Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: therapy (page 2 of 2)

Learning to See the Fork

I am thinking a lot about forks lately. Not the eating utensil kind (though I have been wondering where the heck ours have been going… thrown in the garbage? Under someone’s bed?), but as I’m Waking Up in my own life, I’m looking at the forks in my day. I’m discovering there are a LOT.


The kind of forks I’m talking about are the proverbial Forks-in-the-Road. If you prefer to be more plain about it, they are the myriad Choices we make in a day. It’s like living in a Choose Your Own Adventure story (remember those?). Whatever words you put to it, I’m finding that there’s a lot of power in becoming aware of these moments of choice–  it can be rather daunting too, because when you discover that you are indeed choosing your own adventure, well, who is there to blame for your choices?  


Who chose this path?  Um, that would be, Me. (gulp) Continue reading

How to Rebuild a Life in 3 Easy Steps

Hi folks, it’s been awhile. I’ve been wanting to write but the summer somehow passed in a blur, and I’ve been unsure about what I want to say.  After this wild year, I think I’ve needed time to catch my breath and digest what I’ve been through.


But yes, it is a year this September since Bob told me he wanted a divorce.  It’s hard to believe that much time has passed already.  It’s been a period of chaos, commotion, heartbreak and loss, but also growth, discovery, healing and connection.  My life is so different from where it was a year ago, and I am different too.  It’s a good time to look at where I am now, and where I’m heading.


But first, where was I a year ago?  I can see now I was stuck in many areas of my life. I was stuck at 305 lbs and using food daily to manage my feelings.  I couldn’t handle fear and anxiety (among other things), and I wasn’t able to face things I needed to move forward on– getting a job, writing, promoting myself, dealing with my clutter issues.  After years of obesity, my body was suffering from disabling pain every day and this kept limiting me.  I was able to do less and less, and I hated that.

Continue reading

Divorce Lesson #9

It’s been just over a month since Bob moved out. I find that I’m in two different places on my journey right now. On the one hand, there’s been a slow feeling of settling in to the new situation, getting used to the feel of it, figuring out how it all works, individually and together.

But now the other hand has been opening up for me as I’m starting to have a lot of old issues come up, past emotional baggage, deep unhealed wounds. Now that I have more quiet space in my life, a tsunami of ancient grief (mixed with the newer pain of loss) has been washing over me, and I’m feeling it all at once. God, it’s like being sliced open, and it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed, especially since there’s a sense of never-endingness to it. This is the time for me to go through this and process it all—it sucks but I don’t want this old stuff ruling and ruining my life anymore. All I can do is buy more tissues, wail, be in touch with the waves of feelings, and be kind to myself. Ask someone to listen when I’m at my lowest. Journaling and lighting candles helps. Also, the comfort of tea.

I’ve been reading a lot of self-help and inspirational books lately. Some people may scoff at the genre, but it’s helping me process my experience and fuel my growth.

I’ll read something from this one, something from that one, back and forth, absorbing and pondering. Bob teasingly calls me “Hermione” because my first reaction is always research. I want to know, I want to figure things out, and researching not only helps me, but gives me a sense of control. I want to learn from what others share of their knowledge and experiences so that I can decide for myself what is right for me.

For the last few months, I’ve been swirling around a new concept that has totally excited me, sparked my imagination and given me hope. It began for me when I was talking to my New Therapist about co-dependency. Bob and I had been talking about our co-dependency issues with each other for a while, how we felt that our patterns of emotional enmeshment made it hard for us to move forward in healthy ways, products of the dysfunctions of our growing-up years. New Therapist opened the discussion up by saying she prefers to think about it as Differentiation and Enmeshment (or Fusion), a more descriptive way of examining patterns in relationships.


Differentiation was originally a biological term, referring to the way cells develop.

Huh? Even though I’ve been in therapy on-and-off for 30 years, I’d never heard these terms before. I’d heard of co-dependency, and honestly, was somewhat frustrated by it. It seemed vague to me—this idea that I was emotionally dependent on someone, but what did it really mean? And even though I’d read about it, what did one do about it? I felt trapped in the murkiness of the definition with no way out.

During sessions over the next few weeks, I began to understand more about Differentiation and it had enough meat to it that I could sink my teeth into. Then she recommended a book on the topic which opened it up for me in a whole new way: Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, Ph.D. “It’s got a lot of sex in it,” New Therapist said (the author is a sex therapist), “and it’s about marriage. But it explains differentiation really well. I think you’ll like it.”


Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships  (click link to find it on Amazon)

I did. I talked to Bob about it, and now we’ve both been reading the book to further our quest for a healthier relationship. I’ve been talking to people about it, too, and they tell me they’re intrigued. So now I feel driven to share it with anyone open to hearing about it.


