Recently, I saw Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin’s new movie, “It’s Complicated.” Most of the time, I was laughing uncontrollably. I can’t even remember when I last laughed that hard. The hilarity stopped abruptly when, near the end, I saw the looks on their adult children’s faces. Each one a kaleidoscope of bewilderment, pain, and grief. The rawness and purity of their inner conflict was so affecting my heart stood still.
We all know how momentous a divorce is for children who are still living at home, but it is also devastating to adult children, even if they are hundreds of miles away. Parents are distracted during a divorce, and often assume adult children are fine. Unfortunately. that is rarely the case. Because they look and act like adults, unless a parent probes, they will miss the emotional detritus the divorce left behind. Minimizing collateral damage done to adult offspring, happens almost automatically, as parents have other fish to fry. They may be dating, remarried, or alone and coping. Whatever their situation, the parents are adjusting to major life changes, and preoccupied.
Young adults are especially good at acting as if they are more mature than they really are, which keeps parents oblivious. If the kids live away from home, it is even easier for parents to be unaware of the devastation their offspring might feel. To complicate matters more, young adults may not acknowledge the extent of their grief to themselves, as they may be afraid it will overwhelm them. Asking doesn’t always help, since the newly independent child wants to see him or herself as capable of coping, and may not want to burden the grieving parent. Moreover, if they had been emotionally unavailable to support a grieving parent during the divorce, they may think they can’t ask for help they didn’t provide. If the parent has moved on to a new relationship the adult child may feel it is inappropriate to bring up the past. Take heart, if there was a history of open communication before the divorce it will resume. If there wasn’t, what better time to start a new chapter?
Therapists speculate that, depending on the length of the marriage, it can take from 2-7 years to feel like yourself again. That is 2-7 years after the ink has dried. During that time, you are on a trajectory of healing that moves you forward into balance and wholeness. It is a good idea to keep these numbers in mind when helping your adult children, as it sets more realistic goals for them, too. (See: Responses To: Get Over It Already.)
Whether re-coupled or alone, post-divorce parents are distracted and can inadvertently ignore their adult children’s needs. Think of it as emotional triage: the most obvious, life-threatening issues need attention first. Once the dust settles, the children can get more attention. This is quite different from divorcing with younger kids at home, since their daily presence makes it obvious how they are processing every nuance of their evolving life, including adjusting to their parents’ new relationship. (See: Post-Divorce, Relating To Adult Children.)
Judith Wallerstein, the Grande Dame of divorce research for the past four decades, always maintained that, if handled well, divorce wouldn’t have lasting negative effects on children. A few years ago, she recanted. After reading through 25 years of data she found long-term negative results from divorce, even when the children were adults at the time of the split. You could argue that many life experiences have emotional residuals. We all know how being bullied, taunted, or demeaned has far reaching psychological effects. Every experience shapes you and your world view, so why wouldn’t divorce? It almost seems absurd at worst, and naive at best, to have thought it wouldn’t leave a life-altering impression.
Many divorcing parents cite the negative effects of not divorcing to support their difficult choice to split, especially in the case of obvious physical, verbal, or emotional abuse; and, they make a good point. The truth is: no one except your family knows what it was like living in your household. Therefore, no one can really judge what was the best decision. Once the divorce die is cast no one can reliably compare those results with speculation of what might have been. Therefore, applying the research data to your situation is sketchy, at best; and, can’t predict how your children, whatever their ages at the time of divorce, will react. Regular communication, and an open heart are your best strategies.
The family, whether acknowledged, or not, is in a vortex of change. Allow time for things to calm down. Eventually, they will. Let each family member adjust at their own speed. None of you has had this experience before (even if there had been a previous divorce and blended family, this one is unique), so be as understanding and patient as possible.
When you became a parent, you assumed the job of protecting your children. Shielding them from harm when they were under your roof was fairly obvious. This is different, as your actions have thrown their lives into some measure of chaos. Feeling guilty almost seems like a knee-jerk reflex, but it doesn’t have to be. Giving in to guilt will morph into resentment for your children, as every time you see or talk with them you will be reminded of how your actions have hurt them. Ditch the guilt, and you will have plenty of psychic energy to help. Maintain it, and you will keep focusing on yourself to their detriment. (See Guilt: The Useless Emotion.)
