Category Archives: You’ll Be Ok

Co-Parenting With The Enemy

It was about 6 years ago that I was, on a daily basis, exchanging hateful emails with my older son’s father about the divorce and custody issues. Sadly, we spent 5 whole years battling each other in what felt like an endless litigation and tens of thousands of dollars. The result was completely broken trust, hostility, and a very negative and hateful image of the other person. What once brought us together was tearing us apart, and the only one suffering the consequences was that precious thing in the middle- our son (but we couldn’t see that because our anger and fear was blinding us).

I could write pages and pages about the hateful back and forth we had for so many years, but I won’t. To summarize, it was two very bitter demons threatening and being defensive and overly reactive. Things were so bad, we had a court-ordered co-parenting therapist come between us to help us communicate, and even one year of that wasn’t bringing us anywhere closer to cooperating or co-parenting. Sadly, out of lack of trust and a deep hatred toward the other party, we signed our 30-page court order, and several stipulations and motions later, we were on our way to litigation-free co-parenting. It was a rocky transition, living without having our attorneys as the go-between. It required us to…(gasp!) communicate. Living with such a build up of animosity toward each other, for the first year, we didn’t have the capability of communicating, because everything that came off our tongue was laced in mistrust, anger, and fear. It was easier to just live off the “rules” (the court orders, motions, and stipulations).

It wasn’t until nearly 2 years later that we were able to be flexible when we couldn’t. What changed? We stopped seeing each other as the enemy and started (FINALLY!) seeing each other as our son’s “other parent”. But more than that, we started really understanding that the only victim in any of this was not ourselves, but our son.

That was hard because for the first several years we didn’t see each other as “the other parent,” but as “that horrible parent-wannabe that doesn’t deserve to breathe on this earth“. For a long time, both of us were rationalizing our own bitterness and defensive mechanisms as simply “protecting MY son” from “that evil person”. Changing that image was dependent on letting go of our pain, our sad stories, and broken expectations, as well as forgiving the words and behaviors that we couldn’t see were rooted deep in resentment and fear. While letting go didn’t come without a fight, slowly, little by little, we let go.

The awkward and humbling feeling of accepting that maybe  it wasn’t just the other person…but maybe I was also responsible for the hostility and inability to co-parent. What got me thinking, was, at one mediation appointment, the mediator said, “you can’t come to every decision with an automatic NO in your mind. You have to approach everything with an expectation of saying yes, and then consider what implications that ‘yes’ could have.”

The point wasn’t to be a pushover and say yes to everything, but to get us out of our habit as seeing the other person as the enemy and train our minds to WANT to cooperate and co-parent, even if we don’t get things exactly the way we want, and even if it means we have to be a little uncomfortable with the other person parenting in a way that we don’t see “to our standards”. Of course we have to consider safety. If the other partner is abusive, we are not going to jump into a “yes!” Fortunately, for me, my son’s father was not abusive (for clarification purposes, my current husband IS, but not my ex).

Eventually, we became flexible on things such as make-up days, exchange locations, and who buys clothes and shoes this time. Flexibility turned into cooperation, and cooperation turned into co-parenting. Co-parenting rebuilt the respect and trust we had toward the other parent. When I went through this most recent separation with my “new” husband, my “ex” was even supportive and helped in many ways like bringing dinners to the house so I didn’t have to cook, taking the dogs every other weekend so that I wouldn’t have to worry about walking them with the kids, and even providing emotional support with words like, “you’re a great mom to the kids” and “I’m sorry you’re going through that…I wish you could have made it work out…”

Still, 6 years of hostility and litigation tends to leave a bit of a scar. We still struggle with fully trusting the other parent, but our intentions are there, and the bigger picture is clear: It’s not about us, it’s about the kids. We both just want the best for our son. We both want to be an important part of our son’s life. We both want happiness and peace for ourselves as well. How we go about that may be different, but it should NEVER come at the cost of our son having to witness his two most favorite and important people in the world being unable to get along and co-parent.

We determined that being the “best parent” for him meant being the best co-parents. Co-parenting after divorce is hard enough, but it’s nearly impossible if you see the person as an enemy.

Now, I’m stuck reflecting on those days in bitter litigation from the ending of my first marriage. I move forward in what feels like a re-run from the past, forced to communicate with my current husband about our pending divorce and our baby’s future. What kind of child custody schedule will we have? How do we communicate? What part am I playing in preventing a positive co-parenting for him?

