Another Goodbye

This woman, in all her contradiction, was my post, the anchor, the nucleus of everything that I knew to be.

Continued from No Such Thing as Perfect

“A daughter without her mother is a woman broken. It is a loss that turns to arthritis and settles deep into her bones. ”  ~ Kristin Hannah

My aunt was rather frantic about not being able to get ahold of mom but after explaining she was in Mexico, she agreed to call and talk with Abee who would know how to get through to mom. Not long after that first conversation, she called back to tell me that she had just learned that mom was in the hospital in Cabo. Wait, what?

Why hadn’t someone called? What was wrong? She gave me the phone number that Abee had given her and I proceeded to call myself. It took a few hours until the phone I was calling to get answered and the woman who said hello resembled an extremely weakened version of my mother.

It seems that she had come down with what she thought was the flu. She had believed that if she just rested, she would feel better and two weeks went by before she realized that she was in trouble. By then, she was so weak that she couldn’t take herself to the bathroom and her cousin insisted that she be taken to the hospital. Upon arriving, they realized that her blood disease had escalated, it had spontaneously transitioned into secondary acute leukemia. Mom explained that they wouldn’t let her fly but that her cousin was attempting to get a helicopter to transport her to the closest US city – San Diego. She was simultaneously attempting to cope with the grief from losing her mother who had been a guiding force in her life while feeling crappy and worrying about being in a foreign country. Sometimes, life sent the sourest lemons.

I discovered that Abee was communicating with the cousin in order to meet mom’s transport in California. Within a couple of days, they were both in San Diego and I was speaking directly with the doctor who was caring for mom. It wasn’t good. Her white blood count was in the hundreds of thousands and clogging her organs. He explained that this was a result of the radioactive treatments she had had after her diagnosis of Polycythemia Vera several decades ago; it had just been a matter of time.

I immediately began researching doctors who were experimenting with this problem and found one at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia who agreed to see her immediately if we could get her back to the East Coast. The West Coasts doctors explained that it would be challenging due to the condition of her lungs but that they were making every effort possible. We were waiting with bated breath.

A couple of more days went by and by then, my other two sisters were at my house, thinking that mom was going to be arriving in Philadelphia any day. After a couple more conversations with the physicians caring for her, it was obvious that her condition was far graver than we had hoped. We collectively decided that we would go to San Diego as well. We, three girls, booked flights out of Philly and our brother arranged to meet us there. It was rather hectic getting everything organized and choreographed for an immediate departure but we did it even though I have a distinct memory of arriving at the airport late, running through security by begging people to let us advance crying ‘our mother is dying, we have to make our flight’… two of us got to the gate in advance and made quite the scene as we waited for our other sister to get there; she has a physical impairment that made running impossible.

We made the flight.

So, there we were, all five of us at the hospital, camped outside of mom’s room, realizing that we hadn’t all been together in years now. In fact, I hadn’t talked to Abee in almost a dozen or more months and there were varying degrees of relational disturbance between each sibling combination. We put our personal differences aside and sat outside the room as the children of the woman within. An outsider would never have known how much dysfunction existed in-between us.

Mom was in pretty good spirits but the mere presence of every one of her children was suspect for a good outcome. She realized how sick she was and the doctors were not holding back at this point. Her goal was simply getting strong enough so that she could fly home and die there. She didn’t want to leave the world from the berth of a hospital room. We took turns staying with her, making sure to get at least some sleep every few hours. It was apparent after only a day that this was our time with her. Even though they were running her blood through a machine to separate out white blood cells, her body was making them faster than it would filter. As her body became overloaded, the kidneys couldn’t function properly and she settled into renal failure.

During one awake period when I alone, was sitting with her she beckoned me up on the bed. I scooted up along the side of her, resting my head in the crook of her arm just as I had done a gazillion times. It didn’t matter that I was a forty-something-year-old woman with children of my own. I was struggling to be courageous, to hold in the deluge of emotion that had been damned so haphazardly over the last ten days but I could not. Tears silently unloaded themselves across my cheeks and onto her shoulder as she said: “it looks like I’m not going to make it out of this one”.

“Oh mama”, I cried. Unleashing sorrow beyond comprehension.

This woman, in all her contradiction, was my post, the anchor, the nucleus of everything that I knew to be. She had left, come back, diverged, and suffered a devastating splintering of familial dreams over and over… she was also tired and sought relief. We chatted a bit, reminisced, and tried to laugh about things that were completely inconsequential and then she offered some final thoughts. “You are strong enough to live without Hubby” and paused, “Abee isn’t,” she said… “but if you want him, go get him”.

