October 16, 2018

Finding “Me” when there’s No More “We.”

We all have many roles: spouse, parent, employee, friend, sibling, community member.

Roles are a combination of our beliefs, our passions, and our patterns. But what happens when one or more of these roles changes significantly?

Imagine a cot mobile. When one piece is touched, the whole equilibrium of the mobile shifts. When one role changes, it impacts all of the other roles.

The mobile metaphor can be taken further to a family or a work team relationship. If someone or something about the family dynamic changes significantly, it sends the rest of the family scrambling for security and stability.

I am a year and a half out from a divorce I didn’t see coming.

At the beginning, I thought making it through the “I’m not happy” phase, and then the “I love you, I’m just not in love with you” phase, and then surviving the “I want a divorce” phase meant I was going to be okay.

But I was naive in believing that I could get my own equilibrium back—that the mobile would stop shaking. The reality is that every day since “I’m not happy” has been a day where my equilibrium is off.

My mobile is still spinning. I can’t stop it. The only thing I can do is show up and keep trying to get stronger.

I was not prepared for how the change in relationship status would impact every other role in my life: mother, educational leader, daughter, sister, friend; there has been collateral damage in every single part of it.

It has led to me to two paths of reflection: finding “me” and radical acceptance.

The first part, finding me, has really been about exploring my own interests and passions to define which parts of me were “me” and which parts were “we.” This has led to some really interesting discoveries, like writing. I always knew I liked writing, but really understanding that it is a passion of mine, was a new discovery.

Thinking as “me,” and not as “we,” I have reframed my view of where I want to be in my life, what I think happiness looks like, and what really matters to me. I have set personal goals, I have taken charge of my finances, I have bought my own house, I am reading books that interest me, I am writing every day, and I prioritize time with my own mobile of people—even when I am busy.

The second part, radical acceptance, is more of a challenge. Radical acceptance is about accepting life as it is, even when it’s painful. It’s about truly knowing that you are not in control and cannot change what has happened.

I still replay moments or conversations and start down the rabbit hole of “if only I had done this or said this.” Accepting the pain of loss and knowing that I cannot change anyone else’s perception of me is hard. I want to argue and “yeah, but” and make my reality the “right” narrative.

Here is what I am learning to tell myself: The hurt is real. The suffering is optional.

Ouch. So, am I really doing this to myself?

Radical acceptance outlines four ways of coming to terms with a significant hurt or painful experience:

We can a) Solve the problem, b) Change how we feel about the problem, c) Accept it, or d) Stay miserable.

Right. Seems simple enough. Let’s apply this thinking to a real life experience—a less painful one—but still one that can be used as an example.

Let’s say you’ve finally worked up the nerve to tell your boss that you’re ready to be considered for the next promotion. She’s told you that your skill set and experience are exactly what the company is looking for and encourages you to apply for an available opening. You nail the interview and you hear from the boss’s secretary that you are the most qualified candidate. The boss calls a meeting to announce the promotion and it’s given to someone from a different department, someone you know doesn’t have any of the skills you do.

If you are like me, you would be angry, hurt, and disappointed. You might start questioning yourself and thinking that you did something wrong. You might even start playing the “if only” game. Then you might even start the “I’m so bitter” game with a couple of other disgruntled friends.

This is the path away from radical acceptance. Looking at this situation through the lens of radical acceptance might mean that we:

a) Apply for a job in another company (solve the problem),
b) Meet with the boss to share how you feel about being passed over for the promotion (change how we feel about the problem),
c) Congratulate the person who was promoted and identify skills that you need to work on to get the next one (accept it), or
d) Stay miserable and hate your job (stay miserable). 

It still isn’t easy. I was playing the “if only” game this morning and a colleague stopped me and told me to reframe my narrative. We need people in our circle who will be that person for us and help us move through our pain and into abundance. But, we have to put that openness out into the universe if we are going to be prepared to accept it.

So, my new mantra is, “The hurt is real. Staying miserable is a choice. Let it go.”

Come on, let’s do it together.

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