Alzheimer's, Ambiguous Grief, Discovery, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Parenting, Resilience, wellness

Peace Out (and in)

One of the many, many things I have learned during my ambiguous grief experience, is that we truly captain our own emotions.  If we want to feel better during times of loss, whether by death or by discovery, divorce or diagnosis, it’s up to us to make that happen.  When I first started to examine the kind of twisted, nuanced grief I was feeling, peace wasn’t anywhere on my radar.  Sure, peace was something I wanted, but quickly came to understand it isn’t simply “given”.  It is created.  It isn’t something we achieve by happenstance, or simply fall into and find.  We curate peace daily, and we do so moment by moment in the choices that we make.

While I have yet to meet anyone in this experience who CHOSE ambiguous grief, I have met many who are choosing to work toward peace.  I’m not talking about making peace with the living loved one that has been lost, or even coming to a state of peace about the activating event that brought on ambiguous grief.  I’m talking about inner peace.  That feeling deep within that isn’t derailed by external happenings.  The deep contentment that lives at a cellular level and grows like the sunrise, with golden light, throughout our bodies.

I’ve also met those who aren’t there yet, but who are willing to be willing to one day start working toward their peace. And I get it, sometimes just acknowledging that you are willing to someday remove your resistance is the very first step.

So, how do we practice inner peace?

I believe by protecting our mind, body and soul we practice peace.  The good news is that we can do this daily, moment by moment, by simply bringing awareness to our desire.

We are choosing to practice peace when we are discerning about :

  1. Who we spend time with.
  2. What we spend our time on.
  3. Where we focus our attention.
  4. When we make time for self-care.
  5. How we observe our thoughts.

World peace begins with inner peace. (1) In contrast, I’ve learned that we resist peace when we allow ourselves to get stuck in grief and (for me) get apathetic about our choices, and focus far too much on my own troubles instead of acting in service of others.

So when I find myself there, as I inevitably do, I examine my choices.

I’m not talking about the big and oftentimes daunting, life choices we have to make. (Where should I live? How much should I be saving? etc.)

No way! I’m talking about the teeny tiny ones (Do I want to have coffee with that person? Should I pray and meditate today? Should I share gossip?)

Because, as it turns out, it’s the itty bitty choices that build up to the big ones.

Hundreds (thousands?) of “little” choices each day. Choices to stop negative self-talk, or practice self-care.  Choices to say no to spending time with people who don’t fill your cup.  The choice to pray and meditate and follow your inner guidance, vs doing what you “think” you should do out of habit or societal pressure.

It’s the decisions to these choices that help us make clear our values and our priorities.

Then, the more we make choices that serve us, the more time we spend in that sweet spot of peace.  AND THEN…. the magic happens.

Peace duplicates. It impacts those around you, and grows.

The more I’m at peace with who I am, the decisions I have made, and am crystal clear about my personal values, the less I am affected by the behaviors or others.

Grieving the loss of a loved one still living isn’t an experience I would ever categorize as “FUN”.  It is, however an opportunity to go deeply within yourself, to examine oneself, and to seek to understand. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about your inner being, and define what (and who) helps you toward peace, and what (and who) doesn’t.

Curating your own inner peace isn’t easy work, but with so many wonderful resources available, it’s absolutely possible.  Talk therapy, books, podcasts, workshops, spiritual teachers, and retreats are great ways to get support as you embark on your quest for inner peace.  It’s yours for the making, so get at it!

Peace be with you.

(and if you don’t feel it today, keep trying until you do!)

 

Addiction, Alzheimer's, Ambiguous Grief, compassion, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Resilience, Uncategorized, wellness

AmbiguousGrief.Com

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 8.15.40 AMReally excited for the launch of ambiguousgrief.com. In collaboration with my research partner, Dr. Sophia Caudle, this site features everything Ambiguous Grief (AG):

🌱the AG Process Model   🌱the AG survey and  (interesting) survey findings 🌱an Assessment Tool- to help determine if you are experiencing AG 🌱links to helpful articles and meaningful personal stories.

