Discovering Self Discovery

When I was in my late teens – early twenties I thought I knew myself. It was the first time I was out from under my parents rule and I was making my own adult decisions. That meant I knew what was best for me right? I hate to be cliche but here it goes…If I only knew then what I know now.

I’ve been in the habit of  keeping a journal for a long time. Sometimes I go back to that time in my life (right after graduating college) and I see a young woman who was in a rush to find “Mr. Right”, get married and start her own family. If I could go back and have a conversation with my younger self I would tell her to PLEASE enjoy life. Travel. Find something she loves to do and get really good at it. And I would make sure to tell her that this could take years.  Unfortunately, knowing this young woman the way I do, I believe she would have said, “I know what I want and I am going to have it.” Nothing future-me could have said would sway her. Her desire for a husband and a family at that time was so strong it felt more like a need.  She never took the time to learn who she was and to learn to love herself. Instead she believed that no one could really truly love her unless they were stuck with her somehow, like say by a marriage certificate.

The heartbreaking fact is that there are so many young women who feel the same way I did then.

I feel responsible to help them understand they don’t need a significant other to be complete. That they can be whole as an individual. That they are valuable and they need to love themselves for who they are before anyone else can. Unfortunately, the cultural norm works against us as women. The focus is on becoming good wives rather than strong, competent and secure women who may or may not become wives. In my experience this is especially, and dishearteningly, true in the Christian culture. A culture built on the foundation that ones wholeness is not determined by another person, but on God’s unconditional love. Yet some of the youngest married people I know are Christians. Why? Because they want to have guilt free sex? Are they REALLY ready for marriage? Trust me. The excitement of sex in marriage wanes and then you’re faced with a person you may or may not still be sexually attracted to for the rest of your life. Then what?

Wow. I got way off the topic I thought I’d be writing about. Let me try to get back on track.

So, back to my experience of being an insecure young woman who really didn’t know herself, or her value…I wish there would have been someone to show me how to discover my identity then. Much later in life there was someone, or rather someones, that did just that. They introduced me to some tools that helped me understand myself and the way I relate to others. In my next blog I’ll share some of those tools and how exactly they helped me in my self discovery.

Ugh! Why do I have to wait?!!

Well, I’ll tell you. The truth is I was almost half way done with this blog and I lost the entire thing! If this has ever happened to you then you know how EXTREMELY annoying and discouraging this can be. So I had to remember what I had written and try to recreate it. And now I am determined to post this thing and continue later. Until then…enjoy life!

The Divorce That Changed My Life (Part 2)

As promised, here is Part 2 (although some of you may argue that it’s actually Part 3, to which I reply…*that raspberry sound you make at babies to get them to smile*. I just don’t know how to write it. Suggestions are welcomed). Before I begin however, I would like to note that while I was going through my in-house separation experience I came upon this book. It was a HUGE help to me in getting my head right. Just throwing that out there in case it can be a help to anyone else.

Okay. So today I talk about my divorce. You might think that when he told me a second time he wanted a separation I got crazy, out-of-my-head depressed considering all the work I did during that last separation. Strangely enough, I didn’t react the way I (and you all) thought I would. Yeah I was shocked because I thought things were going well, or at least better than they ever had before. I did fight it for a short while because I believe that marriage is a commitment which to me means…well, a commitment. Not one that ends when it’s no longer convenient because THAT ISN’T A COMMITMENT. But who’s counting. I may have actually thought I could talk sense into him. Ha. Or guilt him into staying…for the children. Nope. So in the end I accepted it because I learned during the last separation that I am not responsible for the decisions he or anyone else makes. Only for my own decisions. AND I knew I had done everything in my power to save the marriage and it didn’t work. Can you guess what happened with that acceptance? I had peace! It was something I don’t remember ever feeling while I was with him. It was AMAZING!! It was time to move on.

Moving on for me looked like getting him out of the house for this separation. Thankfully my dear friends opened their home to him until he could find something else, simply to get him out of my house. It also looked like getting a roommate to help with the loss of a combined income. The roommate position was filled by another dear friend who moved in with her child. It was a good fit and we quickly became an new family. Moving on looked like so many things that became a transformation into a life that fit who I was. A life that I found joy in because I wasn’t trying to please someone I wasn’t ever going to please. A life I would not give up again.

How did you deal with the pain that you MUST HAVE felt? All those dreams you had of growing old together? Of your kids always having their parents together and happy?

