There is no word or title to describe me

It occurred to me recently that there is no title for me that my ex-husbands new children can use when referring to me. There is not a single word to describe ‘my-half-siblings-mother’ or ‘my-fathers-ex-wife’ in the English language.  This made me think of how important titles are to me and that each one comes with a built in group of expectations and beliefs — mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, step-mother, cousin, niece, woman, professional…ex-wife.

Yup…despite trying to fulfill as well as I can on all of the expectations of all of these titles, I still ended up as an ex-wife. Which is a title that I did not want. I am keenly aware of the beliefs and expectations that people have of someone with the title of ‘ex-wife’. Especially my ex-husbands’ beliefs and expectations.

So this thought that I need a title for what my ex-husbands new children can call me seems important to me. These titles tell us and the rest of the world how we relate to one another and what they can expect from us. A title is helpful and makes it simple and straightforward for people to lump us in to their own thinking so they can move on with their day.

I most certainly don’t want to take up anyone’s time by trying to describe the complex-messy-fullness that is my life and the relationships and people in it. It would be so much easier to just say a word and everyone – including me – can immediately understand the relationship.

The fact that I am thoughtful about what my ex-husband’s children will call me is a sign of my growth and progress.

6.5 years ago my thoughts were occupied with my immediate survival of being heartbroken.  With two very young children I was worried about waking up each day and doing the next thing required of me. I had a new title – single mother.

And then, as time went on, my thoughts and energies were devoted to the process of living each day and trying…trying, to fulfill on these new titles that I grappled with wearing. Separated, ex-wife…high-conflict divorcee. I was living each day doing the best I could trying to wear all of the new expectations and

beliefs about these titles that I would never have chosen for myself. This violent shove into a new reality was more than I thought I could handle. I did my best.

We were stuck for years in our roles and titles as ‘ex’s’ in a ‘fight’. Not ‘fight’ in the messy yelling kind of way (although we’ve had our moments); more a ‘fight’ in the legal wrangling kind of fight. We added ‘client’ to our list of titles. Our divorce lawyers happily became our guides through the family court system.

We had a couple of legal issues, but mostly we just didn’t have the skills to

resolve issues with our enemy — a new title we both wore. Enemy. Nemesis. Again, living up to the beliefs and expectations of these titles for one another.

We both believed that we were doing a great job of insulating our children from our battle. We didn’t argue in front of them. We were exceedingly polite when we did speak. We effectively ignored each others’ spouses, but again, we would never be overtly rude! We did not think we spoke badly of the other parent. We both believed we were doing a great job protecting these beautiful children from our inner, legal and financial turmoil. We were both fighting the good fight. Doing what the family law system tells us is the right way to serve our children. This allowed us to add “martyr” to the long list of titles we were accumulating through this process.

We ended up being very angry, bitter, broke, suffering – all titles I wore proudly to show the fight was worth it. Fighting endlessly with the only result being that one of you loses is stressful and painful. It’s frightening. For some reason, we also felt like our children didn’t see or feel our fear. After 6+ years in the family court system we were at an impasse.

Family counselling became a way out of the wet paper bag that was our lives…no judge could solve our issues. No two lawyers would encourage us to just speak to one another! We were ingrained in our titles of warriors and enemies. Then we began family counselling.

The humbling experience of family counselling began in earnest…with bi-weekly appointments and tension that you could cut with a knife. We all met together, the four of us; me and my spouse with my co-parent and his wife. We had to deal with our titles and our beliefs about one another. We had to learn how we would speak to one another and the basics of human interactions. We said our fears out loud. We listened and heard one another for the first time. We got angry. We got resolution. We got to laugh. We cried. We reached…agreement. An agreement about how we wanted to co-parent going forward.

 

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Through this process I have come to accept that we all carry another title…a title that overrides any of us as individuals. We are a SYSTEM. Each part of the system is critical. We all have roles in the system. We each have impact on the others. This was a humbling thing to accept  because you can not stay enemies with someone your system/team depends on! You need them to be happy and healthy so that your children, and ultimately the system can thrive. We are a family system. None of us chose it. None of us know how to do it well. We are all learning. We are all figuring it out as we go.

