Thursday, January 3, 2013

Divorce: A How To Guide, Part II

I rattled off yesterday's post quickly before going to work, with my top of mind thoughts, and left out a great deal.  Given that I'm now home with the stomach flu (yuck!) I'll take my "bonus" time to expand on those thoughts.  It's a bit preachy (maybe a lot), and I recognize that my divorce is new and unproven - and yet I feel certain in my marrow that I am onto something here, and that within these ideas lies some deep truth.

Here goes.

I think that the reasons I'm feeling successful in my divorce are the following:
1)  I am committed to following my bliss, no excuses
2) I am working incredibly hard at creating that feeling of success
3) My feelings of success are not tied to my ex's actions

Following my bliss:

They don't call my PollyAnna for nothin'.  My best talent is my ability to find happiness in most situations, to find the silver lining and give it a good polish.  I have certainly worked hard to cultivate this talent, but still, perhaps it comes easier to me than others - I have no idea, knowing only my own experience with it.

Here's how I do it: I seek - over and over and over - experiences that will bring me joy, and I look hard to find joy in the tiniest of things.  I believe that finding joy is a skill like any other, and that practice makes it easier.

For example, I've made a routine of morning coffee that is simple, but deeply joyful to me.  When I wake up in the morning, I push aside the "oh no I have to get out of bed!" thought that comes first, and replace it with "ooohhhh I love coffee."  I brew my coffee, and close my eyes for a moment to inhale the aroma.  I choose my favorite cup every morning (I wash it daily of course), the one that feels great in my hand, that was a gift from a friend, that is my favorite color.  I force myself to get out of bed early for the pleasure of sitting in my favorite chair and drinking it in the quiet.  And the whole time, I focus on that simple pleasure, keeping my thoughts close at hand and not planning my day or worrying.  Five minutes to get the day started, doing something that doesn't require anything "special" but sets the tone for the day that follows. 

It is hard to be unhappy when one is sitting there reveling in a pleasure, when one starts the day with such a pleasure.

Of course, my "bliss" is a lot bigger than coffee in the morning - I am not lacking that much imagination.  I dream of travel, beaches, forests, art museums.  I dream of romantic love, too.  But I am focused on being happy in the here and now - in the music I listen to on my headphones as I bus to work, on the delicious avocado that is my favorite part of the spinach salad I bring to lunch daily. In the soft warmth of flannel sheets.  In the little snippets of information that my daughter shares with me, and the way her hair looks when the sun shines on it.  In beaches covered in frosty logs in the early morning.  In occassional girls' nights with wine and conversation.  In weekend trips to fall leaves or alpine lakes or snowshoeing, even if they're only for a few hours.  In fifteen minutes of reading in bed at night before I fall asleep, light on and book on my chest.  There is so much joy everywhere, waiting to be scooped up, and I am focused on finding every last bit of it.  At any given moment I could rattle off a long list of what is making me happy, because I have so much practice at cultivating that list. 

Today I am home with the stomach flu.  I threw up so hard I got a nosebleed.  (TMI, I know, sorry.)  But I'm so grateful for an understanding boss, for a cozy bed, for a dog that lays at my feet, and even for unexpected downtime.  I wish I felt better - I have such a long to-do list at work! - but there is even joy in the stomach flu if you look hard enough.

No excuses.  Go out there and grab your joy.  Follow your bliss.  Even if you have the flu.  Seek out every single reason, no matter how small, to feel joy.  All those drops of joy add up to an ocean.....unless you stop looking.

(Posted on Facebook today through "The Optimism Revolution" - a page I subscribe to.  I thought it hit on my message today, so I'm including it here.  My burning, big "yes" is joy.  Everything else needs to take a hike!)

Working Hard at Success:

My success is defined by my own personal combination of integrity and joy: if I feel like I am living my life with integrity and joy, then I'm successful.  I suppose everyone has their own definition of success, but that's mine, and it works for me.

And every day, after getting up before dawn to enjoy my coffee, to work out, and to get ready for the day; after spending the day working my rear end off at the office; after coming home to make dinner and sort the mail and help Katherine with homework and sweep up the tumbleweed dust bunnies....every day, as I fall exhausted into bed, instead of pining for more time and less responsibility, every night I am grateful to the tips of my toes that I'm able to pull this life of mine off.  I am PROUD of myself, and that is the dominant emotion.  Sure, I'd like a housecleaner and fewer hours in the office and time for a pedicure....but though those things might come one day, they do not get in the way of my joy NOW.  My pride is a great source of joy - I'm busting my butt to get the life I want, and though I wish I didn't have to work quite so hard, I know I have more than enough.  I know I am giving it my all, and it feels good to me.

My ex and I are opposites in just about every way, and perhaps this helps me to see my bliss more clearly.  He is unemployed, and has all the time in the world.  He never has Katherine on a school day, so he never has to get up early to pack her lunch etc.  He doesn't appear to care about housework or making healthy meals (he eats fast food).  He doesn't work out.  And I see how desperately unhappy he is, and how though he has the time I crave, I wouldn't trade places with him for the world.  Time and money don't create happiness - oh, they help, but they're not enough.

