I know a lot of this is splashed around the blog and in the book and has been posted a few times on the blog, but it needs a re-run. Those of you who need it, you know who you are. .
I was a bad wife, a bad mother and a pretty worthless human being. According to those who fed me my ideas about me.
So when I left I had no self-esteem. My therapist pointed out, in our first meeting, that my hair was a mess, my clothes were a mess and my face was a mess. I didn’t care. All I wanted was to put my marriage back together. Her question: WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Me? what? I was the screwup, the reject, the unwanted one. I could only feel worthwhile through other people’s approval of me. Unfortunately I was surrounded by people who wouldn’t approve of me in a million years. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that. I was just trying to get their approval and when I didn’t get it, I assumed it was me.
My internal messages were nasty and constantly self-denigrating. You’re so stupid…you are so lazy…you are so pathetic…you are unwanted, unlovable and unworthy…
blah blah blah….
Turning that around was not easy. The steps:
1. Stop saying negative things about myself. It was so hard because I was also coming face to face with all the things about me that led to being in such a crazy relationship. I wanted to say nice things about myself, but I had SO MUCH to change. Yes, exactly and I was working on that. I had to give myself credit for doing what I could do to overcome my past and the things I did wrong.
But I had to understand that I was not my fault. I didn’t make myself the pathetic bundle of craziness that I was. Other people did that to me. It was my responsible to wade through the crap and work it out and figure it out but it was NOT MY FAULT that I was as screwed up as I was and I was working hard to unscrew myself.
I had to actively and consistently affirm myself. I had to write affirmations and work on them constantly. It takes 30 days for an affirmation to work. I wrote affirmations on index cards that I taped all over the house especially on the bathroom window. I made tapes for the car and to fall asleep to.
If you have read the book you know that I researched the science supporting affirmations. It works. And you should definitely work on it. Without positive self talk and affirmations, you’re not going to get very far in your recovery.
THEY WORK. DO THEM. Read the chapter. Then work on them. Then read it again. Then work on them. Rinse and repeat.
(when you have time, read my post HERE in response to a book reviewer who loved the book but trashed the Affirmation section as “new age” and “Oprahesque.”)
2. Not allowing negative feedback from others. I would say ‘that’s your opinion’ or ‘what you think of me is none of my business’ or my favorite to my soon to be ex, ‘tell it to the judge.’ I learned to hang up on the ex and not accept unwarranted and unwelcome criticism or opinions of me. It was hard but I kept putting those things into place and it got easier. When I would get home I would have to work through it because I would always take a hit anyway. It takes practice.
I had to learn to keep the bat out of my own hand and not give it to others.
I learned to use my journal as both a place to vent and a place to affirm…journaling is an important part of this.
I had to learn to treat myself well and demand that from others. I had to step back and observe people and then decide that I deserved to be treated better. There is a saying, “Stand up for something or you’ll fall for anything.” It is IMPERATIVE to have standards. To know what you stand for and to know what treatment you absolutely MUST have in your life. This is a process, but everyday you should be journaling about what you want and deserve…and keep it clear.
3. I came up with self-soothing affirmations for when I was anxious. I am okay. It is okay. Everything is okay. Affirmations must be present and positive. (Again, review in the book, please.)
4. I started “looking as is and “acting as if“.” I started to take care of myself. Dress well, get professional haircuts, buy some nice jewelry for myself, join a gym, work out. This is VERY important. As I got healthier, it had to shine through and it did. It was very helpful to me.
5. I joined support groups. Group therapy, 12 step programs, I went to conferences, seminars and retreats. I got out there and met people and went places where healing happens. I surrounded myself with positive people who are working on themselves. I heard people talk about what they used to be. I realized I was a never was. I had to find, someway, somehow, to get to what I wanted to be. To this day I give seminars, bootcamps, retreats etc because I believe in the power of the group and the group experience. I have seen it work for me and for my clients over the years. You have to get some group support from SOMEWHERE.
I read all kinds of books on self-esteem, boundaries, dysfunctional families, codependency etc. I immersed myself in it.
6. Learning to put yourself first. There are so many ways to do this, but it’s about making sure you are a priority in your own life. One way to do this is: Without fail I spent one night a week and one morning a week with me and me alone. I turned off the phone, turned off the TV, turned off the computer and spent the time with me and only me. On Thursday nights I would put the boys to bed and then I would take a bubble bath, deep condition my hair, do a facial masque, pedi/mani. Then I would put on comfy pj’s and climb into bed with a trashy novel. NO SELF-HELP BOOKS. No phonecalls. NOTHING. Must be absolutely alone..with no interaction with anyone. It’s all about me and only me.
Learning to make peace with the peace. Hear that? It’s silence. Not boredom…not emptiness, but PEACE. No one nagging at me, no one draining me, no one telling me what to do. Making peace with the peace.
Learning to be a human BEING and not a human DOING. Let the chores go if it means you have no time for you. Learn to put your own needs of being before your needs of doing.