Through the process of accepting the system  I could still name my roles in the system. Mother. Partner. Co-parent. I was defining how I wanted to look and feel in these roles and with growing confidence we were all wearing our titles with some pride. We were developing new expectations for those titles in our system.

Which brought me to the realization that started this entire thing…there is not a word for me and my role in the lives of my ex-husbands children. What do Luke and Emily call someone who loves them simply because they were born my children’s sibling? What title would apply to someone who values and cares for you as part of a family entity that all works together?

I have heard that the number of words a society has for something indicates how important it is to the society. Is it true that my role in their system is not important? That can’t be because I have seen evidence of the fact that we are a system. And I have empirical evidence that all of our lives are improved with the acknowledgement that we are a system. A living and breathing and evolving system that must work together to the benefit of everyone in it. Does everyone else get a title except me?

Looking back on all of the titles I have worn during this process I have to wonder…do these titles actually help us? Are the beliefs and expectations for each role even true? Do titles alone describe the value of each role in the system? Have these titles and beliefs that society puts on all of us helping us forge ahead in this new world of blended families, problem solving with the enemy, and embracing the fact that we are a system…that no individual is more valued than another?

No!!! Living up to these titles might be the reason we stayed so long as a failing system.

I choose to see this lack of a name and title as liberation…we can all define my role in their little lives in a way that works for us in our system – no expectations or set beliefs. If my role is not immediately clear and understood by others, that’s okay because maybe in describing the role I play to others we can all move the needle on how we understand and name people in a blended family system. How we can move past the titles and become valued parts a system that thrives. It is not perfect, but it thrives. It is not our choice, but it is our reality. I, for one, am ready to break out from the titles and beliefs and expectations everyone has of divorce and blended families and I want to say….”I’m ready to try this in a way that honours everyone in the system. In a way that honours me”

Who needs a title when I have a name. They can call just me Karen  🙂

 

(editors note: this post was submitted by a mother, co-parent, person … who was brave enough to imagine, seek, find and adopt a different outcome after separation and divorce)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Delivers Relief

A substantial evidence base supports the efficacy of problem-specific cognitive-behavioral interventions for a variety of childhood and adolescent anxiety and depressive disorders. Unlike other psychotherapeutic techniques that have been applied to these disorders, CBT is consistent with a perspective that values empirically supported problem-focused treatments. CBT presents a logical theoretical framework to guide practitioners through assessment of specific problem domains, the delivery of problem-specific treatment interventions, and well specified outcomes to monitor treatment progress. However, CBT is not simplistic. Helping children, adolescents, and parents make rapid and difficult behaviour change over short time intervals [three to six months] requires considerable expertise and training.

“Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy for Anxiety and Depressive Disorders in Children and Adolescents: An Evidence-Based Medicine Review”                  SCOTT N. COMPTON, PH.D., JOHN S. MARCH, M.D., M.P.H., DAVID BRENT, M.D., ANNE MARIE ALBANO, PH.D., V. ROBIN WEERSING, PH.D., AND JOHN CURRY, PH.D.                                                                                                                        J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 43:8, AUGUST 2004

For more information about anxiety and depression visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America ADAA website

www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety

To find out more about our professional counselling and support services in Durham Region or to schedule an initial assessment  Contact us today!

Do You Feel You’re Not Getting Anywhere?

How often do we feel frustrated and alone, like no matter what we try life doesn’t seem to get any better. We might change this or that behaviour, for at least a short while, only to end up back in the same situation. We can gradually or not so gradually get more down, hopeless and tried as we seem to return to the same ‘rut’. I heard once the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth?

The poem below, written by Portia Nelson, conveys these very sentiments and walks the reader through five ‘chapters’ in order to signal a flicker of hope somewhere on the road of life.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk (five chapters)

                     1

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5

I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I think most of us want to believe we can change, that things will improve, and that one day we will reach that illusive better place? While there are certainly no guarantees and we really don’t know anything for sure about the future, what is life without hope? How do we, in the face of severe difficulties, loss, pain and grief, manage to hold onto hope? What can we do to regain a sense of hope we may have one had?