It’s my hope that this website will serve both patients and clinicians alike, and help them to recognize and name this grief. Doing so is the start of a positive pathway to healing, and I know it’s important. 

Also, whaaaaatttttt?! 🙋🏻‍♀️this girl learned to build a website! 🙌🏻 Yes! hashtag#ambiguousgrief hashtag#grief hashtag#resilience hashtag#posttraumaticgrowth hashtag#recovery hashtag#mentalhealth hashtag#mentalhealthawareness hashtag#addiction hashtag#divorce hashtag#discovery hashtag#deathofarelationship hashtag#healing 🌱

Addiction, Alzheimer's, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, compassion, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, loss, Parenting, wellness

Not My Shame

 

There are moments that strike where my body shifts, and my mind trips into a space I dread.  In these moments, which materialize from any number of unrelated happenings, I find myself facing a most burdensome emotion: Shame.

It consumes my body. It feels hot and sweaty.  It prickles my skin and stabs into my gut. It sits on my shoulders, a heavy, uncomfortable load.  It is nearly unbearable, and I scan my space for relief. But nothing helps, and let me tell you, I’ve tried a lot!

Not chocolate (drats!), not wine.  

Not loud music, or a fast run.  

Not punching pillows, or screaming under the covers.  

Those things help relieve stress, but for me, they do nothing for shame.  I see Shame as that unwanted part of myself that I can’t escape. It’s a remembrance of what I’ve done, or not done, or who I am, or who I’ve become.  It’s an ugly mirror I’d rather never see. Thankfully, I understand that I’m not alone in this and that shame is universal.

after the fall
Rodin’s “Eve After The Fall”

Brene Brown, the beloved storyteller and researcher who studies shame says, I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

We’ve learned from Dr. Brown’s research, that shame cannot survive empathy.  If we’re vulnerable with our shame, and share it, speak of it, and not hide from it, then we open ourselves to the opportunity to connect with others.  In doing so, we then invite a space for those understanding our shame, to offer us empathy.  In that beautiful gift the shame begins to evaporate. It becomes less burdensome.  I suspect this is because we have just authentically connected with another, and not subsequently rejected for doing so.

 

In my journey through ambiguous grief, it’s been an important learning for me to identify shame.  As an empath, being able to understand and feel another person’s pain or insecurity, it’s especially important that I learned early to identify my shame versus the shame of others.  

When I accidentally discovered that my marriage wasn’t what I thought it was, and that my then-husband wasn’t the person I knew him to be,  Shame settled in and became an unwanted house guest. (Not unlike Shame’s first cousin Grief, whom I write about often).

 

What took me time to unravel though,  was that the shame I was experiencing wasn’t mine.  That heavy feeling didn’t come from who I was or wasn’t.  What I had done, or hadn’t. It was coming from me feeling pain for the person I had loved so deeply.  Pain for the shame he must be carrying. And not only because of WHAT had happened, but because I understand that there is a deeper, underlying shame that drove those choices.  

 

In looking to connect with others in my position, I was disappointed to find that many (most?) women weren’t talking about betrayal trauma.  I asked professionals about why this was and was met, time and again with the same answer: “They feel ashamed.”

 

This struck me.  

I was naive, to the experience of trauma and to the power of shame, so I wondered: 

 Why would a VICTIM of someone else’s abuse be quiet about their experience when THEY weren’t responsible for it?

I was told by one betrayal professional, “your beef is well-taken…but women aren’t speaking out because they feel ashamed…even though they didn’t cause the trauma, they are associated with the other person’s actions, which is often embarrassing ”.  

So if victims aren’t talking about it, what happens?

Shame, when not exposed to empathy will grow.  Even if the person knows it wasn’t their fault, and they didn’t cause the events to happen.  Deeply embedded shame digs in and roots itself.  Unattended, it festers and moves untamed until, I believe, one’s own soul becomes covered in the tangled mess that has grown.  Without connection to our soul, how are we connecting to the divine within us? How do we connect with our higher power? How do we tune in to our own GPS?  With shame so thick, it makes sense that researchers believe it drives our egos, and hijacks our being.

