Thursday, October 12, 2017

You are entitled!

Esther Perel, couples counsellor and author of the just-released The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, was being interviewed the other day and she said something that so many of us find difficult but that we absolutely need to hear. She said that, in the wake of a partner's affair, it's the perfect time for the betrayed partner to claim entitlement to what she wants and needs in her life. An affair, says Perel, is often the cheating partner laying claim to something that makes him feel more alive. It's the reconnection with that part of himself that feels excited by life that's a big part of the allure, she says, far more than the sex. But it isn't just the cheating partner who necessarily feels as though life has become routine and mundane – the betrayed partner frequently feels that too. We want to feel young and sexy and alive again too! We just don't necessarily think we'll find that in someone else's bed. Or we've been too busy taking care of everyone else that we've barely given much thought to our own feelings of loss.
But we deserve that. And so, post-betrayal, when we're negotiating reconciliation, is the perfect time to build into our marriage and our life what WE need going forward. It's time to feel entitled, in the best sense of the word.
The hard part, of course, is that too many of us respond to his affair by trying to be more lovable, more worthy of his attention. We mistakenly believe that he cheated because he'd grown bored with us and so we set about making ourselves more interesting, more sexy.
It's not necessarily a bad response but it's for the wrong reason. Rather than rediscovering ourselves for him, we need to do it for us. 
On Monday, StillStanding1 gave us a long list of affirmations she uses to treat herself with kindness and respect. I'm suggesting an action plan that provides the chance to reconnect with ourselves and take pleasure in who we are. 
Over and over on this site, I read of women who've taken up running again because it makes them feel strong and healthy. Or women who've rediscovered knitting or crocheting. (Incidentally, I'm often struck by how many of these activities that help women find themselves are meditative.) Or they've made time for friends again. Or gone back to work.
Let me repeat: This is NOT about making yourself worthy of loving by him. It is about getting back to the truth that you have always been lovable but that, just maybe, you've been neglecting yourself. It's about loving yourself, not proving yourself lovable. 
And I agree with Perel that, as you're negotiating this new marriage, it's time to make some demands. Along with the standard reconciliation pact, tell him he needs to make room for you to pursue your own interests, to have some fun, to keep yourself healthy. To feel alive.
The affair might have done that for him – helped him reconnect to a part of himself he'd lost. It was a huge mistake with painful consequences for everyone. But you can now take this chance to reconnect with yourself. If not now, when?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Guest Post: Becoming the Center of Our Own Story

by StillStanding1

I think one of the reasons d-day hit me so hard (aside from the obvious) is because I had completely let myself go. I don’t mean in the “gained weight, stopped wearing makeup, societal expectations” way, although there was certainly some of that going on. I mean in the “Alice In Wonderland, don’t forget who you are” way. I had this very physical sensation of being stripped bare. If I wasn’t a cherished wife and mother, who was I? All the things I had wrapped around me to keep me safe were exposed in that harsh light as a bunch of useless nothings – my extra weight, my social justice causes, my wine weekends, my efforts to cook nice meals, my unquestioning investment in his career, my kids' activities. So many things I can’t even recall at this point but all around being too busy to notice my own pain, too busy to see how things were coming apart, too busy to see how my needs were not being considered.
I can remember a point, just a few days after finding out and I was pouring my heart into the “pick me” dance (laser hair removal...actually glad I did this), botox, sexy underwear, weight loss (which was happening anyway thanks to anxiety), cooking elaborate meals, purchasing a book about “how to win your man back even if he’s in love with someone else” (eye roll) and doing nothing, absolutely nothing that might rock the boat or “scare” him away, like suggesting that he could not be in contact with her and live under the same roof with me, when I asked myself, “Well, if I am all stripped down, if I am a nothing, who do I want to be?”  And I realized I was tired of hurting, tired of being a victim and tired of feeling not good enough every goddamn day. I decided, without fully knowing what I was committing myself to, that I was finally going to be the heroine of the story I had always wished to be.
I had hit on the crux of the crisis, part of the “how did I get here”. I had not, for the longest time, been at the center of my own story. Husband, kids, family, coworkers, dogs, random strangers in the grocery store, everyone came before me. I had lost the ability to voice an opinion, even for simple things (where do you want to go to dinner? I don’t care. Where do you want to go to dinner?) and on the rare occasion I did voice an opinion, I was both super-apologetic and full of guilt. It was, in hindsight, an awful way to live. I think, like so many women, I had bought into the societal pressures to be the super-mom, always burning herself out for others, putting herself dead last behind kids and spouse. This falls under the Brené Brown category of “The danger of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as a metric for self-worth.” We are not worthy if we are not wearing ourselves to the bone for our families (in whatever shape they take). I had also, in the pursuit of wifely and motherly perfection, let go of the things that fed me, that helped define me. Things like art, photography, connecting with nature, friends, my own career.
Over time and with a lot of effort and a whole lot of falling down and getting back up again, I am, in general, much better at keeping myself in the center of my story. There are still old habits, particularly when I am dealing with old, dysfunctional relationships or people with very bad boundaries (my ex, my MIL) but I’m a work in progress and I’m proud to say I’m coming along nicely. 
What does keeping yourself at the center of your story look like? Here are some ideas, in no particular order:

