My Dream of Motherhood Was Eclipsed by Widowhood

MY DREAM OF MOTHERHOOD WAS ECLIPSED BY WIDOWHOOD

Katie Hawkins-Gaar

The writer with her husband

Surprisingly, grieving the death of a spouse mirrors the emotional landmines of new parenthood.

“We were adopting a baby.”

That’s the first thing I blurted out after my husband, Jamie, was pronounced dead. Although I was surrounded by emergency room staff, I was met with silence. No one knew what to say.

I didn’t know what to say, either. I sat stunned, holding Jamie’s lifeless hand, trying to wrap my head around how much had shattered in that moment.

Jamie and I began our journey into parenthood in October 2016, once we finally settled on an adoption agency. Over the next few months, we completed background checks, got letters of recommendation from friends and family, passed the in-home case worker visit, started reading parenting books and made some hefty agency payments.

Our next big hurdle was recording a series of videos — self interviews, testimonials from others and miscellaneous footage of our daily lives — that aimed to show prospective birth parents how well-rounded our lives were and how well-suited we were to raising a child. We recorded our final video on Jan. 31, 2017. It was a chilly Tuesday night, as we played volleyball with spirit, if not skill, for the camera.

Four days later, Jamie died. He was 32. He collapsed while running a half marathon, not far from the finish line where I was standing. The autopsy revealed that he had fibromuscular dysplasia of atrioventricular node arteries — in simpler terms, a rare and difficult-to-detect disease that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

I fully expected that 2017 would be the year I became a mother, not a widow. I envisioned witnessing our baby’s first breaths, not my husband’s final gasp. I anticipated soothing our crying child, not wiping away my own endless tears.

It’s now been almost three years since that fateful race. Plenty has changed since then. I’m 34, two years older than Jamie will ever be. I quit my full-time job and doubled down on my dreams of becoming a writer. I’ve done lots of solo traveling and have found solace in nature. I’m in a relationship with a wonderful and patient man, who’s teaching me what it means to love again.

One thing that’s remained consistent over that time is the reassurance I’ve received from other widows and widowers who have come before me, about both Jamie’s death and my thwarted dream of parenthood. They’ve told me what’s normal, what to expect, and what they were going through when they marked the same amount of time post-loss as I had.

My friend Stephanie reassured me that things won’t always feel so hopeless. My mother reminded me how she made sense of the world after my dad died. And I’ve learned so much from the wonderfully wise Nation, who taught me that grief never really goes away, but you learn how to live with it.

Navigating widowhood shares a surprising number of similarities with figuring out parenthood — or, at least, what I expected the experience would be like. Of course, there’s the important distinction that parenting means welcoming life instead of contending with death. But new widows and parents both obsessively count the days, weeks and months since their lives dramatically changed. They eagerly look for other people who are going through the same thing they’re experiencing. They gently tell each other that things will get easier — just after you make it past the next milestone.

There were plenty of moments where the present I was experiencing seemed cruelly juxtaposed with the future I had imagined. Just before his death, Jamie and I excitedly began to clean out closets to make room for a new member of our family. Now, I was faced with the difficult task of emptying Jamie’s closet and donating his belongings. Our would-be nursery remained a guest room, and our house — suddenly home to just me and my dog — felt bigger than ever.

In online groups and in-person meetups, I’ve noticed that widows introduce ourselves to each other by sharing how long it’s been since our partners died. That information offers valuable context. Just like caring for an infant is different from parenting a preschooler, there’s a vast difference in navigating grief at six months versus six years.

Those of us who have lost partners know that the first months of widowhood are a blur; it’s a struggle to digest our new reality. Four months out, for many of us, is when the loneliness becomes unbearable and we daydream about someday dating again. All the progress we thought we’d made falls apart around the one-year mark. And year two, nearly every widow I’ve met laments, is the toughest to face.

“Is this at all what parenthood feels like?” I asked in an online support group, wondering if my theory was sound.

