Who are you? A scrapper? A volcano? A House of Mirrors? Let me tell you how you can find out.

In my English classes, we have a unit called “Dealing with Difficulty.” One of the things we have found as educators is that students, from a very young age, don’t like to “deal” with the difficulty they confront in life. And it starts with the small stuff: the words they don’t know, concepts they don’t understand, allusions they have no frame of reference difficultyfor. When they hit these parts of a text, they skip over them. They try to make sense of the piece using just the easy parts–and so their understanding is fundamentally flawed. They miss the big picture, the purpose, the ah, ha moment.

All because they didn’t want to deal with the difficulty.

We so often are just like my students. We skip over, hide, ignore the difficult pieces, so we never learn. We never grow.

We just keep making the same mistakes over and over again–because we skip the middle.

One of my favorite Ted Talks is by a lady named Caroline McHugh, and she puts it this way. Many of us claim to have years of experience, let’s say 20 years of experience, but in reality, we only have one year of experience 20 times–in other words, if we are not learning from that experience, we have gained nothing and are just repeating the same mistakes 20 years later, that we made at the very beginning.

Many people live life in this way, and it all comes down to difficulty: loss, failure, adversity.

Adversity seems to be the theme of my adult life. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of it. Perhaps that is why I seem to have a heightened awareness of its impact–often wildly different–on people.

Adversity is a given–not a possibility, but rather an inevitability. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when.

Perhaps this is why adversity doesn’t really scare me. You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it, and you can’t wish it away. It simply is–pretending any differently is just a waste of breath, time, and energy.

fake-life-make-mistakes-Favim.com-2596418And yet it is what so many of us try to do.

We Americans like to photoshop our lives. We like things to be pretty. Wrapped up with a bow. Perfect and pristine.

But life is simply not like that. It is often ugly. And hard. And painful. It often isn’t fair. It’s often unjust. The good guys, quite frequently, lose.

Or at least in the traditional sense that is.

I don’t believe adversity, failure, loss, grief–difficulty in whatever form it takes, is loss.

I believe it is opportunity.

magic in the middleIn the words of Brene Brown “the magic happens in the middle.”

But we so often want to skip the middle.

What does she mean? What’s the middle? Well let me explain it using an analogy that is very personally applicable for me right now. Divorce.

As I mentioned in a previous blog,  everybody tends to react differently to a divorce. Many people want to jump very quickly from their former relationship, into a new one. They want to skip the middle. They want to move from brokenness straight into wholeness–but it doesn’t work that way.

The middle is hard. The middle is painful. It’s often lonely and it tastes a lot like failure. It is the place where our questions often don’t have answers and our fears loom large. It is where we question our worth and our value.

But it’s here in the middle where we learn. We learn what we did right and what we did wrong. We learn our areas of weakness and our areas of strength. We wrestle with our worth and come to realize that it does not come from another person, a talent, a career, or anything else outside of ourselves. Worthiness is a God given gift and it comes from who we are–or more aptly–whose we are.

wrestling in mudThe middle is like wrestling in the mud. You are going to get dirty. You will get beaten up. You’re going to feel every bruise, every scratch, every dagger to the heart.

And so most of us don’t want to go there. We like the safe, the easy, the pristine–and the middle is none of these things–so we will do anything in our power to avoid it.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal said this about adversity: “I don’t even know who a character is until I’ve seen how they handle adversity. Onscreen and offscreen, that’s how you know who someone is.”

Who are you?

Who am I?

In the face of adversity, how do we measure up?

The truth of that statement really zinged me, and it got me thinking about the different approaches I have seen to adversity. I know which one I am, which one are you?

ostrich-head-in-sandThe Ostrich: Do you have your head in the sand? Do you ignore your problems, pretending that, if I don’t acknowledge them, they’ll just go away?

The Coward: Do you run and hide from your problems? Do you leave a wake of broken relationships behind you, cutting people, jobs, connections off as the going gets tough?

house of mirrorsThe House of Mirrors (aka transference): Do you project your problems onto someone (anyone) else as a means of ignoring your problems? Is it always a case of the blame game? It’s his fault because…. It’s her fault because….

