Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ahhhh . . . Sweet Affirmations

Before I go any further, I'm going to break one of the rules of blogging as handed down by a couple of blogging gurus whose blogging material I've read. According to the experts, a blogger should never apologize for not posting for a few days or even longer; instead, they should just pick back up where they left off. I just can't do that. This is "social" media; it's all about building community and relationships, and if you and I communicated socially in "real life" and I didn't get back to you for 5 or 6 days, I would apologize. So . . . I apologize for not being around since last week. I've missed being here, but this first week back at work every semester is always hectic and extremely busy. And that leads me to the topic of affirmations.

"It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen."

I'll be totally honest. I'm a bit skeptical of the "if you envision it and affirm it enough, it will become reality" concept that has been preached by quite a few self-improvement gurus the past several years. We all know people who have had a goal that they envisioned endlessly, that they worked toward tirelessly and relentlessly for years on end, and that never came to fruition. As a dear friend explains, her desparate desire to become a prima ballerina, over 10 years of lessons with fantastic teachers, dedicated & rigorous practice on her own part, and fervent support and encouragement on the part of her family could not cause her 5'0" (as she says it) body to grow or overcome the fact that she is one of the least coordinated people on the planet. She is only a prima ballerina in her dreams -- literally.

I do believe affirmations in that sense can be helpful, but they are not the end-all and be-all.

But there's another kind of affirmation that I have come to believe in in the past year or so. I wish I had grasped this concept before; it would have saved me so much trouble an heartache through my lifetime. The type of affirmation I'm referring to involves setting a goal or objective, taking a step or two in that direction, and then assessing the result of those steps. Is everything working out? Did taking those small steps lead to doors opening that in turn lead you closer to the original goal? If the answer is yes, keep on stepping. If not, adjust course and take another step. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For me, there's another component to the assessment part of the process. As a Christian, I've come to believe that if things are working out and doors are opening without me manipulating them to happen and forcing doors to open, they're happening because I'm in align with God's plan and am on the right track. With that in mind, over the past few months, as I've moved from dreaming and reading about my "new life" to translating those dreams into something more specific, more doable, I've also been praying that God would guide me. And, since I can be a little slow on the uptake in the spiritual department, I asked Him to make His affirmations (or His "no, not that") as clear as possible.

I returned to work this past Tuesday morning for 3 days of meetings before students return this coming Monday. The very first thing that occurred when I walked into the department office was that something very important that I had been told was a "done deal" was no longer going to happen. Not only was it not going to happen, but the person who should have told me back in May didn't do that. As a result, all of the lesson plans, activities, workshops, etc., I developed over the summer for the entire semester must be completely redone. I felt disrespected and frustrated. I went to my office, closed the door, and my very first thought when I was able to think anything other than "Oh, no!" was "Hmmm . . . maybe this is an affirmation of my desire to relocate." I reminded myself that this could also be a test of my determination, my commitment to being a joy-filled person despite my circumstances, etc., so I didn't jump to any conclusions.

This morning I learned, in a very public setting, that someone I had trusted, someone who greatly impacts what I do every day, has been repeatedly untruthful with me in a very significant way since last winter. Not only has this person been misleading me, the act they have been untruthful about is, to me at least, an act of betrayal. I kept a smile on my face, but inside I was again feeling very disrespected and, at first, quite hurt. And then I heard inside my head, "Well, you did ask for affirmation of your goal to relocate." I couldn't help but laugh.

Then it dawned on me. I really didn't feel sad, or even disappointed. In fact, I felt relieved. Not that I'm going to have to redo 16 weeks of classes -- no, that still frustrates me. I feel a sense of relief because I see these events as affirmation that I'm on the right track. That a change is in order. That my dreams and goals are ones I should pursue.

So I'm going to keep taking steps. Perhaps along the way a different opportunity will arise that keeps me where I am but working in a different capacity. Or perhaps things will work out in a way that shows me these two incidences were nothing more than tests of my character. But I'm not worried or concerned. I'm very content to simply take another step, and then another, knowing that in the end I will be where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

But no matter what, I understand what Ali was saying. I'm deeply convicted by the idea that I'm on the right track, and I feel as though, after months and years of dreaming and plotting & planning, things are on the verge of changing. I can't wait to see what happens next!

 

What are your dreams and goals? What do you imagine your redesigned life to look like? Are you taking steps to make what you imagine your reality? I'd love to hear how things are going for you and what you've experienced in the way of affirmations. I hope you'll share your thoughts by commenting or by emailing me at aliferedesigned@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guilt

Guilt. Is there anyone alive who hasn't felt their stomach churn and their face burn with it? Of course, sometimes guilt is well-deserved. Bringing work issues home and then snarling at a loving spouse, yelling at the kids, and kicking the puppy should make a person feel guilty.

