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Doing better after divorce

I have been divorced from my ex-husband for 5 years (separated for 6). I remember when we first split, I felt very confident that we would be one of the couples who would be able to manage our emotions and stay united for our kids. In fact, I thought we were going to rock the divorce game. I knew we would have challenges, of course, but I was certain that we would be able to rise above them. I imagined, somewhat naively, that we would enjoy healthy communication, shared holidays, and group photos with our new blended families. I pictured support, handshakes, and maybe even hugs. I just knew it would all be okay. After all, we were both adults. Adults that had been through a lot together. We had spent 9 years together, most of it decent. We had raised babies, grieved the loss of our parents, and shared a lot of laughter and love together. This is someone who had been my best friend, and I was not going to forget that.

Now, I can recognize that part of my ‘pollyanna perspective’ was due to the fact that I was the one to end my marriage. It is easy to look on the bright side when you are the one making the decisions. But looking back, it is both shocking and devastating to see how wrong I was. I won’t go into the details of our divorce out of respect for both my ex-husband and our children but I will say, in regards to co-parenting, the past 6 years have been indescribably challenging. For me. For him. And worst of all, for our children.

My post-marriage fantasy of laughter and unity has been anything but. In fact, I think that both my ex-husband and I would agree that it has been an absolute nightmare. Complete with contempt, vicious words, and quite frankly, child-like behaviour.

I want to be clear that I am not placing blame here. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango and as much as it pains me to admit it, I have very much been a part of the erosion in our relationship. It becomes easy to point fingers at the other party and point out how difficult or uncooperative they are, but the truth is, we have both played a role. When divorce happens, all of the disagreements, the annoyances, and the differences in parenting get that much louder, that much harder to ignore. Bitterness creeps in if one party thrives while another struggles, or if one moves on while another takes more time to grieve. And I am embarrassed to say that we let all of it get the better of us.

I am embarrassed to say that we didn’t do better.

What I have realized now is that it doesn’t matter how reasonable or kind a person is, hurt feelings and resentment can turn them into someone you barely recognize. Whether it is your ex-spouse, or yourself. And as much as it is important to offer everyone a little grace, when there are kids involved, it is much more important to pull your head out of your ass and put them first.

As I ride this secondary wave of grief realizing my ex-husband and I will never have the friendship that I wanted us to, I have become even more resolute in my determination to move forward from here in a different way. We may never sit around the same table celebrating an engagement or a new grandchild, but we can still do better. And if I have learned anything over the past 6 years, it is that the only actions and reactions I can control are my own.

I don’t know what the future holds for our broken family. Likely lots of biting our tongues, firm boundaries, and very limited communication. And even though that isn’t ideal, it is still okay. Not every divorce story needs to be a hallmark movie, as long as the kids come first. Even when we are angry. Even when we are hurt. Even when it’s hard.

To my babies, I’m sorry. Mama’s going to do better.

life, Uncategorized

Those problems you have … it might just be you.

I turned 39 a few days ago (holy Eff!) and in honour of the big day, I wrote a Facebook post reflecting on all that has changed over the past couple of decades. Birthdays tend to bring out my naturally contemplative nature and this year was no exception. The post was basically about how drastically things have shifted in my life, and how extremely grateful I am that they have. (Twenty year old Christine wasn’t exactly fast-tracked for success).

When I look back and examine what changed, I found something interesting. Now aside from just growing up and naturally maturing, I was blessed with some amazing people in my life. They picked me up, dusted me off, and sometimes dragged me kicking and screaming along the way. (I am exceptionally grateful for the people who have had my back and supported me over the years.) But there is another piece to the puzzle, one that played a pivotal role in my turnaround. It seems that somewhere along the way, I finally started to see myself as a participant in my own life. Someone who was not just a poor down-trodden victim, but who had choices and accountability.

(mind blown)

I may seem flippant right now but I am dead serious. I was someone who made terrible choices, very rarely took responsibility for them, and hid behind excuses, blame, and self-pity. I viewed life as something that was happening to me. And if I am being completely honest, these patterns are something I still have to be mindful of as they can pop up from time to time.

Now I am not trying to beat the crap out of myself here. I was also always a really good kid. I was caring, generous, and empathetic but like many people, I was the product of a tumultuous childhood and struggled deeply with abandonment issues. As a result, I ended up creating a story in my head that I became very attached too. A story that served me in some way at the time.

Or so I thought.

Since my story was rooted in trauma and shame, I would actively seek out people or experiences that reinforced my feelings. I made poor choices, and put myself in situations that would support my beliefs – which were that I was worthless, undervalued, and always getting ‘shit on’.