I have days when I wish I could just stop all of this and beg for my marriage back. I miss my husband, I miss our family. Unfortunately, the reality is he loved his addictions more than he loved me. He loved his addictions more than he loved the idea of having a family. That comes with tremendous sadness and the feeling of rejection, neglect, and abandonment… I was tempted to see my husband as the enemy. I was tempted to put all the flaws I saw in him as my husband (and human) on him as a father. If only he could get sober! If only… If only we could find a way to save our marriage… But the truth is, as much as I loved this man, the man I loved was too deep into his addictions to know, see, or want anything different than his choice of lifestyle. His addictions caused him to be abusive, angry, and neck deep engaged in dangerous sexual activities, alcohol, and gambling. And if he was that same person when our baby was under his custody, I would never know. Unfortunately, California Family Law doesn’t see a problem in that.

I was forced to conclude that I had two choices: I could spend the rest of my life worrying about it, full of anxiety and emotional stress, hypervigilance and being a nervous wreck all the time (all the while deeply hating and resenting him for exposing our child to such horrendous and despicable behaviors), or, maybe…. I could spend my energy elsewhere, trying to be the best mother I could be.

This was the only place I had my power. This was the only place I could make a difference in my children’s life. The more I look back on the years I spent in litigation on the first divorce, the more I realize that it simply wasn’t worth it.

I will never return to a loveless marriage, and I will never go back to my ex-husband, but what I learned out of the 6-year hell of litigation was that eventually all those angry bitter feelings go away and you are left with the reality of…what purpose did it serve? What purpose did it serve the kids? What message did it send the kids? What kind of skills did we teach them in building healthy relationships? What messages did we send to them about love? Family? Resilience? Forgiveness?

Or are we still stuck in our self-centered mind, defensive, offended, and bitter?

Sadly, addiction is a disease that has the power to completely wipe out any rational thinking. Addiction is the escape hatch from accountability and responsibility. It’s so powerful that it can kill your opportunity for ever really feeling any kind of meaningful loving relationship and it will tear at your soul with guilt, shame, and regret. But deep down inside that sad and confused soul is someone who just wants to be loved.

I realize now that so long as I see my husband as an enemy, my behavior and attitude toward him will reflect that. Deep down, I do genuinely fear the safety of my baby when in his custody. I worry about the exposure he has to my husbands endless line of prostitutes and escorts, his over consumption of alcohol, driving under the influence, and his reckless gambling. I genuinely fear for my baby’s life, physical, and psychological well-being. But like it or not, California Family Law generously puts the children’s lives equally in both parent’s hands, and in this case, I have no other choice but to pray to God that he will be ok… My power, unfortunately, does not lie in trying to force California Family Law to change their policies. It lies in being the best role model I can be for these kids.

One day, I hope to have the same cooperative, supportive, co-parenting relationship I have with my first husband with my current husband. Sadly, my husband doesn’t have to be cooperative or feel the same. He can continue to be, think, and believe what he does. We cannot control a lot of things, and that can be VERY SCARY and uncomfortable a lot of the time.  That is an extremely difficult pill to swallow, especially as a protective mommy. But I have hope that regardless of what my husband chooses to do in front of our baby, love will endure. Hope will endure. Goodness will endure. I have no other choice but to hope. The sooner I can take my part of this co-parenting role into a positive place, perhaps it will pave the way for the other parent to follow. And even if it doesn’t, I will have set an example for my children.

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Here’s a picture of my first husband and my baby, the son of my current husband, at our Annual Easter Egg hunt.

The Ability to Flow Through Hard Times

A friend of mine reached out to me in despair after being dumped by his girlfriend of 7 years. Worried she was seeing someone else, his life suddenly went from successful world-famous dancer to “I want to quit everything and move far away.” He suddenly lost all focus on his upcoming dance competition and drank himself to oblivion every night for several months. His nights were filled with hatred and bitterness, suddenly painting an evil picture of the woman he had loved for so long. In his mind, she was a monster. Underneath all that pain and anger, we all knew, was sadness for the loss and pain from disappointment. He said it was easier to drink away his sadness than to deal with the pain of being left by the woman he loved so much. He called a few months later and said he realized he was an alcoholic and needed help. I suggested therapy and recommended an amazing AA group in the area. He went a few times, but he quit because the work it took to heal was exactly that- WORK. I do love my friend dearly, and sadly, sometimes inner work isn’t for everyone. He suffers even to this day. Drowning his sorrow in distractions, anger, and alcohol. This story is far too common, and it breaks my heart to see my loved ones suffer so much.

