#72 Learn to Label Emotions

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too

#72

Learn to Label Emotions

Far too many of us are in the habit of commenting only on the experiences of happy, sad, and mad. Indeed, some people only know those three emotions and have great difficulty articulating anything but.

Innate knowledge

We are born knowing how to emote. We laugh, cry, squirm, babble, etc., in perfect expression of our feelings. At some point, an adult in our life tells us to sit down, shut up, suck it up, pull yourself together, etc… and we are told not to do that thing which, comes so naturally. Consequently, we learn NOT to express ourselves effectively.

Vernacular

Making it more difficult is the way we learn to string words together in an effort to describe things. We may say “I feel like a maid” but ‘a maid’ isn’t a feeling so we really are not expressing feelings with this statement. We may say “I feel like you don’t care” and similarly, ‘like you don’t care’ isn’t a feeling. That’s me expressing what I think you feel.

Instead, we can learn to use emotion words and the sentences become more clear … “I’m really frustrated that I need to pick up after everyone” or “I’m not feeling very loved today”. In these examples, what we say is more easily digested by the listener because we are using literal language to express our feelings.

Variations

There’s more to life than happy, sad, and mad. There’s disappointment, frustration, defensive, betrayed, anxious, excited, nervous, and dozens of others. How would your communication change if you were able to say “I’m feeling pretty defensive right now” instead of something defensive and projecting?

Feelings

Feelings are neither right or wrong, they just are. Having said that, they don’t necessarily represent the truth. Someone can ‘feel’ stupid but that doesn’t make it true. We can get caught up in the feeling without validating if it is a fact or not. When we feel something that isn’t based on facts, it’s a clue for what we must work on. The less time we spend there, the better. Life is better when we concentrate on what is real.

When learning to express feeling more effectively, I recommend that you keep a list of emotions (there are thousands to choose from) handy and begin by describing your day with as many of those as possible. Think about your feelings before you express them to make sure the words you are using actually describe the sensation. Break the habit of happy, sad, mad and…

Learn to label emotions.

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

#104 Ditch Gossip

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#104

Ditch Gossip

If you’re human, you’ve probably – at least once in your lifetime – participated in a round of gossip. By definition, gossip is the “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others”. It is differentiated from asking a friend if they’ve ‘run into’ another… or asking about the welfare of a joint acquaintance. It’s speaking about someone’s life without explicit permission to do so.

Hurtful

By speaking about things that are considered private or deeply personal, we are likely to insult or hurt the targeted individual even if that wasn’t the intent. It may promote shame for that person and ignite feelings that lead to depression, helplessness, and sadly… even suicide. Gossip can injure esteem and confidence. It can lead to feelings of loneliness and cause people to isolate further. It often leads to embarrassment when someone’s private business becomes the focus of outsiders. The anxiety that results can paralyze.

Breach of Trust

When we gossip for the sake of having something to say, we breach the trust that others have in us for keeping their secrets. How many times have you questioned whether or not someone is talking about you the way they are talking about another? If they are willing to betray the interest of John Doe, what keeps them from doing the same to you? How do we build respect for someone that breaches trust? Without trust and respect, how is a relationship sustained?

Do Unto Others

Do you want your personal and private affairs to be the center of discussion between people not involved? If you think that may be bothersome, make the effort to change your energy into something more productive and compassionate. Make a conscious decision to …

Ditch Gossip.

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

#218 Release Guilt

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#218

Release Guilt

This is one of those tips that is far deeper than can be addressed in a mere few paragraphs but I’ll introduce the idea of releasing the guilt that doesn’t belong to you as something that will increase your overall sense of well-being.

Defined

By definition, guilt is the result “of having committed a specific or implied offense” and/or “make (someone) feel guilty” and while I could talk for several minutes about the semantic of “making someone feel”… guilt is an appropriate emotion when we INTENTIONALLY offend someone or commit an offense.

Damaged feelings

It’s fair to feel bad when someone we care about is hurting and if an accidental behavior on my part generated the emotional harm then I am deeply sorry but do not hold ‘guilt’ once I apologize. Accidents happen. When we accept responsibility for the damaged feelings of another and the damaged feelings are because ‘of something we purposefully did’ then guilt is what keeps us in check but far too many of us accept guilt when it is not OURS to own.

