Switching Off the Negative

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I first encountered my shadow late at night. It was shortly after my separation when I was at my most vulnerable, the best time for sinister shadows to slither out from their shady corners. It attached itself to me and from then on, followed me everywhere. It tried to drag me back down into the darkness by creating fear. The fear that I am not enough. That I am not lovable. That I am 40 and alone.

My shadow played an endless loop of negative, self-defeating and sometimes self-destructive thoughts in my head. It became a dangerously addictive soundtrack and that fear only perpetuated my anger. Sure, resentment and blame made me feel better, at least temporarily, as I rehashed my sob story (“I don’t deserve this. This is so unfair.”). But playing the victim and dredging up the misery of past events only fed into the fear; and my shadow loved every minute of it.

My shadow’s name? Ego.

“When you recognize that negative voice in your head as the ego, you also become aware that you are not that voice,” explains Mary Holloway, a speaker, writer and resilience coach. “You become aware that you have a higher self; and the higher self and the ego (lower self) cannot co-exist.”

Holloway says if the ego is the shadow, think of the higher self as the light switch. It comes from a place of love. Flick on the light and the shadow disappears.

“This awareness makes you realize that you no longer have to react to the fear because your thoughts are not you, they are from your ego,” she says. “When you come into awareness, you can move above these thoughts and shift your perspective from negative, fear-based thoughts to ones that serve you positively.”

Once I called out my ego, I took back my power by replacing the negativity with self-assured talk from my higher self. I even created my own mantra to drown out destructive thoughts that I am not worthy:

I want what I deserve, and I deserve what I want. 

I want what I deserve, and I deserve what I want.

It wasn’t instant nor as simple as deciding to turn my ego off, but getting to a place of awareness allowed me to see the shadow for what it was. It wasn’t reality and I didn’t have to react to it. Even when my shadow tries to play that loop of lies (and it still does) I just record a better track over it. I know that I am lovable. I know that I am surrounded by people who love me. I know that I am enough.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, opening up the discussion about mental health. Emotional self-care during divorce is a valid part of that conversation. http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Thanks with an “Ex”

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“Gratitude: Mixed Media” by Isa Tyler

I carried around my hurt, anger and resentment for so long that the weight of it felt normal. Despite all I’d read about forgiveness being for the forgiver, I just couldn’t reach that point. I still struggle with it; even now, I’m not sure I will ever completely get there.

One day, I confided to my counsellor that I felt far too consumed by toxic thoughts. Of course I had every reason to be bitter; I had done what I was “supposed” to do and my marriage still fell apart. I had been fully committed to our home and family and yet, it wasn’t enough to hold it all together ‘til death do us part.

My counsellor suggested that I replace my hostility with gratitude, even going so far as to write an unsent thank-you note to my ex. Thank you? Thank you for what? My blood pressure spiked.

She reminded me how my nature as a nurturer meant that I would’ve never walked away from my marriage. It’s simply not in my DNA. To quote Audrey Hepburn, “If I get married, I want to be very married.” In my book, taking vows meant accepting a lifelong gig; it was not fathomable that we would divorce, let alone me instigating a split.

I had to reconcile my relationship values with knowing that my life is much closer to what I always wanted it to be on the other side of divorce. Okay, maybe my world did need to be shaken to the core so that I could grow and redefine myself. But even if my marriage had an expiry date, something cataclysmic still HAD to happen in order for me to admit it was over. And for that alone, my counsellor said, I should thank my ex.

She suggested that every time I feel my anger rising, I should say a quiet thank you instead because it will help me let go. So I do. And it’s opened me up enough to let the light of gratitude in. It’s only a start, but now I can say…

Thank you for revealing the truth about our marriage.

Thank you for teaching me that not all relationships are built to last.

Thank you for helping me to realize that it’s better to become who I want to be instead of trying to fix who I could’ve been, should’ve been or never really was.

Thank you for freeing me so that I could go out and find the love I was meant to have.

Thank you for presenting me with an opportunity to discover that I am so much stronger and resilient than I ever imagined.