The Volcano: Do you avoid dealing with the real issues by hiding in anger? Does anger seem to be the the only emotion you’re feeling these days? Then you’re probably a volcano, using anger as a shield for your real problems.

female-ec-the-damsel-in-distressThe Damsel in Distress: Do you tend to expect a white knight to come riding up to “fix it?” Do you tend to wait for someone to come and save you from your problems? Do you think that if only…(x), then all of these problems will go away? Then you probably fall into this category.

The Peacock: Do you tend to magnify your strengths, your talents, your looks in an effort to minimize your failures? Do you puff your ego so you don’t notice the hits you’ve taken? Well, then you’re just going to keep taking those hits and you’re going to start looking like a weight lifter with chicken legs, developed in some areas, and tragically weak in others…

hermit.pngThe Hermit: Do you cut off from everyone and everything? Avoiding life in an effort to ignore your problems? Do you hide in video games, tv shows, even books, in an effort to live in a different world to escape from your own? This category can often include those suffering from depression, in that depression, that completely disconnect.

The Scrapper: Are you a fighter? Are you willing to get down and dirty in your effort to overcome? Do you look failure in the eyes and determine to triumph? Then you are probably a scrapper and are in a pretty good place, learning from your set backs and overcoming difficulty. Congratulations–there aren’t too many of you out there!

No matter which role you tend to play, it doesn’t define you. The great part is knowledge–self awareness–is the first step in being different. You get to choose your role.

Don’t want to be a hermit?

Then choose to be a scrapper!

You can choose the role you get to play at any time, in every situation. It is all up to you.

Don’t know how? That’s okay! Check out my blog next week for the first installment on how to change the role you’re currently playing!

 

 

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What kind of Divorcee are you (or would you be)? A libertine? A good enough? A crazy? And what does it say about you?

i_like_being_home_aloneComing home to an empty house…nothing but the stretch of silence. Hours without the sound of another voice…nothing but the whirring of the fan or the deep grumble of the dishwasher…

Does that scenario make you anxious and itchy, ready to call the first friend you can think of?

Or does it sound like a little piece of heaven?

Your answer to that question just might give some indication of what kind of divorcee you will be should you ever find yourself divorced.

Last year I taught a class called Lifespan Development for the first time. I had taken the course in grad school, but my focus was a bit different back then. I was still in my twenties, had only been married a handful of years, had already buried one child, and was pregnant with another that might also be sick. My focus was on the early end of lifespan development, not the what comes after.

DivorceThis time around, I had just turned forty and was also adjusting to the life of a freshly divorced/single person. My interest was piqued by that side of things. Particularly divorce.

Since I had to teach life and marriage after divorce as a part of the class, I decided I’d go ahead and do a little research. What I found was interesting.

Up to this point I had heard the newly divorced classified in two categories: the crazies (they went out a lot, partied seemingly endlessly, drank copious amounts, had casual sex, etc.) and the depressed (wept into their pillow every night and couldn’t get past what had happened). Being that I didn’t feel like I fit into either of those categories, my interest in the whole “what kind of divorcee I was” had quickly waned and I’d just gotten down to the business of moving on.

Until I found the the research of E. Mavis Hetherington. Her take on things seemed to be a bit more all inclusive.

Apparently, according to Ms. Hetherington’s research, we tend to fall into one of 6 pathways post divorce–not the two that everyone always talks about.

The first pathway is called the “enhancers” This group accounts for about 20 percent of divorced individuals and is mainly made up of females. These individuals become “more competent, well-adjusted, and self-fulfilled.” They tend to bounce back from stressful situations and can bring meaning from chaos.

Already I was liking the sound of this much better than my choice between crazy and pathetic.

dating_after_divorce_clotheslineThe next pathway is labeled the “good enoughs” and this group counts for a large number of the divorced. These individuals have average coping skills, show some strengths and weaknesses. They tend to initially make choices that enhance themselves or expand their careers, but in the end, they end up defaulting to what they had left–a marriage that was fairly similar to their first one. They settle.