 

By morning, she was delirious as the organic poisons took over her body. She lost consciousness soon after and we moved her into a Hospice facility that sat high up on a hill so that the entire city of San Diego was visible. Her room overlooked – way in the distance – the Pacific Ocean and if she had been awake, she would have been completely satisfied with the view from her bed. For the second time since the turn of the century, we were navigating the experience of end of life care for a parent and we were crushed with the reality.  Just days ago, her own mother had left this earth as if mom needed an escort into the beyond. We would be mourning two of the family’s most treasured souls.

She slipped away before all the paperwork could be completed, before all of us settled into her space and we stood there – all five of us – not believing that this day had come, wanting it to be undone, wishing that life worked differently.

I was officially an orphan.

No Such Thing As Perfect

…the intellectual side of me knew there was no such thing as ‘perfect’ but… that never stopped me from attempting to achieve perfection.

Continued from Penetrated Composure

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.  ~ Anna Quindlen

We got through the holidays and it was time to take the Disney Cruise that the girls and I had been planning for the last year. It would be the first true vacation for us as a divided family. Hubby was up early that morning to say goodbye to the girls and helped us load the suitcases into the car. He was being gallant and I suppose, a bit melancholy about the fact that we were embarking on such a fanciful adventure without him. I started the car as he buckled Emily’s seatbelt and I heard him pronounce, “I love you all” while he shut the door firmly.

I shook my head because it was a frequent comment and yet, I didn’t relate to being ‘loved’ in the ways that he demonstrated. There were still a number of discussions about whether I really ‘wanted’ a divorce, if I ‘wanted’ to split up our family, or if I really ‘wanted’ to throw away all that we had built. Each conversation left me a little drained and sometimes questioning my decisions but when it came down to the end – every.single.time. – I knew that I had spent too many years living in a relationship that was not respectful. I knew that I was different, stronger, more aware and convicted about the direction I wanted to grow now.

The girls and I flew to Orlando, took a bus to Cape Canaveral, and boarded one of the Disney Cruise ships. None of us had ‘cruised’ before so we were all equally enamored with the glitz and grandeur of the ship, the view from the upper decks, and our stateroom with towels folded into swans. There’s something truly spectacular about the way Disney does things and we didn’t know what to do first. It was a week of ‘marveling’. We marveled at our meals, at the shows, at the activities, at the Caribbean port calls, and at the fireworks display over an open ocean as the light lit an infinite expanse of waves. The girls had each joined the Disney clubhouse for their appropriate age group and so I had a fair amount of quiet time, reflecting time. I used much of it to fortify myself as I meditated and wrote some of my thoughts. I was certain that my life was moving in the right direction and knew that I needed to organize a plan. I work better when I have a blueprint – an idea of what’s next. I like to think that I am flexible enough to allow for change but after everything I’d been through, controlling for emotional discourse was my new ‘normal’ and so I set out to consider what it was ‘exactly’ that I wanted my life to look like.

The cruise came to an end far too soon but we were refreshed and ready to go back to school. I had missed the first week of classes which I didn’t think would make much of a difference but when I walked into my French II class and tried to introduce myself to the professor, I knew I was in trouble. He spoke about as much English as I did French and told me I had an assignment due in the morning. Oh boy. It was the first and last time that I cheated. I had to write a paragraph – in French – about what foods I needed to buy at a grocery store for a recipe that I had chosen. I hadn’t yet learned the ‘food’ vocabulary that was needed for this assignment and so I typed it out in English and used a translator to convert it to French. I turned it in on time but when it came back, there was a distinct, English F at the top of the paper. I immediately knew it was going to be a long semester.

Learning French became my new passion; I had never received a failing grade before and I wasn’t going to let it happen again. It was during this time that I became acutely aware of my propensity for perfection. It was something that others had commented on in the past and of course, the intellectual side of me knew there was no such thing as ‘perfect’ but… that never stopped me from attempting to achieve perfection. It was a personal challenge.