Even when divorce is for the good, it is still a negative experience. Splitting up after years of partnership is often ugly and fraught with bad behavior. Sometimes, it takes all your energy to get through each minute. If you didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to help your adult children while your life felt as if it were falling apart, forgive yourself. Painful, shocking, and life-changing as it may be for them, they haven’t lost a parent. You lost a partner. A 1995 study found divorce the most wrenching experience after the death of a child. All that pain is bound to produce some regrettable behavior. Apologize to your adult children. Allow all the lessons to inform future decisions, and resist cynicism. If your children see you moving forward with optimism and openness, they will follow suit.
There are many challenges during and after a split. Each family member is emotionally needy, suffering, and freaked out while it is happening, so erratic behavior is normal. The only exception is if one partner already has a new love object; but, even then, there’s emotional fall-out. It just may be harder to discern. If you see yourself behaving irrationally, have compassion. Don’t judge, accept. It’s all part of the deal. The worst thing you can do is deny your true feelings; because, if suppressed, they will come back to wreak havoc later. Children are very astute, even young ones. They will know if you are not being honest with yourself. Set an example of emotional congruence, “What you see is the real me.” This gives them permission to express their feelings, and move through them. Show your adult children how living a full life means embracing everything, not just the happy times, and they will become more resilient.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Archives for 2009
Even without a divorce on the horizon, almost everyone wants to eat better for less.
At first, maximizing your food budget can seem daunting; but, with practice, it becomes creative, fun, and empowering.
The following is a list of suggestions for eating balanced, nutrient dense foods without spending a fortune.
* Before you choose any food, ask yourself: “Is this going to contribute to my well-being?” Naturally, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will; but, sometimes, a piece of chocolate, a muffin, or some ice cream is more soothing. Food is supposed to be satisfying, not merely nutritious. Allow yourself the joy of eating everything you love in moderation, and you won’t binge on it because you feel denied.
As you see how eating a healthy, balanced diet improves your mood and energy level, you will make better choices when it comes to snacks and dessert. Maybe you’ll bake your own muffins, brownies, cakes, or cookies with whole grains, rather than buying a higher fat, lower fiber version that costs more. Whatever you pick, remember: taking the very best care of yourself shows self-respect. The healthiest diet won’t eradicate your grief, but it will support your healing.
* Eat what’s in season, it’s always cheaper. If the thought of eating what’s in season bores you to tears, then cook and freeze what’s available now to supplement your diet in a few months.
* Learn to love to cook. Watch You Tube videos for inspiration on ethnic dishes that are vegetable heavy. Borrow some cookbooks from the library with tantalizing photographs.
If you don’t know how to cook, take the time to learn. Learning to cook is like learning anything else: a real drag in the beginning but easier and easier with each passing day. Think of how hard it was to learn to read and how effortless it is for you now. Cooking is not half as difficult. Remember: you don’t need to be Julia Child, or Tom Colicchio, to turn out fantastic food. Start with simple things, like steaming vegetables, making pasta and rice, boiling eggs, etc. In no time you’ll be making omelets, stir fries, and banana bread. If you know someone who is great in the kitchen ask for a few lessons.
* Use meat, fish, and chicken as a condiment the way most of the world does. You’ll get the flavor without the extra expense.
* Experiment with all sorts of grains: quinoa is full of protein and has a great, nutty taste. Add it to other grains, soups, or casseroles for a nutritional boost.
* Make a big pot of soup once a week. Soup is a wonderful way to use up leftovers, and it’s very filling. Studies have shown that people who regularly eat soup weigh less.
* One of my favorite tricks is to cook a pot of pasta, rice, or other grain, and keep it in the fridge as a base for meals throughout the week.
* By using your slow cooker to make soups, stews, and even pudding cakes (!) you will save a lot of money. It’s extremely easy. (By the way, if you don’t own a slow cooker think seriously about buying one. Four or five quart sizes are the most useful and can be found at garage sales or inexpensively at your local big box store. They use very little energy and let you come home to a piping hot meal.)
