After Divorce: The Rule of Three

The period after divorce is chaotic as demands fight for attention and everything seems to require a decision and an action. It’s overwhelming with its ability to impact every single facet of your life. And it’s confusing as you struggle to make the right decisions when your emotions are smothering your abilities to think rationally.

So here’s something simple. Straightforward. And yet still helpful.

I call it the rule of three.

Rule 1 – Find Something to Release

In the last few years of my first marriage, I made extra money tutoring. I spent up to 15 hours a week teaching math after my day job of teaching math. Accepting the jobs had become habit. And then the marriage ended suddenly and I had to cancel the tutoring jobs that I had while I worked to find my equilibrium.

In those weeks, I realized that tutoring was something that I no longer wanted to do. In addition to becoming a habit, it had become a burden. A drain on my energy and attitude. And so I let it go. And I immediately felt a little better.

Divorce is an opportunity to examine what is in your life and to discard that which no longer serves you. Find one thing that you’re doing out of habit, out of concern for how others see you or because you feel like you “should” do it. And then release it.

Rule 2 – Find Something to Reintroduce

My ex hated the smell of pancake syrup and bubble gum. And so out of respect for him, I eliminated these foods (okay, food-like compounds) from my diet.

After he left, I found that frozen waffles were one of the few foods that I could choke down. With plenty of syrup, of course. And I enthusiastically chewed the pinkest, fruitiest bubble gum within the confines of the car.

Identify something that you have let go of or allowed to slide from your life that you used to enjoy. What have you eliminated because of time, responsibilities or because of your ex? Find it and then reintroduce it.

Rule 3 – Find Something New to Try

I have always been a doer. I struggle with slowing down and simply being. A few months after my marriage ended, I decided to challenge the view I had of myself and I booked a three night meditation and yoga retreat. To add to the test, I left all of my books – my preferred method of escape – behind.

It was a difficult few days, but it was also a transformative and incredibly powerful experience. I met a fear head-on, shook its hand and discovered that it wasn’t so bad after all.

Reflect on those things that you have told yourself that you “can’t do” or “won’t do.” And then pick one and try it.

 

So that’s it, the rule of three –

One to free in order to create space,

One to bring back to help you reconnect to self

And one to investigate to teach you to be curious rather than afraid.

 

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When Was the Last Time You Did Something That Scares You?

“Try it, maybe you’ll like it,” a parental figure probably pronounced to you at the dinner table some time during your youth.

Your young brain, fueled by the anticipation of disgust, immediately kicked up reasons to avoid the offending food.

Maybe you claimed to have tried it and disliked it. Perhaps you asserted that it is similar to something else you dislike and so, by extension, you obviously wouldn’t have liked that either. Regardless, the internal narrative is woven around the idea that you do not like that food.

Some parents refuse to back down and a battle of wills ensues, a parent’s conviction butting up against a child’s expectations. The longer the battle continues, the firmer the conviction becomes. And even if the parent wins at the dinner table, the expectations of disgust usually make the assumed aversion a reality (at least as far as the child is willing to admit!).

And the chosen narrative is reinforced.

Other caregivers step back, refraining from pushing their child. The more timid children are content to stay within their comfort zones. To stay safely tucked within their beliefs. They enter adulthood having never truly tried that particular food, yet firm in their conviction that it is not for them.

The chosen narrative is reinforced.

Other youngsters are more adventurous and eventually volunteer to try the previously offered food at some point. Perhaps, upon the sampling, they decide that they don’t like the selection. But this time, it’s based on experience rather than expectations. And strangely, even though they don’t prefer the item, it has lost it’s power. It no longer requires so much energy to avoid.

The narrative has been adjusted.

And sometimes, the tentative taste results in a surprise appreciation and what was once avoided now becomes sought after or at least tolerated. The once-enemy has been reduced to simply another item on the menu.

And the narrative has been adjusted.

_____

As adults, we rarely react so strongly to strongly to offered foods and hopefully we avoid power struggles about what we choose to eat. But we still react in this same childish way when it comes to those things that we fear.

Think of the amount of emotional and physical energy you have expended over your lifetime simply to avoid what scares you. Consider the excuses your brain kicks up about why that is something that you “can’t” do. Reflect on how your fear has become woven into the tapestry of your being, becoming part of how you see yourself.

