Earlier this week I received an email from my former husband. A reminder, from his perspective, of the way my choices have created misery in his life. Holiday blues are neither new, nor even surprising when everyone around us seems filled with holiday cheer and we find ourselves feeling anything but. Still, it was a shock to stumble across this note in my Inbox. I didn’t want this reminder from him!
That day, I found myself very consciously rehearsing all the things my grounded adult knew to be true about not reacting personally to his feelings. Of course the season will evoke these feelings more strongly. His feelings are about him, not about me. It’s understandable that he’d want to release some of the pressure of his upset and aloneness. I get it that in his sense of helplessness, assigning cause outside himself is important, and in a way better than beating himself up.
In retrospect I recognized that with this outward focus on him, I had fallen into my old pattern. I was forgetting the words of my teachers Katherine Woodward Thomas and Claire Zammit “Keep your first attention on yourself.” This not an injunction to be self-absorbed, rather an invitation to stay home! To not fall into the pattern – especially common in women – to be so busy giving care to others (for me as an attempt to prove myself ‘enough’) that we abandon ourselves.
The next morning, however, I woke with my ‘inner younger self’ taking a turn to share how she felt! As I came to consciousness, her voice was loud and clear. There was no missing or mistaking her angry judgments. “What’s wrong with him?! Doesn’t he see the parts he played in this?! And even if he feels I am totally responsible, how can he possibly continue to live as victim like this?! Why doesn’t he get his life together and move on?!”
At first I was taken aback by this definitely not ‘nice’ tone. Even in the midst of the most fraught parts of our separation, I had rarely felt this kind of anger and judgment. As a girl child I’d absorbed the message that to be angry wasn’t a good thing, nor was being judgmental – except, of course if one were right (part of the good guys) and the other clearly wrong (the bad guys) in which case a measured ‘we’re better than you’ attitude seemed acceptable. For years I’d tried hard to contain my anger and judgment thinking that being nice, or trying to be more accepting and enlightened was the goal. Yet, here my ‘inner younger self’ was having a field day. Even in that moment, I was clear I wasn’t going to try to shut her down. There was a gift for me here!
One of the most freeing things I learned a number of years ago was an alternative way to hold judgments. Rather than being seen as wrong and to be avoided, judgments (about others or a situation) are simply seen as windows into parts of ourselves otherwise invisible to us – things we’d not ‘til now been willing to look at/see, and so have tended to hold the other person/situation as separate, different, other.
There are two questions that generally open those windows and allow the light and fresh air to flow into us. The first “What is there in the person/situation that also exists in me that I’d rather not see, and so have wanted to keep them at bay/separate?” And the second “What is this person/situation allowing themselves that part of me would like to have, but I’ve not been allowing myself to do or access?”
Once I began to wonder about the gift of insight embedded in my judgment, it didn’t take long for my younger self to let go and drop into her more deeply held feelings – ones I’d not been aware of, and she’d wanted to avoid. Another layer of my own grieving and sense of loss (my version of ‘holiday blues’) washed over me, and I spent much of the day with that pall hanging over me, thinking this was the way it needed to be.
When my partner, Bruce, and I had time together that evening, I shared my experience, including the sad, blueness that was still present, and was gifted by another question from him. “Have you wondered about and named what the loss actually is?” I LOVE great coaching questions!
As I felt into that (wandering and wondering in my mind, and noticing in my body when I experienced any tightness or contractions occurring) there was only one area where I could access any sense of loss – not having my own physical home base. Even though I’ve been so supported by my sister and have a beautiful room at her house, I was missing having place of my own where I could freely invite others, as well as easy access to the precious things I’d put in storage when we sold our home. Everything else I considered felt clear and spacious.
It was extraordinary to me (after engaging in that simple exercise, wondering and naming exactly what the ‘missing’ I’d been feeling was) how easy it was to soothe and affirm that younger self in my body. Of course you’re feeling that loss, it’s a real one. I can see how you’d love to have that freedom, and be able to easily access your beautiful things – especially at this time of the year! And, I really get the sense of ease and spaciousness you feel in all the other areas of your life as a result of the choices you’ve made.
Like so often happens with upset kids who feel attended to, both those intense emotions and the pall of blues completely dissipated. And I could hear her voice echoing in my ears – Katherine Woodward Thomas saying “Embrace everything, turn away from nothing!” Thanks, Katherine, Claire, Bruce, my extended community of support, and all my teachers over the years – including (perhaps here especially) my former husband, who even in his pain, continues to be my teacher.