I definitely did not want that to be me. No going backwards. No defaulting to the original settings. Nope. Not for me.

The next group is called the “seekers” and it accounts for 40% of men and 38% of women. These individuals hit the pavement running. They want to find a new mate as soon as possible and quickly find themselves in a relationship or even a new marriage. A few, settle down, and drift into one of the before-mentioned pathways and begin to become more stable and competent after the initial “craziness.”

Definitely NOT me. No need to fill the gap. Certainly not going to rush to fill it. Slow and steady wins the race after all!

The “libertines” (the name alone tells me this is not where I want to be) as the name suggests, just want to go out and have fun. They embrace their newfound freedom with a lot of partying and a lot of casual sex. Individuals in this group tend to settle down at some point and then join one of the other groups, eventually becoming more stable.

happy divorceThe next group is called the “competent loners” and makes up only 10% of the overall group of divorced individuals. They are “well-adjusted, self-sufficient, and socially skilled” having good careers, a good social life and lots of hobbies. Should sound like I’m repeating the “enhancers.” The big difference is that this group has little interest in sharing their lives with anyone else…hmmm. More on that in a bit.

The last group is the defeated. As the name suggests, these individuals really struggle with depression and recovery. Moving on is a major issue. They become stuck.

As I reflected on these categories, I found it very interesting. I have several friends who got divorced at about the same time I did. We each seemed to naturally pick our own pathway. Many of my friends very quickly found themselves in a new relationship. One is already engaged, one just ended a year long relationship, a few, have gone on a couple of dates, but aren’t in any hurry.

We all deal with it differently.

When I first read this list, I initially saw myself as an enhancer…but then I got down to the description of the competent loner. Which one am I?

The truth is, I still don’t know.

fresh-happy-woman-bed-wakes-up-morning-smiling-66521588I woke up this morning, alone in my bed, the silence of my house surrounding me, with a big grin on my face. I stretched luxuriously and thought about how much I like being alone. I LOVE being alone.

I love being accountable to no one. I love having whole days when it is entirely up to me what I want to do (though yes, often it ends up being work, cleaning and the mundane, it’s still my choice). No need to compromise. No need to share. What do I feel like doing? It has been so very long since I was able to focus on that question.

I love the freedom of choosing to leave the dishes in the sink, of ignoring the growing pile of laundry and not feeling like I’m letting someone down (not that Aaron would have cared mind you, but a good wife doesn’t do those things–but now I’m not a wife so…).

I thought that I would feel terribly lonely for my children on the days that they aren’t with me, but guiltily I have to admit, I instead find myself luxuriating in the alone time: endless piles of books, playing the piano, art, writing…all the things I was too busy to get to spend much time doing before, now I can immerse myself in them.

For a woman who had lost herself to motherhood for many years, I have had the opportunity, the gift, of being able to find myself again.

Do I want to give that up? Do I want to go back to a life of compromise and considering someone else’s desires as much (or let’s be honest, more than) my own? Do I want to give up long stretches of silences and hours of solitude?

SolitudeSometimes I say yes, and sometimes I say no.

For the right man, it would be worth what I would be giving up, but for the wrong man, it most certainly would not be.

And do I trust myself to see the difference?

For today, I embrace my solitude and trust that in time, that will be an easy question to answer.

What about you? Where do you fall on the divorce pathways? Where do you think you would fall, if you’re not divorced?

We can learn a whole lot about who we are, and shed some light on who we want to be, by considering where we fall and where we wish we would fall.

You think I suck? Guess what–I don’t care–and you shouldn’t either!

So, someone recently said to me, and I quote, “you’re not that pretty.”

Ouch.16601641_10154530828337054_5350964088706426815_o

Just what every girl who’s just recently turned forty and gone through a divorce because her husband left her for another woman needs to hear…

The question is, how did I react?

Did I get angry and hang up on the person?

Did I sit down and cry and feel as if I was the doggy doo-doo you need to scrape from the bottom of your shoe?