The reason I spent so much time on the intermission of my marriage in my last blog is because it was really what helped me get through all of the above. I was given that opportunity to learn about myself as an individual. I hadn’t been able to picture myself without my husband prior to then because he had become such a huge part of my identity. (Mistakenly identifying myself as a wife and mother, rather than a woman with ideas and dreams and talents who also happened to be a wife and mother.) I wasn’t able to separate the two. But the intermission gave me the space to do just that. This time I already knew who I was without him involved. I also knew, or discovered, the tools that were available to me. Tools like counseling and DivorceCare. My friends became key in my healing too. I can safely say I have the BEST group of girlfriends ON THE PLANET!! It’s okay to tell your friends you need their support. It’s also a good idea to disperse your venting rather than dumping it all on one friend. This helps to avoid friendship burnout.

I do want to address having children while going through a separation/divorce. This is where Part 1 of my story really ties in. Because I experienced such an ugly divorce as a child, which had a lasting and damaging effect on me, I knew what I DIDN’T want to put my children through the same ordeal. I had learned through experience, research, and just plain ole common sense, healthy ways to help your child(ren) deal with divorce. Thankfully my husband was on board with me (as we usually are when the kids are concerned). We were sure to tell the kids repeatedly that we love them, that what was happening with Mom and Dad had NOTHING to do with them and there was nothing they could do to make it better, and we did not speak ill of one another in front of them. Those were our rules and so far, almost 3 years later, they’ve stuck.  So in a somewhat convoluted way I am thankful that I had the experience of my parent’s divorce to guide me in what not to repeat.

The last and most important key to getting through any hurts you endure at the hands of other people is to practice FORGIVENESS!! I don’t care what your faith is or if you even have one, forgiveness is essential for healing. So many of us think (as I once did) you have to feel it in your heart to forgive. Or that the person who has hurt you needs to ask for forgiveness before you forgive them. This is not true. Forgiveness isn’t for the other person; It is for YOU! You cannot move on free of bitterness until you make a decision to forgive that person. Bitterness becomes a cancer that eats away at you. If you love peace in your life as much as I do please learn to forgive. This book helped me really understand forgiveness.

So the end of Part 2 leads us to the Divorce that changed my life. By the time the divorce finally became official I was more than ready for it to be over with. My EX(smiley face)-husband and I are friends in a very loose definition of the word. We communicate well and mostly only about the children. He is very involved with them and sees them regularly. We are still a parenting team and there are no hard feelings. I am actually grateful that he made the decision to leave since it has opened my life to so many possibilities I didn’t think existed for me. In the end it all worked out!

Disclaimer: I am probably not done with discussing portions of my separations and divorce in future blogs because it’s what started me on my journey to unveil the extraordinary in myself as well as other woman. There’s some really good stuff I learned during these times that I want to share. Hopefully this will not discourage you from continuing to visit my blog. Stay tuned…

The Divorce That Changed My Life (intermission)

I know I promised a Part 2, however I believe an intermission is needed here. Hopefully you will agree.

As I mentioned in my last blog my husband told me he wanted to leave the marriage in about our 7th year. It was not the first time he made this announcement, but it was the first time he meant it to the point of separation. Of course we couldn’t be like normal couples who go through a separation. No. We had to have an in-house separation because frankly he had no where to go. *evil chuckle inserted here…just kidding…no I’m not* As difficult as it was, it was also the best thing that could have happened to me as an individual.

WHHAAAAT?

How could a in-house separation be the best thing that’s happened to anyone? That must have been an ongoing, never ending, every agonizing minute of every agonizing day (get the picture?) state of torture for you!! If these are your thoughts you would be right. But from the worst thing I could have EVER imagined happening to my marriage actually happening, I emerged as a whole person. I emerged as ME in the making.

Without getting into all the boring details of our failing marriage I will tell you that the separation hit me like a ton of bricks. There were some serious “Ah Ha!” moments going on.  And not the kind that examine everything he was doing wrong, which I’d already been doing since the day we got married…maybe even before that. It was a kind of awakening that opened my eyes to what I had been doing wrong in the marriage. Yes. It’s true. I had faults I needed to face. (Don’t worry this isn’t me blaming myself alone for the downward spiral of our relationship. I am fully aware he too contributed rather generously to the cause.) It was as if I could see myself for the first time and I wasn’t liking what I was seeing: An insecure woman who identified herself as being a wife and mother, rather than an individual who was also a wife and mother, which caused her to constantly feel inadequate and lacking because she was never good enough to make everyone happy, especially not her husband, which in turn made her cling to her husband even more by trying to control who he should be and what he should do to make her feel better about herself. AHHH!!! See what I mean?

