Love is not a faucet you can turn on and off at will. If you have spent years, or decades, with someone, even if that time was not always so wonderful, even if you came to disrespect or feel contempt for your partner, the simple act of sharing a life bound you on a cellular level. That emotional glue often feels like love. Is it? I don’t know. It can certainly seem as deep as a well and impossible to leave behind. Luckily, a feeling is not a fact. You can get unstuck, though it may be a slow, arduous process. Typically, the longer you were coupled, the more time it takes to grieve, let go, and embrace a new life.
What do you do when your mind says I don’t want to be with this person anymore, but your cells feel drawn to resume the relationship? It’s best to assume you ended things for very good reasons, as people rarely split over superficial, trivial matters. (See Second Guessing Yourself.) At this moment, those reasons, so compelling at the time, may look less important. But that is an illusion brought on by the many challenges of divorce: financial, social, emotional, lifestyle, familial, and spiritual. When you are lower than a snake’s wiggle everything looms scarily above you. It’s temporary. Just as every molecule on earth is moving, your life is changing, whether you see it this minute, or not.
It’s easy to look back and think your greatest joys are behind you. But that’s not true. Your grief will slowly ebb away, your loneliness will turn to peaceful solitude, and you will make new friends. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can cultivate patience by looking around you and noticing all the people who have found their way to the other side of divorce living full, satisfying lives.
You may be feeling sad and lonely, but that doesn’t mean you always will be. Perhaps, you have not yet met someone else. If that is your desire, you certainly can. Transitions take time. Growth happens in spurts, some lightening fast, and others achingly slow. Riding the emotional waves isn’t always easy. Give yourself the gift of time. Time to heal so you can be open to enjoying your own company, being with friends, nature, family, and possibly a new romantic relationship. Taking time to re-establish your sense of yourself as an individual, after being part of a couple, can be daunting, but it is worth it. Remember: You deserve happiness just as much as anyone else, though it may not come knocking at your door. You have to pursue it, when you are ready. Taking as much time to grieve is crucial. Jumping in to a new love relationship because you are lonely is very tempting, but it deprives you of the opportunity to practice loving yourself.
Sometimes, letting go seems impossible; but, day by day, whether you are consciously aware of it, or not, you ground more deeply in the present moment. When you fully understand the past is over you clear an emotional path and open up to new experiences. It requires primal trust in yourself and the universe. Be patient and things will change. You have no idea what great joys are to come. Waiting, allowing, and imagining all ready you for that new phase of life. Endings and beginnings are as natural as each inhale and exhale. Relinquishing the pain and welcoming the new will happen organically when you trust the process. Sometimes, if you are not in that trusting place, the best you can do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Life will naturally carry you along to renewal and wonderful experiences you never dreamed possible.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Archives for 2010
Ten ways to handle bad news:
1. Breathe deeply and slowly. Use grounding techniques (see Grounding Techniques).
2. Remember: This will pass.
3. Don’t take it personally, no matter what happened.
4. Allow all your feelings; yes, all of them.
5. Have faith in yourself. You are more competent than you think right this moment. Use prayer or meditation to access your faith in yourself or something greater than yourself.
6. Keep to your routine as much as possible, even if you feel dazed and numb. It will anchor you.
7. Eat, sleep, and get some fresh air.
8. Connect with anyone available: family, friends, a therapist, neighbors, even strangers.
9. Picture yourself as a six year old and lovingly take that little being into your arms. Speak softly, gently, and reassuringly to the frightened child inside.
10. Understand: You are here for everything, the good and the bad. You are a river of experiences, let life flow without judgment. You may not like it, but you can handle it.
While these ten suggestions can be read in under a minute, taking the time to do them will build resiliency and get you from one second to the next. Sometimes, just existing through a traumatic experience is the best you can do. Five minutes from now, tomorrow, or next week, things will look different.
Faith is surrendering to what is, doing what you can, and believing everything is happening for your highest good.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Can you imagine a life without one of your five senses? Maybe, but it certainly isn’t something you would joyfully embrace. Even if having all five senses means you sometimes see, smell, hear, touch, or taste things that elicit a negative reaction, you understand the gift of having all five far eclipses those unpleasant moments.
Being human comes with the ability to experience life in many different ways, through a body, a brain, and a spirit. You may not always think so, but your emotional range is also a gift. Though you will face negative feelings on and off throughout your life, you probably would not give up the ability to feel simply because, sometimes, emotions are incredibly painful or challenging.
There are many ways people try to avoid unpleasant feelings, and addictions top the list. Engaging in obsessive-compulsive or addictive behavior pushes unpleasant thoughts and feelings out of conscious awareness. Sometimes, that can seem like paradise; unfortunately, the long-term negative effects outweigh the short-term gains of numbness and forgetting, as once the drug or activity is over, all those painful feelings come back. Let’s face it, if addictions really worked, we would all be addicts. Who doesn’t want a bit of relief from life’s stresses? The problem is they are a short-term fix. It takes great courage to move through dark emotions but ignoring them, or sweeping them under the cognitive rug, just makes them less accessible for healing.