* Cook beans from scratch, from their dried state. It’s simple: just soak them in water the night before and drain off the soaking water to make them easier to digest. Typically, they will take an hour to cook. If you’re in a hurry, you can make dried lentils from scratch in 20 minutes. Even if you don’t want to fuss with making beans from scratch, buying them pre-cooked in cans is still an incredible bargain. They’re full of iron, fiber, and protein.
Hummus, bean soups, burritos, salads, are all delicious ways to add beans to your diet.
* Learning to bake bread, if you have the time, is another great way to save money. I have made Indian flat breads, like chapatis, that require no yeast and almost no kneading. They were fabulous, like pitas. Irish soda bread, muffins, and quick breads are other easy ways to stretch your dollars. (That chapati recipe was from one of my favorite cookbooks: Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi and David Baird)
* Eggs are a great source of lean protein. Think of making hard-boiled eggs and adding them to salads, rice dishes (a common practice in Japan), or grated on top of pasta primavera (pasta with red sauce and seasonal vegetables). Omeletes and frittatas use up leftover vegetables, cooked sausage or chicken, grains, and cheese.
* When something you know you will use is on sale, buy as much as you can easily afford; but, remember: it’s no bargain if you don’t use it. I like going to Big Lots for organic items that typically cost three times as much elsewhere (tea, tomato sauce, and some cereals). I have even found dark chocolate there for a fraction of its retail price. If you feel funny about shopping at a big discount store like Big Lots, just remember: it takes no genius to buy retail.
* Fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive, so, in addition to buying in season, think ahead. When I see my local Aldi market (another great place to shop if you know what to buy) has Empire Sweet onions for $1.29 a bag, I saute all of them until caramelized in a little olive oil (another good product from Aldi) and freeze in small packages to add to other dishes later on. I do the same thing with chopped fresh parsley, so I have it all winter at summer prices.
* Another tip for vegetables and fruits is to use as much as you can. Don’t peel your fruits, as a fair amount of nutrition is in the peel. Use the stems of your Swiss Chard, they add a different texture. Save the tops of celery stalks for soups stocks, and use the beet greens as well as the actual beets. They’re just like spinach, and you’re getting two vegetables for the price of one. I know many recipes only call for the white part of a leek, but the green part is great sauteed in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. Add some grated Parmesan or a few toasted nuts, to make this an extra delicious side dish.
* You already watch for sales and use coupons. If you have a favorite brand, go online and see if they’re offering a coupon. Usually, they are. Between sales and coupons you can save a small fortune; but, again, don’t be tempted to buy junk food or things you won’t use. When something junky is calling to you, brainstorm all the other, healthier and more delicious foods you could buy with that same money. For example, you could make a caramelized apple pizza with cinnamon and sharp cheddar for the price of a bag of potato chips. Or, homemade pita chips (from those Chapatis) baked with a sprinkle of parmesan and herbs. Even a batch of oatmeal cookies would cost no more than those bagged snacks. And, let’s not forget about popcorn. Buying the kernels and popping them in a big pot, rather than the microwave, will save money.
* It’s a question of re-training yourself to think before you buy, to see cooking as an adventure and creative outlet, and to commit to spending more time (possibly on the weekend) preparing food for the week ahead. We all know how the best plans in the world bite the dust when you’re starving and nothing is ready. That’s when fast food is especially enticing, so keep those frozen, pre-cooked, and canned foods ready to make something appetizing in a hurry.
*Learn to throw a meal together quickly. In warm weather a big salad with some lean protein (like garbanzos, tofu, and hard-boiled eggs), homemade dressing (see the recipe below), and a piece of whole grain bread with peanut butter or cheese is just wonderful. If it’s cold, you can make a pot of soup with canned tomato puree, beans, chopped vegetables, and spices. Top with some grated Parmesan or nutritional yeast and you’re all set.
* If you can go grocery shopping without the children, please do. It’s very hard not to succumb to requests from little ones who look as if their life depends on you buying that Snickers bar. If not, take them to an aisle of healthy food, like fruits, and let them pick something.
* Don’t waste food. You can accomplish this two ways: plan well and use things up before they go bad. In a pinch, you can freeze most foods to use later. If it’s a vegetable, cook it a bit first, ditto with some fruits, like apples. Berries can be frozen on a cookie sheet and put in freezer bags. Soups and red sauce freeze fabulously.