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Flowing through hard times is hard, and the reason it is so hard is because our instinct is to run from pain. No one wants to feel pain. An angry tiger coming after us is certainly a realistic fear of possible pain. To not run from that would be insanity. But what does the pain from heartbreak feel like? Does it tear into our skin and make us bleed to death? Does it sever limbs from our body as we lie helplessly on the ground? While in a moment of emotional distress, we may be convinced that that is definitely what it feels like, in reality if we really took an honest inventory of the actual pain from heartbreak, it is (fortunately) much less physically painful than being torn to shreds by an angry tiger.

Unfortunately, however, our mind perceives heartbreak (or potential heartbreak) the same way it perceives a vicious lion attack: DANGEROUS!! We are so afraid that the feelings that come with heartbreak will literally KILL us that we run as quickly and as far away from it as possible (and sometimes we even turn around and attack those that we feel are breaking our heart). Instead of processing our feelings, we stuff, drown in addictive behaviors, deflect and deny all those feelings of sadness, loss, grief, and unrequited love, burying them deep inside a dark pocket called “unforgiveness” thinking that we have escaped the threat of pain. In reality, packed up inside our hearts, it slowly eats away at our hope, joy, trust, and inner peace. Whenever we sense those feelings of loss, sadness, or anger creeping up, we repeat the process: drown, deny, deflect. These unattended feelings and emotions end up making us weaker and less able to handle “hard times”, eventually killing us slowly over time. Instead of getting stronger, better, happier, we get weaker. To put it bluntly, it’s a self-inflicted wound.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone out there, but the thought of me being the main cause of my suffering is very unsettling. Who wakes up in the morning and says, “Ya know, today is a great day to suffer. I think I’ll  make myself suffer just a little more today than yesterday!” But we all do it, and it comes so naturally, because to do the inner work it takes, to hold the pain and unwanted feelings from being hurt by another, is inconvenience, uncomfortable, and undesirable. It doesn’t give us the immediate satisfaction and sense of accomplishment like counterblaming, deflecting, or distraction. This is where delayed gratification is so important. We can either put off our immediate need to escape discomfort for the sake of obtaining inner peace and lasting joy, or we can take immediate gratification by pointing the blame and hating, but suffering long-term consequences, which typically include heavy emotional burdens and a negative energy that permeates your body and soul and follows you around in all your relationships (professional and personal). It’s all a choice.

So instead of thinking, “is this person deserving of my forgiveness?” think, “how do I want to demonstrate inner strength in handling my own life?” Think, “do I want to prove how resilient I am, demonstrating my skills in flowing through  all kinds of life situations? Or do I want to allow  all the worst parts of life to take up a large portion of my livelihood, clouding my sense of happiness and purpose in life, causing me much emotional baggage that will end up pouring over into all of my relationships?

The truth is, you can cope with a  lot more than you think you can, so long as you resolve to. You have the capacity to handle all kinds of situations. Be brave. Someone once told me: “The degree to which you have forsaken your own drama is the degree to which you are available to others.” So be the change you so desperately want to see in this world. How is anyone going to learn how to overcome life struggles if no one is willing to model it?

So flow… it’s the best gift you can give yourself and others. It takes work, but it takes so much less work than the alternative.

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Sending Love…Instead of Hate

I came to realize that when I held negative feelings or thoughts toward another person, I began to suffer. I felt pain. Heartbreak. Sadness.

Yet nothing inside me wanted to feeling anything more than that, toward the person that had hurt me the most.

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So the longer I held on to those negative feelings, the deeper they grew inside me. The sadder I felt. The lonelier I felt. But what was worse, was that his behavior never got better. In fact, it got worse. And the worse he got, the more bitter I got (you can see where this goes, right? Nowhere.)

I began to take a step back from my own personal experience and thoughts toward this person and tried to put myself in his shoes. This man was clearly suffering. Yes, I too, was clearly suffering. That meant we had something in common. If we were both suffering, was I contributing to his suffering in any way? I definitely could identify how he was contributing to my suffering. What I hadn’t realized was that a lot of my suffering from his actions was the beliefs I had about them. I thought they were personal.

What would happen if, instead of seeing his behavior as personal, saw it as a “lack of skill in dealing with his suffering”? What would happen if, instead of muttering hateful words about him, I said a small prayer for him? Dear God, bless his heart. May he know peace, kindness, compassion…

It didn’t take away the fact that he was responsible for dealing with his suffering in a more skillful way. It didn’t justify his behavior or make it “ok”. What it did was to help me take it less personal.