This is the kind of self revelation that knocks the wind out of a person. The kind that makes a person hibernate in the safety of  her comforter never to see the light of day again. Honestly, if I didn’t have children, that’s probably exactly what I would have done. But I do have children and they needed me to be sane and have the where-with-it-all to provide for their needs. So I had to do something about it, and I did. I went to counseling for myself. I realized that what I had become was a culmination of deeper issues I never really got out and examined. I needed to get to the root of the problem when all I’d been doing for years was dealing with the symptoms. I kept putting band-aids on the boo-boos (<– did I mention I have children) and they kept getting ripped off. And we all know what a bitch that can be.

My Personal “Ah Ha’s”:

1. I was severely insecure
2. I wasn’t sure who I really was
3. I thought that if this separation lead to a divorce I was a failure
4. I was incredibly afraid of failing
5. I had a deep seeded fear of screwing up my kids
6. I got married for the wrong reasons…
…In fact I don’t think I was ever in love with my husband. Rather, I chose to love him…BIG difference (I know this now but back then I still thought “in love with” was the same as “infatuated with” and either didn’t really exist or was a mistaken emotion. Boy was I WRONG!!!)

What Counseling Did For Me:

1. Addressed my insecurities by telling the lies I thought about myself the TRUTH about myself (sometimes over and over again until it became my own truth).
2. Allowed me to pay attention to what I found enjoyment in and what I liked about myself  which in turn aided in my identity development.
3. Made me realize that as long as I did everything within my power to save the marriage I could NOT control the decisions my husband made, nor was i responsible for them! (This may have been the most profound revelation).
4. Gave me an understanding that failing is not the worst thing that can happen and I was going to be okay no matter what.
5. Taught me that as long as I loved my kids and they knew it, they would turn out just fine.
6. Reaffirmed that Yes, I did marry my husband for the wrong reasons and now it was time to try and make it right.

So the moral of today’s blog…get help! It’s okay to NOT have it all figured out. Counseling was the first and necessary step to my healing process. There were many others that followed (as I’m sure I will share with you in future blogs), but counseling opened the door to allow change in my inner, most hidden places.

As a side note: My husband could see the change that was occurring in me and apparently he found it attractive.  After almost a year of  in-house separation he decided he wanted to work on the marriage. SUCCESS!! Or so I thought. We did become closer and for the next few years we had the best marriage WE had ever had. BUT it was still a troubled marriage, and when only one person is making the effort to work on herself and make necessary personal changes, a great marriage it does not make. At some point the other person in the relationship needs to take ownership of his mistakes and his part of the whole that is marriage.

Okay, intermission is over. Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Divorce That Changed My Life. (I really promise this time).

The Divorce That Changed My Life (Part 1)

I know you are expecting me to talk about my own divorce today, but I’m not. The first divorce I experienced, that of course being my parent’s divorce, was probably the most significant identity-shaper (according to spell check I just made that word up) for me as a budding teenager. That and the years leading up to the divorce. Now, please don’t mistake this entry as being a blame-your-parents-for-everything-that-went-wrong-in-your-life lament. I am a firm believer that you have the ability to heal from past hurts with the right guidance and that there is a time in your life when you have to take responsibility for your own decisions. BUT there is no denying that your family life as a child shapes what your expectations as an adult become, and creates habits with in yourself that are very difficult to change later on. Those expectations and habits can determine core personal traits from your self defense mechanisms to the way you relate to other humans. This is Psychology 101 or maybe it’s just common sense. Either way it’s sometimes essential to look back at the way you were raised and determine if there are areas you need to retrain yourself in. For me, there was a TON of retraining to do!