And then I discovered the term ‘unrelenting standards’ – a schema of maladaptive coping styles proposed by psychologist Jeffery Young… essentially validating the existence of perfectionism within me. I never cared whether someone else was ‘perfect’ but I can admit to believing that there was ‘a’ way that things ‘should’ be done which established an expectation. Most often, that expectation was applied only to myself and yet – when someone like me is part of your environment, there is often a perception that my ‘standard’ is required by everyone in the circle…

I had a friend who gently and kindly reminded me constantly that perfect didn’t exist and that I may have to be “ok” with an A- or B+, or to give myself a break if I was frustrated with the lack of time to be all things to all people. In addition, through one of my psychology classes, I understood finally that ‘should’s’ were not all that healthy… we often don’t stop to think where our should’s come from and frequently, they are handed down from old family customs that don’t apply because of newer technologies; from society and social constructs that no longer exist; or from dysfunctional learning patterns we adapted to survive as children. Louise Hay, the author of You Can Heal Your Life, aptly suggests replacing the word ‘could’ with any should that is in your vocabulary. In doing so, you are empowering yourself with action instead of moving in a direction that may be dictated by some external – uninformed – place. I share this advice with clients on a regular basis and there is always an ‘ah ha’ moment as they consider where should’s exist in their life that may not need to be there.

I wasn’t sure why I thought I ‘should’ get all A’s… Undoubtedly, I wanted to set an example for my daughters who were students and had several years yet in front of them. In addition, I knew that for people to take me seriously as a middle-aged woman, it would be helpful if there was some ‘evidence’ substantiating my efforts, but mostly… I wanted to know that I could do it. I was proving something to myself as much as anyone else. I wasn’t always convinced that I was smart or capable. I did things that had required intelligence but, I never had a good measure of how strong it was. As a college student, I was under the impression that my grades were a good indicator.

To further impress upon me that total excellence was essentially unachievable, I questioned one of my professors who continued to give me a 99% on the weekly reflections we were required to do. “What do I need to do to get 100%”, I would ask “there are no markups to tell me what was missing”.  “That’s as good as it gets” he replied. “Perfect doesn’t exist.” He went on to tell me that if I wanted to be a good therapist, I needed to adjust to the idea that I would never get there – and “get comfortable with imperfection” he encouraged. It wasn’t a concept that I easily adapted.

Most days, if I was busy with schoolwork or taxiing the girls from one place to another, life was good. As long as Hubby and/or Abee weren’t front and center, my life and emotions were manageable. I was getting through the days and weeks with less and less discord as time went by. One evening in early March, the phone rang and my Aunt was on the other end regretting to inform me that Grandmom had passed away. She was eighty-seven and had congestive heart failure so it had only been a matter of time but… she had been unable to reach mom – who… was in Cabo San Lucas visiting a cousin. It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime as that cousin had mega bucks and was treating mom to yachts and mansions.

Life was about to get serious again.

.

Gratitude Always

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

Today is Thanksgiving, 2016. I’ve been writing for sixty-seven days consecutively and I can hardly believe it. I am so very grateful for the words as they flow. It seems apropos to spend a minute speaking about gratitude. I talked about Positive Psychology couple of days ago and Gratitude is a fundamental concept in the practice of positivity. Research on this construct is definitive… people who practice gratitude regularly report more joy and happiness in their lives. They are less lonely, have lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and demonstrate more compassion and generosity. The ‘science’ of gratitude has grown by leaps in the last decade with researchers proving by results of fMRI’s that just ‘thinking’ grateful thoughts highlights areas of the brain involved in the experience of happiness.

With all of those benefits, it seems like a no-brainer to devote a part of every day to the expression of gratitude and I’m not simply suggesting remembering to say “thank you”.  Gratitude is more than expressing thanks. According to the website Gratefulness.org –

“Gratitude is essentially the recognition of the unearned increments of value in ones’ experience.”

I love this definition because it speaks to the concept that all of our experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – are springboards for gratitude… even those that we didn’t ask for.

I attended a day-long seminar about Gratitude a few years ago as part of a continuing education effort and it was a bit of a lazy class for me because I already ‘bought into’ and practiced the methodology that was presented. The concept wasn’t a particular challenge for me. I will admit to only half listening as the presenter challenged us to be grateful for EVERYTHING that had ever happened in our life; I looked up. What? I found myself listening more closely and thinking this guy didn’t know ‘my’ life. No way could I find appreciation for the crap that I had gone through…

He challenged me to consider my experiences and pains and to offer a silent moment of thankfulness for them. I browsed through my memory banks and thought back to divorcing Hubby… all of the toil and trauma that was associated with that relationship and then I went even further to the death of Rocky… I had no words. How does one say “I am grateful that my husband died?”

I sat in that big room full of other therapists and helping professionals with a blank stare directed toward a man who was asking something of me that felt impossible. I momentarily felt lost and scared, it seemed as though I was about to do something wrong and then – I understood.