* There is a lot of talk about organics, and they have become commonplace; however, buying organics can double your grocery bill. You just have to know your prices and what is more or less contaminated by pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics.
A good rule of thumb is to buy all organic dairy products. These may be pricier, but if you have cut back on processed foods, meats, and take-out, you’re still saving a bundle.
Some bigger chains offer house brands of organics. Aldi, for example, has half gallons of organic soy milk that are exponentially lower than national brands.
Generally speaking, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, you can go non-organic for most thick-skinned varieties.
The highest pesticide residues are found in:
8. kale/collard greens
9. grapes (imported)
The lowest pesticide residues, are in onions, avocado, corn, pineapple, mango, peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, and honeydew melon.
By avoiding these 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (or buying organic versions), you can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 90%. If you check online you can see which fruits and vegetables are on each list every season; apparently, the list can change.
* Fish is an excellent source of healthy fats and protein. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Again, Aldi markets has a wide selection of wild caught frozen fish at reasonable prices. If that’s out of your budget, buy a big can of salmon. Take the bones out (it’s easy as they are all attached to the spine) or mash them up for extra calcium, and add to corn chowder, or a casserole with cooked pasta (or cooked rice) and vegetables. You can use a can of creamed corn thinned with a little milk and spiced with herbs or hot sauce as a sauce. Salmon also makes a great salad, just treat it as you would tuna. I use plain yogurt, relish, chopped celery, prepared mustard, and spices. That same can of salmon can be great in fried rice, a stir fry, or burrito.
*If you love dessert, learn to bake. Oatmeal cookies, sweet breads, cobblers are all easy, fast, and far cheaper than anything from a bakery. The “Divorce Cake” recipe on this site costs a little more money, because of the chocolate, but makes many portions (it’s very rich), and rivals the fanciest bakery dessert for a fraction of the price.
*When it comes to one simple tip to save money, making your own salad dressing takes three minutes, or less, keeps in the fridge for weeks, and is good on grains, pasta, vegetables, potatoes, as well as the usual suspects.
Here’s a very basic vinaigrette recipe:
In a jar with a close-fitting lid put:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar, any kind will do (If you use Balsamic you can add more for a lower fat version.)
1 heaping teaspoon of any prepared mustard
freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar or 1/2 tsp. honey
dash of salt
any herbs you have, like marjoram, dill, or oregano
a little fresh garlic or garlic powder, optional
Tighten the lid and shake, preferably over the sink, just in case. The mustard aids in emulsifying the vinegar and oil.
(If you prefer a creamy dressing, add a few tablespoons of plain yogurt or mayo.)
A sprinkle of grated Parmesan adds more flavor and protein.
* Avoid buying and drinking soda. Not only is it expensive and offers no nutritional value, the carbonation leaches calcium from your bones.
* Eat fruit rather than drinking juice. It’s healthier, has more fiber, and fills you up with less sugar.
* Eat oatmeal rather than packaged cereal. A few walnuts adds extra omega 3 fatty acids and makes it more filling.
* Make baked stuffed potatoes for dinner. Simply top with whatever you like: pizza-style, Mexican, chili, etc.
* Experiment with tofu and tempeh. There are tons of recipes online to make it delicious and appealing. Most are very easy.
* Use your eyes to choose as many different colored fruits and vegetables as possible. Each one offers different nutrients and health benefits. Aim for a rainbow everyday.
* Entice children to eat healthier by showing them how much you enjoy fresh, unprocessed foods. Let them help in the kitchen when you have the time. Have fun, make your pancakes in Mickey Mouse shapes (one big circle and two little ones for ears), call broccoli “broccoli trees,” and put a smiley face on their oatmeal with some raisins. Take them to a local farmer’s market and let them help you choose some fruits and vegetables. The younger they are when they learn to eat well, the more entrenched those habits will be.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
It is natural to have bouts of insomnia when going through major life changes.
Here are a few non-pharmaceutical techniques that work better the more you use them.
* Try virtual alternate nostril breathing. Unlike traditional alternate nostril breathing, you do not use your fingers to close off a nostril.