Back to my childhood…My parent’s divorce was not pretty (as all parties involved would agree). There were false accusations made, there was a custody WAR, there were children being kicked out of the house and then the cops called for breech of custody agreement when said children moved in with the other parent. It was BAD. And yet, all of that was better than it would have been had my parents stayed together. There was no love in our house for years before the divorce happened. No one was mistreated or physically hurt (unless we deserved the spanking we got…and if you are wondering, sticking a book down your pants to save you from the pain that naturally results from a good belting DOES NOT work! But I digress). In fact I know that my brothers and I were loved even if the way it was shown to us didn’t always make sense to me at the time. (My father was strict and over protective. My mother was free-spirited and mood enhanced. Love you both.) It was more or less a tolerance of each other in between the loud arguing and fighting, doors slamming, someone leaving the house for a walk and smoke or for a pedal-to-the-metal drive to cool off. I can’t remember seeing them work together toward a goal or being supportive of one another. The general state of my parent’s relationship seemed to be annoyance.

All this to say, I’m glad they got a divorce. They really didn’t belong together. Unfortunately it was not in time to stop some very bad habits and expectations  from taking root in me. I didn’t grow up seeing two people relate to each other in a healthy, accepting, respectful, loving way. I saw intolerance, defensiveness, disrespect, anger. I became someone who had a hard time dealing with things not going my way. I became easily angered. I was not very accepting of the people I was in relationship with and in fact, I now believe I subconsciously tried to change them to what I thought they should be…just like me of course. I had unrealistic expectations that when I got married it would be different than my parents’ marriage and even worse that it would make me happy. Shockingly I was wrong on both counts (yes I have been wrong a time or two) and I didn’t realize it until oh about 7 years into the marriage!!

That’s when my retraining really started although I didn’t know it until about 3 years later. It was the first time my husband said he wanted to leave the marriage.

(Look for Part 2 next post.)

End Of The Road

Well maybe not the END of the road since there’s still a lot of road to go. But it’s definitely a “T” in the road.

As far back as I can remember I have struggled with the thought that I have no talent. To me that thought was a fact. There was nothing I excelled at. Nothing special that made me stand out from anyone else. I was just an ordinary girl who grew into an ordinary woman. I was so ordinary that the boy I had a crush on in 5th grade banged my head down on the table because…well, I think it had something to do with my not copying his spelling words for him. I was so ordinary that in 7th grade I was asked by one of the girls I sat with at lunch to no longer sit with her (and by her she meant the whole  table of girls).  Okay, those are two of the most horrible memories I have, but there were so many times growing up I felt lonely and unlikable that it shaped who I became as an adult. All those lies you tell yourself to make sense of what is happening around you as a child play into who you become later. And they are LIES.  And I had a plethora of them stored up.

When the lies become a personal reality it’s very difficult to reprogram yourself to believe the truth. That’s why I missed so many opportunities to identify what my strengths are. That’s why any hope of finding my talent alluded me. As I’ve said before, being ordinary afforded me a security. As long as I blended in I would be okay. My fear of standing out was based on the fear that people would see my faults just like my crush in 5th grade and my lunch buddy in 7th. It was safer not to stand out from the crowd.  When people started showing interest in me I thought I had them fooled somehow. I mean why would they like me so much, I’m nobody special. And the sad part about this is that I know there is a HUGE population of people out there feeling the same way about themselves.

Fast forward to today (that’s a lot of fast forwarding, but I’ll get to the middle of the story some other day). I LIKE MYSELF (insert applause here). I mean REALLY like myself and the woman I’ve become. I couldn’t say that 5 to 10 years ago and be honest at the same time. It’s a good place to be for someone who has always hated feeling ordinary, but resigned herself to it. It’s definitely been a long time coming. And surprisingly enough it has come despite, or possibly because of, a failed marriage (also to be discussed some other day) by which I identified myself for far too long (12 years and 7 months to be exact). How did you get to this point? You might be asking. Well…it’s been the slow realization that I am valuable as a human. That I am loved and I love others. I started focusing on the things I did like about myself and I did a lot of self examination to really learn who I really am. I believe that a majority of insecurities have to do with not really knowing your identity. Instead we allow what our perception of what others think about us define who we are. (Whoa that was a mouth full.) Don’t get me wrong, there are still times I have to tell the lies to shut up and remind them of my value, but reprogramming can take time and I am working on having the patience to see it through.

As far as finding my talent and what makes me stand out…I have sent out a search party. In the meantime, I know this: I am good at many things and this in itself can be a talent. Not to mention I have a strong desire to help others achieve their goals and I’ve been told I’m pretty darn good at it. (While I try not to rely on what others think of me, it can be a good measurement tool when trying to determine talent.)  So this brings me to the “T” in the road, and while I wait for the search party results I’ll focus on being unforgettably ordinary.