How can you make it safe to feel emotions that potentially trigger a sense of devastating loss, wild rage, or deep depression? By cultivating the inner, loving parent who is always there to comfort, protect, and remind your inner child how you are a spiritual being having a human experience.
Life’s trials don’t come with a manual, so you can’t always figure out what the lesson is. Patience, and faith in yourself will reveal their purpose, even if it is simply to show you how much you can bear.
Developing confidence in your ability to deal with all your feelings only comes from practice.
First, allow what is true for you now. Give yourself a cosmic permission slip to feel everything without judgment or censorship.
Breathe into your emotions. Tell yourself it’s OK to experience whatever is true for you now. You may not like it, but you can handle it.
Next, remind yourself of other times when you thought you couldn’t stand something, but did. Allow that memory to access feeling empowered, courageous, and competent. If you can, use all five senses to fully remember the details of your experience.
Talk gently and lovingly to the frightened part of yourself, your inner child, who doubts his or her ability to face this challenge. Tell that little soul you are here for her. You can protect and support her. Use a litany of reassuring phrases, like: “It will be OK. I am with you, and I always will be. Everything is fine. You are safe. I love you..” Say these over and over again until they come unbidden, calming, and soothing your inner child.
When the situation has passed, be sure to give yourself and your inner child credit for bravely weathering the storm.
Another useful strategy is to view your urge to self-medicate with an addictive behavior as an invitation to plumb your depths. Ask yourself: What am I trying to avoid by engaging in this activity? Is it a situation, a relationship issue, or a life decision (like a career choice or a move)?
The more frequently you remember to use these techniques, the more quickly you will assimilate them into your inner dialogue. In time, you will notice how loving, non-critical self-statements are your coin of the realm. Your cognitive default becomes a string of supportive phrases that help you navigate all the vicissitudes of life.
On a more mundane level, there are many things you can do to build up your resilience to stress. Eating high quality, nutrient dense foods, taking appropriate supplements (like vitamin D3 if you live in a Northern state), sleeping enough, moving your body, adopting some type of meditative or spiritual practice, and surrounding yourself with supportive, open-hearted people.
In addition, you may want to make a list of activities that energize you and another of those that enervate you. This will enable you to choose more from the former and fewer from the latter, designing a life that sustains you, body and soul.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Whether it was a parent, teacher, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend, boss, sister, brother, classmate, or co-worker, at some point, everyone has been affected by damaging remarks, criticism, physical abuse, harassment, or sexual abuse.
You may think it extreme to say that we are all in recovery, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to add up the numbers: at least one in four women is a victim of sexual abuse, one in ten adults is addicted to alcohol, and one in four women is likely to experience domestic violence during her life. Then there are all the other issues flying under the radar, like elder abuse, bullying, and living with someone dealing with depression, guilt, hoarding, or addiction.
Each person who is directly affected by these issues indirectly affects many more. And how could that be otherwise? Even the kindest soul reacts to abuse either by taking it out on others, himself, or both.
When we look at the statistics, the chances of not having some toxic interactions are infinitesimally small. If that is true, and we are all negatively affected by verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, perhaps post-traumatic stress is far more common than we think.
Surely, growing up in a family with an addicted parent leaves one traumatized. The trifecta of unpredictability, lack of primal trust, and insecurity, often all shrouded in a family pact of secrecy, is more than enough reason to embark on a recovery mission.
If the Buddhists are right when they say our suffering is our benefit, we can all help by first recognizing how pervasive emotional trauma is and developing more compassion for ourselves, and each other.
What would happen if our society recognized this epidemic of PTS? (I don’t call it a disorder as it’s natural to be incredibly stressed after trauma.) Ideally, we would cultivate gentleness for ourselves and our fellow travelers. We would all embrace a culture of recovery by speaking more kindly, acting more considerately, owning our own issues, cooperating rather than competing, embracing our natural sensitivity, and remembering that everyone struggles at one time or another.
If we assume that each of us has been hurt, probably numerous times, we might be tempted to chalk it up to human nature and suggest everyone simply buck up; but, isn’t developing a thicker skin part of what led to these issues in the first place? Furthermore, how does burying our true feelings help in the long run? Doesn’t it make it more likely they will come out inappropriately in sarcasm, or even abuse?
What if we used our collective pain to catalyze our evolution?
What would our better selves look like?
Would we be more generous, more patient, tolerant, and sensitive?
What about how we treat ourselves? Could we show more generosity, patience, tolerance, and sensitivity towards our own sweet selves?
What if, for one day, none of us took anything personally? Remembering that each of us is carrying far more baggage than is obvious.
What if after being cut off on the road we thought, “I wonder what that person is dealing with that made them so distracted?”
What if we assumed that every single person was dealing with something difficult, and we cut them some slack?
What if we smiled at everyone, whether we knew them, or not?
What if we practiced compassion?
These days, there is a great awareness of how we have hurt the environment. When will we own up to how we hurt ourselves, and each other?
Isn’t our treatment of the environment, animals, and others merely a projection of how we treat ourselves?
I believe it is.
By hurting anything we hurt everything.
Today, why not vow to start a real new age by taking the very best care you can of your sweet self? If you do, you will watch that inner love manifest to everyone’s benefit.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Let’s pretend you’re washing lettuce for a salad. You see a few rusty-edged pieces and remove them. It’s second nature. You didn’t have to consciously think, “I don’t want to put something unappealing or toxic in my body.” You intuitively knew. Unfortunately, it is not that easy when it comes to your mind. Allowing unwanted, unhelpful, and upsetting thoughts may seem to come naturally; not to mention all those times you cultivate them. The good news is, just as you learned to ditch the rusty lettuce, you can also learn to discard toxic internal refrains.
Meditation is one way of retraining your mind and making it an ally. The practice not only works by quieting your brain, but by helping you notice what scampers across it. For most people, getting in touch with automatic thoughts is like panning for gold: it takes patience and a willingness to carefully look at everything in the pan, in this case, your brain pan. Once you do that, you will notice the tendency for certain thoughts to repeat. Perhaps, you are preoccupied with an upcoming event, money worries, or a medical issue. Often, it can be something much more mundane, like: I wonder if she likes me or is just being polite? How can I remember to put the garbage out before tomorrow morning? Should I do the laundry now, or can it wait another few days?
Practicing meditation is like having an inner coach. The yogis love to say, “That which you seek is already within you.” I couldn’t agree more, though accessing that knowledge can be difficult. Building awareness is just like exercising a muscle. You may not notice day-to-day changes, but after a while you’re suddenly more in touch. Pair that consciousness with a slower breath, and you begin to feel more mastery over your thoughts. Since thoughts create emotions, you now have a greater ability to sculpt your inner dialogue. This leads to more serenity and increased self-control.
In addition to meditation, or in lieu of it, you can consciously feed your brain material that makes you feel better. Louise Hay has been practicing a ritual where she looks in the mirror as often as possible and says: ‘I love you, I really, really, love you.” Try it.
Émile Coué, a French psychologist and pharmacist who discovered the placebo effect, introduced a self-improvement program in the early 20th century based on auto-suggestion. His most famous mantra was to say to yourself: Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.
Captain Picard on Star Trek Next Generation used to direct his staff with the words “Make it so.” You can use those same words to govern your thoughts. Rather than thinking of what you don’t want, focus on your desires. Play with them. Use whatever ruminative or OCD tendencies you might naturally have to dwell on positive outcomes for anything you find yourself obsessed with.
If saying loving, positive things to yourself is a challenge, why not start by listening to others say them to you?
Text copyright Nicole S. Urdang
While walking in the park this morning I happened to notice a man ambling along engrossed in a book. Curious as to what was so compelling, I glanced over and saw it was a large book of watercolors. This perplexed and amused me, as the morning was exceptionally beautiful: a rich blue sky punctuated with clouds of all hues and shapes against a landscape of fully leafed out trees. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect example of a Spring morning.
As stunning as his impressionistic watercolors were on the page, I wondered how they could compete with what was right in front of him. Of course, he has free will; and, if he truly prefers a book to reality, that’s his prerogative. I just saw an opportunity to enjoy what was right there, right then. It reminded me of how easy it is to be oblivious to what is available in the moment when internal preoccupations are allowed to take center stage. I also remembered many walks when my mind was so cluttered and churning I couldn’t focus on what was right in front of me.
If you find yourself similarly absorbed in your thoughts, obsessions, or worries, take a break to re-ground in the present moment.
Look around you, wherever you are.
Notice the colors, shapes, temperature, sounds, and scents; anything that enables you to be here now.
This moment, this second, is the gift of life. Obliviousness lets it pass by.
Stretch, feel your body.
Take a deep, slow breath, and exhale completely.
You won’t be incarnate forever. Enjoy everything you can right this minute, even if your life is excruciatingly challenging.
The leaves are still green, the sky is still blue, and you’re still breathing. Take comfort in the most elemental things and they will sustain you.
If you aren’t in a place where you can find joy in these simple pleasures, just acknowledging they are there can boost your spirits.
No matter what your state of mind, anything that connects you to all that is will ultimately make you feel more grounded, more secure, and more open to life.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang