How to Rewrite Your Divorce Story

When divorce happens, it can leave you feeling like a failure. Powerless and adrift in your life. It’s easy to internalize these feelings, to recite them to yourself as if they were gospel.

But what might happen if you change your story? Take back your power?

And rewrite your divorce?

Learn the steps you need to take to release your divorce find your voice again.

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I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own

In all of the pain after my ex husband left, there is one pain that stands out as more acute than the rest. After being arrested for bigamy and bailing out of jail, my ex decided to overdose on sleeping pills. It appeared to be a sincere suicide attempt, but he made sure to cover his bases in case he survived.

He composed and emailed a suicide letter to both his new wife and to my mom. I read that email while sitting outside the DA’s office waiting to meet the victim advocate. He was recovering in the ICU.

I felt reality slipping away as I processed the words that distorted the world I knew. In the letter, he speaks of me being “impossible to live with” and “negative.” He talks about my irresponsible spending habits and how I “just had to have my way” and he “couldn’t tell me no.”  Our last trip together – that he initiated, planned and executed – was recast as my demand for a vacation. He spoke of my insistence on building a deck when he counseled that we couldn’t afford it. He tells my mom that she “would love [the other wife]” and that he hopes they get to meet.

His words hit like a punch to an unguarded gut. I spent hours dissecting them, talking them over with each of my parents in turn. I knew they weren’t true but they still caused me to doubt. I feared that others (including my mom) might think his words were genuine. It felt like a vicious, spiteful attack on my character. And it wasn’t even factual.

He was rejecting reality and substituting his own.

He was gaslighting – using deception and manipulation to cast himself as the sane and balanced one and to make me look unstable and vile.

And it wasn’t his first time.

He was a master at creating and convincing others of his own reality. And, as trusting of him as I was, I was easy to convince. When you’re being gaslighted and you are unaware of the sleight of mind tricks being applied, you feel crazy as you begin to doubt your own perceptions and conclusions. It’s disorienting as the friction between what you see and you’re told you see don’t quite line up, almost like the view through 3D glasses when you turn away from the screen.

For months, I hated that letter. Every reading caused me to feel ill, like I’d swallowed something that needed to be purged. I shared it only with my parents and the close friend I lived with that year, finding comfort in their assurances that his words were mere deflection and trickery.

But still I wondered.

You see, he had trained me well. I still struggled not to believe his words over my own memories.

I struggled, that is, until I rejected his reality and found my own.

I picked apart each of his claims and refuted them one by one with physical evidence:

I spend too much? Then why do I read library books while he spent over a hundred dollars a month on Kindle downloads as evidenced by the checking account registry. And why do I drive the old, paid for car (that I still have!) while he insisted on buying a new one that came complete with a $500 monthly payment. I made a list of his possessions vs mine. It wasn’t even a contest.

I demanded the vacation? I unearthed an email sent to my work address where he proposed the cruise and described its details.

I insisted upon the deck? I found a trail of emails that covered everything from the summer school income I earned being used to pay for the costs to his enthusiastic sharing of his deck designs.

As for me being difficult and negative, that was harder to disprove. But the fact that I had many friends offer to take me in that year told a different story. I bolstered their offers with the hundreds of notes I had received from students over the years, praising my passion and positivity.

And as for my mom wanting to meet the other wife? Well, that was just plain funny.

Eventually, the letter lost its sting as I saw it for what it really was – an attempt to save his image by destroying mine. I wavered over whether to include the letter in the book. I was afraid I would be seen as the hateful woman he described. I decided to include it, even at the risk of his words being believed by people who did not know me. I knew that many of the readers would relate to being controlled by lies and I wanted to share a rare physical manifestation of gaslighting. Because the most painful part of gaslighting and what makes it so effective is that the evidence usually disappears like smoke in the wind, leaving you with only doubts and questions.

Gaslighting is a subtle yet relentless abuse. It’s one person using power and manipulation to control another. The damage is hidden and persistent, the worm of uncertainty taking up residence and calling everything into question. The effects linger as memories collide with new understanding, the deceptions fighting for dominance over the truth.