If I were him, with all his experiences in life, would I make the same choices? Would I feel the same? I don’t know, and that is a fact. All I did know was that he was dealing with it the only way he knew how.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we choose the way we choose? I believe it’s because all of us, no matter how good or “bad” we are, simply don’t want to suffer. So we make choices daily, hourly, and sometimes by the second to avoid suffering in search for joy.

Sometimes our choices hurt others. Sometimes our escape from suffering comes at the cost of other’s pain. We, too, are just as guilt of causing others pain.

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We will never have the ability to make people change, or learn better coping mechanisms so that they can stop doing what we don’t like (and if you try, you will constantly subject yourself to more suffering, which is insanity), but what we can do, and where our power lies is directly in how much negative energy we put into ourselves and onto others based on circumstances that are completely out of our control.

When it is raining, you can curse the sky, but the rain doesn’t care. It still rains. How you feel about it and what you choose to do in the rain is your choice.

Shame: When We Feel Unworthy of Love Only Because We Don’t Feel Loved

Shame: How has it impacted your life?

That was the question on my homework for one of the classes I was taking. When I first started the class (specifically focused on shame) I have to admit I was always angered at the word. I had no shame. Shame was bad. My husband, yes! He must have a ton of shame! But not me…

And then I began really working on myself. Shame took on a whole new meaning. I couldn’t identify it still, but shame slowly started to show itself to me in small things like, “how could I have been so stupid to not know he was cheating and lying to me for so long!?” to “I am a horrible mother for allowing this person in mine and my children’s lives.” I started seeing shame in my value as a person. Maybe I’m not sexy enough? I’m not fun enough. I’m not pretty. Do I smell? Am I too bossy? Do I expect too much from him? Am I a control freak? Maybe I caused this? Maybe I pushed him away. I should try harder. I don’t do enough for our family. I don’t appreciate him enough. I don’t make him feel loved enough. I need to change…”

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And every time I changed to meet his needs, he stayed the same. More acting out. More lies. I would tell myself, “I must have not tried hard enough.” So I would knock down every healthy boundary possible, ‘hoping that this time he would change. He would stop cheating and lying. He would get better in his addictions. And the more boundaries went down, the more acting out occurred. I nearly went mad to the point of extreme hypervigilance.

That’s when I hit rock bottom. I knew I was full of shame. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. It all happened when he left me and the kids. I knew he was acting out and I was set on stopping him. I sent texts to all his friends, family, Facebook, even the police. I tried exposing him for the sick person he was… And then it hit me… If he is sick, what does that make me?

I spent 3 whole days desperately trying to locate him so that I could get him to come back home, thinking that I could somehow convince him how wrong he was and how much he needed to change.

It didn’t happen.

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What started out as 3 days missing turned into two and a half months of separation – and two and a half months of me getting enough space from the insanity to clear my head and focus on what the real issue was: Me.

But not “me” in the shameful sense I had before – thinking that I was flawed or not good enough, but surprisingly realizing that I had subconsciously tried to take on the role of “God”. All my step work – all that powerless stuff, turning my will over to God…all of it never made sense until that moment.

My life, I realized, was perfect. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was perfect. I realized that “perfect” didn’t mean “to my liking” but “according to God’s will”. As I slowly started to release my tightly clenched fists from the outcomes of my husband’s choices and opened my hands, mind, and heart to my “higher power” I finally felt a sense of peace.

Instead of manipulation, passive aggressive communication, and threats, I used prayer. As I began developing a relationship with my Higher Power, I came to realize I was worthy. I was good enough. I deserved the best.

I also realized that I didn’t need my husband to prove I was worthy of love. I had all the love I needed, in so many forms, in so many ways, and from so many people. And although it would be ideal to have my husband be the man I wanted him to be, he is perfectly the man he is.

I’ve learned that shame leads us down a dark path of constantly hurting ourselves and others. Shame leaves us feeling lonely and desperate. Shame leaves us confused about who we are, and rips from us our identity. It leaves us grabbing desperately for anything to fill our emptiness.

My husband reaches out sexually. My parents turned to drugs and alcohol. I reached out for external things like…my husband, codependent behaviors, and hypervigilance/control.

I came to understand that we are not our behaviors and what happens to us does not define us, nor does it put a value on us in anyway. God is working in my life, in my husband’s life, in everyone’s lives, perfectly. We make mistakes. We alter our direction. But the moment I try to steal the wheel from God’s hands, I know I’ve fallen back into my codependent behaviors.

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“Shame” is creeping up again telling me I need to fill an emptiness by forcing someone else to make me feel better about myself. Realizing I am whole, valuable, and loved helped me let go of the false notion that someone had to do or be something or someone I wanted them to be in order for me to be happy.