Did I end a relationship with this person?

No, no, and no.

What did I do?

I laughed.

Yes, I was offended. Yes, my feelings were hurt. But my sense of self is not dependent on what anyone else thinks of me. It didn’t rock my world. It didn’t send me to the depths of despair. I confronted the unkindness, and I moved on.

Sounds simple, but it’s really not something most of us can do without a little practice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about self esteem lately (for obvious reasons as mine took a pretty brutal hit over the last couple of years!!).

ImproveSelfEsteem_thumbThere are so many misconceptions about self esteem: that a healthy sense of self is arrogant, that we need to be successful to have a healthy sense of self, that a lack of failure equals a healthy self esteem, that if we are told we’re awesome enough, we’ll believe it.

All of these are false. Our sense of self isn’t reliant on what we do or don’t do, how we succeed or how many times we’ve failed. And it isn’t dependent on what other people think of us.

Having a solid sense of ego comes from knowing who we are, independent of what anyone else thinks of us. Knowing both our strengths and weaknesses, and with that knowing, still knowing that we bring a meaningful contribution to this thing we call life. It isn’t in our successes, but in how we react to our failures, that we can see how healthy our self esteem is.

Most of my life, I’ve had a pretty healthy sense of myself. I’ve had a healthy awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t allowed the weaknesses to overshadow my strengths, but neither did I ignore them. I worked on them, and some became better, and some still need more work. But in the midst of this, I never lost sight of my value as a human being. I’ve weathered my failures with grace knowing that they were opportunities for growth. Not perfectly, but consistently, always looking for ways to do better the next time around.

iStock_000011408450XSmall-e1377826869734And then came my divorce. Talk about failure! And such a public failure! I felt like I had a scarlet D tattooed to my forehead. And the stigma that goes with having your husband cheat on you…I don’t like feeling a victim, but that’s what it made me. Publicly.

And then there is the stigma…people look at you as if it is your fault that your husband cheated on you. You can almost hear the thoughts in their heads: “What’s wrong with her that he cheated?” “Is she frigid?” “There has to be a reason…”

Despite knowing in my head that my husband’s cheating on me was all about him and nothing about me, my ego struggled to accept that knowledge. What was it about me that caused him to walk away from me? Why wasn’t I worth his faithfulness? Was there something wrong with me?

My self esteem became a battleground.

But I battled, and I didn’t give in. I didn’t accept the lies, but countered the lies with what I knew to be the truth. And I did that over and over again until I started believing it for real.

Self-Esteem-TipsAnd I stopped worrying about what other people thought. The truth is, people are going to think what they’re going to think regardless of what the truth is. For some people, thinking less of someone else makes them feel better about himself and his life. For others, it adds some interest to a rather boring life. For others, it might give them a feeling of vindication for some perceived slight along the way or maybe a feeling of fairness for someone who struggled with jealousy.

Whatever the reason, people are going to think what they think, and we can’t change it. We need to stop worrying so much about what “people” think and focus on what God thinks.

Am I good with God? Did I walk in obedience with Him? Did I submit to His will? Am I where He wants me to be?

If I can say yes to all of these–if you can–then guess what? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He’s the only one that matters.

Self esteem is not about affirmation. It’s not about ability. It’s about taking an active part in what goes on in your head. It’s about confronting the lies we tell ourselves with the truth, and it’s about worrying about who we are, not in the eyes of others, but when we stand eye to eye with our God.

It’s active and it is a process. But when you take the time, people can say all sorts of horrible things to you, and think whatever it is they’re going to think, and it doesn’t shake your knowledge of who you know you are.

CLBCRYmUEAACz_TYou are a child of God. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. And you are loved. Unconditionally.

If you are valuable in the eyes of our creator, who on this earth can tell you that you aren’t of value?

And that is truth.

Believe it.

Divorce and Pregnancy: they make experts of us all

Divorce is kind of like pregnancy–everyone feels entitled to give you their opinion.

