Not quite at the crossroads

“Those held in highest esteem… are neither the great artists nor the great scientists, neither the great statesmen nor the great sports figures, but those who master a hard lot with their heads held high”. Viktor Frankl

ID-100152029. artur84In his classic book ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ about hope from the Holocaust , Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, describes three phases for those who survived the concentration camps. The first period was the shock of losses and admission to the camps. The second period was the daily life in the concentration camp. The third period was after liberation. Frankl goes on to describe that, rather than love or achievement, people’s main drive in life is having meaning and that he believed those who survived the ‘second phase’ were those who could find meaning in their bleak situation. His own vision and meaning was that he pictured himself after the war helping people find meaning in their lives.

Whilst a divorce is nowhere near the horror of the holocaust, I have found the concept of there being a middle ‘nowhere’ phase as liberating. I have found much divorce advice focuses on getting ‘over’ the loss (phase one – shock) or making changes to your life (phase three – liberation) and there is little help at accepting life in a transition situation; or of making a good life for yourself out of a traumatic situation even while you are still living within that situation. Involved in a lengthy property settlement as I am, it is not only that my life is caught between past and future, I am confronted by the ongoing turmoil of the process itself with little triggers on a nearly daily basis that keep throwing me back into a constant state of trauma and sometimes confrontation.

Focusing on the trauma, unfairness or injustice of the past or the trauma-triggers in my current daily life plunges me into darkness or anxiety. Likewise wishing for my future to come with an ‘I wish this process was over’ attitude sets me up for suffering.

What has helped me most to alleviate my suffering through this process has been instead to focus on:

(1) Creating a vision for my future with a purpose that can give me meaning for my life today. My vision of ‘finding my voice and promote human welfare’ whilst a vision for my future, gives meaning to my current situation. In my future role I will be more able to empathise with others because of where I am today and I see myself in a role alleviating suffering.

(2) Re-framing my transition as steps towards my future; has helped give me meaning to the thankless administrative processes I previously viewed as ‘mud-trudging’.

(3) Understanding and acknowledging my self-worth and significance; has enabled me to appreciate the good in what I am doing right here and now.

(4) Creating a revival identity including conviction to core values has enabled me to reinvent myself right here and now as someone who I can be proud of in my future.

Other techniques that have helped in the more traumatic periods of discomfort have been building foundations of comfort and stability to create certainty in my world of uncertainty, breaking down my list of overwhelming tasks into manageable steps, enlisting help when needed, and making difficult decisions based on core values.

In summary, what has helped me through on a daily basis is acknowledging I cannot force things to happen faster. I cannot bypass the pain of the process. I cannot fast forward to my future. But I can learn to find a place of quiet, not allow myself to get dragged down by the negatives of the situation, and be content with where I am and who I am right here in this present moment. At the same time, I can still hold on to my dreams.

While I am not quite at the crossroads to my new life, I am finding ways of making joy in my present situation, appreciating who I am and what I am capable of, while still working behind the scenes at my dreams for my future, where I want to be for my long-term happiness, and continually striving for a better tomorrow.



You may also want to read:
Lauren Between Fear and Love. Stop, breathe, reframe.
Louise at Dare Boldly, holding onto your dreams. And Dream Big


41 thoughts on “Not quite at the crossroads

  1. I like this quote by Viktor Frankl which says that those who are held in highest esteem are those who master a hard lot with their heads held high. Just stay positive, dear Elizabeth. It looks like you are on the way to a brighter future already. 🙂

  2. A heartfelt post Elizabeth. You have great courage and great advice on how to walk through challenging times on our journey.


  3. that last paragraph seems to me such a wonderful manifesto for anyone in transition, in crisis even. I have watched the evolution of you this past what? two years it seems and I am constantly left feeling proud to know you – to be a woman amongst a woman like you.

  4. I agree with Crowing Crone — your evolution through this process is inspiring and being part of your journey makes me proud too! Thank you for the mention — I am glad my words inspire you. Yours inspire me. Hugs

  5. I had a friend explain something to me about his daughter yesterday that I took in a very different way than he expected…but I think it rings true here as well…

    He was talking about motivating his new teen about finding goals and picking accomplishments that she may like to achieve in the next few years. His vision to her was explained like this…”think of yourself as a HS graduate in a few years. What are you going to do TODAY for that girl? What can you do in THIS MOMENT to make HER life better”

    I LOVED how he made it more about what she would do for “this other person”. With his framework, it eliminates that often selfish feeling where your own needs get shoved under the rug for more pressing tasks. ie. Yes, I SHOULD go exercise (because it is good for me and keeps me healthy – self only), but I really have a lot of work to catch up on, so I should use my free time to take care of that task instead (other focused).

    Just wanted to share with you this morning. I hope you are coping well with all the struggles. I know the treading water game and it isn’t fun. Keep paddling…soon the tides will turn and you’ll find yourself ashore with a beach chair, a beautiful sunset, and an easy read with a refreshing drink by your side….I know I’m hoping the same for myself! 🙂

    • Thank you for this most encouraging and uplifting comment. It cemented for me the concept that we have to take the steps today for what we need for our own true self in the future. That is so empowering. Thank you.
      Yes, I am dreaming of that beach 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey and your wisdom Elizabeth.
    You are an inspiration to so many going through difficult transitions and divorce.
    So glad you are here and moving forward with guts and grace 🙂

  7. It takes character and stamina to stay in the present moment when all you want to do is flee. But those who flee end up with arrested development, never achieving the far shore they were meant to reach. Keep going. Just keep going.