 

So, what to do with this feisty beast?

For me, when that prickle arises and I know Shame is coming, I pause.  Like an early warning alarm notifying a town of imminent dangerous weather, I heed the warning and begin to prepare.  I’ve created my own little warning system protocol, too. Here it is:

I stop what I’m doing. I sit and I breathe.  I scan my body for the space the shame is developing.  Then I ask the most important question I can in that moment:

 

“Is this my shame?”

I sit some more.

I wait.  

Within moments, I have my answer.  

Most often, the answer is no.

No,  this is not my shame.  

I push out a long exhale, shake out my limbs and let it pass through until it’s gone.  

(Which doesn’t take long).

I remember it as an ACRONYM:

STOP  – get quiet and pause

HONE – tune in to find the trigger

ASSESS – scan your body and focus on the feeling

MEET IT – look directly at it and repeat the question “is this my shame?”

EXHALE – armed with your understanding, breathe that shame-energy right out of your body.  

 

Identifying and being able to separate my own shame of things from the shame I feel over the actions of others, has saved me uncounted hours of grief.  

 

When I identify that the shame I’m feeling is my own, I give gratitude for Dr. Brown’s work, and know the remedy lies in vulnerability and empathy.  So, I take her prescription and share my shame with a trusted loved one, mentor, or my therapist. It’s amazing what the simple acknowledgement of shame can do for it’s healing.

 

Time and again, the simple act of identifying and understanding the source of shame and to whom it belongs, has helped me.  I believe it has kept that gnarly entangled overgrowth from finding a home within me.

 

Shame from being abused is a heavy load to haul.  Abuse, be it physical, emotional, or sexual, takes a toll on the human condition.  We know that as survivors deal with trauma of the experience, they often find themselves questioning their role:

 

“Did I cause this?”

“What is my part in this?”

“It’s my fault.”

 

But if we can help victims, and those healing trauma look at the situation and understand Shame, it might help.  I know it has helped me. My ambiguous grief is healing for many reasons, but not being a victim to Shame is tippy top among them.

While I do not wish Shame on anyone, I do wish everyone the ability to distinguish their shame.  In doing so, perhaps we can work to extinguish it, and in the process begin to heal our hearts.

 

Addiction, Ambiguous Grief, Grief

Healing

Not all ambiguous grief is born out of intention.  In some cases like adultery and addiction, one person makes an initial choice in behavior, and that choice can  and often does, impact and hurt their loved ones.  In other situations, ambiguous grief is born without choice.

No one chooses to be rejected, have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or mental illness.  The onset of the aforementioned forces a space where loved ones must cope, adapt and adjust.  Whether ambiguous grief is born through the painful decisions made by a loved one, or a life-changing medical circumstance, healing is necessary.  The new normal can be incredibly difficult and those in this space are left to cope, often alone.

Whatever non destructive activity that soothes your soul, helps you heal, and steadies yourself: do that.

Get quiet, remember what soothed you as a child.  Give thought to what brings you peace as an adult.  You are your heart’s own alchemist and the remedy for healing is yours to create.

God, prayer, meditation, art, nature, exercise, friendship, community, baking, cooking, dance, creating, writing, laughing, crying.

Do what works for you.

And if you were hurt by the chosen actions of others, remember that a person who hurts you doesn’t get to tell you how to heal.

You do.

 

 

 

IMG_3064

#divorce, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, Grief, loss

RIP My Marriage: 1999-2018

After being happily married for 18 years, it’s with great sadness that I sit today to write the Eulogy of this union.  For those who knew this marriage, you would have suspected nothing was wrong.  Neither did I.  For those who knew my marriage, I know you grieve with me.  Thank you for your kind words, they have lifted my heart and provided great comfort. I did not know how others viewed my marriage until we separated.  Friends, family, and even acquaintances shared their condolences with me, along with kind reflections.  A lifeline out of confusion, words  providing comfort, but also validation.  That what I had lived was in fact, real and not the hologram it feels like today.