Has my husband changed? Nope! But I have! And my happy days far outnumber my sad days now.

How to Deal With Shame: Identify it. Own it. Process it. Let it Go.

Plan Your Life As If He Will Never Change

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After our “Therapeutic Separation” my husband and I tried, once again, to work things out. While he was gone (2.5 months) I learned a lot about myself (one reason for letting him come back home). I learned that I was actually pretty controlling in many ways- being passive aggressive, stating my opinion even if it wasn’t welcomed or asked for, expecting (and almost always being disappointed) people to make decisions that I felt they should make, and getting angry when people weren’t able to keep their promises. I confused “controlling” with “demanding” and came to understand controlling is actually any kind of action (either through thought, words, or physical action) in which we believe we can change a situation or person from being/thinking/doing something different from what they would naturally be/think/do if we did not intervene.

While I was completely justified to be angry and expect that he change his behavior (stop acting out sexually, lying, cheating, deal with his addictions, verbally abusing us, etc.) it was never okay to hate him or judge him for not doing what I wanted him to do when he chose not to do it.

In summary, I realized the reason I was always so upset with my husband was because he wasn’t who I wanted him to be. He wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do. He wasn’t saying what I wanted him to say. He wasn’t thinking the way I wanted him to think. He didn’t see things the way I thought he should see things. I.e., he was “himself” and that pissed me off and I was set on patiently awaiting some miraculous Godly intervention in which he would someday (soon!) “see the light” and eventually become the person I thought he should be (like me)… (Yeah… I was pretty embarrassed when I came to realize that about myself).

That realization was truly humbling. What was more humbling (flat out embarrassing) was that once I realized this, I brought up the subject of us getting back together and “working it out”.  I mistakenly asked him to come home with this crazy notion that, “Aha! Now I know what I need to do! I must accept him for who he is! I must stop pointing out his flaws and THEN I will see him change on his own accord! I’m too bossy and controlling! THAT’S THE PROBLEM! All I have to do is stop being bossy and controlling and THEN he will become the person I need him to be!”

While it sounded pretty logical and smart at the time, it took numerous disappointments, cheating, and lying (on his part) for me to realize that wasn’t logical or smart at all.

We’re still married and still living together, but I think I may have figured it out…

Last night, after his bible study, he got into bed and whispered, “Now that I am working on honesty, I have to tell you something…” My heart started pounding loudly. The lump in my throat was painful. I knew what he was going to say. I expected him to tell me a half-truth story about another sexually acting out event.

Surprisingly, I was wrong. He told me that instead of going to work the day before, he went gambling instead. He’s done this many times before (lied about going to work only to spend the day at the casino). I sat with that and thanked him for being honest. I wasn’t mad at him anymore. Seriously disappointed for sure, but not mad.

I had been praying that all the stuff he was hiding would soon come to light. I had been praying that his truth would be revealed, and that he would grow spiritually and emotionally enough to seek a life of honesty. This is exactly what I was getting. How could I get mad?

Hearing him confess about the gambling, at this point, no longer triggered anger in me. Sadness, yes. But not anger. Not only did I feel it was an “answer to my prayer”, it also felt like just another piece of evidence to throw on the pile that told me my husband was not to be trusted (big sigh…).

I had to give it a day to really think about this new disclosure.

Who is being dishonest here? Him? Me? The answer was both of us. I pride myself on being honest. But the fact is I was being honest with everyone but myself. The fact is, I never saw him for who he was. I only saw him for what I thought he could be (and to my credit, he did say that he wanted to be an honest and faithful husband and father). But the reality is (and TRUTH was) that he is not that.

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I was living in denial, and I was making all my daily decisions, emotions, and future plans based upon that. And every time he acted out, lied, cheated, gambled, drank, verbally abused us, or whatever went against what I felt was “wrong” it was a slap in the face to me. He ruined my fantasy. He was crushing my delusion of being married to a “potentially honest man” and replaced it with my ugly reality of being married to a man that is incapable of honesty.

For the past 3 years, he has been consistent with his acting out and dishonesty. He has effortlessly maintained his status quo and has never failed to be the same man I married and had kids with. And for that I had no one to be angry at except myself.

The more I hold on to my delusions and false hopes of him changing, the more I hate not him, but myself. I’ve lost so much time, energy, and opportunities waiting for the day he chooses to love and respect me. I’ve gained grey hairs, stress, and shed far more tears that I thought could be contained in my small body.

