it was as long as there was an ocean breeze and she could hear the waves crashing against the sand. We stood there, three of her daughters in solidarity, celebrating not only the woman that birthed us but the woman that had championed for us more often than not, for most of our lives. Even in her faults, she was Mom and we were going to desperately miss her.

Concurrently with our experience, Grandad and mom’s own siblings were making funeral arrangements for Grandmom. The service was scheduled for the day we arrived back on the East Coast and there just wasn’t any way for us to arrive on the red-eye and then – in our own severe grief – make it to her service. The flight home was emotionally arduous as we considered the extent of our family’s losses. It was barely believable that within eight days of one another, they had both simply ceased to exist in live form. Upon landing, I picked up the car and drove us all home; dropping Emma off at mom’s house so she could be with her twin who had gotten back late – the night before. I walked into the house where my family was still sleeping and went into the basement bedroom where Hubby was bunking, took off all my clothes, and got into bed with him.

In that moment, the only thing I needed was comfort and in some undeniably disturbed way, he was the source of that solace. For just a while, the ugly distorted reality that existed in the space between us melted away and we came together one last time. Grief disrupts emotional reason. It didn’t last long however and after a brief nap, I returned to my senses. I unpacked my resistance and reaffirmed my destiny to personal dignity by talking with E. She offered to come rescue me from myself but I was pledging sanity and knew that my extended family was about to transition from one grief to another, which would be chaotic at best. It was better for her to reserve time and energy for when the bubble eventually broke and my reserve was again tested.

The armor I embraced was iron clad. I drove over to Mom’s house – now Abee’s – where people had begun to assemble and sat there deep in an easy chair with a blanket over my lap as I watched a parade of well-wishers and allies move in and out of the room. It was another one of those times, etched securely onto a memory plate, where pragmatism prevailed and reality emerged only superficially. No matter the intensity of emotions only months ago, it was shelved – set aside – with the most interesting intention – so that we could work together and plan what was to happen next.

Hubby came over once to bring our children and the amplitude of awkwardness was immeasurable. We all felt it – he felt it. He didn’t come back. I’m pretty sure that if he had, my brother would have lost his mind and so it was good that he had the kids to keep him busy. We planned a funeral, held in an old Victorian mansion (another love of hers) and made a photo video that brought most family members to immediate tears as they visualized many of the amazing memories they had shared. I was barely cognizant through her service as the grief drowned me but with the love of so many people who together – embodied her, we got through. As we always do.

When everyone had left and gone back to whence they came, I knew Abee would be alone. Of all of us, this was going to hit her the hardest. She was the only one of us without an immediate family to lift her up. I called – believing that we could start over – and invited her to the house or stated that I would go there to be with her.  “Thanks, ” she said, “I just need to be alone”.

I wasn’t yet understanding how self-destructive expectations can be.

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

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.

Splitting Delusions

Continued from The Longest Day

“I’m not crying because of you; you’re not worth it. I’m crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are.” ~ Steve Maraboli

Our bodies are designed to protect us against complete emotional obliteration and when the defense system is activated properly, it resembles my image of a ‘zombie’ – flat affect, disheveled appearance, monotone speech… that was me for a day or two… I would sit and stare, at nothing in particular but into the room sometimes watching the dust particles dance in the sunlight wondering how many of them I was inhaling with each breath; curious to know if the hair in my nostrils really was catching them so that they were not collecting in my lungs. It is intriguing to consider the folly of our thoughts when the reality is too difficult to deliberate upon. I was experiencing my life in its most simplistic possibility, practically floating through the hours as they passed. That was God’s gift to me, a respite from the suffering so that I might recharge my depleted spirit and muster the courage to move forward.

And I did. I wasn’t open to talking to Hubby for a few days. We moved through our home and work life with obvious dissent but kept silent because there was simply nothing more to say. He would ask me to talk but I simply could not. There was nothing left in my vocabulary that hadn’t already been said at some point throughout the years and to vocalize the same sentiment was now superfluous. Apparently, the prior pleadings, arguments, or confrontations had only temporary effect and the components of a happy, respectful, monogamous relationship that were important to me just couldn’t be met in ‘this’ relationship – the one that existed between he and I. It had finally – after so much time, pain, and frustration – dawned on me that we had been fighting for the impossible. Hubby and I were not the dream team. I understood that the man I had married was not the man that I saw in my heart. And that man would never – ever – behave in a way that so decimated my heart or that of our family. I finally grasped that I didn’t know this man but what was clear, is that I didn’t like him or want to be married to him.

