Monday, July 9, 2018

Rebuild yourself after betrayal

"There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself." ~Hannah Gadsby, stand-up comedian

I have some bad news for those of you who long for nothing more than the you you used to be. The "Before" you. Before your heart was shattered by news of your husband's infidelity. Before you fell to your knees and sobbed. Before you stared vacant-eyed at the ceiling, wondering how you could have missed the clues because surely there were clues. Before you threw his clothes on the lawn. Before you brushed away your tears and assured your children that "no, sweetie, mommy isn't sad. Mommy just has something in her eye."
The bad news is this: That woman is gone.
But it's not all bad news. Because when everything is gone, when you're stripped bare and you're looking around and wondering how you ever thought it mattered whether you painted the kitchen chairs yellow or red or whether your kids were actually eating from all the food groups each day, when you don't have much left to lose is when the rebuilding can begin. And anyone who's lost everything in a fire will tell you that when the time comes to rebuild, you don't scrimp, you don't cut corners, you don't overlook. Instead, starting from the foundation, you make damn sure that you're building the strongest possible thing you can, able to withstand fire, hurricane and flood.
Which is why older women are, statistically, at their happiest. We've stopped caring whether people think we're fat, or whether we said the wrong thing at the meeting. As the saying goes, we have zero fucks left to give.
Which is not to say we don't care. Those of us who've been broken and rebuilt ourselves are among the most compassionate people. We care deeply. We just don't care about the superfluous, the shallow. We use our precious time and energy to focus on the things we can change, on the things that matter.
For me, that means my family. It means work that I find meaningful. It means my friends. And it means releasing myself of that longing for Before.
I know how hard it is. I spent way too much time wishing I could magically restore myself to life Before. And yes, there were casualties. It took me a few years at least until I laughed with the same abandon as Before. It took me even longer until I could approach anyone's news of engagement or wedding without cynicism. I had to work to regain my sense of humour and I still tend toward cynicism.
There's little doubt, though, that my shoulders are better able to carry my friends in their sorrow. I know that my heart is wide enough and deep enough to hold pain and still have room for joy. We women who have rebuilt ourselves are superheroes.
It sucks that it sometimes takes suffering to remind us of our strength. But all the women I truly admire – every single one – has felt broken. One lost two children to suicide/mental illness. Another battled anxiety and addiction. Another parents a child with special needs. Too many have known betrayal. So much grief. And so much strength.
I know it probably doesn't help much when you're in a heap on the floor. And I'm a firm believer in letting yourself stay there and cry. Not forever but today.
But know that the rebuilding is underway, whether you can feel it yet or not. Your strength is being stirred and preparing to rise. Look around at the women who you truly admire. Not the ones with the shiny veneer. We all know that's carefully crafted to cover the cracks. But the ones who model strength and conviction. The ones who've rebuilt themselves. Forget Before. That's your After.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

UPDATE: Join our secret sisterhood for a "me too" weekend: Sept. 28 - 30

I'm thrilled to announce that we'll be joined at our retreat by Chris Lindner, a trained peer counsellor with the Infidelity Counseling Network. After experiencing infidelity herself and getting her footing back, Chris has determined to help others. After completing coach certification training via the Infidelity Recovery Institute, she has set up her business: Help From BetrayalThere are a few spots left at our retreat. We'll be working Chris into our schedule. Hope you decide to join us!

Are there any more powerful words than "me too", spoken in solidarity with another's pain? Nobody knows betrayal like those of us who've been betrayed. Join the BWC secret sisterhood at our showing up (no "retreat" for us!),
September 28 - 30, at a huge beach house on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

To give you a sense of what you can expect, here's our agenda (to date):

Friday, September 28
Arrive by 7 p.m.
Welcome reception, catered
•We'll gather together to enjoy some great food and champagne and relax after our flights.
•There will be access to the swimming pool and beach to unwind.

Saturday, September 29
•Breakfast 9 a.m.
•Activities: biking, kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming
•12:30 - 1:30: Lunch, catered (vegetarian options available)
•1:30 - 3:00 p.m. Conversation circle: Our chance to share our stories, talk over wherever we feel stuck, offer up what's working for us, and crowd-source help.
•Afternoon: Afternoon: Massage available for those who want it (an on-site masseuse is offering massage -- foot, hand, scalp, shoulders, back, full-body! Whatever you want. She works regularly with those who've experienced trauma)
3:00 - 6:00: Activities available: biking, paddle-boarding, swimming, kayaking.
7 p.m. Dinner at a local restaurant overlooking the ocean

Sunday, September 30
•Early-birds are welcome to coffee/tea, croissants
•11 a.m.: Brunch
•Group check-in/conversation around the pool
•Activities available: biking, paddle-boarding, kayaking, swimming
•3:00 p.m. Departure

If you have any concerns, please let me know. If there's something you'd like to see but don't, please let me know. If you need help spreading out the payments, please let me know. This is a chance for 15 of you to find support and compassion and to give yourself a break and let someone else take care of the details.
Included in the $1,098 cost: all meals and snacks, massage, activities, champagne reception, and accommodation for two nights. Not included: airfare and transportation to and from the beach house.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What a horror flick can teach us about how we talk to ourselves