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I’ve had and known the truth the whole time. I have options. I can choose to stay. I can choose to leave. But whatever option I choose, I am never justified in forcing a person to be that which he is not. I must not plan my life according to who he promises he wants to be, but plan my life according to the person he is. If I choose to stay, that will require me accepting that he will never change. If I leave, that will still require me to accept that he will never change. But life will always continue on, so I’d best make the most of it.

 

Playing Bad Cards

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We are all dealt our own unique cards in life. Some people get a good hand. Some get a crappy hand. But in the end, when the game is over, we all end up in the same place (dead). So how do I want to spend my time until then? I.e., how do I win with the crappy cards I was given?

Pissing and moaning about the dealer? Holding resentment towards those that seem to have gotten the better hand? Steal their cards? Cheat? Drink myself to oblivion or dive into other addictions so I don’t have to feel as bad about my crappy hand?

What if I have fun and play my best, no matter how crappy it may seem? I might not beat the others by wiping them out but I will win by finding joy that AT LEAST I can play.

I might find joy in the game simply by learning, growing, making friends, sharing our “secrets” to the joy-finding approach.

IN the end, I might even realize it wasn’t a game of me vs you or even me vs the cards. Maybe it wasn’t even a game.

Some people like to stay sitting at the table, hoping for a better hand. I admit, I was one of those people thinking that if I stayed in the game long enough, maybe my luck would change. Now I’m starting to realize there was only one player at the table and it was me! Life is too short to stay there!

Who is making all these rules anyway? Who assigned the value of the cards? Who decides if the cards in your hand are even crappy or not?

It’s time to live!

Am I a Failure…?

Often, I feel like a total failure. I look in the mirror and see “FAILURE” in my reflection. I loathe around wondering how I got myself into this mess? Why did I make certain choices? Why can’t I make better ones? My life is a mess…

And then I remember… that’s the most selfish thing I could ever think. I look at my children and see the greatest, most magical miracles of the world. I did that… These little miracles came from me! These truly powerful, loving, good human beings… they call me “Mom”.

Yes, I have made more mistakes than I care to admit to. I continue to make mistakes I’m not proud of. But I’ve shown them that making mistakes should never keep you down, but push you to strive for better. Each and every day.

I took another look in the mirror and I saw…courage.

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It Will Get Easier (or not…)

I once confused “things will get easier” with “things will eventually change to your liking”.

Now I understand that as we go through the inevitable disappointments in life, as long as you are growing through it, your ability to overcome them gets stronger. That’s why things get easier. If your heart was a muscle, it could only be strengthened by working it out. Trying to find compassion or a loving response to something we want to violently strike down takes some serious heart strength!

When we run from, deny, avoid the inevitable disappointments (or stay resentful) we don’t learn anything. I.e., the heart never gets a work out. It’s equivalent to sitting on the couch eating junk wishing you were fit.

Things get easier, for sure, if you are learning and growing from your experiences. Problems don’t disappear (and unfortunately they never will- that’s life) but their affect on you might!

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Lost and Found

When going through healing and recovery, they recommend making a list of all your losses as a result of being married to an addict. It’s important to acknowledge them so that you can grieve and process them (as opposed to ignoring, denying, or being oblivious to them). What they don’t tell you when you’re making this list is that you will eventually have to then list how all those perceived losses could, with time, be restored. This exercise was an extremely powerful tool for me, and I thought I’d share my experience with you:

Outside of my freedom from the STDs I got, I was unsuccessful in identifying any of my losses that are unable to be restored, at some point, in my future. Of note, my personal power is the biggest. I may have felt like a powerless victim, but the fact is I always did, and still do have a choice in everything and every situation. In victim-mode I was more focused on not having a choice in the things that were out of my control. This is true and remains true. I do not have a choice in his behavior and acting out. I did not cause his addictions, I cannot prevent his addictive behavior, and I cannot cure it. I do not have a choice in how he does his recovery. But the fact is, I never lost that control because I never had it to begin with. Although it was occasionally surrendered, I had, and continue to have, a voice and a choice in my marriage. That was never lost.

I could argue that I “lost” my husband, but if I were to be brutally honest, I never “had” him in the first place. He was, and still is, his own person. And although I could say I “lost my partner”, even that would be untrue. When he left, every night in my anguish, shock, and pain, I fell to my knees and prayed. I am not a religious person, nor do I ever pray. But this got me on my knees praying and I prayed for him. I prayed for us. I prayed for our family.  Through the time I spent in prayer (and not getting any of those things I was asking for) I unexpectedly fell into a new partnership – a partnership with God.