The only way to change the narrative surrounding your fears is to face them. Perhaps you find that it really is something that continues to cause you undo distress or maybe, just maybe, you discover that it really isn’t that big of a deal after all. But regardless, once it is faced, it loses the power that avoidance gives it because our imaginations almost always make the anticipation worse that the actuality.

 

So, when was the last time you did something that scares you?

When was the last time you refused to expend your energy on avoidance and instead decided to invest it in achievement?

When was the last time you challenged your assumptions about yourself and allowed for an opportunity to refine your internal narrative?

Just try it. Maybe you’ll like it.

 

What To Do When You’re “Over It” But It Isn’t Over

“Enough is enough!” my client exclaimed, her frustration and determination both succinctly contained in those words.

It’s a reaction I think we can all relate to. Sometimes life feels like we’re Indiana Jones trapped in that underground room with the walls relentlessly pressing in. At first, we’re responsive. Reactive. We press forward using our hope like a torch lighting the way.

But sometimes life keeps pushing back. And the situation, far from being temporary, begins to feel endless. Even hopeless.

We get tired. Disappointment and aggravation rise as spirits fall. Our mind and body screams for us to tap out, but life isn’t listening.

So what can we do when we’re “over it,” but’s not yet over?

Be Mindful of Your Mindset

When we focus on the end, we neglect to be in the present.

When we label something as “bad,” we have tendency to overlook the good. Whatever you nurture, grows.

When we assign happiness and success to external things, we neglect to make the internal changes needed to do better once the external circumstances change.

Take time to recognize, remember and be grateful for the beautiful moments this period has had to offer. And think about how you can cultivate those in the months or years to come.

Be present and mindful in these ongoing moments. Practice letting go of expectations and nurturing acceptance.

Refrain from assigning any magical powers to a new situation. If you want different, be different.

Don’t Be a Casualty of a Victim Mindset

When life has you between an elephant and asphalt, it’s easy to throw a pity party and engage in the “why me!” wails. A victimhood mindset is tantalizing. It offers excuses and a respite from responsibility. It often feels good and frequently comes with a generous helping of sympathy and pity.

Yet ultimately, the siren song of victimhood isn’t worth the tradeoff. You’re allowing yourself to be kept in a position of helplessness. Those drawn to you may have a need to be needed and so they have a motivation to keep you needy.  And you can become dependent upon the ministrations of others, forced to constantly up the victim’s cry to maintain support.

Appropriate Breaks

When we’re tired, everything feels overwhelming. Your situation may be ongoing, but that doesn’t mean that you have to allow it mental space 24 hours a day. Sometimes when we have this BIG thing in our lives, we feel like we have to honor it with our constant attentions.

What might it look like it if you simply decide to change the channel for a time? It probably won’t make this thing end any sooner, but it probably won’t make it any worse either. Be wary of falling into the trap of waiting to live, of waiting to happy, until it’s over.

This situation may be a big part of your life right now, but it’s not your whole life.

Unearth Your Agency

Part of your frustration comes from feeling like you have no control. And there probably is quite a bit going on that you cannot change.

But there are some things you can.

Become your own detective, approach with curiosity and be wary of accepting ideas too readily as facts. What aspects of your situation – or more likely, your response to the circumstances, can you control?

Uncover those areas where you have agency and take responsibility for altering those and navigating them towards the direction you’re going.

Mark the Incremental Improvements

If you ran a marathon and only noted the finish line, the race would feel endless and your progress would seem insignificant. If, however, you were aware of every passing mile marker, your headway towards the goal would be readily apparent.

Life is no different. Don’t simply wait for the current circumstances to be over, make an effort to notice the intermediate accomplishments and improvements, no matter how small. No celebration is too big.

 

 

Funnel Your Frustrations

Being “over it” is a compilation of exhaustion and frustration. Use the latter to fuel you out of the former. That anger has energy that can put to good use. Find somewhere to focus your attention and your efforts that is unrelated to your current situation.

Plant a garden. Restore your deck. Replace your brakes. Sign up for yoga teacher training. Start a book club. Initiate a neighborhood walking club. Train a puppy. Master coding. Or calculus. Or a new language.

The “what” matters little. It’s the effort and attention that will help to lift you from your annoyance and perception of being stuck.

One day, that thing that you’re wanting to end, will.

And in the meantime, get busy living.