As time went on I bought expensive sheets, down comforters, and started to make my room my sanctuary. But it all started on Thursday nights….each week I would want more and more pampering and kept telling myself I am WORTH IT. Expensive bath salts? Yes, I’m worth it. Nice candles? Yes, I am worth it. Hmmm…this room could use a nice painting there. Expensive? Yes I’m worth it. There was a self-soothing, self-giving component to this evening and its effects that really were long-term.
I also bought relaxation and meditation tapes and would light candles and put on the meditation tapes. I had never learned how to just BE and it helped me a lot. In the weeks following Michael’s death, I returned to this to relax. I don’t drink or take drugs so I was alone with my pain and I returned to the things that worked before. The meditations helped so much.
The other time I spent alone was Sunday morning. I bought myself a top of the line bike, fitted specifically for me, and biked over 10 miles every Sunday morning. I would get up early and go out all alone and bike about 5 miles, stop and just hang out for a while by myself for myself. Then I’d bike home, make a healthy breakfast and read the papers. Again, I allowed no interruptions for “my” time.
This time was not always “whoopee!!” There were many times in my Sunday bike rides I felt very alone and sometimes anxious. I distinctly remember stopping by a stream with my bike and walking down to the water and just feeling incredibly alone. Very lonely. I sat for a while and then got back on my bike and rode for miles. I stopped when I was blinded by tears. I pulled over to the side of the road and just sobbed. Then I got back on and felt better. And I made myself do it every single Sunday. Without fail. And now I think back on those rides very fondly.
I’ve had male friends who have done woodworking or something similar as their time. But the important part is to take at least one night or two and do nice things for you. Have a film night, have a reading night….pay attention to your bedroom and your surroundings and make it YOUR OWN. Think about what you like to do and do it…by yourself, uninterrupted, and bask in it…and make sure it’s not a temporary thing…make sure you keep doing it.
7. I had to work on goals and I had to work on insecurities about those goals. Through journaling I realized that I was insecure that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I wanted to go back to school and try to figure out what I wanted to do. But in the meantime I had to find a job to support me and the boys.
So I made short-term goals and long-term goals. I had to think about what *I* wanted and what would make me happy. I set goals in different areas, fun goals, financial goals, career goals, education goals. I took up some hobbies, tried my hand at different things, checked out savings options. Savings for emergencies, savings for travel, savings for long-term. I looked at all my goals and made them important. NO MORE putting my goals aside.
8. Learning how to do things to better my life as a mother. I had no idea how to be a healthy mother. So I learned. I read books, I talked to healthy parents, I started moving away from my negatively slanted family. I kept affirming, in my journal, that I was a good mother. It became central to my affirmations. When I did things that I could have done better I would write in my journal, “I will do better next time. Next time I will…” and I would map out what things I needed to do to improve.
I spent time with the boys and focused on my idea of what a good mother was and yes that included playing video games, watching all of Fawlty Towers, and jumping on the bed while screaming the Five Little Monkeys song. My mother said I was nuts and they would grow up twisted. I’m not and they didn’t. I kept affirming that my idea of motherhood was my idea. My kids still like to spend time hanging out with me. So there.
And I’ve taught the grandchildren the monkeys on the bed song and we scream at the top of our lungs. So I’m still nuts. AND LOVING IT!!
9. I learned to go places by myself and be okay with that. At first it was very very hard. I thought the world was built for couples, but IT’S NOT. If you think that way or feel that way, get rid of that very self-destructive notion PRONTO.
In the first year after my separation my group won an award that included going away to Cape Cod for the weekend, each of us got our own condo. One of the places that was special for me and my ex was Cape Cod. I dreaded going….as I drove across the Bourne Bridge alone I was crying…I remembered all our wonderful vacations.
I got there and I had a corner condo right on the ocean. It was so romantic and so special…and I was alone. Someone in our group was having a party in his condo after our awards dinner. We met there as a group and most of us were single, there were some couples but not all seemed happy and for the first time I was able to see unhappiness in couples…and we went to the award dinner and had a fabulous time.
We went back to the condo and we put on music and we sang and laughed and had a great time. I didn’t drink and I got to just hang out and be okay…some people made fools of themselves but I was just content to have a good time.
About 6 am I went back to my condo, made a pot of coffee and sat out on the porch and watched the ocean. I watched the sun come up and in that moment, I knew, I was going to be okay. It was a JOY, yes a JOY, in being alone. Who knows what would have happened had my ex been with me? It might have been very good or very bad, but I know one thing…I would NOT have seen that sunrise. It was glorious and I loved it….I had turned a corner.
It is absolutely imperative to learn to enjoy good times alone..whether truly alone or just in a situation where you are used to being a couple.
10. I kept learning and growing. I kept identifying things and working on it all while affirming what I was doing and being proud of where I was at any one time.
In relationships I learned to put me first. To know that my needs and wants were reasonable and okay. To stop trying to please everyone else and to put my own wants and needs on the list.
I also decided that I’d rather be alone than lose myself or settle for less in a relationship. I had to constantly affirm myself and demand that I deserved to be loved and cared for and if no one could fill the bill then I would just be alone and give myself lots of affirmation.
It’s not easy but this is the core to the key of loving yourself and being good to you.
There might be a ton of other things you can think of but it has to happen every single day. YOU MUST become a priority in your own life and learn to love yourself.