Never will you find people more willing to dish out advice than when they know that your marriage has fallen apart at the seams.933cf99a612349ffefc40a9518266f8e

They will tell you how to feel, when to feel it, and how long to feel it for.

Everyone has an opinion on how you should grieve, how long you should grieve, and how long you should wait before you should get back in that saddle.

And the thing is, everybody has a different opinion, and not a one of them knows what your particular story is or what mine is either.

They have not walked a day in the life of you or of me. They don’t understand the years of grief leading up to the final acceptance that this broken thing can’t be saved. They don’t understand that the marriage has been dead for a long time. Or that the divorce was completely out of the blue and you were still head over heels for your spouse when he/she left you for another woman or man or just because.

bhb____empty_heart_by_burning_heart_brony-d9hadnq.pngFor some, divorce comes as a surprise, for others, like me, it’s the gradual admittance of what you’ve known for a long time–no amount of resuscitation can bring back to life something that is thoroughly dead. Flat lined. DOD. Over.

I’m a counselor and a Psych professor. I talk to the grieving and the hurting all the time. And there’s one thing I have learned along the way: grief is a personal and individual process. We can try to put labels and timelines on it, but the reality is, the process is going to be as unique as we are as human beings.

It’s time that we stepped back and stop dishing out advice and instead started listening.

But, that causes a problem. We’re not very good at listening. We’re into quick fixes. We like short and sweet platitudes that soothe our conscience and make us feel like we’re helping, when in reality, we’re handing somebody a band-aid and telling them to get over it.

Not in so many words, of course, because that would be rude. But we might as well just say it, because that’s what we mean. We want to pat them on the head, say that we care, but then get back to the business of living our own lives.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Psychologists everywhere are starting to  wave their hands to get our attention about this very issue. Our social media driven society is causing us to look for instant gratification and short fixes in the place of true and authentic relationships. We are replacing intimacy with connection, and the result is a society that is sinking into loneliness and low level depression (more on this in an up and coming blog).

And no where does it show more than in our relationships. Writing in the Atlantic, Stephen Marche reportsWhile loneliness has been increasing there has been an explosion in the number of psychologists, social workers, life coaches, and other “psychic servants”…We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.

As a counselor, I read that and cringe. Yep. That’s it entirely.AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXEAAAAJDQ0MzEzNWFkLTMzMmItNDViYi1hOTMxLTZjZjljYTk5MWZlOA

We leave the listening to the therapists, and we, the friends, hand out the band-aids.

My ex insisted that I see a counselor, even though I didn’t feel like I needed to see one. In an effort to get this whole thing over with, I went to one anyway. The therapist looked me in the eye at the end of my first session and told me that I didn’t need her, that I clearly was well adjusted and dealing with things well.

When I told my ex that, he didn’t much like what my therapist had to say. I shrugged and told him, “I have friends. When you have good friends, you don’t need a therapist to help you get through the normal stuff like this.” And, as a therapist, I believe that’s the truth.

There are issues that are too big for friends to deal with, but grief and loss, a failed marriage, when one is dealing with them in the “normal” way? Good friends are all you need.

n-CONVERSATION-628x314A friend who listens and doesn’t just send the occasional text or Facebook platitude. A friend who can look you in the eye and have the courage to say, “I think you’re wrong, but I love you anyway…”

Are you that kind of friend? You should be. If you’re not, then I would question your level of commitment to your friendships.

What kind of friends do you have? If you have the good ones, the ones who really listen, not just the band-aid pushers, make sure you give them their due. They’re rare and should be highly prized.

Let’s stop with the advice and the judgement. Let’s stop outsourcing the practice of everyday caring. And let’s start listening.

 

 

 

Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?

            Yesterday was my son’s birthday. Every year on his birthday, I find myself reminiscing about him and my second chance at motherhood. It was a day that I never thought I would have. It was a day I longed for, hoped for, but was too scared to believe could really happen.

            You see, though I’ve been pretty up front about our journey in losing Serena, I don’t talk about the journey to our second family very often. I’m not quite sure why that is. Maybe there was just so much pain that I spend most of my time focusing on the biggest source of it or maybe it’s because the journey to our second family ended up having a happy ending, as unlikely as that should have been.