The widows who are now solo parents — women and men doing an incredible job at a seemingly impossible task — shared how similar the extremes can feel. In both cases, you experience a significant shift in your identity. You have no idea what you’re doing, and worry how your early choices will affect the future. You face the reality that life will never be the same again.

In parenthood and widowhood, as in life, there are endless ups and downs. Amid the joys of parenting, there’s plenty of exhaustion and despair. Likewise, the heaviness of grief contains surprising moments of lightness. As parents and widows, your heart is broken wide open — you love deeper than you ever thought possible, and you find gratitude in the smallest moments. And whether you’re caring for a newborn or grieving a new death, you find yourself acutely aware of how fragile life truly is.

As one mother and young widow told me, “When my husband died, I gave birth to death.”

These days, I’m uncertain whether I want to become a mom, either biologically or through adoption. Sometimes, it feels like my uncertainty is rooted in fear. Other times, I’m unsure due to a lack of closure. I haven’t been able to mourn the loss of my hypothetical baby the way I’ve been able to mourn the death of my husband.

Many times, it simply seems pointless to head down this path once more. I allowed myself to be hopeful before. Why would I do it again?

Lately, though, I’ve had moments when I dare to dream again, and allow myself to imagine becoming a parent. Although it’s a surefire way to make me cry, I’ll occasionally watch our adoption footage, remembering how giddy Jamie and I once were. My favorite videos, the ones that make me cry the most, are of Jamie answering the agency’s pre-written questions, like what skills would make me a good mom.

“I think her ability to persevere, and to work harder than anybody else, is a skill that will benefit our kid,” said Jamie, chuckling at himself as he started to tear up. “I think she’s amazing. Her ability to persevere is incredible, and our child is going to benefit from that as well.”

When we recorded those videos, we had no idea they would one day become pep talks that kept me going. Widowhood, like parenthood, teaches you that you can’t control the way things turn out. I don’t know whether I’ll ever become a mom, but I’m grateful for the chance to even reconsider it.

How to Find the Perfect Man (or Woman)

HOW TO FIND THE PERFECT MAN (OR WOMAN)

Marc Chernoff

This morning, over coffee, one of my good friends spilled her guts to me about all of her failed attempts to find the perfect man.  Although her story is about her unique personal experiences, I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard the same story told by others in completely different circumstances a hundred times before.

It’s a heartbreaking tale about the endless quest for perfection that so many of us are on…

The Perfect Woman

Once upon a time, an intelligent, attractive, self-sufficient woman in her mid-thirties decided she wanted to settle down and find a husband.  So she journeyed out into the world to search for the perfect man.

She met him in New York City at a bar in a fancy hotel lobby.  He was handsome and well-spoken.  In fact, she had a hard time keeping her eyes off of him.  He intrigued her.  It was the curves of his cheek bones, the confidence in his voice, and the comfort of his warm, steady hands.  But after only a short time, she broke things off.  “We just didn’t share the same religious views,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Austin a few months later.  This time, he was an entrepreneur who owned a small, successful record label that assisted local musicians with booking gigs and promoting their music.  And she learned, during an unforgettable night, that not only did they share the same religious views, but he could also make her laugh for hours on end.  “But I just wasn’t that physically attracted to him,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Miami at a beachside café.  He was a sports medicine doctor for the Miami Dolphins, but he easily could have been an underwear model for Calvin Klein.  For a little while, she was certain he was the one!  And all of her friends loved him too.  “He’s the perfect catch,” they told her.  “But we didn’t hang in the same social circles, and his high-profile job consumed way too much of his time and attention,” she said.  So she cut things off and continued on her journey.

Finally, at a corporate business conference in San Diego, she met the perfect man.  He possessed every quality she had been searching for.  Intelligent, handsome, spiritual, similar social circles, and a strong emotional and physical connection—absolutely perfect!  She was ready to spend the rest of her life with him.  “But unfortunately, he was looking for the ‘perfect’ woman,” she said.