All too often, though, we feel guilty when we shouldn't. A former coworker told me that for years after his schizophrenic adult son committed suicide, his brain played a continuous loop of scenes from the last years of his son's life. He would, he told me, slow the scenes down and examine every scene, every bit of conversation, each piece of body language, as if he could somehow find out where he went wrong and what he should have done differently so that his son would still be alive. Even though the son was not living in the family home -- was in fact living in a medical facility under 24-hour watch at the time of his suicide -- my coworker still felt responsible. And racked with guilt.

A friend recently shared that when she and her husband both lost their jobs within a few months of each other five years ago, causing them to eventually file for bankruptcy and lose their home, she would lie awake at night cataloguing all of the "frivolous" spending she had done that had prevented them from having enough savings to weather the 18 months of unemployment followed by the years of jobs paying significantly less than they had earned before. She spent many sleepless nights tallying up how much she spent on monthly manicures and visits to the beauty shop ever 8 weeks, for example. One particularly difficult night, she mentally relived the family's week-long trip to Walt Disney World eight years before the bankruptcy, tabulating every single thing they purchased, right down to a $5 refillable drink mug for each of the 4 family members. "I know it sounds silly," she told me with a wry smile, "but I couldn't turn off the guilt machine."

I've been there myself. Not in regard to my husband's illness and passing; I honestly never felt guilty about that. No, for me, the guilty feelings have come more recently. I have a home I love and that I wouldn't be in if my husband was still alive. Because of my current job -- which I only needed and sought because my husband passed away -- I've gone on several trips that I thoroughly enjoyed. I've tried new things and had experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise, and I'm currently laying the groundwork to move to a part of the country where I've always wanted to live, something that would be impossible if my husband was still alive. Sometimes, smack in the middle of a great moment -- strolling along 5th Avenue in New York, for example -- I am struck by the thought that I shouldn't be having such a great time, that I'm only having this great time because my husband passed away.

That doesn't mean, though, that I have any reason to feel guilty. So how can a person deal with feelings of guilt in a healthy manner? I've read quite a bit on the subject, talked to others who have walked this path, and, of course, have personal experience to draw on, and here's what I've found.

1. It's important to remember that guilt is a feeling and that feelings involve choice. While we cannot change life's circumstances, we can change our view of them and our reaction to them. It is often helpful to spend some time contemplating the types of situations in which you are more prone to feeling guilty. If there is a pattern -- for example, guilt feelings burgeon on holidays -- prepare for those events ahead of time by using one or more of the strategies that follow.

2. Examine your thoughts in light of the truth. For example, it may be true that if you hadn't lost your job your children would still be attending private school and living in that nice big house on Martin Drive. But it's also true that *you* did not cause the economic downturn, *you* did not sell the company to a huge conglomerate, and *you* did not purchase and then move the company to a foreign country. It's also true that you took a vacation, *but* there was absolutely nothing wrong with taking a vacation that was well within your means; you had no way of predicting the future and knowing that years later you would lose your job. Do not allow lies such as "It's all my fault. If we hadn't spent $3000 on a trip to WDW we wouldn't have lost the house" to take root. That $3000 might have kept you in your home a few more months, nothing more.

3. Replace guilt-inducing mistruths with healthy truths. Instead of "If only I hadn't asked him to go to the grocery store and pick up some milk, he wouldn't have been in the accident and wouldn't be in a coma", remind yourself that your significant other was in a car that was struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light. That drunk driver is responsible. Period.

4. Call upon your faith system. For me, that involves prayer and memorizing Scriptures (or writing them in a section in my planner) that comfort me and bring peace.

5. Call upon a trusted friend or group of friends. Sharing that you feel guilty may be difficult for you, and that's understandable. However, it may be very helpful to have another person's perspective and to have a go-to person who can help you adjust your thought processes when necessary.

6. Experiment to find other techniques that work for you. For me, journalling is very cathartic. For you, it might be meditation or exercise or something entirely different.

7. Turn the situation around, putting a loved one in your shoes. For example, imagine your daughter sharing with you that she feels guilty that her husband cheated on her and then divorced her. What would you say to her? Now, say that to yourself.

8. Consult a professional. Of course, "professional" could mean different things -- grief counselor, pastor/priest/rabbi/other religious leader, therapist, etc.

