Going Through Hell? Keep Going

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The following message found its way to me years ago. It offered comfort, inspiration and most of all, reassurance that my compass was pointed in the right direction.

It echoes Winston Churchill’s famous words, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” a truism that resonates with anyone who has fought to find the strength and courage to go on. You cannot go wrong by simply taking a step forward.

This message meant and still means a great deal to me and I’ve paid it forward by sharing it with a number of friends facing a struggle, loss or personal crisis – including the end of a relationship. My hope always is that it will remind them, as it does me, that what we’ve gone through is valuable to the growth process.

It’s within all of us to “make the experience count” by being thankful for what has happened and finding a way to put our life lessons to positive use.

 

REASON TO KEEP GOING by Ralph Marston

Just because life has let you down doesn’t mean that you must let yourself down. Pick yourself up, quickly take a positive step, and know that you’re closer to reaching you goal than you’ve ever been before.

You’ve been through some of the difficulty you must go through. So keep going, and make that experience count.

Change your approach if that’s what is called for. Learn from where you’ve been, adapt and adjust your efforts to be even more effective.

Every day, every encounter, and every outcome is a new opportunity to move yourself forward. Keep yourself focused on the goal you’ve chosen, and keep yourself moving in the best way you know how.

The disappointments are just as much a part of the process as the victories. Be truly thankful for it all and in your gratitude, you’ll find a way to put it all to positive use.

Whatever has happened is a perfect reason to keep going. Keep going, and create the life you have chosen to live.

Stranger Things Have Happened

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When my ex comes to pick up our son for a weekend, we keep the exchange at arm’s length. It used to really push my stress meter into the red zone to have a face-to-face encounter with him. We agreed, for the sake of us all, it would be best if our teenage son waited for his father’s car to arrive and then met him in the driveway.

One of the unsettling things about seeing my ex at the doorstep was that I barely recognized him. It wasn’t only that he had updated his glasses and was growing out his hair – mere aesthetics really – but his whole appearance had changed. In a short period of time, the person with whom I’d shared half of my life was virtually a stranger to me.

When I brought this up to my counsellor, she had a simple explanation for the shift. It was a sign of personal growth that my ex didn’t look familiar.

As she described it, my psyche was telling me that we were no longer functioning as “us,” but had detached as two separate individuals. In light of all that had transpired at the end of our marriage, I didn’t know who he really was. In my mind, a line had been drawn between the person I thought I’d married and the person standing in the driveway waiting for our son.

While he is the father of my children, he is not someone I know. His life is now his and mine belongs to me. We no longer talk about how our respective days went, what we are struggling with or what we are looking forward to; I don’t know what he worries about or the last thing that made him laugh out loud. One of the kids may mention him in passing as they recollect something that happened on a recent visit, but they are only blurred details of a life that I am not part of and I do not belong in. It’s like not getting a joke that everyone else is in on; all I can do is smile and nod.

I know that the stranger I was once married to has no place in my life either. I have moved on and created a new life for myself. Yes, we share children and we always will, but we no longer know each other. There will be graduations and weddings and other future family events that we will both attend, but these occasions will only intersect our lives momentarily before we disconnect and resume being strangers once again.

If my ex and I were to meet today, I’m certain that I wouldn’t like nor be attracted to him. He’s just not my type. This, too, is a good thing, because it’s further proof that I’m evolving.

When I take a closer look at myself, I can see how much I’ve grown and changed for the better. I’m proud of that. I have come so far from the person I used to be, that I’m not sure I’d even recognize her anymore.

Leaning Toward the Light

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One of the earliest lessons in my divorce recovery was finding ways to treat myself with kindness. Funny how the last person we show gentleness and compassion to is ourselves.

So I started buying fresh-cut flowers – I mean the good ones. I love flowers. They breathe life into my space, slow me down and reduce my stress level. It’s not just all in my head, either: a Harvard University study proved that we have an emotional response to having a flowers at home. They have a positive effect on our well-being, strengthening feelings of compassion while decreasing depression, anxiety and worry.