Releasing

Too many people fail to communicate expectations and then charge us with having committed an offense – imparting feelings of guilt. If we don’t know we are supposed to meet a standard – or expectation – and we offend someone we need not ‘own’ feelings of guilt.  We need to learn to release feelings of guilt when they are erroneously associated with behaviors that are unintentional, with unexpressed expectations, untruths, or unreasonable demands.

  • Your friend says “you never go out with me.” and you feel guilty because he’s feeling bad… but that statement is probably untrue. Release the guilt.
  • Your sister say “you didn’t get me a birthday present?” and you feel guilty because she is disappointed… you feel guilty but it was an uncommunicated expectation. Release the guilt.
  • You can’t remember where you put your husband’s car keys and now he’s late for work. He’s mad and you feel guilty. It was an accident; release the guilt.
  • You don’t accept an invitation to a bachelorette party in Vegas because your budget simply cannot handle the extra expense. Someone suggests you aren’t a good friend and you feel guilty. It is an unreasonable demand; release the guilt.

Visualization

Use visualization techniques to release guilt… imagine writing it on a chalkboard and then erasing it. Imagine writing it on a paper and then tearing it to shreds. Imagine it is contained in a ball and throw it in the ocean. Imagine it as a word in your hand and watch it evaporate or disintegrate. No matter what image you conjure or what technique you employ, the secret to improving your overall sense of happiness is to…

Release guilt.

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

More Letting Go

The requirements for our evolution have changed. Survival is no longer sufficient. Our evolution now requires us to develop spiritually – to become emotionally aware and make responsible choices. It requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul – harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life. ~ Gary Zukav

As I wrote yesterday’s post I was emotional. That’s usually a sign that I need to stop writing, process the emotions that are there and then… go forward. I was emotional because it’ hard coping with this ‘new normal’. When I am reminded of the life that H and I ‘wanted’ to live – I get sad because it’s not the life we ‘are’ living and I know it must be very difficult for H if it’s hard for me.

In this year of Cancer, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a lot about H but more about myself. I’ve learned about my friends and family. I’ve learned more about people and thoughts and feelings. It’s been an education on so many different levels.

There are a lot of little hurts that happen and accumulate when life is hard. There are people who aren’t ‘there’ in the way you may have imagined. There are disappointments about plans that have to be changed or canceled. There are misunderstandings because we may not communicate well when stressed. There are hopes and dreams that move from vivid to blurry.

I was ironing some napkins (don’t be impressed – they are cotton and I left them in the dryer)… and thinking about letting go… I use a lot of techniques already to ‘let go’ of old stuff – techniques that work well but… what about the stuff that isn’t necessarily old?

I had a small epiphany… for a lot of things, letting go isn’t a one and done thing!! Some of you may have already acquired this knowledge and bless you… life must be easier for you since garnering this tidbit.

I realized that every morning when I wake up I need to LET GO of the things that are still there that day. It’s not like the dismay that I had to release regarding ex-Hubby or the anger I felt over the betrayal of Abee… H’s cancer is there EVERY DAY. It burdens him and affects our life every day. I realized that I need to practice letting go more religiously.

I thought of the sentiment ‘Let go and let God’… I think… let God what? Is God going to heal H? is God going to introduce me to someone else to grow old with? Is God going to give H more strength and comfort TODAY so that he has a quality of life? I know there aren’t any answers to these questions and even the devout Christians that I admire and love will tell me that God has a plan for this – jeez… I even believe that the Universe (God?) will help us find value in this experience. And so, without specific answers to these questions, I realized today that I need to practice – as in doing over and over again – the act of ‘letting go’.

When I think about what I am letting go of – I think it may be a couple of things….

A specific outcome

I want H to live, to retire with me, to travel with me, and comfort me. I hear the word “I” a lot when I think about how this ‘should’ play out and I feel guilty about that, although I know it’s quite normal. I have no idea what H’s journey is – what karmic agreement he has with the Universe and/or what God’s plan is for him. I get caught up in the things that we talked about – the things that ‘feel’ good to me and I want our story to have a theme very different than the one that is playing.

The need to control

Because I want all of those ‘things’ – I believe I can help them come to fruition if only I was in control of his health…

I use the analogy of fixing H a salad for dinner if I am going to be home late. I get home – see the salad still in the fridge and freak out because he didn’t eat. My mind does this … I see the salad – it means H didn’t eat – which means he didn’t get the nutrients his immune system needs – which means his immune system won’t work – meaning cancer will grow – which means he will die – leaving me alone and unloved.

