#divorce, #hope, Addiction, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, compassion, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Uncategorized, wellness

The Sacred Act of Holding Space

Last summer, deep in grief,  I was exchanging texts with my dear and wise friend, Robin. We were supporting one another through difficult life transitions, and connected often. During one particular exchange, she signed off with a sentiment unfamiliar to me.

It was a simple salutation, but I didn’t understand it.

I’m holding space for you…”, she wrote.

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Not entirely sure what that meant, and not yet inquisitive enough to ask, I shelved the comment.

Until a few days later, when she wrote it again.

 

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As I understood it, she was telling me in her own way, that she was thinking of me.  

Awww.  So nice, right?

Wrong. Way wrong.

I finally did ask her what she meant by it, and as it often happens, I started to hear and read about other people using the same term as well.  

Now, months later, having space held for me, and holding space in return, I get it.

I truly get it.

I understand that holding space is one of the most important gifts we can give those we love and care about.

It’s far more than just “thinking about you”.  It’s seeing a friend in distress and making a commitment to stand grounded in empathy and compassion.  

Holding space is quiet and strong, and it doesn’t rush in to try to “fix” anything.  

Holding space doesn’t offer advice or make suggestions.  It certainly doesn’t compare their pain to yours.

Rather, it acknowledges that a person is experiencing deep, even complicated, feelings.  It recognizes that such emotion must be felt and endured, not numbed and buried.

Holding space invites conversation, it listens and affirms.  It honors the human experience through the most difficult and trying times.   In doing so, it acknowledges our shared humanity.  Which feels so “right”, yet is so counterintuitive in today’s fast-paced, multitasking, solution-oriented society.  

Here, we want to ease the suffering of our brethren, so we are often quick to offer advice, make suggestions, and even relay stories of others in similar situations, hoping the connection will provide comfort.  

It’s hard to see those we care about in pain, so for some, it’s natural to want to help.  

For others, seeing loved ones ache is a scary mirror to our own struggle, so we offer nothing and simply go away.  

But holding space gives the gift of understanding to our grief and struggle without any pressure to “get over it”, or “move on”.  Holding space doesn’t abide by a timeline.

In having this done for me, I have been able to do so for others.  In this practice, I have come to learn that holding space is indeed, a sacred act.  I am so honored to hold space for others.  

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Still not sure what this looks like?

Here’s a handy dandy reference guide to get you started:
Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 12.15.25 PM
So, who could you hold space for today?  Or perhaps you are someone who would benefit from the love of space being held for you?  Reach out and share space, and watch it come back to you.

Lastly, I wonder what our world would be like if we showered one another with this seemingly benign salutation, and really meant it.

I have to believe we would feel as seen as supported as I have.  (Thanks, Robin)

Holding space,

Stephanie

#divorce, #hope, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, Grief Support, loss, Parenting

Hope Springs Internal

hope

Have you ever hoped for something so hard that it hurt?  Maybe you wanted a toy as a kid, a party invitation as a teen, a job offer as an adult.  Or perhaps, like me, maybe you were hoping to heal an important relationship.

This kind of hard-hoping physically knots your stomach, churns your insides, and pulls on so many of your emotions it feels like you a never ending ride on a rickety old merry-go-round.  This kind of hope is all-consuming.

For people like me living with ambiguous grief, hope gets in the way.  Losing someone you love, but not to death, is tricky.

For a solid 8 months after the discovery of my (now ex) husband’s double life, I stood firm in my commitment to understand why he did what he did, and like a dutiful wife, get him the professional help he needed.  I hoped that therapy/medicine/meditation/treatment would solve the riddle of WHY, and we could then get on track for healing him*.  My hope was that he would  do the hard work required to find answers, to understand his hurtful and damaging actions, and “return” to the man he once was.  So, knowing he was the only one who could do his piece, and armed with the (wrong) belief that ‘If I didn’t help him, who would?’, I waited and I hoped.

I hoped and hoped and hoped.

For those who lose a loved one to death, hope for a reunion on earth is gone.  Grievers by death aren’t waiting for their loved one to call and announce they are seeking treatment, or waiting for grand gestures of apology and working toward amends.