Another perceived loss was my hope in my marriage, my relationship with men, and in my ability to trust myself and my intuition. While I still do not have “hope” in any of these, I do know that they can be rebuilt – even the marriage- if that is in God’s will. My hope right now, as I have slowly learned, is that, one day at a time, my Higher Power is walking with me and giving me the courage and wisdom I need to make it through these difficult times. This gives me hope for my future. I know I will make it out alright. My perceived loss of “hope” has developed into a new found “faith” and my “faith” has been strengthened exponentially all because of my initial loss of hope.

Some things that appear lost, apparently,
transform themselves into new bigger and better things.

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I also thought I had lost my smile, my inner light, joy, and brightness. I have found that I may have lost it at a moment, but that moment was not the first time. I have lost it several times in my life and through time got it back.

This too, shall pass.

Interestingly, I also listed that I had lost my friends, family, and people that matter most. I had put the spotlight on my husband as having this role as all of those people, not realizing that there are tons of other people that fill those roles in my life. Not only that, but I’ve come to find that they have always been there for me, even in my darkest moments, even when I’ve made bad decisions that could have sent them running. I don’t know where my husband falls into this equation yet, but I do know that I never lost my friends, family, or the people that matter the most. If anything, their commitment to me through this whole ordeal has been a sign of their unconditional love, acceptance, and importance in my life, as well as my significance in their life.

I thought I had lost my ability to trust, but I realize that I actually trust a lot of people. In fact, there are some people that I didn’t trust at one time and trust them now. I realized that trust comes and goes. It is lost and gained again. It is possible that my trust for my husband is gone now and can come back later. It is also possible that my trust for my husband will never return. The reality is I don’t know. I never questioned or worried about him or his behavior in the past and now that is all that I do. This may last for a while and go away, or it may stay forever. I don’t know. The truth is, though, that I never lost my ability to trust. It’s largely dependent on time and the relationship evolution. I also realized that although I don’t trust him on some things, there are things that I do trust him on: he’s a hard worker, he loves his son, he has the capability of being honest, good, and genuine (he just chooses not to be sometimes). So while it is true that I lost trust in him, I have to admit that it hasn’t been lost completely. Is that enough to stay in the marriage? Of course not! But I’m not going to blind myself with this false belief that he is completely untrustworthy, because that simply is not the case.

I also thought that I had lost my confidence, but that, like trust, was not completely lost. I may have lost confidence in how my husband feels about me, but I never lost confidence in how I feel about me. I really like who I am and what I bring to the table. I see my flaws, know I’m not perfect, but still feel that I am a person worthy of love, admiration, affection, and loyalty. I believe I am valuable, beautiful, and wanted. I believe my opinions matter, that I am smart, and worth fighting for (even if he chose not to). I believe that I am capable of doing anything, even if I have to do it alone. I believe I have it in me to overcome any hardship and that I am resilient and wonderful. I have no confidence that my husband sees that in me, but I see it in me, and I think that’s all that matters. Maybe one day he will see it. Maybe he never will. But that, apparently, was never enough to affect how I see myself.

I thought I had lost the ability to protect my baby, my kids’ future, and my ability to do good parenting. I thought that my choices had caused such irreparable damage that I had somehow scarred their adulthood. My hypervigilance and controlling behavior for sure, had gotten the best of me, and took my attention and energy away from them, and that has definitely affected them. But my ability to right the wrongs and turn our lives down a different path, for sure, has not been lost.

I thought I had lost the ability to feel comfort, security, and peace in my own home. Everything had become a trigger: our bed, our T.V., etc. After the separation, however, I moved some things around, changed a few rituals and rules, made some space for myself and am starting to feel at home (maybe even more so than before). My sons and I enjoy the space and the loss I felt was only there because I was connecting my marriage to my home. A home is just a physical place- it was the meaning I put on it that made me feel suffering.

Finally, I thought that I had lost my belief in love. I thought that everything I thought about love and marriage had been wrong. After the betrayal I began to believe that maybe there is no such thing as “real love” and that maybe every man cheats on his wife and every marriage will suffer these wounds. I thought that love meant being loyal and honest and committed. I began to believe that the past we had was all a lie. I have since learned that our past was not a lie. I do not know how he really felt or even how he feels now, but I do know that my love for him was true. I also have learned that love is still what I thought it was, but it’s also something MORE. Love is freedom. I have learned that it is not easy, as I had believed, to love another. Love is very difficult because it means allowing the person to be free to make his/her own choices, to walk his/her own path, and to find his/her own way in life. It is the greatest sign of love, to let go of another and let them be free. Anything else would be selfish, and selfish is the opposite of love.

