Starting Over — Again

End of a relationship.  Moving.  Losing our job or home. Stopping addiction to drugs and alcohol and learning to live clean and sober. Discovering we’re codependent and redefining ourselves and our relationships — including our relationship with ourselves.

From being diagnosed with a serious illness to experiencing empty nest syndrome, we wake up one day and before we go to bed that night, our lives change.  Irrevocably. They’ll never be the same again.

Sometimes we lose all the important parts of our life (or almost all of them) at once.  A friend from years back woke up one morning.  That day he discovered that his wife of 15 years had been cheating on him from the first day of their marriage, that neither the son nor daughter he thought belonged to him were his, and his accountant informed him that his business had gone bankrupt.

Some people call it reorganization. Others, a new beginning.  Most of the time I hear it described this way:  “Sigh.  I’m starting over.  Again.”

I hate new beginnings, at least at first. It feels like too much, more than I can handle.  I feel weary from all the start-overs I’ve already experienced.  I don’t want to do it one more time.

When we start over, we’re walking in the dark, living in the mystery without a clue about what’s next.  Sometimes we may feel like we’re dying, and harbor a sense o imminent doom.  That’s because the change or transformation is so profound that the experience resembles a death.

If loss of a loved one triggers the starting over, it may feel like our heart has been broken but if we tell people that, they may look at us like we’re overplaying the drama queen hand.  Not true.

Recently the Mayo Clinic identified “Broken Heart Syndrome” as a legitimate physical malady.  Broken Heart Syndrome can be caused by the loss of a loved one or stress overload and it’s more than something that’s just in our head. The Syndrome presents, according to information from Mayo Clinic,  with symptoms similar to those of an actual heart attack and may include: heart pain that worsens with each beat of the heart; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; and nausea or vomiting.

I went out to do errands.  Around lunch-time, I decided to find someplace to   eat.  I had driven out of my usual neighborhoods and didn’t recognize the mall I pulled into, at least not at first.  Then I saw it – the restaurant where we celebrated my son, Shane’s last birthday – the one two days before the date of his death.

The pain hit hard and fast – right in my chest.  I felt paralyzed.  My hands gripped the steering wheel.  I couldn’t move them to rummage around in my purse and find my cell phone.  Movement of any kind hurt too much.  I couldn’t even roll down my window and yell, “Help.”  I’d rate the pain as a ten on the pain scale from one to ten.

For just over one hour I sat in the same position, leaning forward, clutching the steering wheel, stopped in my tracks by this pain in my heart.  Then slowly the debilitating pain began to subside.  I didn’t get out of the car; I went home instead.  A week later I went to my doctor.  (This was before the identification of Broken Heart Syndrome as an actual physical illness.) The doctors made me stay overnight.

“It’s the strangest thing,” the doctors said.  “For all purposes, it looks like you had a myocardial infarction (heart attack).  But then, it also doesn’t appear as though you actually suffered from a heart attack.  It left the doctors scratching their heads but I’d known from the minute – the second – the nurse at the Emergency Room asked me if I had someone I could call after Shane’s accident that his death had broken my heart.

Don’t rely on self-diagnosis.  If your heart hurts, get a checkup. During times of transition or grief, we’re more vulnerable to any kind of illness.  See your doctor if you suspect any problems.

For a while we’ll feel like Someone pulled the rug out from under us and we’re in the air – upside down.  Disorientation has a positive side.  It leaves us open to new ideas, new people and new ways of living.

When we stabilize, which we will, we’ll get on with the business of Starting Over Again (SOA).  One idea that may be helpful:  although it feels like you’re starting over again, you’re not really starting over. Life is a continuum.  You’re either jolted or sliding into the next experience. You’re moving on.

Here are a few tips for those of you in that uncomfortable place of SOA when you thought the last time you started over would be the last.