But that’s exactly what makes ambiguous grief so tricky.

Without a physical death, hope remains.

In observing my own behavior during this time, I noticed something: the more I focused hope on him, the faster that rickety, old merry-go-round spun.  Then, I would hop off and take a break.  Then with a running start, I’d hop back on.  Until I had to jump off, again. This is the dysfunctional cycle of hope.

As my cycle breaks grew longer and longer,  I realized that it was during this time that I focused on myself.  I was just too exhausted and drained to focus my hope on him and his healing, something I realized I had no control over.

I used these breaks like a nap, recharging for what comes next.  It was during this time, that I practiced hoping for my future as a single mother.

I took inventory of my life and my interests.

How can I best care for my children?

What are my passions?

What are my gifts?

How can I be of service to others?

How did I want to define my life moving forward?

The time and energy I spent hoping for me changed everything.

Every. Single. Thing.

I was able to detach from the hope of any resolved relationship, to see my marriage for what is was, and even for what it wasn’t (but I thought it was), and to begin to stand on my own again.  I didn’t “give up” on hope for him and his healing, I made a conscious decision to stop hoping in his direction.

But, hope is persnickety and would still make surprise drop-ins.  When that would happen,  I would acknowledge it, and then use mental imagery to move that hope to a box I keep tucked away in the attic of my mind.  Then, immediately, I would envision a hope I have for myself, sit with it a moment, and then move on with my day.

Hope keeps us going.  But it’s dangerous because sometimes, it shouldn’t.  Not when it’s  misdirected, and especially not when it’s been misdirected for so long that the rickety old merry-go-round begins to rust.  That’s a huge sign that it’s time to hop off.  I am so glad I did.

Now, my hope is for my healing, for my post-traumatic growth, and the beautiful and  (God willing) long life I have in front of me.

merry go round

*My friend Catherine wrote a beautiful piece on “The Big Why“. She’s also started a gifting service for those wanting to send comfort to their loved ones in grief.  You can check out both here:

https://www.beyondwordsco.com/blog/2018/6/11/thebigwhy

https://www.beyondwordsco.com

Ambiguous Grief, Grief, Grief Support

The Golden Girls (except we aren’t funny)

Books, tv programs, blogs, websites, therapy.  All terrific resources to help us through the grieving process.  I’ve been personally helped by all of them, but what has helped me the most: finding my people.  When I say “my people”, I’m not referring to my dear friends or my family. “My People” are those that are walking my path, right now.  Those dear souls who are struggling with my specific form of grieving.  The gnarly, messy kind that has taken our loves away in spirit, but leaves them in their bodies as shells of their former selves.

As I came out of my fog (which for me was around month 4), I felt an incredible urge to find these people. On-line resources were helpful, but having just had my TRUST shredded to pieces, I was cautious of the (very few) people sharing their ambiguous grief experiences online.  On the recommendation of a friend, I looked into The Meadows, a substance abuse treatment facility in Arizona.  She wasn’t sure if they would offer something for betrayed, grieving spouses, but she thought if anyone did, it would be The Meadows. She was right and I registered for the next session of “Healing Intimate Treason“.  It’s not cheap, but for me, it was worth every penny.  This five-day intensive did so much for me, most important among them, it gave me My People.

Meeting and hearing the stories of 8 other women, all wounded by betrayal and lost in various stages of grief, is both painful and healing all at once.  Holding space for another as she shares her devastating discovery, and having them do the same for me was a gift.  For so many deeply betrayed women, there is much shame and embarrassment in their loved one’s addiction/actions.   Speaking them aloud is SCARY.  But together, we began healing our wounds, and seeing ourselves in one another, began to believe the addiction/actions/betrayals had nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them, the men we were grieving.