I saw an attorney and followed her advice. He refused to leave our home, apparently on the advice of his lawyer and so he ‘moved’ into our finished basement. It took a couple of weeks for that transition to be complete, as even in pain there is often a question of its finality. The interim was awkward and painful because both of us were desperate for some semblance of normality and comfort, but in our house – there was none. We would occasionally ‘slip’ into old habits as I found myself laughing at something he said and for a microsecond, the energy in the room felt familiar and easy but I quickly rejected its lie because I now knew that nothing was ever ‘easy’ with us. There was a consistent whispering in the air, a beckoning, to concede and return to life as I had known it…

We told the girls we were separating; that Daddy was moving to the basement and we were going to ‘take a break’. They each reacted differently and I later discovered that our oldest had been listening to many of the ‘fights’ and so she was relieved. Man, the things we do to our children! We divided our time at home so that the girls had an equal opportunity to be with each of us. When it was his night, I went out and vice versa. I usually waited until after ‘bedtime’ to come home so that his bedtime routine wasn’t interrupted. You know how it is… because he had worked so many nights as they grew up, I was the person who usually did the ‘tucking in’, at least on weeknights.

The girls differed on how they were adjusting to our separation and we attempted to answer their questions honestly while offering only what we believed to be age appropriate. Franky, they didn’t have a need to know the details of our adult relationship so we kept it simple and unilateral; no blame. My attorney had suggested a book ‘Mom’s House, Dad’s House’ by Dr. Isolina Ricci – a book I refer clients to, to this day. Even though Hubby and I didn’t have separate houses yet, it was a great guide of how to help kids navigate the division of parental attention.

On weekends that were ‘his’ – I left. I called in every favor I had ever earned and visited with friends and family. I used their beach houses, their mountain cabins, and spare bedrooms for months on end. I became an expert timeshare sales customer. I think over the course of eighteen months, I utilized free weekends at resorts selling timeshares a dozen different times. You see, if you agree to sit through a timeshare sales pitch, you can spend a weekend – free of charge – at the resort you are considering. I was a champ – proficient and skillful – on how to say “no” regardless of the ‘pitch’ or pressure. I spent weekends in the Pocono’s, the Jersey Shore, the Virginia mountains, and New York City. I was alone on these trips and took advantage of the solitude to look at myself in the mirror, to learn meditation, and to grow in the way that the universe was directing me.

One of the first books I picked up after what I will call ‘discovery day’ was about reincarnation, written by Dr. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist in Miami who used hypnosis in his practice of helping patients cope with pain. One patient – Catherine – went into a spontaneous regression and began offering information to Dr. Weiss that became, ultimately, life-changing. I encourage you to pick up the book – Many Lives, Many Masters and keep an open mind. This book was just the tip of the iceberg with his stories of people under hypnosis in regression experiencing amazing and profound insight. I was immediately intrigued. Most importantly, most what Dr. Weiss speaks to in his collection of writing echoed many other things that I had recently explored by other authors… it was if there was a theme unfolding in the aggregation of my reading material. The Universe was validating these ideas again and again.

In this book the phrase “our task is to learn, to become God-like through knowledge. We know so little … by knowledge, we approach God, and then we can rest. Then we come back to teach and help others”.

This idea resonated so deeply in my soul that I sensed vibrations moving in unison with the words as I read them. That’s empirically identical to the basis of what I had taken away from The Conversations with God series I’d been reading, no… studying over that last couple of years. I grew to believe with no hesitation that I was experiencing a journey, a spiritual, a soulful quest to be the best possible version of myself.

The weekends that I wasn’t being ‘mom’, I used to learn and I became more and more enthralled, excited really… about the concepts that were forming concretely in my heart. I was going to use this pain – this growth opportunity – to be better… to be the best me. And I wanted to tell the world about it but I was only a suburban housewife who had never finished her education.

I decided to go back to school.

The Tipping Point

Continued from Discovering My Soul

“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not, With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

I believe that much of life is what we make it. I had decided to think about the adversity in my life differently and in fact, my life was different. There was a ‘settling down’ of things. Every once in a while, there were ‘twinges’ of fear that activated my internal alarm system and I addressed it in counseling immediately. I wasn’t about to allow ‘gaslighting’ to re-enter my world – I wasn’t going to be a ‘fool’ again. My ability to trust was exceptionally fragile. Anytime a comment, behavior, or action didn’t fit into the schematic of my reality, I addressed it. I was learning. It was still far from perfect but there was some peace in my heart for a change.

It was the holiday season and Christmas was always a relaxed time for us. We made sure the focus was on family, food, and time together. That doesn’t mean that I was calm, cool, and collected for sure as during this time of year my definition of ‘relaxed’ changes a bit. My emotions were relaxed – my stress level of completing everything that needed to be finished, stayed elevated – which was the norm. It had become my Christmas Eve challenge to finish the matching jammies that the kids would wear to bed but it always got accomplished and by midnight, I was sipping a glass of wine next to the fire anticipating morning smiles.