1.     I am responsible for my own happiness
2.     No one is responsible for taking care of me except for me
3.     I am not responsible for the happiness of others
4.     What others think of me is none of my business
5.     I am allowed to make choices that are good for me
6.     I am committed to taking care of myself emotionally, physically and spiritually
7.     I am learning to make decisions and voice opinions
8.     I listen to my body
9.     I am kind to myself and interrupt negative self-talk
10.  I set boundaries
11.  I can listen to others and accept their feelings without agreeing or needing to “educate” or teach them
12.  I trust myself and my decisions and am willing to live with the consequences, even if things don’t go as planned or when they go better than planned
13.  I give myself permission to say no to people and things that’s aren’t right for me
14.  I accept responsibility for my choices
15.  I recognize that in a family unit, sometimes others’ needs are equal to our own, that sometimes I can make a choice to put someone ahead of me, but that for the majority of the time, it is healthy and acceptable to consider my own needs and wellbeing first
16.  When I try to fix things for others or protect them from the pain or consequences of their actions, I rob them of an opportunity for growth
17.  I try to accept people and relationships as they are not as I wish them to be
18.  I am learning to self soothe and reassure myself rather than seek reassurance and validation from others
19.  I have as much time as I need to make choices and decisions. I can wait and let things unfold. I don’t have to do or fix everything right this second
20.  I will stop judging and comparing myself to others
21.  I will no longer “fake it till I make it”
22.  I am beautiful, smart and courageous and I will not apologize for it
23.  I accept that I am enough and when people in my life can’t see it, that is their failure, not mine

Nowadays, I know when I am not keeping myself in the center of my story because my anxiety starts to rise. I start worrying about caretaking in co-dependent ways and trying to control things that are beyond my control. I feel my chest tighten and my gut gets grumbly. I stop sleeping well. I worry about the future. And I start to lose my grip on doing the things that serve me, like running, like painting, like meditating, like spending time with friends, like eating healthy food, like taking care of my home. Putting myself in the center has the remarkable side-effect of placing me in the here and now. What’s good right now? The sunshine, my coffee, my dumb dogs, this photo I just took, this meal I’m having with a friend. The other stuff, the big stuff, whether or not my ex gets his act together, that will play out and I neither want nor have any control over the outcome. These days, I’m not killing myself over it because his “stuff” is not central to my story anymore. I think this can be true whether you stay or go. His stuff needs to take a back seat to your stuff. Put yourself in the center of your own story and make it a good one.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fearing Fear

I've been preoccupied lately. My eldest daughter, who's dealing with a relatively recent diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorder has begun experiencing psychosis. She spent a few days last week in a psychiatric hospital. A day after her release, she called me, whispering that people were watching her.
I handled her hospitalization just fine, thank you very much. I swung into action, organizing my other kids, rescheduling appointments and interviews, all so I could race to the city a few hours away where my daughter is at school.
I met with doctors and psychotherapists and social workers.
After two days, I came home to rest and my husband took over, driving to the city and meeting with doctors, etc.
He returned her to her apartment when she was released. She was eager to get back to school and to her life. And then, just one day later, came the call and a clear indication that the psychosis was back.
Back upstairs to re-pack the bag I had barely unpacked. Back onto the highway.
And this time felt different. I was able to put on a calm face for my daughter but I felt terrified. Terrified that I was going to lose her to her conviction that she was a "burden". Terrified that this disease will transform her, that the potent medication will steal this beautiful, smart, talented, open-hearted girl from the world.
I reached out to friends – desperate for someone to listen to me. I felt an ocean of tears just behind my eyes that seemed blocked. I, a confirmed non-hugger, needed a hug.
And I noticed something.
Fear terrifies people. 
Though all of my friends mean well – and I'm blessed to have really good people in my life – only some can hold our pain. And the ones who can hold our pain have learned to do so because they've learned to hold their own. While all of my friends offered up reassurances, only a couple could just listen without trying to convince me that she'll be fine. And those friends felt like a port in my storm.

A woman posted a comment on this site yesterday. It's rare that I censor anyone but the snake-oil salespeople who insist their potion will transform our errant spouses into repentant Romeos. Even if what someone has written is inflammatory, I hit "publish" because I trust you soul-warriors to rally to each other's defence and because I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to work through our responses to those who insist we're doormats or pathetic for staying. What's more, occasionally we're offered an insight into the thinking of an Other Woman.
But this woman had nothing to offer other than two sentences of ridicule so I didn't click "publish" because I knew that my immediate response would be to tell her to go fuck herself. I'm in no mood to listen to her boring old clichéd bullshit.
But then, driving home today from helping my daughter through this latest episode and meeting with her doctor yet again, I was mulling over my friends' response to my fear and how it was those who've been in dark places themselves who were best able to be with me in mine. I was thinking about the matter-of-fact empathy of the doctors. And I was listening to a podcast with one of my favorite poets/memoirists Mary Karr who was talking about how she's learned to be kind to herself because, she said, it's impossible to be compassionate with others if we haven't yet learned to be compassionate with ourselves, and it's impossible to be gentle with ourselves, to accept our foibles and our "peccadilloes" (her word, which I love)  without accepting our own.
And it hit me that this low-blow commenter is terrified – of facing her own grief, of facing her own fear of failure, of accepting her own peccadilloes. I don't know her whole story. But I know that nobody would spew such cruelty without deep self-loathing and a deep fear of facing it.

It takes courage to face our fear.
That's what we're doing here every day. Sometimes we move inches, sometimes miles. Sometimes we can't see that we're moving at all. But make no mistake: Showing up, day after day, and working through our fear is brave.
Showing up for others in their dark places is brave.
Because we can only show up and hold another's pain when we're able to hold our own.


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