Everything We’ve Ever Hoped For

As human beings, we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection.  We do so when we are searching for the perfect house, job, friend, or lover.

The problem, of course, is that perfection doesn’t exist in a static state.  Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing.  What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow.

That perfect house, job, friend, or lover will eventually fade to a state of imperfection.  Thus, the closest we can get to perfection is the experience itself—the snapshot of a single moment or vision held forever in our minds—never evolving, never growing.  And that’s not really what we want.  We want something real!  And when it’s real, it won’t ever be perfect.  But if we’re willing to work at it and open up, it could be everything we’ve ever hoped for.

That Imperfect Man (or Woman)

The truth is, when it comes to finding the “perfect man” or “perfect woman” or “perfect relationship,” the journey starts with letting the fantasy of “perfect” GO!  In the real world, you don’t love and appreciate someone because they’re perfect, you love and appreciate them in spite of the fact that they are not.  Likewise, your goal shouldn’t be to create a perfect life, but to live an imperfect life in radical amazement.

And when an intimate relationship gets difficult, it’s not an immediate sign that you’re doing it wrong.  Intimate relationships are intricate, and are often toughest when you’re doing them right—when you’re dedicating time, having the hard conversations, compromising, and making daily sacrifices.  Resisting the tough moments—the real moments—and seeing them as immediate evidence that something is wrong, or that you’re with the wrong person, only exacerbates the difficulties.  By contrast, viewing difficulties in a relationship as normal and necessary will give you and your partner the best chance to thrive together in the long run.

Again, there is no “perfect.”  To say that one waits a lifetime for their perfect soulmate to come around is an absolute paradox.  People eventually get tired of waiting, so they take a chance on someone, and by the powers of love, compromise and commitment they become soulmates, which takes nearly a lifetime to perfect.

This concept truly relates to almost everything in life too.  With a little patience and an open mind, over time, I bet that imperfect house evolves into a comfortable home.  That imperfect job evolves into a rewarding career.  That imperfect friend evolves into a steady shoulder to lean on.  And… that imperfect man or woman evolves into a “perfect” lifelong companion.

Now, it’s your turn…

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of this short essay.

What resonated?  Any other thoughts on perfectionism’s harmful role in relationships?

I’d love to hear from YOU.  🙂

1 Little Thing to Think About Before You Give Up

1 LITTLE THING TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU GIVE UP

Angel Chernoff

If you feel like you’re completely stuck in life right now with nowhere to go, realize you are lying to yourself. You have imprisoned yourself in your own mind by telling self-defeating stories — stories about what your life should be like, what should or should not have happened, and so on and so forth. By doing this you’ve created a tiny space in your mind and you’ve begun to believe you are actually living in it.

But you are NOT. You are alive in a vast world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this. Go outside. Look at the sky and the clouds. THIS is the space in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

When someone younger than me (or someone who simply has far less life experience) asks me about how to overcome the pain and frustration associated with life’s unexpected setbacks, this is how I explain it to them (Please note that I’m not suggesting YOU are younger than me or have less life experience. This is just an example.):

Life Experience Chart

Look at the circles above. The black circles represent our relative life experiences. Mine is larger because I am older than you and have experienced more in my lifetime. The smaller red circles represent a negative event that has taken place in our lives. Assume we both experienced the same exact event, whatever the nature. Notice that the negative event circles are the same size for each of us; but also notice what percentage of the area they occupy in each of the black circles. Your negative event seems much larger to you because it is a greater percentage of your total life experiences. I am not diminishing the importance of this event; I simply have a different perspective on it.

What you need to understand is that an overwhelmingly painful and frustrating event in your life right now will one day be part of your much larger past (and pool of experience) and not nearly as significant as it seems in this moment.

Hopefully knowing this changes your perspective and gives you a good reason to NOT give up. And truthfully, this is just one small example of how you can shift your thinking and renew your sense of hope. The bottom line is that you can make many small, internal adjustments starting today that will help you feel better, think more clearly, and grow beyond life’s painful setbacks when they happen.

1 Small Daily Ritual that Will Change Your Life (in 1 Month or Less)

1 SMALL DAILY RITUAL THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE (IN 1 MONTH OR LESS)

Angel Chernoff

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?

That’s the power of daily rituals.

Now, it’s time remind yourself about YOUR rituals—the little things you do every single day.

Because these little things define you.

All the results in your life come from these little things.

Regardless of your unique life circumstances, or how you personally define success, you don’t suddenly become successful. You become successful over time based on your rituals.

Failure occurs in the same way. All your little daily failures (that you don’t learn and grow from) come together and cause you to fail…

  • You keep failing to check the books.
  • You keep failing to make the calls.
  • You keep failing to listen to your customers.
  • You keep failing to do the little things that need to be done…

Then one day you wake up and your business has failed. It was all the little things you did or didn’t do on a daily basis—your rituals—not just one inexplicable, catastrophic event.

Think about how this relates to your life.

Your life is your “business!”

And your rituals make or break you, gradually.

So, how have you been managing your rituals, and thus your life?

Are the little things you’re doing every day working for you or against you? If you think the answer might be the latter, you will find incredible value in this tiny daily ritual:

Wash your dishes.

Yes, I literally mean washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.

Form this tiny ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.

Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of practicing self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing the little things that must be done… and finishing what you start.

And as mentioned, Marc and I build more tiny, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students. It’s an active practice of taking life day by day and and focusing on the little things that make a lasting difference. Above all, what you need to remember is that nothing will change in your life unless you make rituals that reinforce what you hope to achieve. Believe me, over the past decade Marc and I have successfully worked with hundreds of course students and live event attendees from around the world who were struggling to achieve things. So, this strategy is well-tested.

If you’re not willing to make it a daily ritual, you don’t really want to change your life as much as you say you do—you don’t really want to achieve that “important” life change or goal. You only like the idea of learning to be fit/writing a book/building a business/selling your art/getting back to happy/etc. You don’t actually want to do it, every day.

But if you DO want it as much as you say you do, it’s time to build the right daily rituals.

Seriously, NOW is the time to take the firt step. And you aren’t alone on this journey either. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think more clearly and get our lives back on track.

Demonstrate Love

DEMONSTRATE LOVE

Family Life Radio

Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church family, few people really knew what was going on.

When she walked in to teach her Sunday school class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children. She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
 
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today, except that I told you.”
 
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better. Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
 
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the next week.

Today’s One Thing

Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one another and God for help in our time of need!

If you stopped believing in love, read this essay now

IF YOU STOPPED BELIEVING IN LOVE, READ THIS ESSAY NOW

Karen Salmansohn

Have you endured a lot of heartbreak, and now you’ve stopped believing in love? I’m here to give you the courage and insights you need to trust love one more time. Read on…

It’s always fascinating to me the responses I receive when I tell women that if they want to break their Prince Harming patterns, then they must stop overly prioritizing finding a man who is sexy and successful.

They must ALSO prioritize finding a man who:

  • values growing
  • revels in open, honest communication
  • displays 20/20 listening skills
  • shows a  Gumby-like flexibility for compromise

Often women wind up laughing heartily at my description of this evolved kind of man.

They insist this type of man does not exist!

“You’re a female chauvinist! I’ve called these women.

I then further explain to these women how prejudiced they are being – because they cannot believe it’s possible for men to be emotionally evolved.

It’s no wonder these women have stopped believing in love!

How can they believe in love – when they have stopped believing there are men out there who are capable of communicating honestly and deeply from their hearts?

“You’re basically saying that all men are emotional bimbos,” I tell these women.

Usually the combo of the words “female chauvinist” and “emotional bimbo” shock these women into a fuller awareness of how gender-prejudiced they’re being.

Next up…

I tell these women that they must stop being “negative evidence collectors,” seeking proof that all men are “emotional bimbos.