It was a good Day. We had gotten the kids a pinball machine that year as a collective gift and most of the day was spent downstairs in our rec room taking turns to see who could rack up the next ‘highest score’. Mom and Abee had come by earlier in the week on their way south to spend a few days with Emma and her family. I was especially grateful that I wasn’t facing having to dedicate a holiday to the rigorous attention of emotional regulation. In that way, it was particularly ‘relaxing’. Hubby and I actually had fun together as we interacted with the girls, now eight, eleven & twelve; there is something endearing about that ‘tween’ time in adolescence.

We typically spent one day over Christmas week with Hubby’s family; exchanging gifts, catching up, and enjoying cousin interactions. It was a full day as we watched all twenty-two open gifts one-person-at-a-time, in order of age – oldest to youngest. What else does one do on a day like this but eat, drink, and be merry?! It was a tradition that we all held in the highest regard. Spending an entire day with extended family was always a holiday treat.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in a traditional way by hosting a small get together with friends. Our children had basically grown up together and it had become customary for us all to gather, let the kids hang out, and ring in the new year – quietly – with friendly faces. There were two to three times as many tweens as there were adults and so by midnight, it was noisy and late… the evening didn’t last much past the stroke of midnight. We had closed out another difficult year and ushered in 2004 with a promise of impending dreams come true.

Just a few days later, on a Wednesday morning, after everyone had left for school and work, I sat down at our home computer to check my email. Hubby and I shared a computer, the girls had their own desktop although when everyone was home – it was a free for all…. Whatever chair was empty. As I moved the mouse to ‘wake up’ the screen I noticed that Hubby’s email was open. That was unusual. He must have been on it this morning and forgotten to close it.

“It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.”     ~ Sara Teasdale

I didn’t intend on doing anything but clicking on the upper right-hand corner – the little ‘x’ that promises to end your view but his inbox was right there, in front of me and full of emails from Abee. A quick glance at the topic line indicated that many of them were work related and then I saw one that said ‘apartment’ and another that said ‘meet me’ …

I wanted to vomit on the spot. I began to shake uncontrollably. My heart began to race and I couldn’t find my breath. They weren’t the only emails. There were emails from several different women – not related to business – women I knew. I instantaneously lost my sanity. I became unglued – a crazy woman. My perception of good judgment, rationale, or sound conscience disintegrated on the spot. My insides erupted in an explosion of panic and my nervous system took over reading, one by one, letters that were right there in front of me, depicting a life I knew nothing about. It was the closest thing to an out of body encounter that a living person can spontaneously experience. I noticed a vibration in the room that I soon understood was a result of the violent spasms occurring in my body. I was screaming vulgar, violent words that no one could hear.

I made my way to the car stopping just long enough to pick up the phone and call the man who had shattered my life for the last time. “We are done. I want a divorce.” And I hung up the phone. I probably added some expletives, most likely strings of them before we disconnected and still shaking, drove straight to our therapist’s office. In the demonstration of my lunacy, I entered her waiting area, walked right up to her office door, and began pounding. She was in session but I had no regard for anything except the prevailing annihilation of my morning; of my life. An emotional nuclear detonation had just obliterated my heart so completely that I was a walking, talking, shell of the woman that had awakened that day.

She came out, annoyed that I was being so disrespectful but as I shook a wad of crumpled papers in front of her with the announcement that “they’ve been lying, I’m done… I can’t do this”… she ushered me into a small kitchenette with instructions to ‘hide’ here for a minute. I had no idea who she had in her office but occasionally it’s important to protect the identity of one client from another for confidentiality’s sake; a task that can be challenging in a small town. I waited a bit, having no real concept of time passing as my head was still reeling in another dimension and then she came to get me. She only had minutes as I obviously wasn’t there for a scheduled appointment but quickly, as any good therapist would, she assessed me for suicide ideation and or violent considerations.  I hadn’t gone quite that far off the deep end thankfully and I was slowly regaining my sanity, my breath, and collecting my thoughts.

“You can’t stay in this marriage,” she said. “I know, I know…” I replied and without the protection of delirium, I slid to the floor and the dam of sorrow, of broken dreams, of failed hope – collapsed with me into agonizing heartbreak.

Discovering My Soul

Continued from Welcome Back

“I value and honor the way that my suffering brings me to further search and surrender.” ~ Maureen Brady

Thanksgiving was right around the corner and I had promised mom that I would try and get to a place where I was at ease enough with Abee so that we could come together as a family. Twin Emma came with her family to help bridge the crevasse and we got through it. I’m not sure who was pretending more that day Hubby, mom, Abee, or me… I had eagle eyes on them the entire time and knew that my heart raced several times an hour as one of them entered or exited the room and I searched quickly to see where the other was. It was hard to relax but I love Thanksgiving and everything it has always represented so I kept trying and reminded myself constantly to ‘give thanks’ that we were all there, beginning to heal.