There was a popular horror flick when I was younger about a babysitter being terrorized by a lunatic. He continues to call her, asking in a raspy voice, "Have you checked the children?"
The babysitter calls the police to report this harassment and the police promise to investigate. The climax of the movie – the part where everyone in the theatre shrieks in terror – comes when a police officer calls the babysitter back and tells her that "the calls are coming from inside the house."
I'm reminded of this because of a comment on the Feeling Stuck thread in which a woman, still married and reportedly happy to be, confesses that she's struggling to feel desirable because her husband cheated with someone younger and, theoretically, sexier. This woman felt old and unlovable and "ordinary". How, she asked, could she get her former confident self back?
What does this have to do with a horror flick? Because here's the thing: it's coming from inside your head. The enemy is in the house.
And that is where we need to direct our energy to ensure that this enemy is annihilated, or at least tamed.
It's not easy. The enemy might have our voice but the words likely sound a lot like those that came from your mother. Or your stepfather. Or your college boyfriend. Even your husband. Maybe what you hear sounds a lot like what we see on social media, where women are attacked for everything from their weight to their hair to the language they use. For centuries, women have been policed -- our bodies, our ideas. So it's no surprise that we've internalized this. It's no surprise that the enemy is now within.
Cause being younger doesn't necessarily mean better unless we agree with our cultural worship of youth. Being younger generally means less life experience. It means less perspective. It means less nuance. And being "new" means she doesn't have the same history with your partner – showing up day in and day out for life's moments – that you do. So she has a tight ass. Big deal. Talk to me when she has a moral compass.
The only way to battle that internal enemy is to, first, notice it. Pay attention next time you hear criticism coming from inside your own head. Anything from "what an idiot I am" to "I'm disgusting". And then challenge it. Are you really an idiot? I doubt it. I imagine, like the rest of us, you have your moments. You say something dumb or you lose something important or you forget something. Oh well. Welcome to the club.
As for disgusting, no you're not. If you're not taking care of yourself, then it's time to start. But that's it. Tell yourself you're disgusting often enough and that's all you'll be able to see. You'll completely miss everything that's incredible about you. Your sense of humour. Your insight. Your kindness. None of that is disgusting.
But when all we hear is a steady stream of criticism, that becomes our reality. The enemy of the women who commented about having lost her confidence isn't this younger Other Woman. It's the voice in her head. The one that agrees that youth is somehow preferable.
Maybe this voice has something to teach her. Maybe she's bored with her own life. Maybe what she's after isn't youth (especially when it comes in a package that's lacking a heart and soul) but vitality. Maybe she needs to stir things up a bit – try a new hobby, take a trip, do something unexpected.
Or maybe she needs to stop beating herself up for having taken more trips around the sun than this morally challenged Other Woman. Maybe she needs to see the beauty in eyes that crinkle when she smiles, a body that has weathered a few more storms.
Next time you hear that voice, remind yourself that it's the enemy within. And that's an enemy that you can control.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let Me Help You

My first therapist, a woman who specialized in working with Adult Children of Alcoholics of which I was a card-carrying member, had a sign in her waiting room that read: 
Help is the Sunny Side of Control.
Above the words smiled a large yellow happy face.
Each week, that sign hung above my head like the sword of Damocles. 
I would wait to be called into my therapist's office and then I would unload about all the ways in which my boyfriend didn't appreciate me, all the ways in which he had intimacy issues, all the ways in which he needed fixing in order for us to be blissful together. The healthier our relationship seemed, the more likely he was to run away from it. Only when he thought he might lose me was he suddenly unable to live without me.
How the hell do you fix that?
I tried.
I tried for seven years.
It didn't work.
I also didn't work when I tried to "help" my friend who constantly moaned about her weight. I didn't work when I tried to "help" my mother get sober. Nor when I tried to "help" the drug addict I met a party by promising to go with him to a Narcotics Anonymous. Or when I tried to "help" my suicidal friend by offering to pay for therapy out of my student loan. I was so busy "helping" other people, I had little energy or motivation to help myself. But man oh man, "helping" people sure helped distract me from my own pain.
With the help of that therapist gently pointing out my fix-it ways, I came to understand that I was avoiding so much sadness in myself. My compulsive need to "help" was about control. Other people's pain triggered my own and I would immediately roll up my sleeves and dig in, "helping" them find solutions or resources or the will it would take to make things better. Thing is, even those who'd asked for my "help" didn't really want it. 
My friend miserable about her weight is exactly the same size she was three decades ago. My mother got sober but it was when she was ready, not when I was. 
And that crappy boyfriend invited me to coffee a few years ago to catch up...and then made a pass at me, despite being married himself and knowing that I was. His intimacy issues were there in full.
But old habits die hard. And knowing better doesn't always mean doing better.
Sometimes it means still trying to "help" my daughter when her friends exclude her from an event. Or "help" my son when a girlfriend dumps him. Or "help" my husband become more organized, more productive, less ADHD.
They don't want my help. They are capable, resourceful, smart people. Instead, they want to feel lonely for a day while they sort through why their friends aren't very nice. Or feel sad for a week until the sadness lifts. They don't need fixing, they need holding. They need someone to be with them in their discomfort, to trust that they can handle it. Often, they want to be left the hell alone. (Though my husband, seriously, could stand to manage his ADHD better if only to make my life less chaotic.)
My need to fix them isn't about them at all. It's about me. It's about my need to ensure that everyone around me is happy so that I can be happy myself.
That therapist taught me that I would be waiting a lifetime if the only way I could ever let my own guard down was to ensure that everyone else was a-okay. That was just never going to happen. There would always always be one more person who needed my help.
So I learned (mostly) to bite my tongue (though teens tend to trigger my fix-it instinct hard!). I learned, thanks to meditation and running, to fight the urge to fix people unless they specifically ask for my help and even then not always. I learned to get comfortable with my own discomfort and recognize it as anxiety, or sadness, or grief. To understand that the world doesn't exist on a binary of control and total chaos. That most of us, me included, exist somewhere in between. Able to control some things (me) and not others (everything else).
It's been one of the toughest lessons to learn in my life. I remain an enthusiastic fixer – everything from climate change to poverty/homelessness to refugees to a friend's difficult relationship with her sister. But I'm reminded often of another saying that resonates. It comes from Lilla Watson, an activist and artist:
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”


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