I didn’t have to express gratitude that Rocky died or that I went through tremendous pain due to Hubby’s actions but I COULD say – without hesitation – that I was deeply, profoundly, grateful for the lessons I learned as a result of those situations.

Every. Single. Thing. that has ever happened in my life has offered me an opportunity to see myself differently, to garner insight or wisdom unavailable to the unaffected. Until you find yourself in a parlor of caskets attempting to figure out which one fits the personality of the man you had married, you will simply not truly know what it is to be a widow.  Until you are gravely betrayed by a family member you intrinsically trusted, you will not understand the inclination to build barriers of stone around your heart. Personal testimonies offer us insight that can only be achieved by feeling, doing, and being a part of a scenario.

The perspective one achieves through experience is priceless if we seek to understand and in turn, grow. We get to choose what we do with these outcomes. Choosing to be grateful for the enlightenment acquired offers far more benefits that other options.

I am eternally grateful for my life even though I haven’t ‘liked’ many of the moments in it. Truly, there are far more fabulous ones that those I might trade in and so I practice appreciation for them all.

What does it mean to “practice” gratitude? Is it as simple as a few thoughts or written words? It can be if it is consistent and habitual. I will recommend to people who are new at this to start with just one thing… Get a notebook and at the end of each day, write down one thing that you are grateful for that day. It might be only that the day is over and you still stand. In the morning – read what you wrote. At the end of the second day, write another thing you are grateful for from that day. On day three you will read the two things you have written and so on… at the end of a month, you will have a list of thirty things that you are grateful for. Everyone I know who has engaged in this effort has reported feeling better at months’ end.

In addition, I encourage the expression of appreciation. It dawned on me one day that in all the couples counseling I do, no one has ever come in telling me how appreciated they feel.  In fact, it’s been the opposite one hundred percent of the time. Couples in crisis, don’t feel appreciated. It’s also important to note that when we ‘do’ feel appreciated, we are much more tolerant of the little things that add to our dissatisfaction or frustration. Once, each and every day, turn to your partner or a family member and tell them you appreciate something about them or something they might have done for you at some point in time. The expression of appreciation to someone else helps you both.

I have a few little gratitude habits that I find myself engaging in without much thought these days and they are minuscule in contrast to where I would like to be but I’ll share nonetheless.  Whenever I find a close parking spot I say a word of thanks for the ease of parking. When I can’t find a close one, I automatically say thanks for the exercise I will be getting. I say thank you when a new client calls for the prospect of helping someone and the income it will generate. When someone cancels, I say thanks for the time to do other things. It doesn’t matter the scenario or the situation, I find something in it and express thanks.

Utilizing a Gratitude journal has never been easier. Not only can we utilize an old-fashioned notebook and pen but there is also a myriad of app options for smartphones and tablets ranging from free to just under $5. We have no excuse really…

Today, I am everlastingly grateful for not just the experiences I’ve had but also for the people who’ve been there with me both past and present some of whom are… Mom, Dad, Trish, Barb, Allysen, Patrick, Mike, Jim, Monique, Carole, Ruthie, Suzi, Cathy, Emi, Glenda, Tim, Norm, Debbie, Dee, Diane, Denise, Joyce, Anne, Rocky, Greg, Dorothy, Jack, Jane, Frank, Elizabeth, Linda, Martha, Anna, Charlotte, Jim, Chuck, Ron, Charles, Greg, Kim, Michele, Sherry, Amy, Judy, Marianne, Debbie, Diane, Lise, Renee, Kim, Bill, Debbie, Jill, Bob, and Rosemary.

Most especially … Francis, Sara, Erin, and Emily – you all… are the reason I breathe each day.

And finally, … H. I appreciate you more than I have words.

Penetrated Composure

As anyone who has been down this road can attest, no matter how congenial your intentions, emotions can supersede the best.

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

There were days when I simply couldn’t talk to anyone because I was ashamed of how negative my thoughts had become.

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

I discovered that professors will generally curve UP for students who are attentive, committed, and exemplify hard work

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.

Love’s Journey

I grew to believe that they had been sent into this life for the sole purpose of generating obstacles for me on my spiritual development journey.