These and other questions strike a nerve in our spiritual being. Who am I? Why be good to myself and others? What does the end of life really mean? Almost all people will contemplate questions like these, pondering issues that do not seem to be answerable by science; at least not yet anyway. This is both a frustrating and exciting element of human life. This is where faith and one’s belief system becomes essential. Our task is to examine our hearts and minds, our emotional selves and seek to discover an improved understanding of ourselves and the amazingly contradictory world we live in.

A journey that doesn’t include the unknown is not really much of a journey at all. Imagine a trip with no surprises, no unexpected discoveries, whether this is an actual holiday or the challenging journey in a close relationship. As we said to our children in preparation for our adventures, “let’s find a way to look forward to and enjoy the journey”.   Rather than being a burden, this attitude seemed to improve our ‘getting along’ and each leg of the trip a more enjoyable and exciting adventure.

Cognitive shifting can help us see situations a bit more positively and in a way that helps us achieve a more balanced emotional state. We can change our thought patterns about almost any event or situation when we are determined to stop falling into the holes in the sidewalk.

 

 

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Oshawa therapist, durham region counseling

Where do I find my worth?

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(Submitted by a young man under extreme family duress due to health concerns)

I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety and depression in the past, and still some today. When I was in high school, I would often be so anxious about my schoolwork that I wouldn’t even be able to complete it. I would convince myself that I was not going to do a good enough job, and as such I shouldn’t even try. With the help of some counselling, I was able to get through, but I was still often consumed by anxiety over the fear that I didn’t do enough.

In university it was mostly the same story. Towards the end of my first year I had a revelation. My dad would often message me, saying that he was proud of me. I would brush it off, asking myself why he would be proud of me while my marks were falling and I was dropping classes. And then I realized that he was proud of me regardless of how I was doing in school. This struck me, and I asked myself why I was worrying about school as if it would change how my parents loved me. I was tying my worth to my performance in school, which was making me miserable.

Once I realized this, I wondered where my worth actually was. If it wasn’t in school, or my actions, where was it? I realized that because Christ died for me, and bought me with his blood, my worth is in him. I don’t have to fear others, or myself, because my confidence is in Him.

Do I still have days where I don’t feel good enough, and am anxious, and struggle? Yes, I do. But I can come back to the fact that no matter what happens, He still loves me.

 

Ephesians 2:8-9 states For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV).


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 Can You Relate?

As one person struggles with recovery from severe childhood abuse (multiple kinds), she writes here about her view of alcohol throughout her journey. In the absence of effective coping strategies or when the stress becomes overwhelming, we tend to turn toward less healthy and unhealthy coping strategies. These can unfortunately offer temporary relief which itself become desired, yet, over the long run, poorer coping choices contribute to worsening thoughts, feelings and of course behaviours.

Check out the following list of pros and cons for alcohol use and you can determine if any of these may apply in your way of thinking…

PROS

  • I feel like I am close to being human
  • I’m not scared of noises I can’t identify
  • I’m not paranoid of people
  • I laugh and I can feel happy
  • I can walk in public around other people and feel like I almost blend in
  • I can express my feelings better or at least some
  • I can’t feel my constant anxiety, worry and stress
  • Flashbacks don’t stress me out as much
  • I eat…because I need to….
  • I dance, sing, swim, listen to music, roller blade , bike ride, play with the kids, jog because it’s fun
  • It tastes so good and feels warm inside my body
  • I don’t focus on anything bad… I just enjoy floating around with no inside pain
  • It feels familiar and comforting
  • I don’t feel so alone and hopeless

CONS

  • That makes me an alcoholic = not a nice label
  •  My liver probably hates it
  •  My moods, emotions, memories, identity can change quickly
  •  I have less control over who is in charge… if any….
  •  Past experiences have led to many undesirable consequences, eg. abuse, jail, loss of a child, suicide  attempts, car accidents, homelessness, etc.
  •  Shows a bad example to my children so it must be hidden and it makes me a liar
  •  I can’t afford it
  •  Sometimes it makes me not human
  •  Sometimes it makes me forget my body belongs to me and I don’t care about it
  •  I can be too impulsive
  •  I can find myself places I don’t want to be
  •  I forget who I am or where I am and where I belong..