Plus I warn these women about how they can accidentally encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad behavior from their man –   if they treat a good man to their bad attitude toward him.

The solution?

I instruct these women to become “positive evidence collectors.

Their assignment: They must mindfully start to look for proof of the plentiful, wonderful Prince Charming–esque guys who are out there.

  • These good men could be married to or dating their lucky girlfriends.
  • Or they could be written up in the news.
  • Maybe they are working alongside them at their offices.
  • Plus they could even be in the very bed with them – right beside them!

Finally…

I warn women against using the words “always” and “never” – in either reference to their love life or men as a category.

Two examples:

  • “I will never find a man who values growing.”
  • “I always meet guys who cheat.”

Any time you create a sentence with an “always” and/or “never” you set yourself up with a limiting belief that can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom.

Basically when you use “always” and/or “never” in a sentence, you put yourself in a hopeless, depressed frame of mind.

In fact…

Whenever I’m with someone who says they’re depressed, I assign them to jackhammer-drill down to find and dump their pesky “always” and/or “never.”

Usually one of these two words is at the root of their depression – draining them of faith and vitality.

The words “Always” and “Never” are liars.

They whisper mean beliefs into your subconscious and conscious mind, about how you will forever be unable to change your situation.

Psychologists call these beliefs “permanent” and “pervasive.”

They are wildly dangerous to your spirit and your potential for a happily ever after destiny.

The truth is:

It’s very rare that there’s a “never” or an “always” in someone’s life.

Have you stopped believing in love?

  • If so, try to locate your “always” and “never” limiting beliefs.
  • Try to understand the root of these beliefs. Do they come from your childhood and/or a series of bad experiences?
  • Next, be willing to unblock these limiting beliefs. Be open to the possibility that you can find a good partner – someone who truly has lots of emotionally evolved qualities!
  • This brings us to lawyer time. Pretend you’re a lawyer! Find proof that your “always” and “never” are liars!
  • Finally – get yourself to fully accept that good partners are very much walking around on this planet! Once you believe in the existence of these good quality people – you will be more likely to find them!!

It’s amazing how powerful changing your belief system can be. When you change the way you look at men and love, you wind up changing what you notice and find.

How to heal from heartbreak and get stronger sooner

HOW TO HEAL FROM HEARTBREAK AND GET STRONGER SOONER

Karen Salmansohn

When your heart is broken, you can feel like your whole life is broken. These four tools will help you to heal from heartbreak – and move on stronger and wiser – and more quickly.

I refuse to ever become Rhonda Rifkin – the fake name for a real woman I know – who went a little nutso after a horrific divorce.

Post-break-up, Rhonda moved into a new apartment, a cheap but dilapidated one bedroom. The walls were cracked and peeling, the carpet stained and torn. Rhonda, however, was too miserable from her break up to think about interior design. Her only new investments:

  • A new cast iron bed. (She couldn’t sleep on the same bed once shared with her ex.)
  • A huge dollhouse.

Soon Rhonda ignored her new bed, spent all her time and money on this dollhouse, buying it little sofas and petite antique armoires. In the evenings Rhonda would stay in refurbishing her miniature house – wallpapering its petite kitchen and shellacking its tiny living room floor.

Meanwhile, everything else in Rhonda’s own human-sized home was falling apart.

Eventually she bought a little dollhouse family – and I never heard from her again.

Yes, Rhonda went a wee bit crazy from bad love.

Oddly enough, this is a true story. I kid you not!

After a particularly challenging break up (which I’ve shared about here), I began thinking a lot about Rhonda Rifkin.  I started to more fully understand how easy it could be to allow a tough time to harden your heart.

Although I never went so far as to buy a dollhouse, I did similarly begin to avoid the company of people – and prefer to stay home alone – except for the company of my dog Maxine – “my better one-eighth.”

Maxine was a nine pound mutt – part Jack Russell Terrier, part Chihuahua, part spiritual healer.

