Finding Strength, Keeping Kindness

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I’ve come to realize that I’m learning so many lessons during this painful four year journey as a single mom navigating divorce. I know so many of you can relate to what I’m going through, sadly. While I don’t want to talk about the particulars of my roller-coaster ride,  (which is a long story) I can tell you ,that even when I’m incredibly down, something inside me has started to shift. Maybe it’s the wonderful life/spiritual coach I had last year. Maybe it’s my yoga. Maybe it’s the meditation. Likely, it’s all three. But I’m *finally* realizing that I have needs and they need to be recognized and respected in order for me to ever garner any respect from anyone else. While I’ve said this before, it’s slowly starting to sink in that always putting someone else’s needs first, while swallowing my own—or trying to smooth things over after someone hurts me, instead of speaking my mind—doesn’t work.

Last year, my spiritual coach advised me to read Robin Norwood’s book Women Who Love Too Much. She feared that I would not learn the lessons of co-dependency that had been instilled in me since childhood. And she’s right. In graduate school, I saw a therapist who treated adult children of alcoholics and I became quite aware of how watching a co-dependent parent always cater to an alcoholic, trained me to put my needs last. When I watched a co-dependent parent always forgive after being repeatedly hurt, I learned that being treated badly is normal and to forgive divine. I ‘got’ the pattern with this therapist. I saw that when I was neglected and ignored by my alcoholic parent, it showed me to always watch for his moods, his needs, and to stay quiet and to rarely voice my own. I didn’t feel important enough. And when you don’t feel special, it’s hard to fight be treated with respect and as an equal. Deep down, I didn’t feel that I deserved it. (I mean, who else would tell their husband to take a new job that paid less and required him to work 2 weeks/month abroad while I’m at home, after an international move, with a 5 month old colicky baby and a sad 7-year-old. Seriously, it’s nuts.)

Putting husband, friends, children, work, first is something I was taught, like many women. But the underlying message screams: ‘I’m not worthy.’ It’s something that I never admitted consciously, but subconsciously, it was there. Depak Chopra calls it ‘conditioning’ based on how we are treated in childhood and by significant others. Norwood explains that we are not what these messages tells us, but we can’t feel any other way unless we recognize it and work toward ‘reconditioning,’ through yoga, meditation, saying positive attributes, therapy, etc. So, basically, it takes time.

After therapy in graduate school, I swore I would never put myself in that situation and I went years without dating. I had the two month litmus test, even back in undergraduate school, which meant, I broke up with someone after two months. The reality is that I was scared I’d give too much and give up on my writing dreams and myself. And I had good reason to be scared. I fall back on what feels comfortable, what feels like home. But that’s not a safe place for someone like me.

So, the lessons continue.

This past weekend was a low point as I was terribly lonely and exhausted after working at an insane pace (which I am actually grateful for!) and juggling the needs of my attorney with a settlement we’re trying to wrap up, and my sick four-year-old who was often at home instead of school.

I needed some R&R. My boyfriend had a needy friend and father to contend with and their own agenda. So, at one point, I let my older son play with a friend, walked my little guy to the beach in the stroller. He was so tired he fell asleep and I just laid in the sand. I listened to the volleyball players and the laughter and I tried to shut out all the negative messages that started back up regarding the divorce and focus on my breath. And I prayed. I prayed for strength and kindness. As simple as that. I prayed to be strong enough to stand up for what I need and believe in, while also being kind. It is possible to be both, don’t you think? I can voice my needs and be firm in situations that involve my children , yet remain true to myself. I can focus on what is healthy and positive while walking away from what is toxic, in a kind, loving way.

So, even though I didn’t have a sitter for the weekend, I kept my thoughts at this level. I dragged my boys to yoga on Sunday morning and left them in the lobby with yummy snacks and video games. I worked out and prayed for strength and kindness with one of my favorite teachers and let my boys see the healthy vibe of the yoga environment. There has to be a way to get through all of this madness with healthy boys, and a sense of self-respect.

I may never be able to stay still and calm in the midst of a storm, like Buddhist teachers try to do (See my post Zenful Reminder at Bedtime), but I can anticipate the storm and watch myself carefully. See, there is a storm approaching for me personally and its likely to come to a head at the end of the month. My goal is to stay strong and not lose my cool. As a very wise friend told me yesterday: “You can be self aware and not selfish. You have to respect yourself if you want respect.”

Baby steps.

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