 

 

 

Forget the Casserole! What People in Crisis REALLY Need

When bad things happen to good people, the calvary arrives soon after with food and flowers. Level surfaces soon fill with cards expressing condolences and well wishes. Money is collected to help with both normal and unexpected expenses. Friends and family all want to help and being unable to change the circumstances, they respond with whatever loving gestures they can.

At first, the attention is overwhelming. The outpouring of affection comforting. But eventually, the letters stop arriving. The casseroles are consumed and their dishes returned. The dried flowers have been relegated to the bin. The calls to check in are fewer and further between and when they do occur, their is an undertone of impatience that the crisis wasn’t over once the initial offerings faded.

And yet the need is still there.

The loved ones still care, but they’re busy with their own lives. Consumed with their own problems. And perhaps most of all, they find it difficult and uncomfortable to sit for any extent of time with the harsh realities that life can bring. It’s easier to simply pretend it isn’t there.

Our culture is uncomfortable with grief. With pain. With anger that rises unprovoked. We’re expected to be gracious at the onslaught and then to suffer in silence so as to avoid the discomfort of those around us.

Speaking Out: Why Hiding Your Struggles Only Makes Them Worse

The initial outpouring of support is needed. It’s the transport when you cannot manage any movements unassisted. But it’s rarely enough.

Both because grieving does not speak calendar and because it’s a journey that often requires assistance.

Which is why I propose another way to support those going through crisis – a contribution to a well-being and mental health fund.

These monies would be earmarked towards services and modalities that help support mental health and healing – therapy, medications, retreats, specialized trauma care, mind-body practices  – whatever is deemed applicable and helpful by the recipient.

The benefits are multifold. First, it helps to normalize the idea that attention towards mental health is important and should carry no more stigma than care towards the physical body. It allows the professionals to pick up where the first responders left off, helping the person move through their grief and pain. Contributions to a fund signify that grief is a process, not an event. It allows that it will be ongoing for some time. And most practically, most insurance plans only address mental health needs at a minimum and the fund can help to make up the difference. A mental health fund is a gift that truly can keep on giving because it will help people regain their lives after crisis.

I’d love to see an app or website designed and marketed around this idea. More of a Please Comfort Me instead of a Please Fund Me. Any programming-minded takers?

 

The Power of “Me Too”

I recently responded to a woman over at Divorce Force. She has just discovered that for 30 of the 34 years she spent with her husband, he had another family. Her post is brief, the details sparse. But I’m confident that one of the many overwhelming emotions she is feeling right now is that of being alone in this experience.

I’m confident because I remember feeling the same. Convinced that there was nobody else who could possibly relate to the shock of sudden abandonment and the crazy making aspects of divorcing someone who made his own reality.

And then I found some message boards. A few articles. A book. And those words all whispered, “Me too.”

“My husband left me a note on the counter and I never heard from him again.”

“My wife simply didn’t come home from work. I found out later that she moved in with her boyfriend that same day.”

“My ex husband  fabricated all of the documents that were submitted to the courts. It’s all lies.”

“My ex wife falsely accused me of being abusive. Now the judge looks at me like I’m the bad one.”

As I read these entries, I felt sorry for those that had endured. And I also felt some relief. Some companionship. Some sense that I had found my tribe.

All because of the power of “me too.”

“Me too” doesn’t try to compete for the greatest pain trophy. It doesn’t try upstage the circumstances or tell a better story. It doesn’t engage in a game of tug of war, attempting to direct all of the energy to one side. “Me too” doesn’t claim to understand all of what another is feeling or to insinuate that the paths are the same.

What “me too” does is tell you that you’re alone in your experience. That others have been in a similar place and can empathize with how you are feeling. “Me too” provides hope as you learn that others who are doing okay now were once not okay. When you hear the words, “me too,” you know you have a compassionate and nonjudgemental ear where you can feel safe and understood.

If you’re feeling alone, seek your tribe and find peace among those who whisper, “me too.” And once you’ve been there and through the other side, be brave enough to remember your own struggles, share your own “me too” and then just be there and listen.

 

 

Guest Post: The Healing Gift of a Dog’s Love

by Meagan Hanley

Depression is a very real and debilitating illness. It can come and go, reappearing out of the blue, even when the sun is out and birds are chirping. The condition can be genetic, or situational, or both. For me, it was the culmination of too many stressors that came all at once knocking me off my feet. It was like I was fighting a tsunami mentally.

