Category Archives: Divorce Recovery

Transitions

Newsletter-FFT-clip art-fall leavesThirty days hath September, April, June and November; or so the saying goes. It seems that the quantity of days is the only thing that our ninth month shares with these others. April invites a slow rebirth of a landscape once buried under snow, June ushers in all the excitement of warm weather activities that pull us from our homes and November once again lays the heavy cloak of winter.

September days slowly fade from the months of growth to months of respite. Ripening produce and subsequent harvesting will clear the way for fallow ground which will rest silently until spring comes again. The last warm days of summer soon fade into longer nights and cooler temperatures.

Our shorts and sandals will soon be replaced by favorite sweaters, jackets, boots, mittens and scarves. The cool crisp air of September carries the fragrance of apples and cider and unearthed vegetables and fallen leaves. The sun will begin to ride low on the horizon signaling that change is coming. As a result, the decrease in daylight and the cooling nights lift the green off the leaves exposing their rich purple, rust, orange and scarlet red petticoats. This is truly my favorite season.

With the celebration of Labor Day, even our foods begin to change. At our house the fruit plates, summer salads and ice tea will soon be replaced with steaming bowls of soups made from the summer’s bounty. Hot cocoa will become our night time brew of choice shared over board games or old movies. Of course this is also when the new TV season begins and many will nestle in to catch the season premier of their favorite sitcom or reality show. All in all, September is a time of transition. 

Change isn’t always easy. It isn’t always welcome. Those individuals who attend the Rebuilding at Bethel program are in the midst of change. For some the transition is a welcome relief yet for others it is mourned and feared. The members of my Dating Dementia class learn that they may need to change their approach to dating if they wish to find a healthier and happier relationship the next time around. Even the women in my Self-esteem class learn about the challenges and rewards of change as they attempt to tackle new relationship skills that could help them feel the full sense of what it means to be a whole, worthwhile, competent and adequate person.

Change can leave us feeling ambivalent; teetering between hanging on to the way things have been and stretching out to touch what could be. No matter what our life has been like we know what to expect from it even if it hasn’t been pleasant. The unknown doesn’t provide much information about how to handle what change has to offer. Sometimes we simply have to step into that unknown even when it is scary; having faith that it will all turn out for the best.

Gershen Kaufman, author of The Dynamics of Power, laid out some fundamental concepts about change. He stated that the process of change is often experienced ambivalently because it requires giving up the comfortable familiar in exchange for the feared unknown. Kaufman also reminds us that the process of change is slow and backsliding to old ways of approaching relationships should be expected.  He also points out that change takes practice and patience. And finally, he stresses that courage and determination cannot be taught, so we will need to discover these qualities in ourselves if we hope to evolve.

It might help to keep these ideas about change in mind when in the midst of transitioning or recognizing that it is on the horizon. Life will always place new opportunities or challenges in our path. However, it might be comforting to know that experience with change can make you more resilient and adept. I refer to this as having bounce-ability. It is important to be especially tender and kind to yourself as well as to have some faith in your ability to handle change.  How you face change can affect your emotional well-being and we know that reaching out to others can make the transition more tolerable. That is what my classes all have in common; bringing people together to make change a little more bearable with the support of other people.

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Write Your Own Declaration of Independence

In a few days we will be breaking out the grills, cracking open bottles of beer, waving flags and shooting off backyard fireworks. Some of us will attend big pyrotechnic displays at local municipal parks. Others will set up blankets and lawn chairs along crowded downtown streets to watch parades of high school marching bands, floats advertizing local businesses and organizations not to mention the shiny fire trucks, farm equipment and possibly the mayor and his wife. The local Boy and Girl Scout troops will brave the heat for that long walk down Main streets across the USA to toss Tootsie Rolls and suckers to children lining the curbs. Like people everywhere, Americans like to find reasons to celebrate and July 4th gives us reason to head out and do just that.

For the most part, the 4th of July is our time to celebrate.  But, I wonder how many  of us even think of this day as Independence Day and all that means in terms of the personal freedoms we enjoy today?

