Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Divorce Lesson #6

December has been a ridiculously busy month. I worked hard on finishing a children’s nonfiction book on Russia that I was hired to write. We had a holiday arts & craft sale at our art gallery that took a lot of work. Bob and I took a 2-night trip out of town for R&R. Someone in the family had surgery, requiring days of recovery and care-taking. Plenty of social events too. Also gearing up for big changes in our living situations (hard). And oh yeah, all that getting-ready-for-Christmas business.

It’s still an emotional time around here, too. While my feelings aren’t as raw as the first month, I still feel the roller-coaster effect of riding high for a while and then plummeting down, and increasing calm spells. I’m learning to allow ALL the feelings to flow in a way I never have before— sadness, anger, grief, fear, and yes, even joy. The mask that I wore for so much of my life, the one that covered all my feelings so I could keep up a pleasing façade—that mask has fallen to the ground and shattered. I’m feeling rather oddly new.

Last year I got to study with Brene Brown during an e-course. She’s the author of the fabulous books “The Gifts of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly.” If you haven’t seen her excellent Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” please do yourself a favor and watch it soon. One of the many valuable things I’ve learned from her is about Numbing Feelings. As an emotional eater and a survivor of an alcoholic/dysfunctional household, I had really mastered numbing my feelings. It was a daily practice for me (using food, the Internet and other distractions), since feelings didn’t feel safe and I didn’t know how to handle them. Brene taught us that you can’t just numb the “bad” feelings. Every feeling gets numbed, even happiness and pleasure . Hearing that, I saw the truth in my own experience, the flatness that numbing brings, the inability to really absorb the good times. And now that I’m not numbing—because I just can’t anymore– all the feelings are flowing. And that means, in this mixed bag, I’m finally experiencing joy too.

 

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What I’m learning, however, is that experiencing joy, happiness, pleasure or delight takes some practice, at least for me. As paradoxical as it sounds, it’s not easy for me to stay with feeling good– my mind wants to run away to the more familiar neural pathways of anxiety and fear. These reactions became my default throughout my life as a survival tactic— predicting the worst or catastophizing how bad it was going to be helped me feel like I was in control, that I would be prepared for anything. It’s a false sense of security, and as you can guess, not really a great way to live.

And oh, these days my mind especially wants to leap to the future, and every time it does, I seize up with such a tightness in my gut and chest. I haven’t written fiction in a while, but my mind is sure good at telling stories. For instance, Bob and I were on our mini-trip a week ago and having a wonderfully lovely time, and my thoughts would suddenly veer far left: “Oh no, what’s it going to be like next month? What will it be like when this change happens? Where will we be a year from now? What about this and that?” Stomach clenching, heart pounding, my mind lurking in dark alleys with shadows in every corner. Tragic, dramatic, sad, frightening stories. And all of them Complete Works of Fiction.

Of course, any of these stories might come to pass, but honestly, the greater chance is that they might not. When I think of all the things I’ve worried about in my life, the vast majority have not actually happened. So what use was all that worry? What good did it do me? Did it help me in any way? Or did it basically make me miserable for no good reason?

This brings me to my latest lesson…

 

Divorce Lesson #6: Don’t Pre-Suffer (or Post-Suffer, Either)

 

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Bob came up with the term Pre-Suffer during one of our recent discussions. I’d previously been thinking in terms of “telling myself bad stories,” but the concept of Pre-Suffering has been really helpful. I know there may be a hard event looming in the future, and I may actually suffer during that event, but do I really need or want to suffer about it NOW, in advance, as well? Do I want to add to my suffering, especially given my track record that the things I worry about may not actually happen?

When I wake up and get aware that I’m pre-suffering about something, suddenly I know I have a choice. I can continue to stay with the story I’m making up, or I can take a sharp U-turn back to the present moment. (Yes, this directly relates to Divorce Lesson #1. Refining the concept has been even more helpful.)

I’ve added in Post-Suffering to my checklist of things to be aware of, too. It can be easy for me to look back and—especially in this current separation process—bemoan what I did or didn’t do in the past. Regret, self-recrimination, old shoulds… none of these are helpful NOW. What happened has already happened, and I can’t change the past. I can make changes in the future and go forward with awareness, but beating myself up and suffering about it after the fact won’t change anything. Suffering about it now is useless.

I’ve also discovered the concept of Detachment as a helpful way to examine my suffering. Months ago, the painfulness of my own thought processes led me on a search. I found solace in what Deepak Chopra had to say about Detachment, that there was freedom to be found in giving up the story, in letting go of the outcome. I’ve repeated his intentions to myself many times (read the whole essay here). Here are a few:

“I will allow myself and those around me the freedom to be as they are. I will not rigidly impose my idea of how things should be. I will not force solutions on problems, thereby creating new problems.”

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And I especially love this:

“I will step into the field of all possibilities and anticipate the excitement that can occur when I remain open to an infinity of choices. When I step into the field of all possibilities, I will experience all the fun, adventure, magic and mystery of life.”

Hmm… what an appealing argument for openness.