Using alcohol comes with risk. Why do I sometimes feel like it’s worth it? It’s not. I know that. It’s just so nice to have a break from my dysfunctional exhausting brain.

 

Social Connections Reduce Stress


Photo credit: vahiju from Morguefile,com

Stress is an inevitable occurrence in our lives. Sometimes we can manage easily. We may remain focused with our daily tasks, take a couple extra work breaks, exercise, joke around or eat a few more snacks to help us through the day.

However stress can also be, at times, too overwhelming to push aside with our usual coping strategies. We may have so many stressors we may not see a way out or can’t find enough outlets so our stress levels can subside. We may feel like the walls of stress we are surrounded by are narrowing in on us.

Then we get a phone call from a friend who would love to spend some time together. We may, at first, want to respond; “No, now is not a good time.”, however, what better time than to escape this reality for an hour or two? So we agree to meet up with our friend, and after five minutes of small talk, we take in a breath of relief.

When we push aside relationships because we are “too stressed out,” we may feel more stress and even a little anxious. Thoughts of being unsupported can fuel feelings of loneliness and isolation leading to even less motivation to seek friendships.  Limited social support has been associated with depression and cognitive decline (Harvard Women’s Health Watch).

Social relationships:

  • Provide support, encouragement, empathy, and humour
  • Encourage our physical health. “Social connections help relieve harm to the heart’s arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system (Harvard Health Publications).
  • Help us feel a sense of belonging, that we can relate and share similar life stressors (work, school, family, spouses, and/or children).
  • Build opportunities to engage in the same activities of interests (sport, music, artistic, etc.)
  • Provide stress-relief, financial aid at times and helpful advice

Professional counselling can assist you to better manage stress and develop improved interpersonal skills.  We can also help strengthen existing social skills and strengths helping you overcome challenges with friends and build up satisfying social connections. Contact us today.


Photo credit: SDRandCo from morguefile.com

Money and Mood Connection

It’s late at night, all of our daily tasks are accomplished, we lay in our bed, our heads hit the pillow, and we anticipate absolute silence, until we succumb to sleep. However we begin to toss and turn, and start to reflect on that day. We may even begin to worry about the day to come. We are bombarded with our own thoughts: “How am I going to meet that bill payment?” “What financial challenge will I face next?” “Why can’t I ever afford a vacation? Even just a small weekend getaway would be nice!” “How did I get here?”

When we are under financial strain, usually the decisions we have to make are done with feelings of stress, worry, and/or anxiety. We may sometimes assume that we will never get out of such a burden. Our hopes and dreams of a happier (wealthier) life are trampled and seem unattainable due to our current financial situation.

Although we question how we got in this situation, do we ever take the time to actually answer it? Seeking help from external, objective sources allows us to decipher the choices made. Financial difficulties may not have “all” stemmed from college tuition fees, mortgage or rent payments, or vehicle expenses. Financial difficulties can also develop from poor financial planning and decisions often driven by our own stinkin’ thinkin’.

Cognitive behaviour coaching or therapy helps trace back experiences in our lives that may be contributing to poorer decisions with money. When we consider how we, our family, especially our parents, handled financial situations, it becomes easier to clearly chart out a path toward positive change. Looking at historical financial decision-making, (cognitive loading onto our minds) allows us to to recognize certain negative patterns, thus finding  clues as to how to improve financially, also supporting change socially and emotionally. Changing those patterns is not easy, however, with coaching, support and hard work, change is possible, making financial stability attainable.

Call our Oshawa counsellors today to help you work through disruptive and even destructive patterns and achieve your financial goals today!