It has been a long time since I read the words of our Declaration of Independence so thank goodness for computers that put that information at my finger tips. As it reads, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”  As I read the words of this manuscript penned in 1776 I was reminded that this declaration was one of divorce; one country divorcing itself from another and in doing so to “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” The writers proceeded to list the numerous grievances that lead up to the decision to break away from the English governance. Eleven years later, the final draft of what is now our constitution was penned and when the final state ratified it in 1789 it became the supreme law of the land by which we govern ourselves. Since then there has been some fine-tuning in the form of the 27 amendments.

Our celebration of Independence Day is our way of acknowledging the struggles of people starting over. They divorced themselves from an intolerable past ruling so they could reach out and embrace a brand new future. They would draw from personal experience to devise a new document based on what they learned from their historical governing roots. They would write a pledge to each other and to the country about how they would act towards each other, for each other.

This led me down other paths of thought. What was this paper that such an important pledge would have been written on? With what would they sign such a significant document so the words to be inscribed could be view for generations to come? And finally, how would they protect such an important manuscript? The answer is that these documents were written on parchment but not ordinary parchment. The material was a vellum parchment which was the finest parchment used for all very important documents. It was made by stretching and scraping sheepskin until it was very thin; a product that could stand up to the elements and time. The ink too was the best of the time. It was called iron gall ink. These very extraordinary documents were given the best materials so they would last, so the words could be read by all who followed. Now they are safely housed in the rotunda of the National Archives building in Washington, DC. and are still being viewed today.

All in all, these documents represent the struggles of a people who recognized the need to break an unhealthy alliance in order to create a new system that would be just and equitable for all involved. They realized that what they were undertaking was important enough to warrant significant conversation and consideration as well as to mark it in history in such a way as to preserve it for generations to come. This is what we celebrate.

Are there personal lessons that can be drawn from this common history?  Many who read my blog are in the process of ending unhealthy alliances. Participating in the Rebuilding class involves recognizing that wrongs have been committed and naming those wrongs. It involves looking at personal relationship histories to see where the relationship constitution was either never defined and written down or not honored by one or both. But a big part of rebuilding after a relationship ends is to create a personal declaration of independence and to have a good and respectful breaking away so a happy new beginning can be written. A good ending involves honestly looking at what worked and what didn’t so that a new personal constitution can be written based on facts. How will you begin to write your personal code now that you are single? Will it need to be amended as new personal information is made conscious? How will you protect and preserve your personal constitution as you move forward connecting with new people?

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The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

Newsletter-clip art - watching cloudsThere is a Spanish proverb that states, “How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterward.”  I don’t know about you but that certainly sounds inviting to me. How often do you take time to do nothing, to rest, to just be?  Rest from work, rest from play, rest from participating… again, or even rest from relationships?

It seems we Americans are plagued by busy-ness yet wonder why we feel tired, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed or any number of other feelings. Many of us are driven to one up someone else as to how much time we spend doing something, anything. Even our play has become work; something we have to do. Our time doing has become another national sport and everyone seems to be keeping score.

I recognize that I too can get caught up in doing. But, I have also noticed that when this happens my body gets angry and lets me know in one fashion or another. So, my goal is to take some time to do nothing and then rest afterwards… at least once in awhile. I have promised myself that this summer I will find a grass covered hillside which I will lie down on and just watch the clouds float by. I am confident that with a little practice I can make doing nothing a part of my life even if just for five minutes and as a result come back refreshed even if it means returning to more …. doing. I hope you too can find a little time this summer to just do nothing and when you are done to rest a bit.

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Spring- the eternal reminder of hope renewed

Newsletter-spring flowersSpring has finally arrived here in Wisconsin. Winter only visits us five months out of the year yet it can seem like eternity; especially as we get closer to the month of April and  patches of that white stuff still hide in the shadows. However, once a 40 degree day presents itself we cast off the boots, heavy coats and scarves and race out to catch the first rays of warm sunlight, even if just briefly.