  8. This is such a sincere post. And the way you are working towards moving through “the middle” is really good. It does get hard to find what to do during transition, and it’s so easy to get stuck there and feel a void. (Thank you for including me in this post. I feel honored to be included in something so real and well-done.)

  9. That book has been important in my life, too.

    I’m amazed by your ability to put this all together, to realize that the desire to be present in the present moment.

    I was just having a conversation an hour ago, about how denial of pain, or covering up of pain (whether it’s emotional or physical), takes away our ability to locate the pain, treat it, and heal from it.

    You are such an inspiration to me. I need friends like you on days when my pain has been elevated for days, to remind me that I’m not the only one who goes through hard days, and that, as Viktor Frankl taught in his book, the supreme value of pain is that while we are suffering, we have opportunity to make use of that circumstance to acquire the moral qualities that are learned only through adversity.

    You’re impressive, Elizabeth. I do understand how weary you must be of the struggle, how much nicer it would be if it was just over already. Hang in there; you’re winning!

    • Thanks, I know I am getting closer to some sort of easing off of the continual feeling of being in ‘crisis’ (although I am not sure I would call it ‘winning’). It is so true that adversity teaches us so much more than if life just hums along. Chronic conditions and situations are the hardest of crosses to bear and teach us so much as to what is really important in life. People who have not experienced that long-term dilemma do not have the degree of empathy. On the other hand, what I have found is that people who are having a hard time now flock to me because they know they have a sympathetic ear. And the interesting thing is that it does not matter what the situation is – whether it is a disabled child, or a death, or a divorce, or an illness; people will now tell me their stories whereas when I was in the ‘happy-ever-after’ marriage, they did not.

      • That shows your hard-earned ability to transform pain into something life-giving and creative, instead of allowing it to be merely destructive. It’s not a “given” that people who experience chronic conditions will become empathetic listeners. I’ve encountered plenty of people who become bitter, self-absorbed, and the last people in the world with whom I’d feel safe sharing my story.

      • Yes, I know those people too.
        It is interesting that one of the ‘benefits’ of this painful period in my life is that my own mother has opened up to me about the grief of losing (by death) my father when she was only 47, and then she had to turn around and go out to work to support my two younger brothers. She never spoke to me about it before – about how difficult it was – she seemingly just did it. I never realised the pain she was in because she had appeared so strong. Only now, as I have leaned on her, has she felt she could tell her story to me. Finally at the age of 87, she has found someone she can share that painful period with.

      • I think some parents (I, and my grandmother, for two) are loathe to share our pain with our children. We want to protect them from pain, not burden them with ours.

        I’m finding that now that my sons are adults, I am more likely to be open with them, instead of forcing myself to appear strong. Or, rather, I’m forcing myself to be more open because I believe it makes for a more honest relationship between us.

        It’s wonderful that your mother has found it possible to share with you now. I also am beginning to realize that this is one of the tasks of elderly years, to work through pain and grief that we were unable to deal with earlier, because we had jobs to do and children to raise….

      • I remember my grandmother talking to me about all these things that had happened to her, and my mother never did. You may be correct that at the time my mother was too busy looking after us, and did not have time to contemplate how difficult or otherwise it all was, whereas my grandmother did. Yes, I have been one to hold back and not share my pain, saving others from being hurt.

  10. Depending on how hectic life is (assuming that life is not always a gentle ride on a floating marshmallow), I think we’re always at a crossroads, every moment of every day of our lives. We feel a feeling, and decide whether to give it merit, give it our full resources and attention, or to ignore it and keep moving on. We make tiny decisions all day long of whether to live in the past, the now, or the future. Every choice we make, no matter how small, affects our trajectory, even the choice in itself to ride on a floating marshmallow or a fire-breathing dragon.

  11. Thanks for leaving a comment on Tracy Lee Karner’s post about my blog and my book. I LOVE the quote from Viktor Frankl you begin with. I have used that book in teaching both memoir classes (most recently last fall) and literature classes. I’m so impressed with how you are using it to get THROUGH the tough times instead of avoiding or evading or trying to get OVER them. You have chosen an excellent mentor. Now you are building your own story! Brava. Hope we can stay in touch.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Yes I hope to stay in touch. You are correct, Frankl’s book is a classic and I keep going back to it. It is interesting to note that other classics (such as Covey’s ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People’) base their strategies on his ideas. Thanks also for the understanding that it is necessary to get THROUGH things rather than OVER things. That distinction is the answer to many types of emotional pain, and yet so many people, even professionals, do not understood this
      Thanks again.

  12. After having endured a heartbreaking divorce 35 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, I can honestly assure you that there IS life–wonderful and beautiful life and love–after divorce. It doesn’t feel all that hopeful or believable now, Elizabeth, but it is true.
    Hang in there, and believe!

    • I feel for you having to go through a divorce when you were pregnant. I cannot imagine how heart-breaking that must have been. Nora Ephron (film producer) had the same thing happen to her and she wrote a book about it.
      Thanks for your comment. Your encouragement means a lot to me.

  13. Hi Elizabeth
    I really enjoyed this post as I have battled much of the same and have come to some of the same conclusions. I specially understood when you talked about little triggers. Pain and suffering does lead to self awareness and growth, and you show a lot of that! You will be better than okay, you will thrive and excel! Many blessings! 🙂

  14. I had somehow looking back at your blog posts, missed this important step in your progress. I liked this post, it helps me feel motivated and facing it as a way to cope with life’s challenges, it was quite helpful how that commenter mentioned talking to his daughter with what advice she would give to herself, her ‘future’ self. I like that for all of us, Elizabeth! smiles, robin

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