In 2015 my husband left me. One month later my epileptic dog, Buddy, passed away. I had to put him down at 3 AM by myself mid seizure because my emotionally incompetent husband said it was just ‘too hard to handle’. Around that same month, my alcoholic father relapsed and my mother announced her decision to undergo dangerous brain surgery for her advanced Parkinson’s disease. My husband and I sold our home and I had to find a rental. I left my job to start another that would allow me to afford the steep Boston rent as a newly single woman.

It was all too much. The three long months after Buddy passed away and I was ‘dog-less’, were spent in a zombie like state. Forcing myself to be social, I would go out to dinner with friends, only to cry my eyes out in public. I needed something or someone to anchor me or I would soon unravel in a very dangerous way. My doctor put me on medicine. It didn’t work. Some days I didn’t get out of bed, or go to work; the lights stayed off. Only a few friends checked in on me. The ones who had their lives intact, with families, were just too busy.

That September, I attended an adoption event for Last Hope K9 rescue. I knew I needed to experience the unconditional love of a dog, once again. After all, it was my first dog, Buddy, who kept me alive through my divorce when I wanted to give up on life. I decided to go check out a black lab named Lucky, who I spotted on the website. As fate would have it, I arrived at the event early, and Lucky’s foster mom was running late. So, I sat down on the lawn next to a little beagle mix named Acer. He started licking my face, and actually hugged me, wrapping his paws around my shoulders. This little 20 lb fur ball, grasped on to me so tightly and wouldn’t let go. Not in an aggressive way, but a way that meant we should belong to each other. Lucky was not the one for me.

I eagerly signed the adoption papers for Acer, now known as ‘ACE’. I wanted to sign up for a lifetime worth of his little hugs, even if only in dog years. It is now 2 and a half years later, and a dog, has once again, shown me the incredible healing benefits to caring for an animal.

When I open my eyes each morning, I am greeted by a happy tail whipping back and forth and a sloppy kiss on my forehead. I feel as though I have a reason to wake up. If my eyes did not open, his tail may not wag. He may not be so happy, and that is reason enough for me to keep going. He forces me to get outside on the days where I feel sad or have flash backs of some events from my past. He doesn’t care that I have gained weight. He treats me like a celebrity. After a long day at work, he meets me at the door with excitement, with his little wiggle butt. When a not so nice guy dumped me via text, Ace made the best stand in New Year’s Eve date ever. I didn’t even have to do my makeup. So for the people who wonder why I am ‘so dog obsessed’, or to those who simply don’t understand why my dog will always come first, I will tell you that if you love me, you should love my dog, because, it is due to his love, that I am still breathing.

My first dog Buddy, put my heart back together when the love of my life broke it. And my second dog, Ace, well…he’s my partner on this new journey, and he lets me be myself each step of the way. Adopt a rescue dog, they may just save your life.

Sometimes Life is Just Hard

“But yesterday was so normal,” the brain kicks up in response to the news.

Turning away from the harsh reality of today.

The chest feels heavy, each breath straining against the bindings of grief. The gut is hollowed. Your body a brittle shell with the fleshy insides scooped out. You feel muted. Distant. A mere imitation of the person you were just yesterday.

The brain dances around the truth like a butterfly in the breeze, landing on the facts for only a moment before taking flight again.

Providing logical arguments that the reality is not real and when it seems inevitably so, offering bargains to alter its course. Because there must be some way to change these unbearable facts. 

The whole terrible truth is massive and impossible to fathom, so the brain instead fixates on the inconsequential details. Looking for purpose and seeking a sense of control in a world gone mad.

There are those moments when you forget and a sight, a sound, a smell leads to an impossible expectation. That when dashed, makes the viscera plummet all over again.

Images are seared into your mind, branding you with the sweet pain of burned memory. Replaying like a track on repeat, only the song is a reminder of what you have lost.

The details of daily life, so important yesterday, have faded into obscurity. Have become meaningless. Because in the agony of today, nothing else matters.

Sometimes, we can choose to view the silver linings. And sometimes, there is no sense, no gain and no value to be found.

And in those moments when life is just hard, all we can do is reach out to those around us, be grateful for what we’ve had and learn how to move forward through the pain.

Trusting that hard will become easier in time.

 

Dumping Dysfunction

Raise your hand if you’ve ever dated (or married) someone that now makes you shake your head in disbelief.