The Head and The Heart

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“We are never fully prepared for the depth of emotions that losing a loved one brings. If the death is unexpected, it will be a huge shock.  The causes of unexpected deaths are wide and varied, but irrespective of the cause – the fact is that you will not be ready for it. Those that are left behind often feel stunned, and suddenly find themselves living in a surreal world without their loved one.

“At the other end of the spectrum, an expected death brings different emotions. Even though you are prepared for it and have said all that you can say, including your goodbyes, it doesn’t make it any easier. Often the lead up to death  can be excruciatingly painful and stressful to all those involved, so your loved one’s departure could result in an immense feeling of relief.”

(From “Dealing with Death, A Personal Perspective” by Donna Raynel)

If you substitute the word “divorce” for “death” in the above passage from Ms. Raynel’s website Not Alone, you may be able to see how the two life experiences are closely related. Like the newly bereaved, I went into survival mode upon the unexpected death of my marriage. Despite going through the motions and ensuring that our daily routine still continued, I lived on auto pilot those first few months. I did what I had to do so that the kids and I would get by. And to survive the pain.

It wasn’t until I went for a tarot card reading that I realized I may have been productive intellectually, but I was low functioning emotionally. The first card I pulled from the deck was the Three of Swords:

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That’s a scary looking card, and the powerful, piercing imagery is ominous. But the meaning, as it was described to me, is quite enlightening. In tarot, swords often have to do with our mental function. Translated, it’s about managing difficult emotional circumstances (like death or divorce) where we have to make tough, headstrong decisions. It signifies the interaction between the head and the heart energies.

My intrepid tarot card reader explained it this way: picture a cartoon brain and a cartoon heart about to depart on a road trip. The heart is a wailing, weepy mess, so the brain protectively says, “It’s okay. I know that you’re in no shape to drive. Hop in the backseat and I’ll steer us along until you’re up to the task.”

The cards didn’t lie: I was certainly in survival mode. I busied myself with mental tasks – dealing with lawyers, realtors, bankers and the like – so I didn’t have to feel too much. But seeing the Three of Swords revealed an undeniable truth. It was time to allow my heart to get back into the driver’s seat and start the grieving process, even though it was going to hurt like hell.

As in coping with death, there would be no short cuts on my personal divorce journey. I had to feel it to heal it.

Awakening From the Dream

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“A Perfect Vacuum” by Jeremy Geddes

The first week I slept in my marriage bed alone, I was afraid to dream. I only know this because in the wee hours between falling asleep and waking up, I saw and remembered nothing. In hindsight, of course, it was likely my subconscious shielding me. I was already going through enough turmoil in my waking hours that even my exhausted brain needed a break from its constant processing and reanalyzing of events.

Eventually, the first dream I had was a vivid one. My ex had packed a bag and left our home on a routine business trip. Shortly after, I turned on the TV and heard the news that his plane had crashed. Surprisingly, I was not shocked. I didn’t even feel all that sad. In that moment, the only thing was the realization that he was gone. He was not coming back and I would just have to deal with it.

My brain was catching up.

Dreams have played an important role in my grieving and healing process. Not coincidentally, the gentle but wise counsellor I sought out for guidance used the phrase “awakening from the dream” to describe the soul-wringing process I was going through. For the previous 20 years, I had been contentedly focussed on my responsibilities and roles on a daily basis. But in reality, I had been sleepwalking, playing the “good wife and mother” while assuming my partner was holding up his end of the deal. The image we projected and protected of having a good life, family and home was merely an illusion. Even I was fooled.

Take comfort in what has happened, my counsellor assured, because once your eyes have been opened, there is no going back. There is no more pretending and no more sleeping. You won’t let yourself be fooled again. Instead, the end of the dream had brought with it a brand new sense of awareness. My true self was waking up.

About This Too, Was a Gift

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Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

This poem by Mary Oliver really captures how I feel about my divorce, especially all of the personal discoveries and life experiences that have come since. Even though my marriage is over, I gradually started to appreciate (yes, appreciate!) this ending as a new beginning. It’s true what they say: this is the part where you find out who you are.