Yup… that’s what my mind does in a manner of nanoseconds. H doesn’t stand a chance because I see the salad and go right to I’ll be alone and unloved. (hear all that abandonment??) And so – in an effort to prevent all those negative feelings – I try and control for them. I make a salad with lots of nutrients and ask him to eat. Sometimes, he doesn’t want the salad, sometimes, he just doesn’t want to eat.

I realize that I am trying to control his health – and can’t. Just that simple… I need to let go of my need to control his health.

My feelings

I need to let go of my feelings. I tell people all the time not to judge their feelings – I wrote about it the other day and yet on my walk today I realized that I feel guilty about having such strong feelings because I’m not the one who has cancer. I’m not the one struggling physically although I readily acknowledge that it has a dramatic effect on both of us because we are partners.

The realization that it isn’t a one and done venture is most important here. The feelings I had yesterday when I saw him struggling to get up, I worked at letting those go yesterday. But the feelings I had today when he complained of pain that is unexplainable… I need to ‘let go’ again. I need to be better about remembering to ‘let go’ – to imagine myself as a funnel – to detach from the fear and observe it moving in… and out… away…

My fear

Death is a bizarre thing for those of us who keep living… one minute you’re there… the next – you’re not. Sometimes, we experience the absence of the person who died in a physical way, a physiological pain. I’ve heard about it from parents who lost a child and from children who lost a parent, from spouses who lost their lovers and I remember the feeling acutely… a minute that never ends – only lessens in intensity. I’ve realized that I am afraid of having that experience again. It’s not here yet and maybe it won’t come. Hopefully, it won’t come… because I remember how intense it was and I realize how hard I am resisting its return.

My new mantra… “I am letting go of my fear, my feelings, my control and the outcome and I will trust that the lessons here have value”.  If you know me… remind me of this!

 

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Fitting IN

Continued from Growing & Going Deeper

“The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place after watching them fall apart for so long.” ~unknown

Our work on the shop progressed with buckets of sweat and dozens of late nights. We worked side by side, each of us with our tool belts on, attempting to decipher who would be the chief over which project. He was better with the construction pieces and I headed up the painting and design elements. We realized that we worked together well – managing to iron out the kinks when they arose. Some of our first major disagreements happened over that project but for the most part we calmly and (most importantly) respectfully – broke them apart to understand where our communication had lapsed.

So many things were different for me in this relationship – we both came into it aware. We were self-aware, which I find to be a full one-third of the challenge when attempting to address problems. We both had a good idea of the baggage we had accumulated as a result of our prior relationships and the distorted ways of thinking that were generated in various parts of our childhoods. We were pretty typical in that there were some combination and degree of control issues, abandonment, trust, self-perception, self-esteem, self-worth… the same kinds of things that are common in adulthood throughout our culture – varying only by extent and juxtaposition. For the most part, we were conscious of how those elements played out as we interacted – how the defense mechanisms were triggered – and how we consequently reacted.

Knowledge is great but we both had developed some habits that were harder to break. I was quick to shut down – to withdraw and go silent. That had been the best way for me to cope for a lot of years but now, it wasn’t effective. When I used that technique, it spurred a different reaction in him. We had a lot to learn about this dance that we did – it was early in our relationship and our starry eyes often provided cover for the growth that was ready to sprout. It was a wonderful beginning and we both felt it.

My brother was getting married and the construction was not yet complete. We really needed to open for business when we returned from the Caribbean and so we handed the project over to an extremely reliable and trustworthy contractor (extended family member). The five of us (all three girls, Harlan, and me) boarded a plane and made our way with taxies, boats, and rental cars – eventually arriving at a three bedroom house we rented on the island of Vieques – just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It was one of the first times that Harlan and I openly shared a room within open sight of my daughters.

I had talked to them about it when I booked the house. They knew he stayed over from time to time and they knew we traveled together but it was still a bit awkward having a full-on relationship with a man who wasn’t their dad. They thought I was weird and gross for ‘wanting’ to sleep in the same bed as him but it was a turning point for us and the environment was supportive of the change. Our house was part of a larger complex but small enough to feel intimate and it sat right on the beach – overlooking the ocean with the British Virgin Islands off into the distance.