  1. Let yourself grieve your losses.  You don’t need to be so stoic.  Give yourself room to be human.  What you’re going through may be extremely difficult and it may hurt.  But you will get through it.
  2. Remind yourself that what you’re going through won’t last forever.  If you have to leave post-it notes around the house, then do it. Remember other times you had to reorganize after a loss.  Recall the behaviors that helped you get through it. Draw from what you learned, including the knowledge that you did survive that devastating time.
  3. Give yourself time to cocoon.  You’re not isolating.  You’re resting, giving your body a chance to adapt to the change.
  4. Tell your story often. Tell it to people who will listen and care.  While some people may accuse us of obsessiveness, telling our story repeatedly is part of how we incorporate the unthinkable into our life story.
  5. Set goals.  In the beginning, start by writing a list of what you want or need to accomplish just that day.  Take life in small chunks.  After some time passes, begin writing goal lists that go further into the future.  For now, while you’re in shock, a list for today is enough.
  6. Be kind to yourself.  There may be days when all you accomplish is getting out of bed and taking a shower.  Instead of focusing on how little you did, tell yourself you did great – because you did.
  7. Slowly, as new people and interests come into your life, be willing to say “yes” to opportunities. Often a person or an interest that I think is just a “time killer” slowly becomes a major part of the next part of my life.
  8. If you need to cry or get angry, cry or get angry. You may even be furious with your Higher Power.  That’s okay.  You’ll work it out later.
  9. Know there is no one right way to start over.  We have tools, not rules.  Now is the time to dig into your toolbox and use what you’ve learned:  living in the present moment; prayer; meditation; exercise (when your body can handle it); detachment (which involves feeling all your emotions); and sometimes Acting As If.  Know that if the emotions become too intense, you can shut them down for a while without going into denial. Something as simple as taking a shower, going into another room, or going to the grocery store can help you stop falling deeper into what feels like a bottomless pit of pain.
  10. Beginnings are delicate, sacred events.  Even when you’re in pain, take time to acknowledge that this is a new beginning.  You’ll likely find yourself trying to recreate your old life from time to time.  That’s okay.  It’s part of the process of letting go but we can still honor the sacredness of this time. Later we’ll see how holy this junction really was.

Although I wrote earlier that there aren’t any rules, there are three hard and fast ones that have no exceptions: 1) don’t let anyone hurt you; 2) don’t hurt anyone else; and 3) don’t hurt yourself. Even if you’re someone who never tolerated abuse, you may feel that God is punishing you (not true) so you can be more prone to allowing someone to abuse you.

You will get through this, although maybe not as quickly as you want. One morning you’ll wake up and find yourself living in the next part of your life, a part that feels as comfortable and normal as your old life (in most situations). Instead of opening your eyes and feeling a blast of pain, you’ll be at peace. Your new life will be there — fully formed. You’ll be living it even if you’re still dealing with remnants of your grief.

Congratulations. You did it. You started over again, whether you wanted to or not. Now the next time you need to start over, you’ll know what to do.

From the Desk of Melody Beattie

Original article on Broken Heart System available at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/broken-heart-syndrome/DS01135

52 comments

  1. Carol Ann Fenderson

    Hello Melody: I am 54 and at a ‘starting over place’ again. It still amazes me how incredibly frightening those periods of life can feel. One tool that has really helped me over the years are the daily readings from your book The Language of Letting Go and it’s French version Savoir Lacher Prise. These help remind me that I am exactly where I need to be on the journey of life, that a great power is directing the timing of events and that I am enough. Reminded of these basic notions I have been able to get through some very dark hours. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom. Carol Ann