So, how did that serve me? Well it didn’t. But looking back, I can see that I received attention and sympathy which is something I craved as a child. Also, as no one expected much of me, I had a bit of a ‘get out of jail free card’. But I was oblivious to all of this at the time. In fact, I was completely unaware that any of that was my choice. I just thought I was a big ol’ loser with terrible luck. Little did I know that none of that was true at all. No one was shitting on me. In all reality, I was running around looking for piles of shit, rolling in them myself, and then feeling sorry for myself cause I smelled so bad.

I was, quite literally, my own worst enemy.

I’m not going to lie, realizing that many aspects of my crappy life were my own doing didn’t exactly inspire feelings of warmth and hope. I definitely rocked a shame spiral for awhile there. And pulling myself out of it didn’t exactly happen overnight either. Accountability is hard, as is self-forgiveness. And looking at my life and realizing that much of it was my own doing definitely required forgiveness. Taking ownership sucks. It was so much easier to blame other people or make excuses for my circumstances. BUT, when I did start taking responsibility for my life, and finally decided to sit in the driver’s seat, it was amazing how many opportunities opened up for me.

Now, I want to clarify, I am not saying that really hard things don’t happen. We experience loss, sudden change, trauma, and pain. Some of us much more than others. Life will throw curveballs and we are entitled to have emotional reactions to them. But what I am saying is that oftentimes, there is still an element of choice. We may not be able to control everything that comes our way, but we can choose how we manage it and how much of it we make our story.

One of my dearest friends Rebecca was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 9 years old. It is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, joint disfiguration, and affects mobility. This was obviously devastating not only for Rebecca, but her family too. She dealt with extreme physical and emotional pain as she tried to navigate her teenage and young adult years managing a disease that very few people her age could relate to. Rebecca had every reason to feel angry, sorry for herself, and hide behind excuses but when she was 29 years old, she decided that that was not going to be her story anymore. She still deals with extreme physical pain every day but she gets up and chooses to hold herself accountable for the life that she wants. Rheumatoid arthritis is still a part of her story, but it isn’t the headlining act anymore. She is not ‘Rebecca – the woman who struggles with arthritis‘, she is ‘Rebecca – the Entrepreneur, Life coach, Published author, Public speaker, and creator of the Ignite Women’s Conferences‘. She is my hero and I think of her every time I get caught up in my own head.

We all have stories and not all of them are negative but it is imperative to be aware of them. We need to remember that we have choice and that if something isn’t serving us anymore, we can choose differently. If you find yourself experiencing the same conflict or problem over and over again, whether it is in your marriage, job, or friendships, I can promise you that 99% of the time, the problem is YOU. You are likely subconsciously seeking evidence, situations, or people that support a negative narrative in your head. And for that to change, you have to be willing to heal it and let it go.

Letting go of an identity we have been holding onto for years can be scary, and it can be painful. Don’t be afraid to access help if you need it. (Seriously, reach out to Rebecca!)

If you find yourself becoming aware of a particular pattern in your life, explore where it might be coming from and how it might have been serving you. The first step is awareness. Also, don’t forget to be gentle and forgiving of yourself. I really struggled when I looked around my mess of a life and realized that I was the only one to blame. We are all just doing our best and offering ourselves some compassion and understanding for how we got where we are is a sure way to fast track getting over it. Lastly, you may find pieces of your story still pop up from time to time. Even years after you think you have dealt with it. I still find piles of shit to roll in sometimes. And I still fall into the pattern of blaming other people. This is not a linear journey and it can often be ‘one step forward, two steps back’. But keep calling yourself on your crap. Keep holding yourself accountable. And hold the people in your life accountable too. They will thank you later.

Remember, this is YOUR story, you hold the pen, and you can re-write the chapters anytime you like.

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Uncategorized

Self-help: less talk, more action

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with self-help.

A part of me is a straight-up self-help junkie. I devour all the books, podcasts, and conferences that I can get my hands on. I love the teachings, the inspiration, and I work hard to incorporate the things I learn into my life.

But then there is the other part of me. The part of me that honestly finds all of it to be just a little too much. The buzz words, the psychobabble … I just can’t. Nothing brings out dramatic eyerolls from me quite like phrases such as ‘speaking my truth‘, ‘holding space’, or anything that references ‘leaning in‘ and ‘authenticity‘.

Newsflash, ‘speaking my truth‘ sounds like an overblown way of saying ‘here is my opinion‘. And ‘holding space‘ is basically a fancy version of saying you are ‘being supportive‘.