Vieques used to be occupied in large part, by the US military and so there is a major portion of the island that is still raw and undeveloped. It is accessible by jeep and there are some incredible, unspoiled beaches if you are willing to drive slowly and patiently across tough terrain to get to them. We rented a jeep and explored the island for a few days before other family members arrived. It was almost like a honeymoon – well, maybe not a honeymoon considering the girls were there and I still cooked dinner most nights… but it was a getaway.

Our time on the island felt like a family vacation. Harlan got along amazingly with the girls even though they were hesitant about his presence there from the beginning. He had a special way of being supportive when they needed it but allowing me to be the parent. He never tried to be that to them, recognizing that they had a father. He did want to offer confirmation or affirmation when it was called for – he went to swim meets and concerts, was open to talking with them but rarely… expressed criticism or attempted to discipline. It was as if he knew their limitations and demonstrated respect for them.

One afternoon, while we were all enjoying some beach time and the older girls, were getting surfing lessons from a couple of other teen boys – a great pick up play – I noticed some quick movements in the water and then saw Harlan holding Emily in his arms. It seems that she got hit by a wave and went under – apparently in a way or for long enough that it was cause for concern so he scooped her up; bringing her into the safety of strong arms and fresh air. Since then, it has been a ‘remember when you saved my life?’ moment memory.

This man protected my child. Any parent out there knows the depth of feeling… is it gratitude, appreciation, satisfaction, or acclaim?? When someone ‘cares’ for your child. When they put the needs of your child above their own – it’s as if they are on your team – automatically – partnering with you. I saw that in Harlan that week. He looked out for my girls in a way that allowed me to know that he had their best interest at heart. He had demonstrated that before – when he let them know that they had to be happy with my choice in him – but this week he cemented it for me. I was madly in love with this man.

We ducked out of festivities one afternoon, leaving the girls in the care of the family who had finally arrived in preparation for wedding festivities and drove out to one of the secluded beaches. We kept driving until we found one that was deserted. We wanted a bit of alone time. We didn’t have our suits or towels for that matter as we had been at a barbecue – a ‘get to know one another’ for both of the families that were there. We pulled up to this Caribbean cove of white sand and aquamarine water. There were clusters of palm trees in each direction and a soft breeze that seemed stimulated by the waves crashing on the beach. It was warm and the sun was intense.

We stood in the shade – on purpose – while we observed the incredible absence of human intervention and appreciated the exquisite beauty. Harlan stepped out onto the beach as I looked around to make sure that no other human being was in sight. I took a deep breath and stripped off the limited amount of clothing that I could tolerate in this island heat, leaving every stitch in a pile and ran across the sand, buck naked, right past Harlan as fast as I could into the safety and protection of the crystal blue water.

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.

In-Between Spaces

Continued from Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body Language

“Emotion always has its roots in the unconscious and manifests itself in the body.” – Irene Claremont de Castillejo

Continued from Brewing Storm

I learned how to distance myself from the marital discord in my life. I disconnected from its negative energy and allowed it to flow past me without acknowledging its presence. The seasons moved through the calendar without my awareness yet I remained active in the outside world. I ‘felt’ the changes. I noticed it but discarded the information as if it had no meaning. Once in a while, an incident would slip into my consciousness and I would say something to Hubby – “what’s going on?” I would ask. “What do you mean?” he would reply. I tried to explain the ‘off’ feeling that was so strong – something was tugging at my heart silently.

There was a growing battle inside of my heart. I knew something had changed and yet every time I asked a question, I hit a blank wall. “Nothing has changed.”, “What are you talking about?”, “Stop trying to stir something up.”, “Get out of your head.”… It didn’t really matter what the question was, the answer was the same. I felt lost and numb most of the time. I wasn’t living authentically and my body knew it.

One evening I was working late on the computer in our home office and I thought I saw something in the window to my left. It was dark and only light from my computer screen lit the room. I turned my head quickly to look through the window and a wave of nausea hit me like a baseball to the stomach. I bent over in my chair and caught my breath while I tried to keep the bile from projecting across my desk. As long as I held still, the nausea was at bay but each time I moved my head, the room swam and disappeared from focus. I got scared. I could feel my heart beating in my chest and I knew that I didn’t want to be alone. I made it upstairs to wake Hubby but only after stumbling through the hall like a pinball across plastic bumpers. I wasn’t hurting myself but I couldn’t walk a straight line. I sat on the edge of the bed after waking him trying to describe the sensation I had of being suspended in a vat of thick oil. I knew I needed to be upright but I couldn’t seem to keep my orientation there. We opted on the side of caution after thirty or so minutes and went to the emergency room.

