I knew if I really wanted to heal from the divorce I would have to do hard personal work. I began therapy with an amazing counselor. Sharon had seen FP and me during our pitiful attempt at marriage counseling. We would come home after developing a game plan and he would say “she just doesn’t understand.” When I made an appointment to work with her alone, I assumed she was best situated to help me cope because she had met FP. She’d seen the situation and from my seat in marriage counseling, she had understood perfectly.
Sharon gave me “tough love” whenever I would try to dissect what had happened. She basically said “How long are we going to talk about him; when are we going to talk about YOU?” I went to her chair week after week, sometimes calling in a panic to see if there was a cancellation so I could see her on days that I didn’t feel I could stand the pain.
She dissected my family tree to uncover patterns in my “family system” that held clues to why I had found myself twice divorced. She believed things were so painful because I had popped the cork on a whole mother lode of grief. FP had arrived in my life right after my dad died. Apparently the grief from my first divorce, my dad’s death, moving from Arizona and my broken marriage to FP was all rushing out like a waterfall. She told me my healing would take time, lots of work, and would be painful. “Will it be worth it?” I asked. “I don’t know. You will have to be the judge of that,” she’d say. And I hated that SHE couldn’t be the one doing the work for me.
I also saw another wonderful counselor at the same time I was seeing Sharon. Paul was so nurturing and supportive I always felt like I had landed on a soft pillow after our sessions. I would go let Sharon make me work hard looking at myself and then get worn out and go see Paul, who reminded me I was brave and awesome to have come through what had happened. Paul was also Greek and had grown up in the Greek Orthodox Church, which added a valuable dimension to our discussions. I called Sharon and Paul my Noah’s ark of counselors since there were two of everything on board the ark. It was the perfect combination I needed to help me. When clients say they are embarrassed to go to a counselor, I will tell them it took a “one-two punch” for several months of therapists to bolster me back upright.
I went to my priest in Iowa to get a dose of spiritual advice. He was less willing to hear my drama, at one point saying “I don’t want to talk about FP anymore.” He sent me off to heal with a quote from a saint: “Keep your mind in hell but don’t despair.” Apparently it is shortcut for “remember all the things that you did to bring on your own misery.” I liked the “don’t despair” part.
In true Noah’s Ark form I worked closely with a second priest, Father A at my church in Arizona, calling and emailing him for answers. At times it could border on stalking. I flew there for confession as often as possible. I begged him to provide me with a concise statement of what God was trying to show me. Father A was always so patient and loving and responsive and I think the man might be sainted. He told me that the most important thing to do was to be grateful for the wonderful things I had in my life.
I began Father A’s gratitude exercise by lighting a single white taper candle each morning before sunrise and writing down five things I was grateful for. My three children of course; my standard poodle Sophie, my constant companion; my work as an attorney and mediator. I tried to get creative: my warm blanket, Lennon & McCartney songs, a steamy latte with perfect white foam. The process became easier as I continued my healing. I knew things were turning around when it became difficult to limit my list to only five things. Where there was at first repetition, the list ultimately expanded to a variety of things both big and small.
I started to spend time with a Greek woman in her 70’s who had suffered a stroke at about the time my marriage was unraveling. Elaine had been in my life for as long as I remembered. She had one of the most beautiful voices I had ever heard as a child growing up and inspired by her I’d joined the Greek church choir when I was a young girl. I did not speak Greek but I dutifully learned everything in phonetics and Elaine tenderly coached me as I learned the hymns. I had drifted away from our friendship during my marriage to FP. When I reconnected with Elaine, it dawned on me that I had drifted away from many people while in that marriage.
My time with Elaine was most definitely a divine appointment. She was sad and forlorn that she was essentially housebound. She had to wear a leg brace and had limited use of one of her arms. I would go to her condo every Sunday evening and bring her dinner. During that time I would be her arms and legs and in exchange she would hear me pour out my heart. We had plenty of Sundays filled with tears from one or both of us. We used to joke that she was physically wounded and I was emotionally wounded and maybe between the two of us we would make a whole person. We were just what the other needed. I would help her get into her bed at the end of our visit and we would pray the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, hers beautiful and melodious; mine phonetically staccato but heartfelt.
The confluence of healing was amazing. Sharon unearthed many things that I’d never seen about myself. Patterns and life wounds were brought to light that made me understand why I had made some of my life’s choices. Paul helped me find the courage to persevere and to have compassion for myself as I finally grieved so many deep, deep things. Once things started to show up it was as if there were layers and layers being undone.
Elaine showed me how to age with grace and dignity even when your body goes out. She showed me that when you are physically grounded, your heart can open wide to hear and to love a younger sister in peril. Father A was my stalwart spiritual guide. He showed me through ongoing confession, endless prayers, teachings of the saints and the sacraments, God forgave me, forgave FP and loved all of us.
I found gratitude for all of these people and events and more, as my gratitude list moved from the written page, into my waking moments throughout the day. And finally at the end, I knew God loved me. And most importantly, I began to love myself.