 

“Your marriage was #couplesgoals”.

“We aspired to a marriage like yours”.

“You two showed us what teamwork and true partnership looked like.”

“I tried to be the kind of wife you were.”

“When we talked about our marriage in couple’s counseling, we used yours an example of what we were striving for.”

“You guys were the most special couple I’ve ever known.”

I thought so too.  At least it felt that way to me.  Unfortunately, the truth is that it WAS one-sided and I just didn’t know it.  My husband, I accidentally discovered, was deeply-embedded in a double life. A life that specifically attacked our marriage, and was quite the opposite of the vows we made to one another.  Actions that left no speck of doubt that I was not loved, honored, or cherished.

So as I reflect back on my 18 years as a proud wife, I do so with great pain, sadness, and even anger.  Yet that is not what I want to think of when I remember my beloved marriage.  For  me, my marriage was a gift.  It was God giving me a best friend and a committed life partner.  Someone to navigate the uncertainty of life with.   When I remember my marriage, I can’t help but smile as I think of our early years. Engaged at just 24 with some asking “Isn’t that too young?“, we were confident that we were ready to join our lives.   We married on a beautiful day in early May, in the little stone chapel by the river.  We had fun planning all of the details.

st anne

We selected our readings, from the Bible “The Song of Solomon” 8:6

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as cruel as the grave;[a]
Its flames are flames of fire,
A most vehement[b] flame.

  and “The Prophet On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran:

“and stand together, yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart and the Oak and the Cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

I wept at those at those words on our wedding day and again today.  The perfect image of the importance of teamwork and respect for independence. To grow into our best selves with the support of our Other.   My life/your life/our life. We chose the perfect song for our first dance, “When I’m Sixty-Four” by The Beatles.  A song that spoke to the beauty of a long life lived together, into old age.  But that life together was not to be, though I never once doubted it’s strength, I never knew it was even at risk.  Until it was too late.

Between the Wedding Day (1999) and the Divorce Day (2018), there was much to celebrate. There IS much to remember fondly in those 18 years.  Years that brought first jobs with cockroach infested apartments.  Long hours with lean paychecks, anticipation of building a new home, and the unbridled joy of three beautiful babies, the best of us both is another living soul.  The grief of a miscarriage, the anxiety over relocating.  Over 18 years married, and 21 together, the undercurrent to it all, was LOVE. So. much. love.

A million examples of Trust and Respect strengthened our love. A love that grew far past physical and intellectual attraction, with a depth and breadth matched only by my love for my children.  I look back and wonder when that changed, when my love, respect and trust was used as a weapon against me.  When and why he chose to begin another life, without the courtesy of telling me. Taking away our love without even the opportunity to discuss it.  To tell me that he no longer wanted me, our marriage, or the life we had built together.  Why I had to learn that accidentally, the day his laptop told the truth.

I am haunted by the depth of deception. Why didn’t I know my marriage had already died?

Maybe because he did want those things, but also wanted more. A dangerous, secret life that required nothing of him except his cunning, and his money.  I cannot honor the best of my marriage without acknowledging the painful truth that destroyed it.  My husband had affairs with many, women over many years.  All while I stayed home with our children, oblivious.  His only self-defense being: “I wasn’t happy with the nature and dynamic between us. I wanted more attention”.  

The brutal reality of my marriage looks nothing like the marriage I was living.

The self that I brought to the marriage I lived is my only comfort in this profound tidal wave of grief.

Certainly, I am not perfect.  I did however, try my absolute best and brought my whole self to our union. I committed my life to him and vowed to love, honor, and cherish him.

Which I am proud to say, I did.

Every day.

Hurting him in any way was not an option for me. Hurting him would be hurting myself, our children, our family and friends.  The marriage I lived in was loving and safe. It was forever.  I will miss my marriage, but not my husband. Because he was not real. Premeditated double-living was a choice, not an accident.  He chose that life over me, his children, and our life together.