We had to wake our neighbor so that someone would be in the house with the kids and she, being the best’est kind of friend – was there right away. By sometime in the middle of the night, I was diagnosed with Labyrinthitis – a virus or bacterial infection that affects the vestibular nerve in the inner ear. I was told not to drive for up to three weeks. Wait, What? Does this man know my life? Is he kidding? Ha!…  He didn’t know that my right hand was away at college and my other right hand had to work all day – especially if I couldn’t! The vertigo didn’t go away. Any time I moved my head, actually – my eyes – my whole body would sway in a direction that my head didn’t want to go. It was often as if one part of me was pulling the other part of me around in circles. Just being in the passenger seat was difficult if I tried to look ahead on the road or out of the windshield at all. I mostly kept my eyes locked on the dashboard and concentrated on the dust there.

Twin two – Emma and her two darling little ones came to my rescue as they had when I had my hysterectomy and stayed with me for a week so that I had help with driving. Not only couldn’t I get to work and back but the girls were incredibly active in scouts, swim team, and friendships that kept me on the road as much as a traditional ‘soccer mom’. There was always someone who needed to be there by 6 while another one had to be picked up here at 5:45 and their locations were ten miles apart… or something like that. It was manageable IF one could just get in a car and travel the roads for an hour and a half a day. It was one of the many reasons that I was trying to get away from the office more – It seemed the older the girls got, the more they needed me at home. With another sister in town, it was that much more fun, at least for us girls. Hubby was way outnumbered. One of the events that I had to miss was a concert that Hubby and I had tickets for. He was a huge fan of one of the old Rock bands that were making their rounds in smaller local venues so he was unwilling to miss it when they came to town. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for him to buy tickets for each of the events if they were within a drivable distance. This night, mom stayed with me so that Emma and Abee could go too.

The twins arrived dressed in jeans and button down shirts, humming Rock & Roll favorites they had been listening to all afternoon. I will never forget the images as Hubby entered the room to greet them and he was also wearing jeans and a tucked in black button down shirt that appeared to match Abee’s black shirt perfectly. It was surreal and awkward and weird and I had a feeling it wasn’t a mistake or a coincidence. As I recall, there wasn’t time for conversation and truly, I was at a loss for words. The three of them left the house chatting excitedly and as I watched them climb into Hubby’s truck, something in my body shivered as if a universal vibration had just split or severed or breached.

Although my dizziness got better, my body was still experiencing indications that something was wrong. My heart would race uncontrollably for no apparent reason. I would frequently find it difficult to take a deep breath. I would get light-headed and feel the need to sit down. After all of the medical issues that mom and SD Frank had over the years, I basically hated going to doctors. It seemed as if there was always bad news and I didn’t realize it then, but I had become an ‘avoider’. My life was busy and I had no time for bad news or a slew of tests. I toughed it out each time that I would experience these body functions that I didn’t understand and dismissed them like most of the other things that I simply didn’t want to think about.

The holidays were approaching and I had things to do.

Dreams Come True

“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.”  – Roman Payne

I’ve never had closure over that photo. The explanation just did not set into my sense of reasoning. It may have been my growing sense of insecurity, or my fear that I wasn’t ‘enough’ for this man I married, or jealousy of his ability to have such extraordinary alone time. My only option was to ‘drop it’ and yet somehow it got tucked into that old mental file of mine, the Yuck file that had been created just a few years back.

We were outgrowing our inner city townhome. We were facing the reality of educating three children with a private education due to the impotence of the local public school system. Additionally, the neighborhood in which we lived was changing; becoming a less desirable location for raising a family. We began house hunting. We looked at house after house, week after week and the discouragement began to build. Simultaneously, we had our home listed for sale at a price far below our cost and offers were not flowing in.