My spiritual journey was continuing to evolve as I dove into the hypotheses of what constitutes a ‘soul’. My religious teachings from the Catholic church taught the Blessed Trinity of ‘Father, Son & Holy Ghost’. I had always inferred Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) to mean our soul – although I’m not sure that’s the direct correlation that religious scholars have in mind.

I started to think about our ‘soul’ in a new way. In Conversations with God – Book 3, the author asks God “what is a Soul” (Chapter 11).

As a side note, I don’t believe it is important to debate whether this author was actually talking to God or not. For me, simply reading and opening myself up to a new understanding of my own spirituality was immensely helpful. Who are any of us to tell this man that he was NOT talking to God?? The truth is – we cannot absolutely know for sure. Consequently, reading and asking questions, being open to thinking more broadly, was extremely valuable.

The idea that one’s Soul is the essence of God, a life force that is immortal and evolving across all time, not only made sense but resonated deeply within my own spirit. Suddenly, my religious teachings made more sense. If I took my human body out of the equation and thought of myself as an ageless entity born of the universe and moving through time with for the sole purpose of learning – everything was clearer. My curiosity became almost insatiable and quite naturally, led me right to the concept of reincarnation.

I gradually began to develop a clear vision of how a soul could travel through many human lifetimes, each one designed to teach another lesson much like we Americans move through classroom grades geared to address the knowledge we have accumulated along the way. I considered the term ‘old soul’ – often attributed to someone who had seemingly acquired wisdom, patience, and humility. I thought about people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, modern day prophets who emulated everything I had learned to want from a spiritual perspective.

I thought about Jesus and his living example of soulful perfection – the goal of a Christian conscience. Surely one could interpret that Christ was born to demonstrate the ideal personification of what our ‘souls’ had the capacity to achieve and that by believing that he was ‘the son of God’ (a perfect representation of the purest soul) and who died for our sins (allowed persecution as a demonstration of perfect love) so that we may live (aim for that example) – I was IN!! Wow, that made perfect sense to me. I want to be like Jesus Christ. I want to learn how to live with the purity of love and humility of his example. If it meant coming back to this world over and over again, learning and growing – bring it on!

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain”. ~ Carl Jung

Now I had a reason for all the pain. I knew that I could look at each hurt and place it into a perspective of how my soul needed to grow. I hated to think that growth was only possible through painful experience but hey – we are human and we are not paying close attention generally unless we are in pain. Of course, more evolved souls know that this is achieved through meditation and prayer but I wasn’t there yet!  In any regard, I was wide open to learning and forgiveness loomed broadly in front of me. Crap… this learning stuff is hard!

Forgiving Hubby for some reason was much easier. I don’t know if it was because I already had practice with it or if my expectations for him were just so much lower. Maybe it was because he was there every morning and as the father of my children, the motivation was much stronger. In any case, I opened my heart and allowed God in, which just meant that I lowered the drawbridge that had been so tightly chained and authorized my heart to be vulnerable once more. I understood that to be vulnerable, God has to be at work in your spirit – you must be open to learning (potentially hurting) and that is the work of spiritual growing. I came to believe that if I was hurting then God was growing me. Any tears I shed really were watering the seeds of love and wisdom that were being cultivated in my soul.

The work of forgiving Abee was much more difficult and I needed a ton of help. Our joint therapy sessions continued and I had derived what I thought was a good idea. I had a bag of polished stones that one of the girls had gotten from one place or another. They were in a purple velvet bag about three inches long and two across, with a drawstring closure. I think there were about ten stones. My idea was that the bag represented the relationship I wanted to have with Abee. While I was not under any delusion that our connection would ever be the same, I at least wanted to be able to be together without stress or emotional duress. The stones in the bag represented building blocks to me and after each counseling session or family time where I believed there to be an advancement in my trust of her – I would give her a stone. The control of rebuilding positive interactions between us became mine and it worked for me.

In December, mom and I traveled to Notre Dame to watch Frank swim in one of his last invitationals. I loved watching that boy swim! It was a good trip for mom and I as well, allowing us uninterrupted time to distance ourselves from the family drama. I was nervous about not being there to ‘monitor’ interactions between Hubby and Abee but mom assured me that she knew Abee’s heart, which apparently was beginning to ‘beat’ for another guy. I hadn’t heard about him but I was working on being ‘like Jesus’ so I practiced letting go… I believed that Hubby and I were in a good spot having made it through so much crap… I assured her that we would probably be married forever. I mean, what could possibly be worse than what we’ve already been through?