Katherine is not a morning person.  Actually, in the morning, she is a horrible grump, and no matter how early I wake her up or how long I let her sleep, she moves so slowly that we are almost late every single morning.  I fought this for years without success, and we would depart for our buses on grouchy terms with one another - me filled with frustration, her grumpy because I'd get snappy with her.  But instead of accepting this, I set my alarm back yet another 15 minutes, and now I wake Katherine up by climbing into her bed (already dressed in my work clothes - and let me tell you, a pencil skirt is not designed to climb a bunkbed ladder, but I've mostly figured it out!) and reading to her for the first fifteen minutes of her day.  I'm not a morning person either, and I'd love that 15 minutes of extra sleep, but it's worth it to me to put int he extra effort to start my day with my daughter on the right foot.  It's not easy....but it's easier than being grumpy.

I am putting in 110% at work because it helps me towards my dreams.  I'm putting in 110% of myself into my daughter, because nothing matters more to me.  I'm putting in 110% and getting up at 4:45am each day to work out at 5am because I care about my health, and because it makes me feel good to have accomplished it each day.  I'm putting myself 'out there' for online dating, even though I don't feel certain of that world, because I know I eventually hope to find true love and I must start somewhere.  I continue volunteering because I believe it changes the world, even if it's only in tiny increments, and because I believe it shows Katherine how to live our values.  And yes, it's hard work, and yes, I sometimes groan "what was I thinking" as I head to my responsibilities.  But I go anyway, because that hard work pays off with feelings of success - happiness.

And I put 200% in to being cordial with my ex.  I have to put extra into it because it does not come naturally to me any more, because he doesn't behave at all the way I wished he did.  But I know our daughter needs him, and she needs me to put in the effort.  If you think I wanted to serve my ex breakfast on Christmas morning, you're crazy!  But I served it, I smiled, and I cleaned it up again. ( I also saged the house the first opportunity I could after he left and when Katherine was elsewhere.  I don't feel positive about things when he's in the room, though I try.  The sage symbolically helped me to rid those feelings.  I had to take action of some kind - working hard to feel positive again.) 

It isn't easy.  I think the reason most people give up on joy is because it's so damn hard, actually.  It is "easier" for people to state the facts: they're tired, and lonely, and it's all horribly unfair.  Well, yup, true for me, too, as much as I hate to admit it.  But giving in to those facts doesn't serve anyone, least of all me.  I'm fighting them with everything in me: working out to get more energy, seeking friends and even dates to stave off loneliness (all the while accepting it....sort of), acknowledging that it isn't fair.  But in all that hard work, I find the other truth: that life is rich and meaningful and filled with possibility, that I am capable of true happiness, that today is more lovely than awful.

I do have an advantage, of course.  I've already been through cancer, and that was pretty unfair, but I lived through my worst nightmares and am here to tell the tale.  But I also lost friends who had tiny babies - friends who died of cancer before their children were old enough to even remember that they had a mother.  So that's pretty damn unfair, and I guess I'm the lucky one, and I should get out there and live the lives they didn't get to live.  I certainly have that perspective, and it's deep in my marrow.  Once you have stared your worst fears in the face, and done the impossible, doing other impossible tasks seems a bit easier.  (Silver lining of cancer.  Go figure!)

Getting divorced is a lot of work.  Finding joy is a lot of work.  Keeping integrity is a lot of work.  Do not use that as an excuse to get out of living your best life.  It's hard, there are many obstacles, and it's worth it.  Work hard to get what you are seeking.

My joy and integrity aren't tied to anyone else's actions.

I am responsible for my own behavior, no matter what anyone else does.

My ex yells.  He lies.  He denies.  He stonewalls.  He "forgets."  He has pretty much every unhealthy behavior in the book with alarming frequency.  It would be pretty easy to blame a lot of things on him.  I have lots of sympathetic friends and family members who wouldn't blame me for yelling at him or taking him for every penny or cutting him out entirely or something like that.

But that wouldn't hold integrity, and so I won't do it.

I could sob that I have to work so hard because of his screw ups - we had such a potential for a beautiful life, and he squandered it!  It would be true.

But it wouldn't give me joy to live in that mindset, so I won't do it.  (Okay, I've done it.  But I decided to stop.)

Nobody will blame you for holding anger at your ex, for blaming him for the problems that he clearly dumped into your lap.  You are likely quite justified.  He screwed up, and it left you stuck with his mess.  It sucks, no question about that.

But once you've had your pity party and sobbed, "It's so unfair!" get over it, and don't let his mess dictate how you live.

Smile at him.  Include him in communication.  When he yells at you, communicate calmly that yelling isn't okay, but don't engage.  Bite your tongue until it bleeds if necessary, but hold in that cutting (but so true!) comment.

Let him do what he must do.  Don't let it dictate what you must do.

Financially, work hard towards financial independence.  My ex is financially unreliable and has been for years.  Though I need his assistance still, I'm also determined to live so that I do not.  I'm working on my next raise, working on keeping my expenses low, so that if he bails on me, I'll be okay.  Easier for some than others but a worthy goal for all.  (Again, I'm grateful for my skills, education, and network.  Amen.)

And choose the life you want.  Choose happiness.  Anne Frank said, "Despite it all, I believe that people are good."  Viktor Frankl said a million things on the subject, but I'll close with this one:

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
Viktor E. Frankl


(Really, read Frankl.  He's brilliant.  Here's a smattering of his ideas that might help you through the tough times.  If he could hold these attitudes through concentration camps, perhaps I can hold them through divorce.  Comparably, my life is a cakewalk.)

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