One evening we were pouring over a real estate magazine (before the internet, we had to look in newspapers and weekly magazines) and saw a four-bedroom home on an acre of land in our price range. It looked amazing but we didn’t know anything about the location as it was in a neighboring state. We agreed to drive out and investigate. Thirty minutes over the state line we found ourselves in the country where curvy roads wound around gently sloping landscapes dotted with small communities in a suburban fashion. It was so pretty. We eventually found the house from the magazine and immediately became captivated by its position on an acre of hundred-year-old oak trees. It looked small from the outside but since it was empty, we stole views of the inside from each window. We walked around the circumference of the building, creating an image of the layout in our minds, based on the visual information we were gathering. It seemed perfect! We made an offer that was accepted and relented on trying to salvage money from our townhome and sold it for a low number. We were scheduled to move Labor Day weekend, in time for Francis to start a new school at the beginning of the year.

Our new house was perfect and there was so. much. room. Francis started 7th grade and we found a preschool for 3 & 4 year old’s that Sara could attend that fall. Our settlement date wasn’t actually scheduled until mid-September but the owners allowed us to ‘rent back’ from them for two weeks so the kids could enroll in school. It was a dream come true for me. We had a house in the country (on a cul-de-sac in a tiny neighborhood) and children in the rooms. I walked from room to room, relishing in the fact that there was space for all of us, playroom, bathrooms, laundry, kitchen and dining rooms… I saw us here. I imagined our first Christmas tree, birthday parties, and social events. I was filled with excitement for everything to come. My dream of love and family had come true. It wasn’t perfect but it was mine and I allowed myself to be happy.

I’ve been remiss in omitting memories of a very important friendship that I developed shortly after marrying Hubby. Michele was the mom of another boy who was a classmate with Francis and very graciously agreed to keep him while Hubby and I honeymooned in Spain. Afterward, we formed a great bond, forged on our sons, our time as single mothers, and our new relationships with men who loved – or at least accepted our children. Shortly after I married Hubby, she also remarried. When I discovered I was preggo with Erin, she announced she was also expecting; our due dates were a week apart. She delivered 6 weeks early but now we each had three children – two of whom where the same age – and our husbands, although NOT the same age, had the same birthday. It seemed destined for us to be allies. We talked almost every day. In many ways she was my barometer of normal. She was clearly my sounding board and allowed me to vent on any subject at any time. I’m not sure I would have survived the life I lived without her.

In any regard, our move happened with the whole of Hubby’s family as helpers. They showed up ‘en mass’ to assist in unpacking and to satisfy their curiosity about our new digs. It was such a great home for family, for big families to gather. The house stood on an entire acre, tucked in at 1:00 on a circle at the end of a small street. There were only six neighbors and we didn’t meet them all at once, rather one at a time although no one was really similar to us in age or station. No matter, it was such a far cry from the crowded, noisy, and unsettled part of the city we came from that the absence of sound was its own music to our ears.

When the contract to the house was accepted, Hubby darted to the home improvement store and purchased a chain saw. It was a boy toy by any definition but in fact, it was logical for the acre of trees that we had acquired. The day his family arrived seemed to be a good day to demonstrate that toy even though we didn’t exactly OWN the house (or the trees) quite yet. There was one – out by the sandbox – that was overshadowed by larger trees, unable to thrive in its location and sure to be a problem as time went by and so – they (Hubby and the brothers) decided that tree needed to be removed.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Hubby’s tree removal knowledge, as far as I knew it was extremely limited. There were no ladders, no ropes, no professionals. I corralled all the women and children into the house for prosperity sake as the men fired up the chain saw and pumped their biceps. The testosterone level was almost measurable as the sound of the saw meeting the tree permeated the house in a noticeable tone. And then… the sound changed. In less time than it took my heart to engage a single beat there was an audible “oh shit” and a tree came crashing over the roof to expose its crown against the window of our new dining room. Suddenly, we noticed an absence of sound. I ran outside to see this ‘little’ tree (about 6 inches in diameter and 25 feet tall) laying across the roof of our new home. Nothing appeared broken or significantly damaged thankfully. My heart was sitting in my throat and something was trying to pass through my vocal chords but it wouldn’t move. I wanted to laugh and part of me was attempting to cry – everything was fine but it scared me. It took some time for me to understand that I was reacting to the ‘accidental’ nature of this event. That something dangerous was happening and the outcome could have been disastrous. It was a chain saw and a little tree but it was a big deal for me. I didn’t communicate this message, instead I was bitchy about doing something irresponsibly before we actually owned the property – about taking unnecessary risks.

It was a trigger I didn’t realize I had.