Gaslighting is often paired with physical abuse or addiction, the repainting of reality used to keep the partner calm and in place. It is a favored tool of narcissists and sociopaths. Those that are adept at its use tend to be charismatic and intelligent, lending a believability to their assertions. It is deliberate and cruel and can be immensely damaging.

Recovering from gaslighting takes time. Even recognizing that you were gaslighted takes time.

No one should have the power to create your reality other than you.

And your trust in another should never be greater than your trust in yourself.

Gaslighting thrives on doubt.

Starve it by believing in yourself.

Why I Refuse to Call My Husband a Narcissist

Character Assassination

Covert Abuse

So the Wind Blows

The storm pummeling Atlanta today has been described already as “historic.” I’m not sure if that will be the case but the howling wind and pelting ice outside my window certainly sound as though they are harbingers of the winter apocalypse.

I keep having flashbacks to the only other major ice storm I’ve been through. It was in 2000, 6 months after I’d moved to Atlanta and just over a month after I got married. My husband had just had a vasectomy the day before the storm hit. At least he was able to enjoy his Playstation and ice his wound for a day before we lost power! We ended up spending 3 days without power in an all-electric 3rd floor apartment without a working fireplace. We played board games in the living room during the day and slept (with the dog and cat) in the only interior room – the bathroom. I remember clearly the gunshot cracks of the 80 foot tall pine trees as they snapped one by one under the weight of the ice. Within two days, the surrounding woods looked as though a picky tornado had thinned them.

So here I am again, a newlywed awaiting the ice storm. I’m glad that this time I have lower floors to occupy, gas water heater and a working fireplace with plenty of wood ready to go. Oh, and a husband who didn’t just have surgery:) One way I’m less prepared? Books. I don’t have many really ones anymore and Kindle batteries don’t last forever. I may end up reading the backs of everything in the pantry:)

I couldn’t sleep last night. I do that when I’m concerned about something. I don’t know why. It’s not as if I can keep the trees standing simply by being awake. I gave up a little while ago and decided to enjoy coffee and a real breakfast, not knowing what the future may hold (have a feeling it may be a diet of protein bars and faked coffee – thank goodness for camping supplies).

Since I may be out of commission for a while, I pulled three pieces from the vault for you. See if any of them tickle your fancy.

While you’re reading, I’m going to enjoy a hot bath and a good (non-Kindle) book and pretend that the creaking trees are the masts of wooden boat sailing the Caribbean.

Pardon Me, Ego. I Need to Get Through

Ego:

the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. (from dictionary.com)
Ever since we first begin to see ourselves as separate, sentient beings in childhood, our egos define how we interpret the world around us.  That sense of self may actually be holding you back from healing from your divorce.  Do you see yourself in any of the following patterns?
It’s All About Me
When I first realized the extent of my husband’s betrayals, I kept asking, “How could he do this to me? To the one he was supposed to love?”  I saw his actions directed towards me as an arrow towards a target.  I assumed he was thinking about me as he made these decisions.  He lied to me.  He cheated on me.  He stole from me. That pattern kept me fully anchored in a victim state, the recipient of all the pain and deceptions.
Slowly, I realized that it wasn’t all about me.  He lied and cheated and stole, yes.  But he did those things because of whatever demons had him in their grasp.  He didn’t do those things because of me.  He most likely wasn’t even thinking of me while they occurred.  He did them and I was in the way.
I shifted my thinking. When he hurt me, he was acting to protect his own sense of self rather than trying to wound mine.  I began to let the anger go.
It is not easy to remove the ego from interpreting the actions of one so intimate to you. Try looking at the situation with an open mind, letting go of your own ego, and see how your perspective shifts.

Of Teddy Bears and Security Systems

For most of my married life, I felt secure. I had a husband that I trusted. I owned a home and had been at the same job for many years. I felt comfortable in my life; I trusted that change, if desired, would come from intention. It was predictable and I liked that. If you had asked me where I would have been five years down the road, I would have answered without hesitation.

That feeling of security and blind trust is what allowed me to become complacent. Too comfortable. I was petrified of losing that feeling of security. I was very conservative in my decisions, choosing to avoid risk whenever possible.

I lost all semblance of security when he left. Everything was in question; nothing was sure. I didn’t have time to let it scare me. I simply had to survive. I was operating at the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy: eating, sleeping and breathing were my priorities.

I started tiptoeing back into life. I branched out but much was still unknown. I could not even imagine where I would be five years hence. And I was okay with that.

Read the rest of Of Teddy Bears and Security Systems.

 

Trigger Points

As a runner and weight lifter, I am very familiar with trigger points – painful balls of muscle or fascia caused by acute or repeated trauma. They are  hyperirritable, overresponding to even the slightest pressure or pull. They cause intense pain at their source and can often lead to referred pain in a distant area, frequently occurring along predictable pathways.

As a survivor of a traumatic divorce, I am also very familiar with emotional trigger points – painful memories and associated responses caused by repeated or acute trauma. They are areas of hyperirritability where the response far outweighs the preceding factors. They cause intense pain at the time of their trigger and can cause referred pains in seemingly unrelated areas.

I am consistently amazed at the magnitude and quantity of my emotional triggers. A snippet of a song last night brought me to tears as it reminded me of one of the dogs in my other life. Nothing is safe – smells, sights, words, movies, a date on the calendar. Sixteen years is a long time and it doesn’t leave much untouched. Triggers are like a black hole through space-time, pulling me back to a place of fear and pain.

Read the rest of Trigger Points.

We Are Women

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Marianne Williamson

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On the surface, it was a simple girl’s weekend at the beach. But much lies beneath the waves at the ocean in the form of great beauty and unexplored possibilities.

On the surface, we were five women with toned figures and painted nails, armed with the foods, drinks and clothes to celebrate a weekend away from our normal lives and responsibilities. But much lies beneath the façade of a woman in the form of great power and untapped potential.

We were more strangers than friends when we first gathered at the rented beach house late Friday afternoon. A proposal was made that we draw names – the selected slip bearing the name of the woman we were to focus on that weekend so that we could reveal her greatest gifts to her in our final conversation.

Names drawn, the weekend began. Stories were told and topics were broached. Our laughter echoed through the home and our tears stained our cheeks. Meals were prepared and consumed. We watched sunsets and sunrises from the decks and explored the roads on runs. We walked to the beach only to have to run home in the monsoon that soon appeared. We danced and sang and we didn’t get much sleep.

Through it all, we watched and we listened to the woman bearing our selected name. Becoming more aware in each moment that we all brought different gifts to the table and that we each had what another lacked.

Sunday morning came all too soon. We gathered one last time with the intent of revealing what we learned about each other. We soon realized that each woman, powerful in her own beautiful way, embodied a different characteristic of womanhood and had a lesson to teach the rest of us.

Empathy

The first gifts to be revealed were that of the woman who possessed a quiet power and a willing ear. She would observe and reflect only later to release wisdom without assumption. She embodied the feminine caregiver, the nurturer that reaches out to assist those in need. Her journey has her learning how to set boundaries and the importance of taking care of yourself before you can help others.

Lesson: Embrace your nurturing nature yet remember that you are only responsible for your own happiness and well-being.

Strength

The next up was a woman who personifies strength. Her tall, solid frame speaks to her physical power, her sturdy muscles taut beneath the skin. Her tattoos are a testament of her resiliency though life’s trials. She is larger than life and does everything to the utmost. She is statuesque in frame and in spirit, as others look up to her as a model for their own lives. She has faced opposition from those who are intimidated by her feminine strength and seek to subdue it. Yet female strength is not something shameful; it is something to be celebrated. And celebrate it we did!

Lesson: Celebrate who you are and do not allow others to force you into hiding.

Passion

This woman was the last to show up at the home on Friday. She brought sunshine in the door behind her. Her big smile, loud unapologetic laugh and sense of play brought an amazing energy to the group. She embraces her sexuality and understands its power. Rather than trying to intimidate others with her beauty, she seeks to reveal and revel in the beauty of others.

Lesson: Celebrate life’s joys and do not be ashamed of pleasure. Laugh often and laugh loud.

Voice

This powerful woman was the one who made this weekend happen. She is assertive and strong, never afraid to speak her mind or to speak up for those who can’t for themselves. She has learned how to lead through inspiration and knows how to teach and open minds without relying on preaching. When others speak, she listens and when she speaks, the world listens.

Lesson: Create change by dreaming big and inspiring those around you to dream even bigger.

Spirit

The last woman is a testament of the power of the human spirit. She is resilient and determined, not content to take the easy road. She uses her story to motivate others to move beyond hardship and struggle. She sees potential for growth and opportunity in every challenge.

Lesson: You are only a victim if you imprison yourself. Release yourself from your past and let your spirit soar.

We are women. We are powerful beyond measure.

These are blogs run by two of the other women on the trip. I’m sure they will be sharing their own experiences about the weekend as well:) Check them out!

Fit is the New 40

Imperfect Yoga and Coaching

Rediscovering My Warrior

Warrior

When I was a teenager, I identified with the term ‘warrior.’ I liked the sense of quiet power the word conveys and I sought the wisdom that often accompanies it. As I moved into adulthood, I lost my warrior. It was replaced with scholar, wife, teacher and other personas. When I met Brock, who very much embodies the idea of warrior, I started to find my own power again.

As is often the case with Brock and I, we have found ourselves exploring the same idea from multiple perspectives. I picked up the audiobook, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives from the library a few weeks ago. I had read this back in high school, but had completely forgotten about it until I saw it on the library shelf. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’m finding that this book has a very different impact on me than it did twenty years ago. Then, it was just a book, teaching me about abstractions. Now? I’ve lived it. Life has been my teacher and the book is simply the Cliff Notes.

Brock has been reading The Warrior Ethos. It hasn’t been passed to me yet, so I cannot comment too much. I know that I love the excerpts that he has shared and the conversations it has spurred.
This is what Brock has to say about warriors, inspired by The Warrior Ethos:
“The term warrior is often thought of as applying to an individual who fights, such as a soldier or martial artist.  However, I believe we are all warriors of life and to that extent most of us live by some sort of moral code that guides us.  We change as we grow and we are always trying to figure out our place in life, whether it be professionally, personally or internally.  Your ethos is just that – yours and yours alone.  It should speak to your soul and if no one else gets it then that is perfectly okay.”

Here is part of Brock’s warrior ethos:

1) Set the standards by leading by example.

2). Never ask a teammate to do something you have not already done or are not willing to do.

2) The team is more important than any one person within the team.

3) Think of the needs of your teammates prior to your own.

4 ) Let your decisions be guided with just cause, compassion and respect.

5). If you share all you have with your teammate you will be rewarded with a with  a wealth of knowledge, skill and most importantly, you will understand what loyalty truly means.

6). Listen more than you talk.

7). Selflessness produces courage because it binds people together and proves to each individual that they are part of a team.

8). Embrace adversity not from the flank but head on with confidence, courage and conviction.

9). Let your life be guided by the light of the sun and the moon and not the empty darkness of nothingness.

10).  Courage to me is defined not by the absence of fear but rather having fears and facing them regardless of the danger to oneself.

I look forward to developing my own warrior ethos as I yet again embrace my inner warrior.

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“Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy–all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.”
Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

“A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does”
Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives

“When one has nothing to lose, one becomes courageous. We are timid only when there is something we can still cling to.”
Don Juan

“A warrior acknowledges his pain but he doesn’t indulge in it. The mood of the warrior who enters into the unknown is not one of
sadness; on the contrary, he’s joyful because he feels humbled by his great fortune, confident that his spirit is impeccable, and
above all, fully aware of his efficiency. A warrior’s joyfulness comes from having accepted his fate, and from having truthfully
assessed what lies ahead of him.”
― Don Juan Matus

“Even in times of trauma, we try to maintain a sense of normality until we no longer can. That, my friends, is called surviving. Not healing. We never become whole again … we are survivors. Even in times of trauma, we try to maintain a sense of normality until we no longer can. That, my friends, is called surviving. Not healing. We never become whole again … we are survivors. If you are here today… you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it thru hell and are still standing? We bare a different name: warriors.re today… you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it thru hell and are still standing? We bare a different name: warriors.”
Lori Goodwin