After the break up, I found myself spending many hours alone with Maxine, laying on my bed softly crying. Maxine would nuzzle up next to me and lick the falling tears from my face.

At the time I wasn’t sure if Maxine was licking my tears out of loving canine support   – or because she enjoyed their salty flavor. Such was my state of cynicism – that I became suspicious of the affections of my longtime faithful dog.

I also became suspicious about the inner workings of the universe.

I questioned what kind of universe would purposefully create a living, breathing creature called “Total A**hole” and allow this creature to roam our planet, hurting others in its path!

Simultaneously I was determined to push past my cynicism and hopelessness. With this in mind, I began reading as many inspiring books as I could – looking for helpful research studies and motivational stories on how others had bounced back from challenging events.

Below are my top 4 tools which helped me to move on from my broken heart.

4 Tools To Help You Heal From Heartbreak

1. Heartbreak Healing Tool 

My first tool I developed was starting an “Invisible Blessings Journal.” I developed this tool after reading research studies by Professor Richard Lucas, from Michigan State University. Lucas looked at people who had experienced debilitating injuries – who were told they’d never be able to walk again.

Lucas’ studies showed that although at first many folks were mired in cynicism and hopelessness, eventually these people not only returned to their former “happiness set point,” many reported rebounding to a higher-than-usual good mood – becoming happier than they were before their trauma!

Lucas’ explanation:  The darkness surrounding a bad event eventually helped people to better notice all the bright good stuff in their life.

Basically, after a challenging event, people developed a heightened awareness of what I call “invisible blessings” – all the good stuff we take for granted.

When I read this, I decided to speed up my clarity for the good stuff.

I began what I called “My Invisible Blessings Journal.”

Each day I’d write down 5 things I was grateful about having in my life.

I forced myself to always write 5 new and different things.

Eventually amassed quite a long list of invisible blessings.

2. Heartbreak Healing Tool

I began meditating – 15 minutes every day.

In my reading of inspiring books, I consistently found studies which support how meditation can retrain your brain to be “better wired” for calmness and happiness.

I know lots of people assume meditation is some Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But it’s truly been scientifically documented to create therapeutic neurological changes.

For example, Dr. Richard Davidson, one of the world’s foremost brain scientists, had the lucky opportunity to test the brain of a Senior Tibetan Lama — a man known for meditating many hours daily.

Sure enough Davidson discovered that this Senior Tibetan Lama had an “extreme left-to-right ratio” in his prefrontal cortex — the M.R.I. sign of a happy, relaxed mind.

More Neuroscientific Cliff Notes:

Meditation strengthens the neurological circuits which calm the brain.

Basically, meditation creates a kind of “buffer” between our brain’s violent impulses and our actions. Hence why if you meditate regularly you physically feel less stressful and less aggressive.

With this in mind, I began meditating in the morning, right before I brushed my teeth. On an interesting side note, these two morning habits actually share the same purpose and process – just for different body parts.

Think about it:

  • When you brush your teeth, you’re removing the buildup of plaque (and stray spinach!).
  • When you meditate, you’re removing the buildup of fear and worry.

3. Heartbreak Healing Tool

Another powerful tool: Visualization. In my research, I found many studies which support how repeated visualization of a happy future can help your brain to lighten up – literally. The aspects of your brain associated with positivity wind up lighting up more in your present when you think positively about your future.

With this in mind, I bought a scheduling book which had a calendared set-up.

I wrote on the front “My Happily-ever-after Future.

Next, I created pages for the upcoming 12 months – describing how I envisioned each month unfolding in a joyful, peaceful way.

Finally, I pre-planned in this 12 month calendar a range of positive steps I could take to move forward to my “happily ever future.” Plus, I made sure to make my plans and goals as reasonable as possible.

This was amazingly therapeutic for me to envision my life happily unfolding.

Basically, this 12 month schedule of recovery allowed me to both hold the vision and embrace the process.