At the end of the exercise, I learned I lost nothing but gained everything.

So what’s up with all these sad crappy feelings and emotions? It’s called grief. It’s normal, it’s good, and will pass.

Fear and Insecurity- How It Lead Me to Being Fearless and Less Insecure

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When I was six years old, I remember getting the training wheels off my Rainbow Bright bicycle and riding alone for the first time. The feeling was exhilarating and the fact that my bike was Rainbow Bright made it magical. What a glorious moment for a six-year old. I was fearless.

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Needless to say, the bike apparently wasn’t that magical as I fell off and scraped my knee. My father ran to me, scooped me up, and took me to the house. Although I was hurt, I hadn’t cried until I looked down and saw the blood. The blood horrified me. Just the look of it made the pain grow exponentially. “The blood! The blood!” I screamed. The pain, not from falling, but from seeing the blood, was unbearable. My father never let me live that down…

Now I’m 34 years old and still sensitive to the sight of blood, but it doesn’t intensify the pain. I’ve since learned that neither blood or riding a bike equals pain. I can enjoy a bike ride without fear of falling off. I can see blood and not feel immense pain.

But when we are traumatized with other horrific events, such as being betrayed by a spouse’s infidelity, everything that is connected with the infidelity becomes the “blood” that intensifies our fear. Now, whenever I pass a massage parlor, I feel pain. My emotional pain increases and I experience tension, anxiety, fear, sadness…(the list could go on). Whenever I hear my husband’s phone go off, I experience the same feelings. Whenever I am triggered (my triggers are numerous!) I fall into great despair. My emotions go into a downward negative spiral and my creativity peaks as I start envisioning all the times he acted out and was unfaithful. I create stories that may have never even happened, and somehow manage to make it the worst possible scenario imaginable. I then relive those events in my mind and heart, over and over. While the betrayal was real, and the emotional turmoil and trauma I experienced was real, the pain wasn’t something I needed to hold on to. It is natural to grieve and feel “broken-hearted”. All those feelings are natural and should be appreciated. You’ve been hurt! Hurt hurts! It’s supposed to! But it doesn’t have to last, and it doesn’t have to be recreated or tightly held on to. Even now, as we pick up the pieces of a shattered dream, there are days when I feel paralyzed by my fear of him acting out again, of being betrayed again.. and I am totally justified to feel that fear. I could even let that fear control my entire day.

It’s fear. Fear of the unknown.
Fear of ambiguity.
Fear of being hurt again.
It is insecurity.

The feeling is real, for sure.
But it doesn’t have to affect me unless I let it.

I could have decided, at six years old, that considering the pain involved, riding a bike was way too risky and not worth the effort, but I didn’t. My desire to experience life and all it had to offer- especially on an awesome Rainbow Bright bike (did I mention the rainbow streamers on the handle bars?) with the wind blowing through my hair as I rode down the street- was stronger than the fear of experiencing that pain ever again.

It took me a while to finally understand that massage parlors, prostitutes, other women, porn, and sex were not my enemy. They were doing what they were supposed to do. They were doing their job. It’s a reality I could not fight. To deny their existence would be a battle I was sure to lose, every single time. Every time I tried to fight that battle, I would feel more pain and more fear.

What I did learn was that not even my husband was my enemy. He was just doing what he does. He was “doing his job” too. That was his reality at the time, on his path in his life. It was his choice and there was nothing I could do to prevent that from happening, and nothing I can do to prevent it from happening in the future. In fact, even if I decided to get a new husband, lover, or partner, there’s still nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. People will make their choices whether or not I like them, because that is reality.

Emotional and physical pain sucks. Betrayal sucks. Infidelity sucks. Lies suck. Liars suck. Reality can really suck. But in the end, it’s still reality and whether or not I fear all of that, it’s still a reality.  I can choose to remain resentful, mad, angry, sad, depressed, insecure and fearful, but the crappiest reality about that is that it will only affect me in the end. Me staying resentful, mad or angry and depressed won’t affect anyone else but me. And why would I want that? Life will still play out in unpredictable ways. It will bring joy and it will bring sadness.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of bikes and I’ve fallen down a lot as well. I chose to ride again, despite the numerous crashes. I’ve learned that some falls I could learn from and take certain measures to prevent similar crashes. But there were other falls that were completely out of my control.

I can let that insecurity ruin my day, month, year, and even life. Or, I can let it go.

I’m  not saying don’t feel your pain. I’m not saying don’t process your pain or deny your pain. I’m saying don’t dwell on it.

Feel it, acknowledge it, AND…MOVE…ON.

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