Spring and Easter are a time of renewal; a reminder that what we thought was dead is just being transformed. My garden is a wonderful example of that. All the flowers that seemed to have died under the heavy blanket of snow begin to poke through the crusted earth to reach for those first rays of warm sunlight. Unlike us, the flowers do not doubt that the dark, cold winter days will pass. They patiently wait in stillness for their time to come again when they can rise out of the gloominess to experience their purpose again.

Our lives are much like the changing seasons. Things are constantly in flux. We have our warm sunlit days and our gloomy days. We will experience wonder and awe just as we do when the first snow visits us once again. We will be disappointed just as when the forecast says warm and sunny but the clouds appear and drop a thunderstorm upon us. We will be delighted when the rainbow appears to remind us that the sun will come again or we awake to a new day that breaks the darkness with bright sunshine. Nothing stays the same; nothing is forever. Remember that time passes and we will get through even the darkest days. Something bright and exciting will appear on the horizon if we are just patient and let time take care of our disbelief. Something or someone will appear to distract us and show us a new and sunnier path. We need to be patient, we need to be open and we need to know that there comes a time when we need to let go of believing that life will always be this way. We need to have hope that time allows us an opportunity to be renewed again. And as this song reminds us, Keep your head up, things are going to turn our fine.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And You are the guy who’ll decide where to go. – Dr. Seuss

A graduate of my Rebuilding class recently gave me a copy of Oh, the Places you’ll Go by Dr. Seuss to add to a lending library I am setting up for the participants of that class. It had been a long time since I had read this book so I have to admit I’d forgotten the story and wasn’t sure why this book was meaningful to her and why she had chosen to share it with others. And then—I re-read it. And it was perfect.

As with all Dr. Seuss books, this one—written in that typical Seuss-iest style, provides a good message for adults and children alike. The story addresses the unpredictable nature of life which can send a person on a path full of hard things to face; full of the ups and downs that make life feel out of control, powerless and at the mercy of things that will reshape their life as they go forward. A journey full of self-doubt, loneliness, and fear but eventually maybe even triumphs. Unfortunately, the future isn’t easily seen when everything is up in the air and swirling in chaos. And that is the point of this book. Just stay on the path, keep putting one foot in front of the other and learn to let go because life doesn’t have a road map.

All Alone! Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot. Seuss reminds us that change can set us on a lonely journey and being alone can be scary. People who are facing singleness after years coupled with someone else often speak of the fears they have. Fear of being alone, of starting over as a single person, and of managing finances—especially now that their income has been cut in half, of waking up alone in bed and so much more. Everyone who goes through the Rebuilding class admits to one or many of such fears.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go reminds us that when things are in chaos we can expect to feel confused. You’ll come to the place where the streets are not marked… should you turn left or right?… You can get so confused, that you’ll start to race…headed I fear toward a most useless place… The Waiting Place. It seems that when life is in flux there is a lot of waiting to do. Waiting for a spouse to send in the needed paperwork, waiting for a house to sell, waiting to hear about a job interview, waiting for maintenance payments or child custody schedules to be set up. Waiting. But, again as Seuss points out in this book, we aren’t alone. Everyone is or has been in this place –waiting for someone, waiting for change, waiting to feel better or waiting to make up your mind.I think this is why the Rebuilding at Bethel program is so helpful. It creates a space for individuals to meet up with others in this scary waiting place and to know that they are not alone.

The hard fact—even when in the midst of change, is that we alone are in charge of our lives. Each choice made will determine the direction that life will go and which directions will be closed off. Friends and family can help but in the end it is our own responsibility. Gershen Kaufman, Ph.D. pointed out in his book The Dynamics of Power that “we cannot quell the waves which life throws at us, any more than the flood waters which might surround our home, but we do have a choice over how we face whatever comes our way… Knowing that we are ultimately the final choosers over how we both experience ourselves and face life, makes us shapers of the landscape, not merely figures in the landscape.”

So, if your life is in flux, be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to have that “waiting place.” Instead of diving into a new adventure or a new relationship allow yourself to just rest. Learn to take care of your health and take care of your soul instead of trying to do this for someone else as a way to distract yourself from the scary places in your life. Again as Dr. Seuss reminds us, When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done. So… face up to your problems… but never forget to be dexterous and deft.” To be skillful in problem solving requires a clear head; something usually unavailable to us when we are under stress.