4. Heartbreak Healing Tool 

In my research I also found that mantras can help. One of my go-to mantras became: “Bitterness is not an option!”  I repeated this whenever I felt my heart begin to harden.

I also developed a funny mantra:

“Every jerk has a silver lining.”

This mantra helped to motivate me to look for the silver lining benefits to my ex. Plus lessons to learn – and growth opportunities to help me evolve.

I also include a few more healing mantras in my book Instant Calm.

Heal your heart… If you’re having a difficult time feeling happy and letting go of emotional pain, check out all the many relaxing and healing 2-minute sensory meditations in Instant Calm.

If you have (or had) toxic relationships of any kind, read this now!

IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!

Karen Salmansohn

This is a vulnerable story – about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out of bad toxic relationships.

About a decade and a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named ‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”

I remember I was once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.

I explained how every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.

“Dadadadadadada Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.

Let’s call this ex of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.

Today I want to share something I never told you about Bruce.

Ready?

Bruce’s “dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.

Yep, right out of the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous behaviors, products of paranoia.

Yet I continued to date him.

I even went away with Bruce for a weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.  I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was flirting with this Turkish waiter.

Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.

I kept reassuring Bruce I was not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!

When I came home from vacation, I sought out therapy.

I found a nice older psychotherapist, named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.

“You’ll never believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!

  • “Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
  • “Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
  • “Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym  – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.
  • “Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”

Each week I’d tell Sid story after story – quickly followed by rationalization after rationalization – always explaining why I should stay with Bruce.

“You know what your problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session.  “You’re so smart, you’re stupid.”

I laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are able to over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you already know.”

“So you think I should break up with Bruce?” I asked.

Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist. I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an a**hole.”

“Actually, I didn’t call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”

“What? I’m not the a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”

“At this point, Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the a**hole.”

“I’m the a**hole?”

I repeated this word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.

This word “a**hole” became my wakeup call!

Sid was right. If I stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing  – then I became the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching relationship to continue!

“Listen, Karen,” Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.

Although this story about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it often.

I particularly think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.

I feel if we’re not careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.

If you’re dealing with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…

“Why is this person treating me this way?”  

“Why did this person do that crappy thing to me?”

“What is wrong with this person?”

“Are they an a**hole?”

“Sociopath?”

“Narcissist?”

“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”

The really important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…

“What did I miss in the vetting process that I allowed this person into my life?”

“What is wounded inside me that I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”

“How can I grow from this experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”

“Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”

“Do I want to waste my time, thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”

“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better people and live better days?”

If you’re presently caught up in telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.

The time has come to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and static!

Yep, the more you stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds, expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.

All of this time expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!

My lesson/your lesson:

  • Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
  • Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
  • Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.

Heal and move on from toxic relationships.

When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed. Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.

Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.

But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is: where are your present steps taking you?

It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what YOU DO from here.

Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.

Don’t be one of them!

Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, in this moment.

The best action you can take right now is changing your thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.

And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.

The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next. Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.

Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you can master a new way to be.

To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect

TO COUNTER LONELINESS, FIND WAYS TO CONNECT

Jane E. Brody

A four-minute film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone. She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed, on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.

It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of there.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in the age bracket — 18 to 24 — that now has the highest incidence of loneliness, as much as 50 percent higher than occurs among the elderly. For young adults, loneliness and social isolation are major precipitants of suicide, experts say.

Fortunately, I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.

“There’s nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.

I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your health and a successful college experience.”

Having no better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine, a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my heart.

Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news reporting and magazine writing.

The rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a marvelous career.

“Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr. Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in preventable deaths by suicide.

They urged that social relationships be considered a national public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of despair.”

But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.

The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated hearing loss.

However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.

“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of an early death by 30 percent.

The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma — the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.

“We want people to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now wouldn’t miss a session.

In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual support and friendship.

Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art and Healing.

The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.

“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,” Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”

Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”

People rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather, social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.

So consider making a date this week to meet a friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.