(This is from Elsie’s Yoga Nidra; see link on bottom right).
For added incentive, if you lose your place in the counting start from 27 again.
Breath in through the left nostril as you count: 27
Breath out through the right nostril counting 27
Breath in through the right nostril counting 26
Breath out from the left nostril counting 26.
Continue in this manner counting down to one.
* Spend 99 cents and download Karma Moffet’s CD: Golden Bowls of Compassion from Amazon. This is really incredible.
Far better than almost all the other singing, or crystal, bowl CDs out there, as the tones really resonate in your cells.
Be sure to use ear buds or headphones to get the full effect.
* Here’s a link to a fantastic sleep hypnosis download from Amazon that costs 99 cents.
* See the insomnia section under the chapter on herbal healers.
It’s a good idea not to combine these, with the exception of Rescue Remedy, which you may take in addition to any of the herbs.
* Focus your attention on equalizing your inhales and exhales.
* Build a sanctuary in your mind. A private space you outfit exactly as you would like it, down to the smallest detail.
Use all five senses to make sure you have included anything you might enjoy.
This may take weeks, or months, to accomplish.
Not only is it distracting from repetitive thoughts; but, it helps you visualize what you want, making your attraction to it that much stronger.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
After the dust settles, the divorce is final, the body is buried, or the child has moved far away, you may be tempted to wonder if you made a mistake. Was it wrong to divorce someone who abused you? Was it poor judgment to estrange yourself from a toxic parent or sibling? Should you have insisted your child go to college in town?
If you feel bereft, lonely, or at sea, it is very easy to second-guess your choices and jump to self-downing conclusions. Luckily, a passing thought born from grief is not necessarily the truth.
No one leaves a happy marriage. In 30 years of private practice I have never seen a couple split up cavalierly. Typically, there were years of estrangement, incompatibility, and even contempt.
If you are torturing yourself with all the “what ifs,” stop. No one seeks out strife and misery. No one tears himself away from family without many years of deep disappointment and psychic pain. There’s a built-in biological imperative to stay connected to family, no matter how challenging the situation. If you are re-writing history with a happy ending you believe would have occurred if only you had done X, Y, or Z, instead of A, B, or C, stop. You’re deluding yourself. If you are estranged it’s because things were so painful it came down to one unhappy choice or another. Stay in the relationship and feel victimized or detach for the promise of greater peace. One day, you realized the other person wasn’t going to change. You could either accept their behavior or depart. If you left, took a hiatus, or limited contact, you did so for good reasons.
(Just for the record, I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning, rubs his hands together, and says, “How can I drive my child or parents crazy?” But even without malice, there’s the law of unintended consequences. For example, if someone has an uncontrollable arm spasm that results in inadvertently punching you in the nose, their intention is of little interest when you’re in the ER, yet again, with another broken nose. So, yes, it’s important not to blame or damn them for their behavior; but, it’s prudent to stay out of harm’s way.)
As for all the other should-haves, could-haves, and would-haves, they’re irrelevant. You did what you did for compelling reasons at the time. Trying to put yourself back in that mind-set and re-write history, from your present vantage point only causes pain and suffering. (I have seen a number of people who erroneously think they should go back to their mate only to find it ends up hurting both of them far more when they realize their initial decision was correct.)
Misery can easily catalyze doubt in even the surest of hearts. No one is 100% convinced of any big decision they made because things are grey, not black and white. So, on a good day, you might feel quite confident the best is yet to come, and on a bad one you can’t imagine things improving. It’s certainly not uncommon to get so lonely that the most toxic, co-dependent relationship looks like an appealing option. Be strong, those feelings will pass and you will become more self-reliant, self-soothing, and self-loving. It’s a process and can’t happen overnight. Be patent with all your moods and competing thoughts. They are a natural consequence of an enormous life change.
One benefit of aging (at least, in theory) is you gain perspective and wisdom. Unfortunately, when in the middle of a down period, whether it lasts a few minutes or a few days, it is easy to forget everything you’ve learned and just focus on your current bleak viewpoint. That’s when using all the techniques at your disposal makes sense. If you aren’t up for that, OK; but, make peace with the part of you that wants a break from practicing positive thinking. Later on, or tomorrow, you will want to make an effort, and you’ll feel better.
