Writing Exercise 4: Successes, Life Lessons, Regrets
Write one or two responses to each phrase.
Successes/Examples of overcoming life challenges I would like to share.
Getting a divorce when my kids were three and six years old was quite a challenge. This happened in the late 70’s. I was a stay-at-home mom who had worked for eight years as a computer programmer before I had children. I had to find a job, find a mother-substitute to watch my children, find a place to live, keep my kids as shielded as possible, and find a way to pay for everything. My ex-husband scared me into thinking he would fight me for sole custody if I did not accept his offer of $400 a month. Foolish or not, I accepted. Fortunately, my skills were intact and I found a job quickly but it entailed a long commute. I placed an ad in the NY Times for a baby-sitter. When I interviewed Dee, I felt my prayers were answered. She graduated from a local university with an art degree but was not attracted to office work and wanted to do something from home. She came to my home at 5:30am and stayed until I returned around 7:30pm. I knew I had to find another job right away because being away from home for that long was exhausting and I missed spending time with my kids. Dee taught my boys Origami, she took them to the park, she was wonderful with them. I learned how to get by on less sleep and I learned to ignore their messy rooms as spending time with them was far more important to me. If things felt overwhelming, I knew to just tackle one thing at a time – and I still do that today. I worked hard, learned as much as I could, and kept my eye on the next job, the next promotion, so I could drive me salary up. The first few years were rough. I remember how bad I felt having to use a credit card to buy hot dogs for dinner. Even then, I knew hot dogs were not nutritious but they were cheap and my kids liked them. It was stressful buying food as I sometimes had to put things back after the cashier rang them up because I did not have enough money to pay for them. I felt embarrassed when that happened. But, despite all this, the three of us were all moving ahead. We still had things to laugh about. We stayed in the same town, the same school district for nine years. I would not wish a divorce on anyone but we did more than survive. The three of us have a close relationship. I must admit that it is music to my ears when they say “Mom, there is hardly a day that goes by when I don’t think about you and wonder how you did it. We both work, we have a nanny, and maid service to clean the house, and we still find it hard and exhausting.” But the better music to my ears is that my sons are happily married and spend a lot of quality time with their children, my grandchildren. By the time my oldest son was 13, which is 7 years after I got a divorce, we could afford to go away on ski vacations and that is something we still do together.
I feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing this story as it seems it might make others feel sorry for me and I really don’t like anyone feeling sorry for me.
When I left my first marriage, I was shaken to the core. About 4 months after I had moved out of our home prompted by my husband’s emotional unavailability, I learned that he was having an affair and had had several during our 15 year marriage. What he said to me and what he did were totally out of sync. I no longer trusted myself to see things or other people or myself clearly, to say what I saw, to protect myself – I felt out of integrity, that is, I wasn’t sure there was alignment between what I knew, wanted, needed, said, and did. Slowly, by honoring my feelings and doing a lot of deep personal work (including my own codependency recovery) I came to know myself again and feel grounded and whole.
Four years ago, my second husband passed away. He was ill for about a year. I cared for him at home when it became necessary, and I supported his courageous decision to use the Compassion and Choices avenue for putting an end to his pain. Loving him through that process was an incredible experience for me. I have never had such deep grief and disorientation in my life, and at the same time, felt clearer and stronger and more dedicated; I’ve never been so simultaneously centered in my emotions and focused on the doing of the tasks at hand. I have felt successful in my grieving and healing, though I don’t know what I can claim as my doing – if there is anything I can claim ownership of in that process, I guess it would simply be a willingness to be in the pain of loss in all of its wildness and unpredictability, and to say yes to all the love offered from every direction.
Life Lessons I Want to Pass On
My mother taught me not to hang onto anger – that it eats you up. She used to say “never go to bed angry”. I think that is excellent advice and have passed it onto my children.
My mother also said ‘worrying never helps”. I have found that to be excellent advice as well. Worrying is different than planning. Worrying about something that has not yet happened is wasted energy and just adds to your stress. We all do get stressed over one thing or another so when it happens try one of these methods to get rid of stress – a hard workout, a hot bath, a Swedish massage, a walk along the water (the ocean being my favorite).
Rules were meant to be broken now and then. Don’t be too rigid. Think freely and be brave enough to speak your mind and stand up for things you believe in.
Our minds and bodies are amazing machines – take good care of them so you continue to grow every single day of your life. You will enjoy your life more that way.
Whenever difficulties arise, we look first at ourselves to see what our contributions might have been to the situation, for that is where our greatest power lies (not in trying to change another).
Dualistic thinking is rarely helpful or accurate. If we can see no other possibilities, it is inevitably a failure of vision or imagination or collaboration.
Trusting ourselves is at the core of having trusting relationships with others; in order to trust ourselves, we must honor our feelings, our insights, and especially those intuitions we cannot explain in any rational way.
Being kind and compassionate with ourselves makes it possible for us to be kind and compassionate with others.
We become who we are through our relationships with others; we are revealed in our transactions with each other. There is great power in the witnessing we do of each other’s lives, our presence for each other.
Wouton: “…the best uses of time are to express and receive love without hesitation, to tell the absolute truth, to ride the full waves of emotions, and to serve the world.”
Regrets I Would Like to Address
I was always a quiet, shy person and I like spending quiet time by myself. When I got a divorce, it seemed that neighbors felt uncomfortable and so pulled away from me. My very best friend said she wouldn’t talk to me anymore because I got a divorce. That did not help me foster new friendships and maybe it gave me an excuse to keep some distance. I think that having friends is very important and that friendships within the community should be cultivated. This is not something I accomplished and I regret it – but I still have time to try harder to cultivate some friendships. Thankfully, I am part of a huge family and feel that my sisters are my best friends.
There are certainly significant decision points in my life where I might have gone another direction in my relationships, my education, or my work. However, I don’t really regret any of the decisions I made, even if in hindsight I can see another direction might have been better for some reason, because, 1) I believe the direction I took had consequences that created lessons I (and perhaps others) needed to learn, 2) One can rarely predict accurately the consequences (intended or not) of a path not taken, and 3) I believe that whatever choices we make, we will get the challenges we need for the growth of our souls.
Being in Alanon recovery for many years, I have unearthed many a regretful behavior for which I have done my best to make amends. One of the beauties of 12-step programs is that they lay out a process by which we can do that in a way that helps us have the best chance for success, both for ourselves and for the other person. That is what I hope for us all…not that we expect never to make mistakes, but that we genuinely and lovingly find our way through them. When I was doing research on customer satisfaction in the hospitality industry, I came upon several studies that showed customer satisfaction was strongest when a guest had had a bad experience of some sort and the hotel had made it right with them, stronger even that when a guest had had the best possible experience to begin with. Perhaps it’s the same when we commit regretful actions in our lives, that our relationships will be the strongest when we err and make it right.