 

Giving up Pre-Suffering and Post-Suffering to land back in the present moment is really a gift. The present moment isn’t always fun, but it’s real, not fiction. While it’s probably easier for many, I’m finding that with practice, I can more often stay with the joy when it comes up and bask in it a little. With awareness of my own thought processes, I can learn to recognize when I’m Pre- or Post-Suffering and make a choice. I can detach myself from trying to control or worry about future outcomes. I can learn to ride the waves of emotion and surf my way through daily life. I don’t want to deprive myself of what I DO have in the present moment. It might be joy. But even in hard times, there is something to be grateful for.

Right here, right now, life is okay. I can hang on to that and not leap forward or backward. Really, why would I want to suffer if I don’t have to?

 

**Want to catch up? You can read previous Divorce Lessons  by clicking on the titles:

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving– Changing It Up

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[Photos used are in the public domain unless otherwise credited.  Photo of me by the talented Ayanna Muata of Waning Moon Photography. Photo of Buddha’s eyes by me.]

 

14 Comments

  1. Oh, Theresa — thank you, Thank You, for this wonderful post. I immediately recognized Pre-Suffering, and read avidly until I came to the thoughts of Deepak Chopra. At that point I stopped in my tracks at “I will not force solutions on problems, thereby creating new problems.” Recognizing my inner self, I focused on that line for a minute and felt a sea change occur in my head. Thank you.
    You have come so far, grown so fast, and are blooming at the speed of light, although I am sure each day has been an eternity.
    Thank you for trusting and sharing your journey with us. You are such a bright, shining star.
    Love, Suzanne Nezin

    • It makes me so happy that what I wrote (or copied from Deepak) was helpful for you, Suzanne! I am glad to share what I’m learning, and it helps me to write it out. I’m blushing at your kind words… thanks so much for reading my blog and letting me know! Love, Theresa

    • It strikes me too that “You have come so far, grown so fast, and are blooming at the speed of light, although I am sure each day has been an eternity.” You know I’m a big fan of Brenè too, so no argument there. Anyway, I am so proud of you; both your generosity of sharing your experience and putting it in the form of these lessons and your courage to grow into your authentic self. At my clichè best — YOU GO, GIRL!

  2. I really needed to hear this today. I am working hard in therapy to really, truly, brazenly live my life– with all the emotions that come with it, too! I, too, am prone to slipping into fear or anxiety– my default state for my whole life thus far. The pre-suffering, the post-suffering… Yes. Me. All of that. It feels good to know that I am not alone in this! I am terrified to go forward but have taken that step and am willing. Terrified, but willing to do this, learn to trust myself, and kick off the rest of my chrysalis.

    In that I am not alone, neither are you. We are boldly going where neither of our inner selves ever allowed passage.

    We can totally do this. YES, WE CAN!

  3. Theresa, I love the concept of “pre-suffering.” My version of this is to focus on what I can control (very little) and what I can’t (most things, including 100 percent of other people’s behavior and choices) and to then LET GO of what I can’t control. It literally took me a couple of years and lots and lots of mindful practice, but I am astonishingly good at it now!! My mom recently visited; she is a born worrier and pre-sufferer, and every single time she started fretting about something I would grab her hand and say calmly, “Can we influence the outcome of this by worrying?” Mostly she would stare at me, like, “Who ARE you?” but she did seem to get it.

    The first Chopra quote hit way too close to home, so I am going to ignore it for a while. 🙂

    So much love to you, sweet friend!

    • Hi Jen– so good to know that it gets easier with practice. Letting go sounds so easy, doesn’t it, and yet it’s one of the hardest things. I’m glad the Chopra quote had an impact, and of course you’ll get around to it when it’s time. There are many layers to all this stuff, and we can only do one at a time, I find. It’s good to be patient and kind to ourselves. Thanks for sharing, and love to you too!

  4. The concepts of pre- and post-suffering resonate with me. I’m trying to be more mindful of what one book I read labels non productive worry. Productive worry involves things like “I worry that if I don’t pay my mortgage, I will lose my house” instead of the unproductive worry of something like “what if that person the other day was offended by that thing I said? I must worry about what that person, who I may never encounter again, thinks of me.” Not spending unneeded time fretting about things that are in the past or may not happen is a wonderful time saver and helps me focus on what is truly important (or at least eliminate one more thing that is not helpful.)

    …and now, it appears I have a Ted talk to view and more post-blog reading. Thanks for sharing your insights. I hope that it’s as helpful to you as it is to me as a reader.

    –Brenda

    • That makes so much sense, productive and non-productive worry. We just have to be aware and train our minds to work for us, not against us. Enjoy the reading and Ted Talk… I love inspirational stuff like this. I’m happy this is all helpful for you, Brenda– writing it all out and sharing it really does help me. And then I find myself getting in ruts in my days and thinking “hey, I should probably heed my own advice!” 🙂

  5. Brilliant, only brilliant. Honestly, this needs to be submitted to a wider audience. There is so much wisdom in this post, Theresa. Deepak’s first quote resonates heavily with me, and I can think of several people who are pre-sufferers. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing, and with such beautiful honesty!

    • Thanks, Kathleen… we’ll see what this all turns into, and maybe I can see where it lands in the worls. I’m so glad you found it helpful. It’s good to know that what I’ve been learning is of use to others too. Take care!

  6. Yikes. This is amazing. I love the way you articulate the “layers” of your thoughts. Makes my mind race in a much needed way.

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