Divorce Lesson #9:  The Great Relationship Tool*


According to Dr. Schnarch, differentiation is “your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others—especially as they become increasingly important to you… the ability to stay in connection without being consumed by the other person.”

This sounds pretty simple, a no-brainer. Why would this be so important in a relationship?

The answer is equally simple: for relationships to be healthy and satisfying there needs to be both emotional intimacy and space for individuals to be their whole selves. There needs to be room for growth, or the relationship will reach a stalemate. And without differentiation, it’s so easy for bad patterns and poor communication to set in.

Let me paraphrase Dr. Schnarch’s description of relationship development with a little story. Sam and Sal met at a party one night and felt an immediate attraction. They begin that exciting phase of falling in love– they share their interests, their likes, their beliefs, their secrets with each other. They find all the ways to match up. Everything is about connection and communication (mixed with passion!).

Time passes, and clashing starts to happen. Maybe it’s small stuff… Sam likes to go to movies and Sal would rather go see plays. Maybe Sal doesn’t like the way Sam leaves his dirty clothes around the bedroom. Or bigger stuff, like Sam can’t believe Sal voted for that politician he despises. Or Sal doesn’t like Sam’s best friend.


In a well-differentiated couple, Schnarch says, “your willingness to confront, support, soothe and prod yourself determines whether or not your marriage moves forward and the two of you grow.” Sal and Sam could work through these issues. Sam would recognize that Sal is her own person and while he might not like it, he can “soothe himself” about the fact that she voted for that guy, and allow her to be her own person. Instead of stuffing down her desire to see plays and just go along with Sam to his movies, Sal can find a friend to go to plays with and allow Sam to have his own movie interests.

However, it turns out that Sal and Sam are not differentiated. At some point in their relationship, they both started to need validation from each other, rather than being able to validate themselves (“I need you to like the same things I like! Why can’t you believe what I believe?”). The relationship became SO important to them that when conflicts came up, they each began to withdraw their true selves from the relationship to protect it. Not wanting to rock the boat and risk the relationship, Sal bit her tongue whenever Sam’s best friend was over, pretending she was okay with his racist jokes and crude behavior. Sam gave into Sal’s nagging about seeing plays even though they bored him to tears and he hated going.

Over time, this pattern of giving in, not being honest about themselves and being overly bothered by each other’s moods and feelings led to erosion in their relationship. Their communication suffered, they had more frustrating fights they couldn’t resolve, they felt misunderstood by the other, and their sex life suffered. These patterns circled around for a very long time. Sam and Sal weren’t happy, but were willing to turn their heads away from the fact that they were somewhat miserable, thinking that this is what happens to relationships over time. It was either this, or end the relationship, or if they’re lucky, learn to differentiate.

Bob sunrise

I’m going to say goodbye to Sam and Sal now to talk about my own experience. For me, what really excited me in learning about differentiation was seeing how it applied to my life. In the months following the divorce talk, I finally woke up to see that Bob and I had really developed some unhealthy patterns in our relationship. I could see that, for myself, I had made the relationship more important than my own individual self. Instead of being honest about my feelings or frustrations, I curled it up inside myself and found ways to tiptoe around, or to try to manipulate the situation to get what I wanted indirectly. I was afraid of Bob’s bad moods, because then I’d feel awful myself. I wasn’t able to let him have his feelings and separate them from me—his feelings felt like mine, and that is classic enmeshment. I can see now that in so many ways, I was operating in smaller and smaller circles in our relationship and my life, and I hadn’t been happy.

For us, digging ourselves out of this mess has involved separation, so that we can each learn to focus on ourselves, and not be emotionally dependent. Even before he moved out, we were putting the tools of differentiation into practice—learning to be honest with each other in our communication, sharing what our real experiences and feelings were with each other, learning to let each other take care of our own feelings (ah, that’s a tricky one and will take more work), learning to self-soothe, and when conflicts come up, I’m learning to go inside myself first to see what’s really going on for me and what’s driving the conflict before I turn to discuss it with him.

Already this has resulted in a better relationship with more openness and intimacy. We still have a long ways to go to get past our old patterns, but a healthier relationship is developing, and we are committed to each getting healthier for our own selves.

What can I say? If you’re having any difficulties in your relationship, I highly recommend Dr. Schnarch’s book. It’s a dense but interesting read, and the promise of a better, closer, happier relationship with yourself and with your partner is irresistible. I’ll write more about self-soothing in another blog, because I know that’s been an important concept for me to explore and one of the keys to differentiation.

I’ll end here with a quote, and a song that describes differentiation.

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” –Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


I love Amanda Palmer, and this song of hers fits this topic so well (warning: sexy & swearing).

*Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist or psychiatrist or even a psych major, just an autodidact trying to make sense of the concepts I’ve learned. I’ve tried to portray Dr. Schnarch’s philosophy to the best of my ability. Please forgive any falterings.