These women are smart, strong, beautiful, successful and loving.  They are all loyal and kind.  I would be lucky to call any ONE of them “friend”, but now they are so much more. We are sisters of grief. Born of parents, Trauma and Betrayal.  There is no judgement of one another, or of our sick and sad partners whose actions brought us together.  We cry together, cheer one another on, listen, support, care, and mostly, but most importantly, we UNDERSTAND.  A good therapist or a trusted friend can prove a helpful resource and listen, care, and offer insight.  However, they likely won’t come close to UNDERSTANDING the multi-leveled experience of ambiguous grief, especially grief through sacred sexual betrayal. Utilizing a daily text loop and weekly phone calls, we support one another.  We remind each other “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”.  On this painful, bewildering journey, they are a nothing less than a gift to me.  We are a gift to one another. As we work to put our broken pieces back together again, we know we have been deeply fractured. We will never be the same. Not. Ever.

KintsukuroiBut together, we are working to embrace our broken pieces and look to the ancient Japanese art of Kintsukuroi for inspiration.  As a nod to this ancient practice, we’ve named little broken, golden group “The Golden Girls”.  Together we Golden Girls cry and bemoan our lost lives and the men who brought so much grief to us all. One day, I hope we celebrate a hard-fought feeling of hope and finally, happiness. We aren’t there yet, nor do we even know one another as happy or joyful.  In fact, we haven’t once laughed together. We just aren’t there yet.  The grief is too thick and our wounds too freshly inflicted.  We are meeting in grief and grieving the loss of a loved one still living.

We grieve for what was lost and what will not come to be.  Shining with endless tears we hold each other up and there is beauty in that, somehow.

If you’re healing, or helping someone you care about to heal, find YOUR PEOPLE.  Those that are traveling through the Dark Night of the Soul with you.  Look to on-line support groups, treatment facilities, or ask a friend for a referral or introduction if they know someone who is in struggle now too. Keep looking for YOUR PEOPLE, once you find them you will know.  Once you know, don’t let go.

Looking for YOUR PEOPLE? Here are a list of my favorite resources. 

  • Check out the website based on the book “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant.   Here you can read excerpts from the book of the same name, as well as stories of people building resiliency.  The best part? You can connect with a community of others grieving a variety of losses. www.optionB.org
  • The Meadows.  If you’re grief is a result of a loss due to addiction, The Meadows may be a good investment in your healing.  As one of the premier drug rehab and psychological trauma treatment center in the country, they help change the lives of individuals through The Meadows Model, 12-step practices, and the holistic healing of mind, body and spirit.  With 40 years of treating addicts and those suffering from trauma, The Meadows also provides support to the families and loved ones of those affected by the addict.

 

  • Ted– The famous “talks” have far more to offer than TechnologyEducationDesign. Here, I have found a portal into new ideas, ways of thinking, and perspective on life. Talks on grief, love, loss, shame, empathy, vulnerability are but a few great topics covered.

 

  • The Omega InstituteWith a robust selection of classes and workshops, along with R+R opportunities, I found the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies to be like “sleepaway camp for grown ups”.  It is a non-profit educational retreat center located in Rhinebeck, New York. Founded in 1977 by Elizabeth Lesser and Stephan Rechtschaffen, inspired by Sufi mystic, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and his ecumenical spirituality, today it offers classes to over 25,000 people a year, at the 190-acre campus.  Sleep in dorms or cabins, nourish your body with incredible meals, and your spirit by connecting to beautiful natural setting.  The institute’s stated mission is to “provide hope and healing for individuals and society through innovative educational experiences that awaken the best in the human spirit”. Omega’s workshops, conferences, and retreats aim to create dialogues on the integration of modern medicine and natural healing; connect science, spirituality, and creativity; and build the groundwork for new traditions and lifestyles.
Addiction, Ambiguous Grief, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, loss

