Divorce and Yoga: Stability First, Then Expansion

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Warrior pose, swivel foot, triangle, warrior pose, swivel foot. My hips, wonky from running, don’t like it. But I push it because I want to get good at yoga – really, really good. And so I reach. And reach. I’m not certain if my swiveled foot is really stable though. And are my knees still lined up with my hips? Not so sure, but I reach more. And I feel a warm searing sensation before I crumple.

I get back up and try again. But this time I accept the correction from the instructor. She is in her fifties, with gorgeous skin and a perfect body, and at that moment I want to be just like her. She lines me back up, and I try again, slowly, not reaching until I feel stable.

Another wonky remnant from past injuries is my stiff shoulder, something that I can normally hide from the world. I reach up, but it hurts. My instructor is there again, correcting my arm, pulling it towards the front of my body. It hurts, but it’s done correctly, so it hurts in a good way.

The next time I do it, I reach to the same place, but I correct myself. The instructor spots this, and congratulates me. “See, you corrected yourself. See that?!?”

I smile. I did see that.

. . .

Step by step, with lots of help, we build stability again. When we try to rush things, we fall. But we can get up again, and hopefully we are a little stronger, more stable, and more resilient. Each fall teaches us something.

I wish I could be a yoga expert in six months. I wish I could rush through my recovery from my high-conflict divorce, my serial-cheating, NPD ex-husband. I don’t like the middle parts of things – because, as author Brene Brown says, this is the hard part, this is where the hard work must happen. But it is necessary, and so I guess I need to slow down and do the work.

Stability first. Then expansion.

I think I finally got it.

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Being Prepared is Overrated

I spent Friday night at a zoo. Not just a few hours – the entire night, from 6 pm to noon the following day. It was a Brownie overnight trip. Along with about 100 other moms and daughters, I slept in a sleeping bag, on a frigid floor, about 10 yards from a live rat exhibit.

I had two problems. First, I am terrified of rats. I don’t think they’re cute, and I don’t think they make good pets. I think they are the scariest and most devious creatures on the planet, and they might be rabid, and I shudder uncontrollably whenever I see them. Second, unlike nearly every other person there, I did not bring an electric air mattress. Right after the Separation, I went through my house, wildly decluttering and throwing things away with abandon. It was fun, and it was liberating. During the decluttering, I threw away the never-used air mattress, and I hadn’t missed it.

But oh, how I missed that mattress on Friday night. Around 1 a.m., I started feeling really bad about my impulsive purging. Maybe I shouldn’t throw things away. Instead, I should acquire and keep more things, like everyone else. Obviously I had failed the golden rule (and motto) of the Girl Scouts: Be Prepared.

And maybe I was failing something else: motherhood. Do all good mothers keep spare electric mattresses on hand, just in case a last-minute overnight trip to the zoo popped up?

In any case, I don’t remember sleeping at all, though I must have dozed off a few times because I dreamed about the rats chewing a hole in their cage. But I did not complain (much). No one complained. We are all Good Sports. Not only are we good sports, but we are helpful. In fact, this is how the Girl Scout motto is explained: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.”

In other words, we help, we serve, and we MUST know how to do the job well.

What does this translate to? We must be pretty darn close to PERFECT. When serving others.

And this is why Girl Scouts annoys the hell out of me. Somehow, under all the cheery, esteem-building exercises, all I can see is a bunch of seven-year-olds looking a bit jaded, like teenagers forced to visit an art museum, while their strung-out moms try to figure out how to contribute in a meaningful yet not-too-time-consuming way. And when the girls get excited about something, like really excited, like seven-year-olds tend to do, and then they get really giggly and silly, their troop leader swoops in and reminds them that they are supposed to be paying attention to the lecture on the effects of trash bags on marine life in Antarctica.

And then I watch those bright happy eyes swivel over to the speaker, and the light in them goes out.

We help, we serve, we’re polite, we are respectful, we know how to do things well. We are perfectionists in training.

And I’m pretty much done with it. This is the way I was raised back in the seventies, in my traditional home. And it really hasn’t worked out for me. Because when you teach young girls to ignore their feelings, to tamp down on their joy, and to serve others, you end up with young women who don’t know how to think or feel. They believe their value lies in being good, polite, perfect. They can not accept their feelings of rage or grief. In fact, often they can not even identify their feelings at all.

Brene Brown writes, “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”

I don’t blame the Girl Scouts for all of this. I believe it’s an organization that strives to make positive changes in girls’ lives. I don’t even blame my neighborhood or school or troop, where perfect, soft-spoken, skinny moms are found everywhere. However, I am going to try my hardest to make sure that my daughter understands that she is not valued for being perfect. We love her for all her imperfections: her sly wit, her shyness, her over-the-top sassiness with certain friends, the tiny beauty mark on her lovely chin,how she reads book after book in bed every night with a flashlight and then can’t wake up in the morning, and the fact that she will haul off and punch her big brother sometimes. She is magnificent all the time to me, not just when she’s learning, or striving, or showing us all that she’s a good little girl, prepared for anything.

 

Gratitude List: 10 Gifts of Divorce

Gratitude. It’s a difficult exercise when you’re going through a divorce like mine, which drags on for years and can suddenly suck out all the energy and joy of a beautiful day.

On the surface, I’ve lost a lot. But I’ve been thinking about some of the good things I’ve gained in the past 2.5 years. I’m a little surprised by my list. These are really and truly gifts.