Continued from Decision

“Love is the beginning of the journey, its end, and the journey itself.” ~ Deepak Chopra

Not long after ‘decision day’ I was at church, me and the girls. I was hurting and looking for support. Sometimes, and many of you can attest, a church is a busy place, especially on Sunday’s. It wasn’t the time or necessarily the place for a full-on discussion about the events unfolding in my life but I wanted to at least let Pastor R know something was amiss. As we made our way through the ‘receiving line’ to share our regards, I gave him a little hug and said softly “things are bad, history is repeating itself”, believing he would understand since he was so instrumental years ago after Hubby’s first indiscretion. He smiled, nodded, and hugged me back. I went home and waited for him to call.

He didn’t call. I went to church again the next week – this time by myself because Hubby was with the girls. There is no doubt in my mind that I looked sad… most nights I cried myself to sleep in those early weeks. I waited for him to make eye contact with me so that I could telepathically share my pain with him, or at least make sure he was able to notice my demeanor. I had been a part of that church since its organizational days and knew most people there as we were still a small group. No one asked about the family. No one asked me how I was doing. I might as well have been invisible that day. I bypassed the line of people waiting to say hello or otherwise to Pastor R and headed home with deep disappointment.

I didn’t go back. I waited though, waited for R to call… waited for someone from one of the home groups or ministries to call and at the very least make sure everything was ok… nope. Didn’t happen. I know that I could have picked up the phone and called someone, I know that I could have reached out to R again, and I know that it wasn’t anyone’s direct responsibility to keep track of me but I expected it. I expected my faith community, people who had known me for seven or eight years to at least ‘notice’ that I wasn’t there week after week and to find out why.

Describing the disappointment is difficult because the rational part of me wants to take responsibility for not communicating properly about it. The emotional side of me, however, went directly to that place where abandonment resides; fortifying some internal creed that was now easily triggered. Many of the criticisms I had about organized religion were validated in this failure. The negligence that I perceived from this spiritual community was flawed by my expectations and forced me to investigate why I had developed them. In addition, it created an opportunity for me to better understand what I wanted from people who share my beliefs. The icing on the cake was when the leader of the finance ministry called to schedule our annual commitment meeting. I think I hung up on him.

I never did return to that community and no one ever asked why. I tried a few other churches in the area and I was always unsatisfied with either the contradictions, the hypocrisy of the congregants (some of whom I had known through the years, realizing that they were ‘fair weather’ church goers) or the degree of fundamentalism and rigidity. I just cannot relate to a literal translation of a Biblical text. I read the bible as a teen and took the opportunity to read it again, the New Testament mostly, during this time… I read it with a different perspective, a more open mind to language and metaphor. I thought long and hard about the idea that I was created in God’s image… what? God was a tall, heavyset, white female? Did I look like him more before or after my tenth birthday? Why is God depicted as male? Why old? Why do we think of God in human terms at all?

One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard about imagining God came from an interview of Deepak Chopra on The View – an ABC television program. They asked him “how do you envision God?” and he replied, “to visualize God is to limit God.”  Something important clicked for me in that explanation. Then, in the Brian Weiss book Messages from the Masters, he writes that a Soul Master defines Love… “Love. Everything is Love… Everything is love. With love comes understanding. With understanding comes patience. And then the time stops. Everything is now.  Love is our nature. We are Love. … Love is the ultimate healer.”

I started to assemble a collection of ideas across various world religions and there were similarities that resonated within me deeply.

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I knew I didn’t have to be a practicing Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc…, to embody these tenets. Moreover, I knew that when I focused on Love, I felt God’s presence no matter where I was. I chose to simply BE love as much as was possible and to foster and grow the spirit of love in my life whenever and however I could.

Many of us have great intentions and I am no different. I was good at loving people, paying it forward, growing my faith … until… Hubby and Abee entered the picture. It was there that all my faith was challenged and I grew to believe that they had been sent into this life for the sole purpose of generating obstacles for me on my spiritual development journey. It was working…

I found myself turning to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Here, I discovered more validation for my pain as well… “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others”. I, like countless others, was known to beg for a response to the question ‘why me God, why me?’ It’s incredibly difficult to accept extreme circumstances as purposeful without some paradigm of faith and so I found resolve in these words. More importantly, it was yet another source confirming the necessity of Love… offering sentiments such as “Life minus love equals zero.” And “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.”

I turned to Deepak Chopra to learn meditation and here is where I found profound peace. I heeded his words “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you” and when I was angry, frustrated, scared, or unsure I sat still and followed his voice into a state of calm that offered the most incredible tranquility and comfort. In those moments, I imagined myself wrapped in a cocoon of light, in the arms of God’s love and I was safe.