So as I say goodbye to my marriage, I choose to remember those years before the double life.  The years where we dreamed of our future together, making plans, setting goals, celebrating our wins big and small.  I smell our first tiny apartment, I feel my lungs burn in the cold Chicago air as we run together to collect a desperately needed paycheck.  I feel his large, strong hand over mine, squeezing through each contraction.  I hear his key in the door, and the sense of relief that washed over me, knowing he is home safely from another business trip.  I remember with fondness, the years I was so proud to have him as my husband and to be his wife.

As  I say goodbye, I remember THIS marriage, and am somehow grateful.

For all the wonderful joy filled-moments, for the excruciatingly painful lessons, the mundane days wrapped in the comfort of one another, and the understanding that you cannot have joy without pain.

Grief is indeed, the price we pay for love.

Yet I remain steadfast in my belief that marriage can be a wonderful gift, of love, trust, and devotion, as it was once for me.  For knowing, feeling, living that marriage once-upon-a-time,  I am grateful.

on marriage

 

 

#hope, Ambiguous Grief

Thank you letters.

Dear 2017,

You are the WORST. Yet somehow, you began with hope and oddly, you end the same way. What’s that all about? A sandwich of suffering, you are.

In the middle though, February – November, you were brutal.  Filled with endless days of shock, grief, confusion, anger, sadness, and loss.  Days that are a blur now, blending all into one heap of a week, a month, a year.  The relentless tidal wave that drown me in my own tears during your reign have finally started to receded, though like an astute lifeguard, I am vigilant for their return.best worst year

Friends comment on how hard you have been on me. How brave I am to have endured your relentless punishment.  (as if you gave me a choice) Enduring heartbreak again and again and again. (and again.)

Seriously? I get it.

You can let up now.

Like a broken record that skips and repeats the same lines over and over again. I stutter-stepped through your days, going through motions to care for children and pets, and occasionally, myself.  I am grateful my body had muscle memory to do so.  My children saw me deep in grief, more days than not.

During your tenure, my spark dulled, my mind raced and my body ached.

CONSTANTLY.

Exercise felt like death and relief was nowhere to be found.

You probably thought I was out for the count. But that would mean you underestimated My People. My incredible friends and family. They pulled me out of the rubble and stood me up again.  With their love and support in this year of YOU, 2017, I took

every. single. blow

and got up again

every.single.time. 

During your onslaught of pain, I uncovered and grew the greatest gifts of my lifetime.

God. Family. Friends. Love. Integrity. Loyalty. Compassion. Care. Grace.

I am not what happened to me this year.

I know who I am.

Thanks to you, I am better than I ever have been before.

You, 2017 are the package that holds the death of my marriage. A love I planned to cherish for a lifetime. You are also the steward of my new life.  A life where I can live according to my own values: in honesty, empathy, love, and grace.

Without you, I wouldn’t have known, really known, how high above the trees I see life, and how deeply and genuinely I love.

I wouldn’t know that grieving the loss of a living loved one is the hardest thing I would have to do in my 43 years.

I wouldn’t know that I could come out of this experience with strengthened relationships and beautiful new friendships – more like war buddies- I can’t imagine this time without.

I wouldn’t have known how much I was not honored or respected, how I was so taken advantage of, lied to, betrayed.

I wouldn’t have known the depths of God’s Grace and the strength of my own uncompromising integrity.

You held up a mirror to my life and reminded me to hold true to the courage of my convictions, and reminded me to seek values in others that align with my own.  Doing this both removed and strengthened my relationships. But you probably already knew that would be the case. Perhaps that was your silent agenda all along.

You sprinkled in gifts and strengthened me.  You affirmed for me who I am, who loves me, and who doesn’t.  You beat me down and made me better.  I hope I never see another year like you, but I leave you in gratitude.

Thanks for the lessons,

Stephanie

Dear 2018,

Thanks for showing up.

I’m about to rise.

Watch out.

Stephanie

Fire

 

 

 

 

 

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