Hi, I’m Grieving

griefWe all know about Grief and what it is, but maybe we haven’t MET Grief yet.  Not in a proper introduction kind of way.   At the very least, most people know Grief like we know our distant, out-of-town cousins.  Peripherally aware of their being, slightly curious maybe, mostly irrelevant, and showing up once in awhile during family gatherings.  Not until that distant cousin comes to visit, and outstay his welcome, do we then really know him.  By then, we are intimate companions feeding on the familiarity.  It’s annoying, to wake day after day, to find the horrible house guest squatting on my heart yet again, suffocating my happiness.  I long for the day, when I wake and find Grief has gone.  I imagine a kind of “Dear John” letter left on my kitchen counter announcing defeat and exiting just as unexpectedly as he arrived.  Grief comes in all forms. It came to me, without invitation, last Fall when I lost my dear husband and the life I loved.  Nearly one year later, despite my many invitations, Grief has yet to leave. Instead, he’s unpacked, strewn himself carelessly all over the house, seemingly propped his feet up on the couch and defiantly says,  “Yea, that’s right, and what are you gonna do about it?”  

Thankfully, in our society, there’s at least a cultural roadmap for managing this mangy houseguest.  When we lose someone we love, whether it’s unexpected or not, there are certain things we can depend on.  Funerals are planned, eulogies are read, stories are shared, memories preserved, and love and support envelope those left behind.  But I didn’t lose my husband to death. Like many woman today, I lost my husband to the realization of his double life.  A life so carefully curated on-line,  with legal pick-your-partner pages available for a small, quarterly membership fee.  The uncovering of this broke me in two. Two lives: his AND mine. My life BEFORE DISCOVERY” (which was pretty much all I could have ever hoped for) and the one “POST-DISCOVERY” (which was pretty much a complete living nightmare). I often hear what I think the sound the Titanic must have made as it broke into two halves that night it hit the iceberg and sank.  I know that sound.  It came up from the depths of my belly and out every orifice, violently, slowly, the night I found my husband’s double life, a life with many, many, many betrayals with many, many, many women.  The night my marriage hit the iceberg, sank my marriage, rerouted my life’s course and Grief came to visit.

As a form of my own therapy, I am writing about my trauma, and the subsequent  tidal wave of grief that has been my last year.  Since my Beloved did not die, I didn’t have the luxury of an immediate and structured grieving period. Our marriage of 20 years died and I was left to grieve not only my present, but my future, and a now unknown past as well.  Without the societal milestones we use to heal our grief through death of a loved one, I was left to chart my own course. I read and I read and I read. I watched every.single.SuperSoulSunday every made.  I wrote to authors. I devoured TedTalks. I prayed and meditated daily – and still do.  All of this to help my mind process, and maybe someday understand how and why this all happened.  In this quest for information, looking for “my people”, or someone, ANYone with a roadmap for Ambiguous Grieving, I learned so much.  Most importantly, that I CAN DO THIS.

There is a way back to joy.  I feel it. I don’t have the map, and I know it won’t be easy. What I DO know is who I am. I know I am strong but flexible, humble and generous. I am deeply rooted with branches of blessings surrounding me.  Grief has overstayed his visit. I am done living in the dirt.  I feel it coming. I feel I’m changing.

I feel it’s my time to Rise Up. Rooted Like Trees.

Thanks for walking with me as I do.

Rilke

How Surely Gravity’s Law

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing-
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things teach us:
to fall,
patiently trusting our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

Ambiguous Grief, Grief, Grief Support

WELCOME, we’re glad you’re here.

 Grief is uncomfortable.  Grief is brutal and beautiful all at once.  I have become a reluctant student of grief.  Perhaps not the grief we are most familiar with.  This is a particular sort, sometimes known as “Ambiguous” grief – experienced when you lose a loved one,  just not to death.  Maybe it was betrayal, divorce, illness, addiction, or an accident.  Either way, the person you knew and loved hasn’t died, they just aren’t the same person anymore.  What you loved about them is gone, yet they remain.  This is a kind of grief that has changed how I see love. How I see the future AND the past.  Ambiguous grief is torture. I know that many people reading today won’t ever experience this kind of grief – and I’m glad for you.

You don’t want this.

For those that have, or are walking this path, I hope the collection of  research, musings, heartbreak, and my own attempt to rise from the fire-burning-hell-on-earth life I’ve been living will help you, or someone that you know.  My hope is that this space will serve a community working toward healing their grief by offering experiences from many voices and resources.  I hope it will help you begin to heal and know that you too, CAN rise up rooted.