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

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

Divorce Lesson #7:  Re-(Blank)-ing Myself

Divorce Lesson #8: The Elevator Speech

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Photo credits:  Cell photos from the public domain, sunrise photo by Bob Alberti, snow couple photo by me.



Let’s Not Party Like It’s 1999

Party in the street

A few months ago, my husband B told me he wanted to have a huge party in August, to celebrate him turning 50, our twins turning 21, and his recent graduation 32 years after starting college.  “Just how big?”  I asked.

“Oh, a couple hundred people or so.  I want to block off the street and get a band to play.”

Gulp.  My first reaction was heart-clenching anxiety.  I was having flashbacks to our last big party, when the twins graduated from high school 3 years ago.  We invited a lot of people but had no idea how many would show.  We deep cleaned and decluttered for 2 months (a big feat, as cleaning is not a top priority for us), I planned and made lists of every last detail, and came up with a Martha Stewart-esque taco bar.  I’ve seen other (saner) people have some ground beef, cheese and salsa and call it a day, but in my drive to make it “Nice,” I made vats of seasoned ground beef, chicken, pork, and vegetarian beans, shopped and cooked for days.  People loved the party and praised the food, but I was totally burnt out. (And we ate leftovers for months afterwards.)

On a smaller scale, this is what I’ve tended to do for all the kids’ birthday parties and holidays over the year.  I plan with detailed lists so that I’m walking around muttering to myself trying to think of everything.  I cook the food from scratch, and bake/frost/decorate the cakes myself.  I clean and shop, and then– as my family knows too well– as we get nearer the party, I become a drill seargent, yelling at them to help me do this or that, because there’s no way I can get it all done (add a heap of my built-up resentment in there too).  And during all this time, I’m in a state of anxiety and fear— afraid I won’t get it all done, afraid of people seeing my imperfect house and judging me, afraid the party will not be Perfect. Underneath it all is despair that I’ve given up myself and my own needs for several weeks because I’m driven by Perfectionism.  Sigh!

I’ve known for a long time that this isn’t a good set-up for me, or for anyone else… but I honestly didn’t know how to change it.  The panic was too great for me to do anything but what I knew how to do.  And I know there are many reasons that I’ve gotten into this miserable way of operating– lots of childhood issues I won’t go into here.  I’ve been working on them, really really hard.  But we haven’t had a party since that overwhelming graduation party… and now B was asking for one, a bigger one than we’ve ever had.

It may sound extreme, but the idea was sending me into a PTSD state.  The anxiety and fear barged their way in, and I just wanted to stand straight still and do nothing.  Luckily, we have two wonderful therapists that we see for couple’s counseling, and we talked it out with them.  As usual, they got us to see things from each other’s point of view, got to us empathize with what the other was feeling.  Also as usual, they said “oh Theresa, what a great opportunity for you to work with your feelings!”  (groan)  And they helped us formulate a plan.  It may sound like a strange one, but it worked for us–

B would be in charge of the whole party.  He would make the plans, he would find out how to close off the street, he would hire a band, he would do the invites.  It was his party, and he’d get to have it the way he wanted it.  He would grill brats and veggie burgers, provide beer and root beer kegs, and then the rest would be potluck and BYOB.  He wouldn’t clean because the party would be in the street.  And my job was to not plan, not worry, and just take care of getting coolers and ice.  Coolers and ice!  Okay then.

This may sound like it was a proverbial piece of cake for me… but let’s just say it wasn’t.  It was hard to let that old party planner in me go… not only a perfectionist, but she has some teensy-weensy control issues too.  But I wanted to make this work for B, and I wanted to not be afraid of parties, and I wanted to try something new.

I wasn’t perfect at letting go–  I still had anxiety about the party, but was better at remembering that I didn’t have to listen to that panicked voice in my head.  I felt my fears and anxieties and worked with those feelings, rather than letting them take over.  B and I had many great talks and were really understanding each other in the weeks before the party.  It wasn’t easy for me, but it was different, and I was acting differently–my family reported I was much better, no drill seargent this time.

I did do more than just coolers and ice– I decided I wanted to make the cakes, since I do like to bake.  I did do cleaning (not excessive).  I did help out with other details.  But it was still a big change for me in giving up control, doing much less, and letting go.

And the party was great!  We had fabulous weather, over a hundred happy people, tables of potluck goodies, fun music and 21 year olds hosting a bonfire. B loved it, and I did too.  I remembered the good parts about having a party– how fun it is to get together with family and friends.

I learned a lot about myself in this process.  I’m sure I’ll still struggle with these same issues in the future… but now I actually don’t mind the idea of maybe someday kinda hosting another (probably smaller!) party.  Whee!

Happy Birthday!


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