            The day Serena was born was the happiest day of my life. The rush of joy, complete and utter bliss, that I felt in that moment is simply indescribable. I was so in love with my baby girl and with my husband. It seemed impossible that anyone could be so perfectly happy, but I was.

            Motherhood was everything I had hoped for and more. I didn’t mind the sleepless nights or the toll that being a caretaker takes on you. The few times I could be pried away from Serena, I missed her instantly. My favorite thing to do was to watch her sleep. I was enthralled.

            In my darker moments I’ve wondered if my very happiness was too great a temptation for fate. I’ve pondered the idea that there is some great cosmic balance that says so much happiness needs to be balanced with an equal portion of pain. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if God is simply sadistic. I think it was something far simpler than that actually. I think we were just unlucky.

             That day, that horrible, nightmarish day when we found out that our perfect, beautiful girl was going to die, we found out something else as well. Any child we conceived could have the same genetic defect, in fact there was a 25% chance that any child would have it. Not only were we going to lose our only child, but having another child came with the unbearable risk that we would have to walk through the same hell all over again.

            The five months between when we found out Serena was sick to the time she died were consumed by her. Those moments were spent in keeping her alive and treasuring every moment we had left. We were numb, on auto-pilot and consumed by anguish in turns. We waited in horrified anticipation of the day we could not prevent. We couldn’t think; we could merely exist.

            Then the horrible day came when Serena left us and time started moving again. We were left with a void, a complete absence of purpose. I had spent every moment of the last year taking care of this little person, straining to hear the sounds of her alarms in the night, and suddenly, my whole purpose for living was gone. Into that absence came the very real possibility that I would never be a mother again. I can’t even begin to explain the double agony of this realization!

            I was angry, incredibly angry. I felt certain that God was a sadistic bully who liked toying with my heart. How else could I rationalize a God who allowed me to taste motherhood, fall in love with it, only to rip it away from me and deny it to me forever? 

            I became bitter. Looking at other mothers, especially the ones who didn’t deserve the name, made me fume. Expectant mothers were like a knife in my gut. I begrudged them their happiness. They didn’t even know how lucky they were. They took it for granted. The injustice of it was eating me alive.

            We wrestled with our grief and it felt to us like everyone watched in judgment of how we handled it. Our parents were so worried that our anger would destroy our faith in God that their concern became stifling. We had to grieve, and anger was a part of that process, so we ran away to Europe.

            Like Sabrina from one of my all-time favorite movies, I packed my journal, my camera and my drawing materials intent on sitting on the various bridges of Europe (not just Paris like she did, but that was one of the stops) and writing/drawing until everything started to make sense again.

            One of our main topics of conversation on the trip was if we should stay together and if we should ever try to have children again. We contemplated separating. That would be an easy solution. The chances of us finding another person who was also a carrier were only 1 in 40;  surely we couldn’t be so unlucky as to fall in love with another carrier?

            We thought about it, but, the problem was, we still loved each other. We were best friends. We didn’t want a family with someone else. We wanted it together.

            That brought up the second part of the conversation, could we, should we, take the risk of having another child?

            I was so desperate to be a mother again that I was willing to try despite the risks, but Aaron was not, and he couldn’t say that he ever would be ready to take that risk again. We talked, we fought and I agonized, but he wouldn’t budge. I told myself to be patient (something I can be incredibly bad at!) and to give him time, which I tried to do (and failed miserably at!). And I waited.

            Despite trying to respect Aaron and taking the steps to prevent a pregnancy, we became pregnant about a year after Serena died. I had been willing to take the risk in theory, but when that choice was taken out of my hands in actuality, I found that I was nearly paralyzed with fear. Imagine feeling like at any moment the axe is going to drop and you are going to find yourself back in hell . . . yep, that’s pretty much what it felt like. Sheer terror.

I’ll blog the rest of the story in a couple of days . . . it’s just too much too put in one blog! Nobody would read the whole thing! 🙂