Don’t be shy. You’re not alone.

Now, take an honest look back at yourself in that relationship. Were you in a healthy place? In full working order?

Probably not.

When it comes to relationships, we tend to attract and be attracted to people that are operating at a similar level of awareness and functionality as we are.

Those who are overly nice and have difficulty maintaining boundaries find partners who are overly needy or demanding.

The one that seeks to control and fix finds the one who cannot manage alone.

Those that are fearful to fully engage in life meet up with others who are content to live at half speed.

People that struggle with addiction dovetail nicely with the ones who are happy to enable.

The one that feels unlovable will end up with the one that likes to abuse.

And individuals who are afraid of being alone will settle with those who don’t have the skills needed to sustain a relationship.

Like attracts like in the particular magnetism of relationships. Patterns of dysfunction fitting together just so in a way that can hide the maladaptive patterns of one by folding into the other.

And sometimes one person grows and in doing so, grows out of the person they were once fitted with. The relationship becoming a too-tight sweater that constricts instead of hugs. Without their corresponding pattern of dysfunction to hide beneath, the too-sharp edges of the slower growing partner begin to rub and your tolerance begins to wear thin.

Maybe they will be motivated by your growth, your changes prompting alterations in their own habits and patterns. Perhaps your shift is enough and you are able to learn a new way to operate that improves the overall dynamic.

Or possibly you’re in the difficult position of choosing between being limited and letting go.

Sometimes to move forward, you have to begin by dumping the dysfunction.

And then doing the work to become what you want to attract.

Turning Microaggressions Into Microappreciations

I hear more and more about microaggressions – slight, often unintended discriminatory comments or behaviors directed towards some individual or group. Microaggressions are subtle and often reveal a subconscious bias.

It’s easy to discount microaggressions. I admit it, I’ve dismissed them as simply one more area that the sensitive “snowflakes” are complaining about. But then I realize that part of why I dismiss it is because of my own discomfort with my own subconscious bias. And when I see the compounding effects that microaggressions can have on anyone – not just the sensitive, “you aren’t allowed to hurt my feelings or offend me” types – I have to admit that they are real and their effects can be considerable.

None of us are immune to being the recipient of microaggression and, perhaps even more disturbing, none of us are immune to committing microaggressions. We all identify with certain groups and view those outside its parameters as “others.” We all hold bias, whether conscious or subconscious, formed from experience, ignorance or transmitted belief. And we all can act in such a way that we are communicating our bias and making others feel badly.

So how can you stop your own acts of microaggression?

In order to recognize your own bias, you have to first accept that you have bias. No human is completely impartial. No person is immune to cognitive shortcuts and assumptions that sway perception and interpretation.

Once bias is accepted, the next step is to recognize it in the moment. And while it’s easy to see in others, it’s much more difficult to observe in ourselves. It all comes down to mindfulness. To being present in the moment. To being aware of your words and your actions and also being observant of their effects.

Let go of your impulse to dismiss it as “nothing” and resist any defensiveness that arises. Aim to use the technique of noting, “Oh, I just gripped my purse tighter when that man walked by and I didn’t do it when the previous people walked by.” Once noted, explore what subconscious belief might lie beneath that action and identify the antecedent (the “cause” or preceding situation) that led to that response.

Using mindfulness again, practice recognizing the antecedent and halting your subconscious biased response before it occurs.

Now here’s the twist. Once recognized, instead of simply stopping one behavior, aim to replace it with another – an intentional act of microappreciation.

So what is microappreciation?

A slight, intentional awareness, recognition and acknowledgement of unity and value.

Whereas microaggression focuses on what we fear, microappreciation centers on what we see.

Microaggression listens to the premonitions of “what if.” Microappreciation abides by the curiosity of “why not?”

Microaggression jumps to conclusions. Microappreciation leaps to awareness.

Microaggression is based on judgments. Microappreciation is centered on observation.

Microaggression stems from bias. Microappreciation comes from openness.

Microaggression assumes a threat. Microappreciation believes in possibility. 

Both are small stones entering into life’s pond, ripples spreading out from their impact.

Let your pebble be one of gratitude.

Controlling Your Divorce

Part of what makes divorce so difficult is that so much of what is happening around you – and to you – is completely out of your control. It’s scary. It’s crazy-making. It’s infuriating.

And it also doesn’t have to be so bad. Learn how you can control your divorce.