Have I completely eradicated guilt from my own life? Not entirely. But I have found that by utilizing some of these techniques, I'm much better at identifying it, replacing guilt-producing thoughts with truth, and choosing healthier emotional responses.

 

Do you have any suggestions to add? If so, please share them either through a comment (below) or by emailing me at aliferedesigned@yahoo.com.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

With Apologies to Tolstoy

What is it Tolstoy said about unhappy families? "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Perhaps Tolstoy is right -- I don't know. But the exact opposite is true about the books -- both fiction and nonfiction -- I've read in the past few years about loss and life afterward.

The wonderful books (and I am working on an annotated bibliography to share here) are all great for a variety of reasons. They vary in focus, tone, purpose, style, and content, but each of them were helpful in some way.

The bad ones (all fiction, by the way) share one common trait. They simply are not realistic, at least not according to life as I and every single man and woman I have ever known have experienced it. And because I love to read, and because I love to relax with a good novel, and because there are some great novels about men and women overcoming loss, and because I know these bad books could have been better, the fact that they aren't irritates me a bit. So here is my open letter to anyone who is planning to sit down at the keyboard tomorrow and write a novel about a man or woman whose life has been turned upside down and inside out.

Dear Author or Author-to-be,

I'll cut to the chase (sorry for the cliche). If you're going to write a novel in which your main character has suffered or does suffer a significant loss such as the loss of a spouse, marriage, livelihood, etc, please do not resort to cheesy plots and cheap tricks. What do I mean? Here's just a few examples of plot twists to avoid:

1. Main character discovers that their recently-deceased/ex-spouse has been keeping a huge secret. An illegitimate child or maybe an entire 2nd family, a long-time, serious affair, massive debt that threatens to leave the main character without a home or means of living, a life of crime (usually white-collar), etc. 

2. Main character is initially left penniless but almost immediately inherits from their grandmother/favorite aunt a coastal cottage and enough money to maintain it and live without working. OR they inherit from their spouse or are awarded enough money in the divorce settlement to live comfortably (at the very least) for the rest of their life. Main character rarely holds down a full-time job; if he/she does, it is type of artistic career, most usually that of an artist. 

3. Main character has 3 (if female) friends OR 1 (if male) friend who they have for years been meeting every week for breakfast/lunch/dinner or to play squash/basketball. Said friend(s) rally round, of course, and come up with the perfect plan to help the main character bounce back from their loss. OR main character comes up with their own plan and friend(s) are merely the sounding board and support team. 

4. Main character follows said plan (see #3) and embarks on one of the following: a road trip, usually across country in a convertible; a quest to accomplish a list of tasks, often provided in a letter from their recently-deceased loved on or from a magazine article read by a friend or from a list they wrote many years ago when still a student; or a move (temporary or permanent) to a cottage in the woods/on the beach/in a coastal town in Maine.

5. Main character travels to Greece or Provence.

6. Main character meets someone of the opposite gender who has also experienced some tragic loss. This "someone" is either someone they were romantically involved with years ago and have never really forgotten or is some mysterious stranger. 

7. Main character is drawn to this person (see #6) and a romance hovers on the horizon; however, something threatens the burgeoning romance. Possibilities: guilt feelings on the part of the main character or new romantic interest or both; disapproval of family members (usually grown children either in college or in their early 20's); job change which requires new romantic interest to move away; fear of being hurt again on the part of the main character or new romantic interest or both; or return of ex/soon-to-be-ex, who has become disillusioned with new partner and wants to rekindle romance with the main character or new romantic interest.

8. Main character and new romantic interest eventually overcome all obstacles and are obviously destined to marry. 

These story lines have been used ad nauseum. For those of us who have dealt with a significant life change ourselves, these story lines can be insulting and irritating. And you don't need to resort to such cheap and cheesy stuff. Really! Talk to people who have dealt with a major loss, with people who are redesigning their life because they have no other choice. Trust me, there are some inspiring people out there whose stories could be the basis of a fantastic novel. I hope you'll give it a shot; if you do, I promise I'll buy your book!

There you have it. I hope someone who writes great fiction reads this list and writes a novel that resonates with those of us who have walked this path. Better yet, several writers and more than a few novels, all with different kinds of main characters -- a variety of ages, races, genders, and life circumstances. All dealing with their "new normal" as best they can. More wonderful books that are great for a variety of reasons!

 

If you know of any books that focus in some way on life after loss that you'd like to recommend I include, I hope you'll share the title, author, and a little bit about the book. You can either include that information in a comment or by email at aliferedesigned@yahoo.com.  Thanks so much!