Some say flowers are indulgent or a waste of money (they die anyway), but I say they’re even better than splurging on a bottle of wine (the bottle empties anyway). Hey, if you’re going to self-medicate, flowers have a more natural and healthful impact on mood and they won’t leave you with a hangover or drunk-dialing regrets.

Despite what chick flicks tell us, it’s perfectly fine to buy your own bouquet. Being kind to yourself is not sad or pitiful. What is sad is waiting around for someone else to pamper you so that you can feel good. Trust me on this. Buy your own flowers. Or a spa day. Or new sheets and lingerie. Or draw a scented bubble bath with candles. Date yourself, for crying out loud. You’re a catch!

I discovered that fresh flowers are not only a joy trigger for me, they are a continual source of inspiration. They grow through dirt just as I know the experience I’ve been through will make me stronger and wiser (“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all” – Disney’s Mulan). Expectant buds unfold petal by petal until they fully blossom; I’m finally coming into my own by discovering the extent of who I am.

Flowers are awesome in that no matter where their vase is placed, they will tilt to seek out the sunshine. They remind me that leaning toward the light and focusing on gratitude is what heals my heart and nourishes my soul.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Be kind to yourself. 

A Matter of Trust

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Fragile ballplayers prone to recurring injury are said to have glass knees or glass shoulders. When I felt ready to get back into the dating game, it was with a glass heart. To avoid pain and the risk of someone new re-shattering what I’d been piecing back together, I held back my true self.

I have always been a very expressive and communicative person; for better or worse, it’s impossible for me to hide my feelings. If I like you and you are important to me, I am all-in on our relationship. That’s why keeping a safe emotional distance from other people sapped a great deal of energy. I wasn’t used to functioning with a protective wall around my heart.

“How do I let down my guard and learn to trust again?” I asked my counsellor.

“Trust a new partner, or learn to trust yourself?” she challenged.

Ugh, she was right. It wasn’t that I was distrustful of the opposite sex as much as I was distrustful of myself. I was still sore about being blindsided; that my intuition hadn’t warned me of impending danger in my marriage.

Or had it?

You know when your car starts making that weird engine noise and you tell yourself, “Aw, it’ll go away” and then turn up the radio to drown it out? Yep, that was me. After much soul searching, I faced the truth: all of the obvious, neon warning signs had been there, but I just had failed to pay attention in my marriage. 

Maybe deep down I knew something wasn’t quite right but I suppressed it, content to smooth out the rough edges as “normal ups and downs.” I was too busy fulfilling my role, too laser-focused on raising two kids, starting my own business and fluffing our home nest to see what was really going on. As with a weird engine noise, the things we don’t pay attention to always get us in the end.

I was mad at myself. I was mad at whatever little part of me didn’t pay attention, didn’t protect my heart and allowed me to settle for less, believing that certain behaviours were perfectly normal. If I didn’t trust my radar to detect the warning signs with the person I was married to for 20 years, how was I supposed to trust it around complete strangers?

First of all, my counsellor said, there was no use in beating myself up. I may be a nurturer, but I didn’t have to bear the weight of responsibility for another person’s decisions and actions… it had been a two-person marriage after all! Secondly, although my heart had survived this trauma, I couldn’t keep basing my decisions in fear if I was to move forward with a new relationship. Yes, I risked more heartbreak in the future, but if I didn’t let down my guard and open my heart, I risked closing myself off to love.

So I started to focus on trusting myself again. And that’s where the healing began.

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Violations of trust are painful lessons that we can turn into opportunities for profound personal growth. One good thing about what I’d been through, my counsellor assured, was that I could now trust myself to recognize those flashing warning signs when something was off. I was now in a brand new state of awareness.

I remember reading somewhere that when it comes to trust, “Life gives you the process through your experiences; people provide you the opportunity to practice.” In the dating world, people were going to do what they were going to do; there was little I could do to control it but that sure didn’t mean I’d have to put up with it.

I had to trust in my ability to acknowledge and call out unacceptable behaviour; to see things as they really were instead of blindly making excuses for it or brushing it off. If something didn’t quite add up or seemed like a flimsy story, I could assert myself by taking a closer look at the situation and if needed, ask for verification.

(And by the way, a woman who stands up for herself doesn’t have “trust issues,” she believes that she deserves honesty and is worthy of her own trust.)

My intuition has never failed me; my mistake was in choosing to ignore that inner voice. By checking in with it and asking it for confirmation, I regained trust in myself and, not surprisingly, those protective walls around my heart started coming down.

Part of my journey has been learning that by trusting others, I am actually fine-tuning my intuition. As I met new people socially and allowed myself to be vulnerable, I not only deepened my ability to trust my own instincts, I found a safe place to open myself up to love.

The Power of Three

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“Congratulations, you have a Million Dollar Family!” A well-meaning relative celebrated the news of our son’s birth in 1998 as if we’d won the gender lottery – one girl and one boy. Serendipitous symmetry afforded us the portrait of a perfect, happy, family: a mom, a dad, a daughter, a son.

Being a unit of four is certainly great in a lot of ways. Four chairs fit nicely around a square restaurant table. In the car, everyone has their own seat without anyone forced to sit on the hump. No one gets outnumbered in arguments. Hotel rooms with two beds are easy to book. Even pizza slices neatly into eights or twelves.

But then, quite suddenly, there was three of us.

While the kids continued to have a relationship with their father, there was just three of us living in a home built by four. Over the years, the kids and I had plenty of opportunities to hold down the fort just fine while my ex was away on business. I’ll admit I cherished those times. Instead of spending evenings apart in our own separate quarters, we would inexplicably gather together in one room to watch a video, share a snack, cuddle or talk. The three of us laughed more, it seems, because things felt more harmonious and relaxed. Or maybe it was just me.

But things were different now. With their father gone, I was hypervigilant about being the lone captain, keeping close watch on the bridge so that our ship stayed upright. I hoped the kids didn’t doubt that I could handle it on my own. If they did, they didn’t let on. I constantly assured them that we’d be fine and that we were still a family although dad didn’t live here anymore, but yet I worried they felt a void at home.

I grasped onto the Power of Three. After all, a three-legged stool is just as sturdy as a chair with four legs and I wanted to show the kids that our new home life could be just as good, if not better, than the one they grew up knowing.

For writers, the Power of Three is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying and easier to remember (“Veni, vidi, vici” or “Stop, look and listen”). Stage and screenplays are written in a three-act structure. In fact, a great deal of our cultural upbringing is made of triplets and trios: Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Three Wise Men. Three is also a mystical number, if you are inclined to believe; in numerology, it denotes joy, inspiration and a moving forward of energy.

As quickly as I removed photos and mementos of the past from our home, I replaced them with subliminal reminders of the Power of Three. We have a curio shelf containing three miniature vases, three gold ornamental apples and three bamboo hedgehogs. Over our fireplace mantel is metal wall art featuring three tall trees, flourishing.

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At the time, my Mama Bear instinct used the Power of Three to protect, comfort and reassure, but looking back, I question if it was entirely the right thing to do. I wonder if it was actually my way of closing ranks; of not only proving myself as the steadfast parent but trying to shut out my ex by saying, “See? We didn’t need him anyway.” Perhaps, perhaps.

Fortunately, my daughter and son showed amazing resilience and coping skills as our household went from four to three and, since my new partner joined us, back to four again. Even if I made a few missteps in my parenting choices post-divorce, I am able to forgive myself because of the two extraordinary human beings who continue to live and thrive under this roof.

We may no longer be considered a Million Dollar Family by some people, but my kids are a reminder that I hit the jackpot.