What Does Healing Really Look Like?

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Coffee with a friend can be filled with unexpected conversations. Over my friend JK’s latte and my mint tea, she shared that she was very disappointed in herself.

JK had divorced many years ago. Her children were grown and lived out of state. She did not move in the same social circles as her ex, had not seen him in ages and was very busy enjoying the new life she created for herself. Her comment surprised me. Then she shared this story.

A few weeks earlier she and another friend were waiting to be seated at a restaurant when JK turned around and suddenly found herself face-to-face with her ex…and she froze.

She didn’t remember what she said or if she even said anything. She simply shut down. Her friend gently took her arm, guiding her as they followed the hostess to their table.

Once they were seated JK started to shake. “What just happened to me?  The divorce was over ten years ago. I’ve worked so hard to heal. I don’t understand. Am I falling back down into that awful dark hole? I’m terrified of going through the pain it will take to climb back out again.”

“No, you haven’t fallen down any dark hole and no, you don’t have to climb back out of anything,” her friend said.  “Your body was simply trying to protect you. It felt danger and went into a flight or freeze reaction. I’m glad it chose to freeze and not run out of the restaurant on this bitter cold afternoon!”

JK told me she laughed, took a few slow, deep breaths and her panic subsided.

Now, as she sipped her latte, JK said that she assumed once she healed, she would simply move on. But our bodies have long memories, and sometimes it takes more time than we realize to reassure ourselves we are safe.

We decided healing isn’t a package with a bow that you receive as a reward for the hard work you have done. We didn’t want to imagine healing as that smelly onion with all the layers that you keep peeling off while they make your eyes water.

We agreed that healing was an adventure, an exploration. Whether the new scenery we encountered was dark and frightening or shimmering with light, it would constantly challenge our perspectives and often take our breath away.

It’s Not Failure!

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Failure is not a word that fits for much of life thanks to the judgment that oozes from it.

Have you ever heard someone say they felt like a failure because they were in the process of divorcing? Have you ever felt like that yourself?

Maybe you are, or were, in a marriage that didn’t work and couldn’t last.  Maybe you tried desperately to keep it together or felt for a long time that something wasn’t right. Or maybe you were blindsided and shocked when your partner announced they were leaving and it was over.  However your divorce began, you may have found yourself overwhelmed by pain, fear, grief and confusion.

Why would anyone judge this as if it were a grade on a report card? This is a situation where human beings are struggling to find their way. It is not a failure. It’s life and life is filled with choices and change, with loss and grace.

Often people say things happen for a reason. I would encourage you to take this one step further and create a reason for what happened. When you have sufficiently recovered from your divorce (or any life trauma), you can choose to grow, to learn, to make a difference in some way. You can make the choice to be more compassionate with yourself and with others and strive to heal and look to the future.

We are always falling down and getting up. We are always bumping into old thoughts and certainties that no longer fit us. The more we experience life, the more we reevaluate and change our perspectives.

It’s not failure. It’s growth, it’s change, it’s a gift.

Honor Your Story

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On Sunday I went the book launch of “Watershed Moments,” a compilation of stories from individuals who had overcome dramatic events that changed the course of their lives.

The events the authors described were filled with pain, fear, and anguish. Each shared how these seemingly “end of the world” experiences were simply the end of one world and the birthing of a new one.

If you’ve ever given birth or watched someone give birth, you know there is nothing simple about it. It’s not easy. It’s painful. It takes time to heal and to understand the magnitude of the miracle that has come into your life.

It was true for each of these authors. Their transitions were definitely not easy and often painful. It took time for them heal and to understand that a miracle had occurred and that their future was once more, or for the first time, filled with hope and possibilities.

I’ve heard people say we need to give up the stories of our past so that we can write a new one. After reading this book, I believe we should not give up these stories. They are a part of our history, and we need to honor them, for they have impacted who we have become. We may have found or regained our power, our voice, our courage. We may have deepened our faith. We may have become more authentic. We now stand as the heroine of our own story and in the process inspire others to do the same.

The Gift of Community

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I really didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day this week, so I decided to write about last Saturday instead! I went out to breakfast with a group of kind, supportive women friends. We greeted each other with laughter and hugs, sat down at a large table, ordered our food and started talking. We shared stories of joy and grief, of clarity and confusion— conversations women have been having with each other for generations.

We had become a small, compassionate community sharing a meal.

Research shows that being part of a community helps us stay healthy and live longer, but often during divorce friends feel they have to choose sides and may drift away from us. Our community becomes fragmented and breaks apart, and we wonder if we will ever find a new one.

How do you find a new community?

The first step is to participate in life, even for short periods of time. Do something you love. You may want to take an art class, join a ski club or volunteer for a cause you believe in. If you are more adventurous, you will certainly want to try something new!

The second step is to be discerning. No matter how charming someone may be, trust your instincts, and don’t pursue a friendship with anyone you wouldn’t want to meet for breakfast and share heart-felt stories.

My Saturday morning might not have included the traditional Valentine’s Day chocolates or roses, but there was the sweetness of laughter and the fragrance of friendship which smelled a lot like fresh brewed coffee and great hash browns.

Does Worry Limit You?

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My dream Sunday night was filled with such intense worry that I woke up overwhelmed by the feeling. I had been on a high bridge. There were people in the water far below struggling to stay afloat and those on the bridge were jumping in to help them. I decided to do the same, but at the last minute got very scared. It was a long way down and when I looked, I rationalized that I didn’t see people in the water, but just a large school of fish.

I jumped anyway.

Meanwhile another part of me stayed safely on the bridge and watched….and worried. “How could I do this? I wasn’t prepared. What had I done? I should have stopped myself from making this disastrous decision.”

Then I woke up, but the dream stayed with me.

I understand that sometimes I jump into things not fully prepared. I understand that when I get scared, I’m good at looking for excuses not to jump.

Like everyone else I have a strong voice in my head dedicated to protecting me. To that voice I say, “Thank you very much!”

But when does that voice block us from moving forward, from following our dreams, from jumping into the unknown?

How many of us decide to do something that we know is right and then doubt ourselves and spend all our energy worrying, rather than pursing the choice we have made. How can we remain whole and be informed by our worry without being limited by it? How do we keep the lines of communication open with ourselves?

I believe it begins by sitting quietly with ourselves and having one thoughtful, honest conversation at a time.