Being in that resting place, that waiting place, can give a person time to solve problems by creating solutions that are well thought out. Those well thought out decisions will lead back to an easier path and on to new places—maybe even one that is better than the one that was left behind. Just keep putting one foot in front of another until you get to the other side of the problem. “It’s opener there, in the wide open air…and you will succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)” Thank you, Dr. Seuss. And thank you Alyssa, for bringing this book back into my awareness.

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Seuss, Dr. Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Random House, Inc. N.Y. New York. 1990

All quotes in italics are direct quotes from this text.

One Response to Oh, The Places You’ll Go

  1. I love this article, it has been many years since I have read that book, it is so simple but says so much. Thank you for this and to Alyssa for giving the book

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Take a Cup of Kindness

Newsletter-Jan 1- clip art -release the pastOnce again we sit on the threshold of a new year while we bid adieu to the last.  For most of us the transition from one year to the next will pass by unnoticed and uneventful. However some will hear the tolling of the bell as a time to reflect on and celebrate all of the wonderful events that transpired within those 365 days. There are those who will see the calendar of the year to come full of new, exciting and much anticipated opportunities that seem so far away. Others will gladly close the door on a difficult year that they wish to forget.  Which of these resonate with you? I have experienced all of these scenarios at different times in my life.

I remember one New Year’s Eve day when my husband and I decided to take a lunch at a local restaurant.  It had been a year jam-packed with activities and challenges.  We each had the sense of being filled to the brim with stressful situations; almost to the point of spilling over.  The lunch together was our last opportunity to reclaim some tranquility before closing the book of that year.  We began to review the travels, the illnesses, the surgeries, the basement twice flooded, the weddings, the store foreclosure that nearly imprisoned my mother-of-the-groom dress and a soon to be daughter-in-laws wedding dress, as well as the ongoing challenges of being small business owners.

This time together over a simple meal was just the therapeutic moment we needed to purge the stress of a very long year……. and then….. a car drove through the restaurant window, throwing a family of four in our direction and bursting our last bubble of hope for squeezing out a peaceful moment for that year.  We paid our bill, went home, locked the door and held on to each other while we watched re-runs of old black and white movies –waiting for the clock to tick, tick, tick towards another new year. It couldn’t come soon enough. We were ready to put all of that behind us. Yet that time together was our way of acknowledging a difficult year and giving the gift of kindness, understanding and compassion to each other for all we had been through together during those 365 days now behind us  .

Auld Lang Syne –roughly translated from the Scottish tune by the same name means “times gone by.” The lyrics read, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”  What a lovely thought; to take a cup of kindness yet, for times gone by.  Not every year will produce good times and good memories. Yet difficult times, though part of the human experience, are not with the majority of us for long. They get woven through our lives along with the times of good cheer.

As we ring in a new year we can remind ourselves that the past needs to stay in the past so we can focus on the future and the possibilities it may bring our way. The gift of difficult times is the realization of just how resilient we can be. If your past year was filled with joy or your coming year fills your dreams with anticipation, you are fortunate. Appreciate the gift. Express gratitude.

However, if you have had a difficult year, I hope that you will take that cup of kindness and drink to surviving, and to the promise for new hope, new dreams and a renewed spirit that a new year can bring.  Happy New Year to you all.

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You Can’t Turn Back The Clock

Last night I wandered about the house dutifully setting back all the clocks. As we know; spring forward, fall back. We may all have had that unfortunate experience of showing up late for Sunday church or the luncheon with friends; not to mention the kick off of your favorite football game, because we didn’t make this adjustment. Then we might say, “If I had only known it was ‘that’ night, I would have changed the clocks before I went to bed.” Sometimes we miss this opportunity for change because we forgot to pay attention that a change was necessary. At others times it is because we are in denial that change needs to happen.