1. The Truth: No more lies. I tell the truth, and I expect others to tell me the truth.

2. Independence: I can do all sorts of things myself. I can fix a garbage disposal and pay the taxes;  fly across the country and drive 1,000 miles with two little kids; throw a baseball as well as the dads, and hold family meetings all by myself. I can pretty much do anything that my soon-to-be-ex-husband can do. And I do most of these things better, since I actually pay attention.

3. Boundaries: Everyone stops asking you for favors when you’re getting a divorce. Soon you start to realize that your quality of life is vastly improved when you’re not running around like a lunatic trying to please everyone. So now I help out when I can, but I no longer always feel obligated to donate, volunteer, show up, or listen. I  can say no without guilt.

4. Authenticity: I rarely pretend everything is okay when it’s not anymore. I’ve learned that appearances don’t mean a thing — my soon-to-be-ex and I looked pretty good on the surface. I’m not perfect, and everyone knows it now — my marriage could be an exhibit in Brene Brown’s Museum of Epic Failure. Also after facing real problems, I  learned quickly that gossiping and social climbing are empty, soul-sucking pursuits.

5. Vulnerability: This is a hard one for me, but I try my hardest to show up, be vulnerable, and lean in to all situations. My reward is deeper connections. Since my divorce, people have shared so many important and personal things with me, and for this I’m grateful.

6. Confidence: I have learned that when I step outside my comfort zone, I will be okay after all. From speaking in public to standing up for myself in front of lawyers and evaluators, I can do all sorts of things I never thought possible just two years ago.

7. Health: My free time is my free time — running, time outdoors, hikes with my children, walks with friends. Plenty of sleep. Good food. I take care of myself and my children.

8. Compassion and Self-Compassion:  My little children know that “Only God is perfect,” but I guess I missed this message until halfway through my divorce. Now I know it: none of us is perfect — and on top of that, anything can happen to anyone at any time. My divorce has made me more compassionate, first towards others, and finally towards myself.

9. Creativity: When I stopped worrying what everyone else thought of me, I started getting creative. And if nothing else, this divorce has given me some good material.

10. Freedom: Sink or swim, it’s all up to me now. I refuse to google my soon-to-be-ex, or feel embarrassed by him, or be held back by him anymore. Pretty amazing.

I Want An Apology: Divorce, Mean Girls, and Imperfect Role Models

I Want An Apology: Divorce, Mean Girls, and Imperfect Role Models

My seven-year-old daughter received this little note recently. Via text. Just to clarify, it’s meant to say, “I’m sorry,” not “I’m sore!” Of course there is a story. A playdate with four happy little girls. All old friends. They’ve known … Continue reading

Helping Your Friend through Divorce (a very sincere How-To List)

Helping Your Friend through Divorce (a very sincere How-To List)

A friend recently confessed to me that she never knows what to do when someone tells her they’re getting divorced. Should she admit that she always hated the soon-to-be-ex-spouse? (NO.) Should she bring over a hot-cooked meal? (YES!) Can she … Continue reading

“Vulnerability …

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
 
 

Each year, my children and I cross the country to visit friends and family for several weeks. We spend the last week in paradise – a place surrounded by the Pacific on one side, and vineyard-covered hills on the other. The air smells like eucalyptus, and my children pick lemons off the trees and make fresh lemonade. They swim all day and run around barefoot with their cousins.

This year it was hard to leave. Going home meant facing my divorce again. Mine is no ordinary divorce, and it’s certainly not a Good Divorce (not that I really believe in Good Divorces anyhow – I’ve yet to meet anyone in real life with children who has experienced a Good Divorce). At any rate, mine is a Very Bad Divorce, one that includes child custody issues, teams of lawyers, various psychologists and other mental health and addiction experts, and some really serious stuff that caused what the attorneys call “the breakdown of the marriage.”

On top of the divorce itself, I struggle with the IDEA of getting divorced, the public failure of being divorced in a society that values and celebrates seemingly perfect families. Here are just a few of the things I have heard lately about women who get divorced:

Women with children shouldn’t get divorced.
Good women don’t get divorced.
Women who get divorced are screwed up.
Or they were too dumb to marry the right person in the first place.
Women who get divorced are selfish.
They damage their kids.
Their kids will ever, ever be okay again.
Divorced women are crazy, lonely, pathetic, slutty, desperate.
Divorced women are failures, losers.
They are LESS THAN married women.

All of these things banged around in my head when my plane landed. They’re still there. Not every moment. But often. They come to me in the dark when I can’t sleep, or on gorgeous autumn days at my children’s school, or any time that I’m scared or frustrated or tired. Sometimes they can swoop in and destroy a perfect moment, like when my son hits a home run and all I can hear is the other dads cheering him on. I miss the moment because I am panicking at the thought that my son is the only one there without a dad – I am the only mom there alone, trying to navigate the tricky world of raising a son without a real dad.

SO, I’ve decided that I can’t afford to miss any more of these perfect moments. I don’t want to miss them – they are few and far between, and my children are growing up fast. I need to reclaim some of the peace I found in my paradise getaway. To do this, I’ve decided that I need to become stronger. And more courageous. More vulnerable and less shameful. I’ve decided that I need to do some work – on myself, for a change. Because I have spent the last several years trying to do a lot of work on someone else – my soon-to-be-ex-husband. And let’s just say that my work failed. As it should, because I learned way too late that you really CAN’T FIX SOMEONE ELSE.

So now it’s time to take that time and energy and start to concentrate on myself.

I don’t know where this path will take me, and I have a feeling that parts of it won’t be very pleasant for a risk-adverse, “would-rather-die-than-be-vulnerable,” “fly-under-the-radar” person like me. I look to Dr. Brene Brown again, for some inspiration as I start:

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

This blog is my first step in owning my story.