Of course, it is natural to examine your past behavior so you can make better choices in the future; but, that is a far cry from putting yourself down for past decisions.
Perhaps, if you had it to do all over again, you would have divorced your mate earlier, or moved 3,000 miles away from toxic family. Those ships have sailed. You are here now, the sum of all your decisions. Why not believe everything happens for your highest good? Just because you are lonely, grief-stricken, or living on less doesn’t mean you made a mistake. It simply shows how everything has consequences. Use the time now to accept your choices. They were based on years of experience and intuition. Typically, those enormous life-changing shifts came because it felt as if you had to act or give up.
Monday morning quarterbacking, full of self-recrimination, will only make you feel awful and insecure. You did exactly what you should have done at the time based on who you were and what you knew.
I don’t believe you need to forgive yourself for being human, but if you do, extend an olive branch to yourself. If it helps you abandon the fantasy that everything would be peachy if only you had done something else, go for it.
On the other hand, giving yourself the love and acceptance you sought from that husband, wife, parent, or child, will make you feel exponentially better and prevent you from attaching yourself to the next warm body who promises to love and cherish you.
As the yogis say: All that you seek is already within you. You can love and cherish yourself. Imagine whom you might attract with that karma.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
As you know, the holidays can easily push all your emotional buttons; and, that’s for people whose lives are fairly balanced. If you have experienced a recent death, divorce, or move, your reactions may be more heightened. All that stress can make you extra sensitive to the wrong comment. While you can’t control what people say, you can remind yourself it is all about them, not you. Unconsciously, they suggest what they think would be good for them if they were in your situation. That’s why the best thing to say to someone who is suffering is that you are sorry they’re going through this difficult period, and things will change. At least, those comments are irrefutable.
Expectations have everything to do with how you feel in any situation. The holidays are no different. Images of Norman Rockwell paintings, with smiling faces around a festive table, can leave you feeling critical of what the holiday is for you now. That might be self-criticism, and second-guessing decisions that brought you to a place of loneliness, insecurity, and grief. Allow yourself emotional space to be in this between time, straddling what was and what will be. Understand how whatever is happening now, in this holiday, is not the template for all your future holidays. Take a page from AA, and break up the day into small parts, taking it one minute at a time.
While you may be tempted to think your lack of enthusiasm for celebration is part of a trend, resist that impulse and remind yourself: It’s only one day. Unpleasant as it may be, it is part of moving forward. Birth is always messy, painful, and ultimately ecstatic. Telling yourself your current feelings are temporary broadens your perspective and helps you stop awfulizing about your situation. It may be far from your ideal, but is it really 100% bad? This might be a good time to make a list of everything you are happy with in your life. Even a P.O.W. can be appreciative for a ray of light, a morsel of food, or a bird’s song, so focus on what is going well for you and what you can enjoy.
If you find yourself painting a rosy picture of past holidays, reach back and remember how things really were. If you need a reality check, try reading some of David Sedaris’ humorous reminiscences. No one has a perfect anything, and that includes their celebrations. If you think you know a family that does, you simply don’t know them well enough. Painting an unrealistically wonderful portrait of other people’s lives is unhelpful, as it leaves you feeling bereft, or singled out for misery.
Watch out for other negative thoughts, like comparing a perfectly fine holiday now to one you’ve embellished over the years as heavenly because you cultivated amnesia for past unpleasant events. This is a good time to take a page from Jean Vanier’s book and love reality. (Just for the record, he’s been working on that for 40 years with varying degrees of success, but it’s still a useful concept.)
No one knows the future, and it only upsets you to assume the worst. Make a conscious choice to assume the best; and, if that seems like climbing an emotional Mount Everest, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. It will pass. I promise.
As you release your old notions of how life should be you make room for how it can be. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have had some wonderful holiday times. Why not remember how you helped create them? By clinging to the past, and an image of what you think your life should be now, you resist new experiences you might like even more.