  2. Terra Slainn

    OMG, thank you for your words on starting over. I am 63 and in the last month moved back to AZ from WA. I left my house of 11 years, my job of 6 years and my daughter of 40 years. I decided that it was time to have the life that I wanted instead of living for other people. I followed my daughter to WA 20 years ago thinking I was a good mother and I needed to make up for the times I wasn’t such a good mother in her teens. I started over there, but never really ever felt at home. I did not connect with people very well as there were not very many like minded people to talk to. I had been very involved in CoDA in Phoenix and it had worked effectively for me and I thought I could take it up in WA and continue on. Not so. The programs I found were not of the quality of the ones in Phoenix. I got discouraged. I tried to keep up my CoDA in private, but I really needed other people to interact with. After a while, I drifted along trying to make a new life and always going back to your first book to find myself among the pages once again. Long story short, I tried for those 20 years to make a life for myself, but it always centered around my daughter and my 3 grandchildren. About 5 or 6 years ago, circumstances changed between my daughter and me. It was subtle at first, but then became glaring as time went on. I realized that she was playing me and was passive/aggressive with me in many ways. She would be nice, then say mean things to me and make me feel less than. Life telling me that she “parents differently” from me when it came to my grandkids. She might as well as slapped me in the face. I took it and tried to make excuses for it. She began pulling away from me emotionally and left me feeling like I didn’t belong to her family. About 18 months ago, I decided I had had enough of the pain and anger and decided to create a space between us. I needed to know I could live without her and be ok. It took several months, but I started feeling stronger. I knew I could no longer dance the dance with her anymore. When we finally did talk, she accused me of abandoning her and she could no longer trust me. I was dumbfounded. I tried to explain myself, but she would not listen. In the mean time I had decided that it was time to do something for myself….like move back to AZ to a life I once enjoyed. So I started making real plans. I was going to do it, this time. So I gave notice to work and house and started packing up my life. It took me over 2 weeks to pack up my stuff, then 4 days to drive from WA to AZ. I didn’t hear from my daughter or get to say goodbye to my grandkids. Now I am sitting in a rented home in Surprise, AZ feeling lost and unsure of myself. I keep thinking, “what did I just do?” I must be crazy. I am having all these feelings that I didn’t expect to have. I have done this kind of move before and have always have landed on my feet. I thought I would be happy when I got here and ready to take on the rest of my life, but I find the old more negative thoughts and behaviors keeping me from moving on. I am hold up in this house that I don’t really like….I had to settle for it as the last minute. A friend let me down…another story. Now I am wondering what to do next. I feel like I want to hide and lick wounds. I find myself missing the old place and my daughter more than I thought I would. She will not talk to me. So I am just a lost soul wondering what to do next. I found your book on gratitude among my books and starting reading it. It made me feel better. Then I found your other books and have begun reading them again. They are like old friends that understand me. It has always seemed like you understood me more than most people. Thank you Melody for being there for me. I am in my cacoon right now and I know I will emerge in a short time, but the ache of leaving WA and everything there has been overwhelming. I didn’t expect the feelings. Your words have comforted me. Thank you again. Terra

  3. Mr Mark Jones

    Dear Melody, 10-31-2012 0200 Year of Our Lord Well , I hope this finds you well ? ! Boy , some people really write alot on this blog …. I think you said your Mom lived up into her 90′s , maybe 94 ? Did she keep pretty clear in her thoughts & speech up until she passed ? My Mom is 82 and she has recently started a ” surge ” of better memory , cheerfulness , and ability to speak more and to listen again better … She was an MSW from U of Washington – graduate – 1968 , so she was a Very Good Listener at one time …. I guess part of my grief is that so many of my relationships have ended or just kind of fizzled out ! I saw my ex the other day ( we did 20 years – been broken up for 6 years , no real involvements since except with my 2 cats ) and she looked relatively happy so that felt good ! The Hurricane Sandy thing is a Big Bummer – eh ? I have gotten better at ” letting go ” but it is still hard … ” To be or not to be , that seems to be the question ” …..Maybe some caccoon time is called for ? Anyway , still making good time on my TIME Book of Poetry …. My slowing down in Life feels good but I like to think that I have some speed left if I need it ! Can you tell me a little about your time management in your writing ? Like how many days a week do you write and for how long ? Happy All Saints Day tomorrow Melody ! You seem to fit into that number , when the Saints go Marching in ! I had a good laugh when you wrote , ” for Gods Sake and for all that is sacred and Holy , don’ t try more than 3 times ! ” That hit me as very funny ! Cheers Melody with some Martinelli Apple Juice ! your friend , Mark Jones ……..” formerly a West Coast Bluesman “

  4. Melody Beattie

    Hi Mark. As always, it’s good to hear from you again. The “Sandy” is a devastating tragedy — hitting an area usually not hit by hurricanes, the wake of death and disaster. I think our globe — everyone — is sick of death and loss and tragedy, yet we have little or no control. Losing every, as many people are finding themselves doing, is so painful and difficult. When getting caught up in my “trite” stuff, it’s important to remember the victims of Sandy. Important for all of us. I can help put things in perspective, and give us a chance to be of service, even if we’re saying a silent prayer and giving five bucks. Re my mom, no, she wasn’t of sound mind. She died from Alzheimer’s Disease (50 percent of the people who hit age 82 will develop some form of dementia — a horrifying statistic). But, my mom lived to be 93. The dementia caused her to forget how much she hated everyone, and for the most part, she became very sweet, loving and childlike. There was an ugly family story involved — people gaining complete control of her money, depriving her of food, water, a clean environment, etc. — I took it to court and was made co-guardian and sole conservator (which is a horrid job that I would never want for anyone again) — but it was important to my mother that someone responsibly handle her finances and carry out her wishes after she died. We had a good three years — I made up my mind that she was going to know what it felt like to be loved before she left — and she did. We had fun. We laughed. I was even going to move from Malibu to Mora to live with her when she became a two-person transfer. The night I packed and was getting ready to lieave for the red-eye to move in with her, my sister-in-law called. “You’re not going to want to hear this,” she said. My mom had suffered a fatal stroke — no hope — the explosion of blood in her head had crushed her brain. I went to hospice and lived with her until she passed. It was a very spiritual and healing time for us, and I’ll never regret it — except I was so busy (I flew back to Minnesota monthly and then drove up to Northern Minnesota plus I was in court with some famiily members consistently as they fought every single thing I wanted to do to help take care of my mom. I did one or two books — one, I think, during that time period. Had to hire a mathematics degree person to teach me how to do the kind of accounting a conservatorship called for — but it was all good. We had a stormy, loveless relationship the rest of her time here, and I’m still surprised by how very much I miss her. Re my writing, we each have our own process. When I wrote newspaper articles and books, I wrote when I had a contract and deadline, and I wrote until I got the job done. Now, screenwriting, is different. Plus so much of writing is “pre-writing” work — especially in screenwriting but with books, too. In books, it was more the research. In screenwriting, it’s (especially now, at the begining), learning the structure, the essential elements, etc. Iv’e been studying the craft hard for about five to seven years now, and it’s finally clicking. I enjoy independent study, though. But when I get to the writing, I start and don’t stop until I’m done. I only break for necessities — sleep, showering, some working out — and that’s it. I work from the time I get up in the morning until I get tired (writing tired creates tired writing). But not all people work that way. I think it’s important to learn what our process is, and respect it — whether it’s different from other people’s process (as it likely will be) or not. Anyway, I wish you days of peace, joy, prosperity an dsafety. Hope to hear from you again soon. Best, Melody

  5. Lars

    Hi Melody, I read codependence no more and joined Coda for 3 years taking your suggestion. I find that I have a lot of tears inside me. Seems to be an unending supply of them. Many things set it off. Music, people doing nice things, being considerate etc. You did the keynote at the Coda convention in LA a couple of years ago, which I was fortunate enough to listen to. In it you said that when you wrote the book, you thought that perhaps 10% of recovery was tears, but that you now feel like it is more like 90% (might have gotten the percentages wrong) What do you feel is behind the tears? Thanks for all your work and sharing… Lars in Palm Springs..

    • Melody

      I’m sorry if this posts twice, Lars. What I said is that codependency is about 90 percent unresolved grief. And it comes from all the losses and pain we go through and endure — but don’t take the time to “feel the grief.” I’m thinking you might benefit by reading some of the posts at the Grief Club site — it’s at MelodyBeattie.net. It’s completely free — no tricks, no gimmicks, no costs, no email lists, etc. But there’s a lot of content there that will explain — plus if you register and go inside (again no costs, no gimmicks, no tricks — registration is to keep the “phishermen” out), you’ll find even more content that will help you understand. Plus there are a lot of forums that focus on various issues, as well. Why don’t you at least go to the general public side and take a look? It might help clear some things up for you. The thing is, most of us come from a family system that says, “Don’t feel.” Or painful things happen to us, but we’re so used to them that we just toughen up and don’t give in to the emotions of the experience. So we end up with all that pain inside – and it needs to come out. Also, you might enjoy the miracle site. It’s a forum/site that supports Make Miracles in 40 Days. The book is about an activity that takes only ten minutes a day, but the activity is designed to help us get in touch with and release ALL our emotions on a daily basis. That’s at MelodyBeattie.org and you can get the book on loan for free from your local library. (The site is completely free too, and I respond to all posts myself — although lately I’ve been writing and there’s a great group of people at each site that offer excellent, healthy support to newcomers.) Just some thoughts. But at least read some of the info at the grief club site. It may clear up some issues for you. I want to reassure you that what you’re experiencing, though, is entirely normal — not comfortable, but normal. Although — I’d like to see you experience more joy. Please stay in touch and let me know how it goes. Best, Melody

  6. Melody

    Hi. I’m losing some posts again — someone wrote me about changing identities, and how hard it is. I want you to know I read your post, but can’t find it in here. It is hard to change — and shame can stick with us for a long time. IN a strange way, feeling ashamed is a survival behavior — because if we blame ourselves, it gives us some sense of control over an otherwise random life of pain. All our survival behaviors — our coping mechanisms that keep us living less than a life — are patterrns many of us have had for a lot of years. We chip away at them, and wait for the first good moments, then more of those, until we have full good days. It’s okay for you to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. You might benefit from reading Make Miracles in 40 Days. It’s available at your local library; it’s a quick read but it has a recovery activity that takes only ten minutes a day. I have a web site devoted to the activity, and a forum for people working on it. You might want to check it out — it can be a great tool for “extinguishing” long-term feelings that we don’t know how to get rid of. Please stay in touch — if you read this, you’ll know I’m talking to you. I’m sorry about your post not posting — I looked for it but couldn’t find it anywhere. Best, Melody Beattie

  7. Laurie S.

    You and I go back a long ways…..about 25 years maybe? You helped me then, and I’ve read your books through the years. I kept them, but thought I’d never re-read them. I have. But not lately. I found your website as I sit here, the night before Thanksgiving, two days before my 52nd birthday, alone. My 17 year old daughter is with her father. We have yet to finish a nasty divorce. We were married 20 years. I asked my lover to leave this morning; he is in treatment for HepC. I re-met him 35 years after we met when I was 15, he was my first date. I was too un-worldly, too immature at that time and he married and went on to have seven children and several marriages before we met again two years ago. He has many emotional issues from an abusive childhood, PTSD, plus this illness I was not aware of. He s Stage IV and his third time at treatment. I was married to an alcoholic before. Melanie, I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Trying to save people. Romanticizing the impossible. These were wonderful men and I broke their hearts, first trying to fix them, then trying to change them, then trying to end things and feeling so guilty. I am an ACA. I am a mess. I have every self help book you can imagine, from Merle Shain to you to The Anger Trap by Betty Doty to Hazelden daily devotionals. Yet putting that knowledge into action in my life seems impossible. I’m a caretaker for two parents who have cancer, and I’ve given my life away to people; I’m resentful, on the downhill side of my life, and I feel like I don’t even know myself. Please help me. I want to disconnect myself from men, but when my lover comes back to get his things I’m afraid I’ll fall victim to his neediness. I’ve almost lost my daughter because of him. My therapist says he has integrated personality disorder from PTSD. What do I do? Thank you and Bless you, Laurie

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