Perhaps I am just triggered by everyone’s authenticity and need to lean in to the discomfort and get grounded. (insert eyeroll here)

Seriously. It is a little too much sometimes. And don’t even get me started on yoga teachers who tell me to ‘breathe into my side body‘. Like, come on … who comes up with this stuff?!

K, rant over. Promise. (And to my yoga teacher, I’m sorry you had to hear it this way and I really do love you)

The bottomline is, psychobabble aside, a lot of this stuff has changed my life. And like anything, I don’t need to love it all. I can take what I like and leave the rest and that is exactly what I do. Besides, what do I care if someone says ‘holding space‘ or ‘being supportive‘? The intent and message is the same so I try to mind my own business and keep my eyerolls to myself.

Anyway, lately, with all of the covid-19 happenings, along with social isolation, I have found I have been consuming even more self-help material than usual and becoming more aware of what works for me … and what doesn’t. One of the things I have realized is that my frustrations with the self-help world have less to do with annoying buzzwords, and more to do with feeling inundated with information but then not understanding how to effectively use most of it.

When I look back, one of my biggest problems along my quest for self-improvement has been to do with goal-setting. When I really gave it some thought, I realized I was putting a tonne of effort into making goals, but then very little effort into making sure I actually accomplished them.

It is great to write out lists of dreams and cut apart magazines to create brilliant vision boards but if all I am doing to follow that up is sitting on my couch and drinking chardonnay out of a mug … I probably shouldn’t be terribly surprised if my big dreams don’t come to fruition, you know?

I’ve written on the topic of accomplishing goals before but one thing I was missing is how important it is to be aware of the steps we are actually taking to achieve them. We can visualize our dreams, manifest, and ‘speak our truth‘ all day long but unless we are actually following that up with action, we aren’t going to see a lot in the results department.

When I sat down and really looked at my daily habits and routines and asked myself, ‘Are these taking me in the direction I want to go?’ … I found the answer was an overwhelming, ‘not really’.

I mean, sure, I would write … for a few days. But then I would get discouraged. Or distracted. Or busy. And it would fall to the wayside.

I would eat healthy for a couple of weeks. But then friends would visit from out of town. It would be someone’s birthday. Or some sort of holiday. And I would fall off the wagon.

Everything I did was so willy nilly. So half-assed. And I realized that unless my big dreams involved some sort of certification in Netflix-watching, I wasn’t making any consistent moves towards my goals. My actions were not in line with my desired outcome.

That is when I realized the importance of what I have affectionately dubbed ‘goal-stepping‘ – the act of taking concrete, measurable steps every day to ensure I will reach my goals. (I also figured I might as well get on the buzz word bandwagon and invent one. If you can’t beat them, then join them, right?)

I think that one of the places that we get stuck when going after goals, at least where I do, is in the overwhelm. Let’s face it, when approaching a daunting goal such as starting a business, writing a book, or losing 50 lbs, it can be hard to know where to start, let alone maintain the motivation to keep at it. Add in multiple big goals and it gets even worse. We might take a couple of cracks at it but then it gets hard and all of a sudden a mug full chardonnay seems a heck of a lot easier, and pretty darn appealing.

The way I tackle overwhelm, and my #1 goal-stepping technique, is something I have adapted from the numerous self-help champions that I admire such as Rachel Hollis and Mel Robbins. I take 2 minutes every morning and write out my goals (I do my 5 year goals). Then I choose ONE small thing I can do that day that will take me a tiny bit closer. Depending on where I am at and how I am feeling, some days it might be as simple as writing an email to my Publisher, other days I might set the task of writing a chapter. Giving myself one task, rather than overwhelming myself with several, makes me so much more effective and able to accomplish much more overall. Whether the day allows for a small gesture or a giant leap, either way, I am taking one step in the direction I want to go.

The beauty is, oftentimes, that one step leads to another. (#goalstepping)

And here is the deal, it’s not always perfect. Sometimes, I find myself back on the couch, working towards my Netflix certification. We will have bad days, bad weeks, or sadly … sometimes even bad months. And that is okay, cut yourself some slack. But then, dust yourself off and get back at it. After all, you are the only person who is going to get yourself where you want to go.

So, keep your eye on the prize but don’t fall victim to overwhelm. Use all the psychobabble and buzzwords you like, but don’t forget the action! Do one thing everyday that will get you a little bit closer to your goal(s). It doesn’t matter if it is big or small. When we approach things in small measurable tasks, it is amazing what we can accomplish.

You know what they say … How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

So go ahead, take one tiny bite each day. I promise it will be a gamechanger.

And I’ll be here, holding space if you need me šŸ˜‰