The classes I teach are all focused on “change”. The Rebuilding class focus is to review what wasn’t working in the relationship that contributed to its eventual breakdown. In that case both denial about the need for change or a refusal to change may have contributed to the end of the relationship.

Some of what we review in class goes back as far as what happened in a person’s family of origin or what was overlooked in the dating process itself. In the Self-esteem and Relationship class the focus is on how personal internalized messages received in the past interfere with building relationships based on equal power and competency in the present. And, the focus in the Dating Dementia class is identifying the personal unsuccessful themes of past relationships and the relationship challenges those themes can cause so that changes can be made before moving forward again.

Somewhere within the ten weeks of any of my classes I will hear someone say, “If only I had known this a long time ago I could have avoided so much pain in my life. I could have changed things” The truth is we can’t take the information we learned today to go back and fix the past. We can only grieve that past, learn from it and then make the necessary changes needed to be more successful in the future. As I say in each class, “We can only do the best we can with the information we had at the time” because when it comes to change, you can’t change something until you see it clearly enough to understand it correctly and know that it is a problem. We can’t turn the clock back and we have yet to invent the time machine that allows us to go back and change the path were were on at the time. But, we all can learn from our choices and take different paths in the future.

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Something more beautiful for being broken

Something More Beautiful For Being Broken by Margaret Lambert, LCSW

Kintsukuroi: Japanese for “to repair with gold” with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for being broken.

This technique is a metaphor for resilience. It speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

I read a story that told of a master Japanese potter who asked his apprentices to bring to his studio the most perfect completed piece of pottery that came from his final kiln firing. The story went on to say that when the perfect piece was presented to the master, he asked the apprentice to break the piece by dropping it on the floor before the master. The master then with infinite care picked up the pieces, and using ceramic and gold dust, repaired the vessel. 
 
The piece of pottery became more beautiful for having been broken. The true life of the bowl began the moment it was dropped. The proof of its fragility and its resilience was what made it beautiful.

This metaphor isn’t all that different from that of people going through the end of a committed relationship. But somehow, the broken relationship can lead to the belief that they themselves are broken and beyond repair; that life will never be happy again because without their partner they are no longer worthwhile.

Dr. Bruce Fisher, in his book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends stated “For many people, divorce is a broken experience, and before they can go on with their lives they need to pick up the pieces.“  When a relationship ends it seems to bring with it so many words that refer to it’s brokenness; split, destroyed, ruined, coming apart, divided, shattered or fragmented.

As the above story states, it is like the precious bowl that slips from your grip only to crash to the floor and break into pieces. First there is a sense of disbelief, “I can’t believe I just dropped this.” or “How did this happen? This was grandmother’s favorite bowl.”   Then as you stare at the fragments on the floor there is a realization that what shouldn’t have happened DID happen and there is no going back; there is too much damage and the bowl doesn’t seem to be repairable.

This is followed by the feelings that come when what you ideally want and what you have are two different things.  Sadness, anger, hurt, disappointment, guilt and fear set in. “What will grandmother think when she hears I have broken her favorite bowl that she gave to me?”

The next moment brings another attempt to go back in time and prevent the incident.  “If I hadn’t been in such a hurry then I wouldn’t have dropped the bowl.” “If you had just given me more warning that you were going to pass it, I would have been more watchful.” We try to fix a situation by affixing blame to either ourselves or to someone else.

And then we hit the fork in the road.  Choices loom over us awaiting a decision; a call to action.  Should I sweep it under the rug and not look at it for awhile. Do I just trash it all and run out and buy some reasonable facsimile to fill up my hands? Or, should I do what I can to piece it together only to be left with an ugly version of something beautiful that once was?

At some point a person begins to realize that they can’t change what has happened.  But if they continue to focus on the brokenness and the loss, they may miss the opportunity to see that breakage and repair is just part of being human. And part of being human is getting a chance to start over. Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”  When you begin to fill in the fractures of your life with new experiences, new goals, new friends and new meaning you might just begin to see that brokenness can be turned into something even better if you let go of what was and embrace what can be.

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be the blade that was broken, the crown-less again shall be king.” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

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