As a creature of habit, aversion to the unknown comes naturally, and can protect you; but, it may also slow your evolution to the person you are becoming. It’s natural to feel some anxiety about that, since you don’t know how that person will feel and act. You might shift some values (see Challenge Your Values), come to like things you never enjoyed before, gravitate towards different people—anything is possible, and that can be scary. We cling to the familiar. As my mother puts it: “I hate change, even when it’s for the better.”
If you have a holiday that feels off or unsatisfying, remind yourself you were used to things being a certain way for a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way for you now. Whenever you make a change, or one is foisted on you, it discombobulates your entire system. That temporary awkwardness and dissatisfaction you feel is just that: temporary. It won’t last. Another holiday will come, and, with it, the potential for something greater than you can imagine now.
To change your brain chemistry right this minute, you may want to fantasize about what that future holiday might be like. Use all five senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste) to paint a picture of your ideal celebration. Don’t relive one from the past, create a new paradigm. Go with your gut: it can be conservative or outrageous, it’s your fantasy.
Calm your body-mind with one of the 100,000 free meditations on the Insight Timer app. If that number sounds daunting, check out the curated list of my favorite teachers on this site.
If you think your former holidays were idyllic, great! That means you have created what you want in the past and you can create your new vision in the future. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet just means you need more time to heal. Take all the time you need. At some point you will be ready. In the meantime, practice viewing each unsatisfying situation as providing valuable data on what you don’t want. Eventually, your new vision will be so strong it will become your reality. Patience with yourself, and the sometimes agonizingly slow process of change, will make the journey easier.
Copyright Nicole S., Urdang
You have neat, tight expectations of what life ought to give you, but you won’t get it. This isn’t what life does. Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.”
Grief might be its own cure.
David Whyte from poem Glentrasne
Your suffering is your benefit.
All loss engenders pain. Whether it is from death, divorce, an empty nest, estrangement, or other life shattering event. Even less obvious losses, like the loss of autonomy after marriage, the loss of familiar co-workers when taking a new job, the loss of physical comfort when giving birth, or the loss of youth as you age result in psychic pain. Loss is an integral part of life. You can’t avoid it. Luckily, there are many ways to handle its fallout. (See Losing Friends, Loss & Liberation, and Phantom Marriage Syndrome.)
As always, the first thing is to feel your feelings. Even if every cell in your body seems as if it’s about to explode, allow yourself to experience it all. Breathe into it. Give yourself the opportunity to open to awareness. By trying to stem the emotional tide you will only increase your pain and exhaust yourself in the process. Remember, grief masquerades as sadness, anger, depression, guilt, anxiety, numbness, shock, worthlessness, etc. So, please refrain from pathologizing your feelings into an illness. You are not sick, you are grief-stricken. It’s a normal part of life that no one escapes. Your emotions will wax and wane. Just when you think the pain is gone for good it will grab you and rapaciously take another bite. Don’t despair. You are healing even in the midst of misery.
Allowing your feelings naturally morphs into accepting them, though this is also a roller coaster ride. One minute you think you have accepted what life has given you, and the next you’re back to ranting and railing against it. It’s all OK. You probably won’t like what you’re feeling, but you can make it safe by consciously choosing to view it as a natural part of life. In time, you will adjust to your new state. It may be as a single person, an empty-nester, a parentless adult, or someone with a disability. Whatever the situation, you will eventually find ways to embrace and enjoy it.
We all evolve. It’s our biological destiny. If you choose to see grief as an avenue to personal growth, you can catalyze your pain into compassion for everyone. The Dalai Lama once said: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.” But first, you need to attend to yourself. You will know when your reserves are built up enough to give again.
In the meantime, practice loving kindness meditation.
Sit comfortably, or lie down.
Say the following to yourself:
May I be peaceful, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.
Next, think of the people you love and wish them peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.
Now, choose someone with whom you have difficulty and wish them peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.
Think of a stranger you saw on the street, or in the market, and wish them peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.
Lastly, wish all creatures peace, happiness and freedom from suffering.
This practice can be relatively short, or you can linger on each word and let it sink in. Either way, it reminds you to put your own well-being first and to wish everyone goodness, even those with whom you have difficulty.
In time, your compassion for yourself and others will grow. You will relate to people differently, whether it’s the clerk at the market or your best friend, because your grief has sensitized you, and opened your heart to everyone’s suffering.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang