It was 1980. I was thirty-seven. My four children ranged in age from six to fourteen. For the preceding six months, I had been a stay-at-home mom unable to work because I felt scared,fragile, confused, stuck and emotionally spent all of the time. I hardly slept. I cried at the drop of a hat. I had headaches and faintingly strong neck spasms. An inner voice screamed that I was too fat, deeply flawed and useless. For years while trying to sleep, I had fantasized about running away; however, because I thought I was unable to take care of myself, much less four children, I stayed and suffered. I had been married for fifteen years.
In my aerospace engineer husband's presence intense fear surfaced. Our roles of victim - me and verbal and emotional abuser - him - expanded. Our cycle of verbal free-for-alls increased. One Sunday in May at Santa Monica Beach, he and I stood fighting in the sun for so long that I acquired a case of sun poisoning which I had not gotten since childhood. A couple of nights later, after eight years absence, I planned to go back to a spiritual group's meetings. The meeting I planned on attending had already started at 7:00 p.m. It was 7:30 p.m. I looked in the mirror at my swollen, sun-poisoned face and weepily said to my reflection, "How can I go out looking like this? My 14-year-old wise-beyond-her-years said, "Mom, you said a lot of the people at that meeting have 100 pounds or more to lose. Who cares about your face?"
In a moment of clarity, I listened to her even though I hated how I looked and I hated to be late for anything. I was only 15 pounds over what I thought I should weigh and yet I felt grotesque and completely uncomfortable in my own skin.
At the meeting they said, “Get a sponsor.” They said a sponsor is someone who has what you want. I starting going to many meetings and three weeks later I heard an older woman speaker at a meeting who had what I wanted – humor, wisdom, thinness, brilliance. For those reasons, I asked her to be my sponsor. She agreed.
The loving support and connection I found in the group and from my sponsor helped the fog in my brain begin to lift. I heard so much hope there, that I went to a meeting every day.
At the same time, the frequency of my husband’s jealous, irrational third degree questioning sessions stepped-up. We began to see a counselor; however, with my husband present, I was afraid to tell her the truth about how I felt.
Around that time, I had my first session alone with this counselor . I told her that my husband and I were to leave the next day for a weekend in Las Vegas. Previously his abuse was verbal and emotional but now I was afraid that he would hurt or even kill me. An atmosphere of suppressed violence had entered our home. The counselor asked, “What are you going to do?” I noticed that even though she had had a couple of sessions alone with him, she was not saying my fears of him were irrational. I never remembered another word the woman said. I do not remember her name. I never went back. She said what I needed to hear when she asked non-judgmentally, “What are you going to do?”
As I left her office, I underwent a rare mental shift. My mind fully opened and I experienced perfect clarity. I knew exactly what to do.
I needed to get the little money that I thought was available to me out of the bank so I stopped and withdrew the $1,800 my daughter had in her savings account.
I needed to make a quick escape so I stopped for large trash bags in which to "pack". There was no time for neatly organizing suitcases.
Finally, I had to get the van from my husband when he came home at lunch since there was no way my offspring and our belongings would safely fit in the VW Rabbit – our 2nd car. Accordingly, while he was eating lunch, I casually asked him to switch cars – a common practice in our family depending on who was driving the children around. I acted as if nothing special was happening. I had practiced covering my feelings with an act my whole life – first with my scary mother and next with my scary husband. Only this time it was different. I did not feel scared. I just knew what I needed to do to make this hurried departure succeed.
After he left to go back to work, I collected the children, went to a friend’s house and called her divorce attorney. The lawyer told me that he would get a Temporary Restraining Order issued; however, if I seriously thought I could be hurt, I needed to get out of the neighborhood and find a motel where I could hide my orange and white VW van from view.As I was doing all of these things, I felt clear, strong and aware. I noticed I was not judging what I knew to do; instead, I acted without question when I heard my inner promptings.
Later that weekend, through a series of unexpected events, my husband figured out where we were hiding. Because I was in such a high emotional state generated by the expanded connection to my Real Self – and the excitement of finally coming to a decision and acting upon it - I no longer felt afraid of him. He came to our motel. I never vacillated from my conviction that this parting was the right thing for me to do - finally.
I had absolutely no idea how the future would unfold or how I would take care of my family and myself; but I knew without question that I would, that I could and that we would be fine. I had no fear – only joy and gratitude.
After two or three days away from our house, my ex-husband did the right thing and got an apartment for himself and let the children and I move back home.
My first job as a single mother was as a part-time waitress at a local fish restaurant. I felt many things about that job. I felt free to do a job my parents had not permitted because they believed that “nice Jewish girls don’t work as waitresses”; happy that my single mom friend suggested getting a waitressing job because I could “make the same money part-time as working full time in an office”; open and ready for my “what-am-I-going-to-be-when-I-grow-up” future to show itself. Between child support and what I earned as a waitress, I didn't make enough money to pay the bills, however somehow they were paid. I didn't have a credit card any more because about two weeks into our separation my ex had snuck into the house while I was in the shower and took the credit cards from my wallet. He was afraid I'd charge a lot and stick him with the bill. I felt so misunderstood. How could he be in a relationship with me for 19 years and not know that I would never do anything like that?
As irritated as I had been with his controlling, angry ways, I was grateful that he always paid child support and, after a year and the apparent easing of his resentments, he began to buy extras for the children and even gave them an allowance. This was great because they had some extra money. It was also challenging because they had more discretionary money than I would have for several years to come.
One day my attorney asked me how I could “make it” with as little income as I had. I cryptically referred to God with my answer, “I have help.”When I got lonely, I simply remembered that for the very first time in my life, I was not living with anyone who mistreated me and my heart was flooded with gratitude A very nice man began to approach me at OA meetings – as a friend I thought – and sat next to me when we went out as a group for coffee after meetings. As is customary and suggested in my spiritual program, members call each other to give and receive support. He started to call me. He was nice, humorous and creative. I liked him.
Around that time, I started to investigate “what I want to be when I grow up”. I didn’t know what my talents were - so I started with what I thought I might be good at. In college, I had majored in Mathematics because I always got A’s in High School math. That's why I used the same weeding out process I had used before. I was good with my hands and pretty craft-y so I decided to take some graphic design classes while working at the restaurant. Each time I got a homework assignment, I was fearful that I'd not be able to do it. However, I could. I got A’s in my classes. The insecure perfectionist still lived in me and so I naturally assumed I would have to become a “great artist” to succeed in the graphic arts field.
I applied for a graphic arts position doing paste up and layout – a real beginner’s job. I got the job; however, I quickly found it boring. I did not really know what it took to be successful in the art world and I realized that I probably would not become the Picasso of commercial art, so after a very few short months I began looking for different work. Besides finding satisfying work, I had five people including myself to support. I needed to make more money.
For the next year, I worked at a series of sales jobs – leaving each one because the companies went out of business or I was unable to make enough money at that job.
I had never conceived of a time that I would be supporting a family. My upbringing taught me that I would be a “help to my husband” - that I would probably be a schoolteacher and go back to work when my kids started school. All the same, I had a slight inner sense that each job experience was teaching me something and improving my ability to succeed in the future. It was almost like building a career path though crunched into a very short timeline.
That nice friendly man asked me if I would like to attend High Holiday services with him. I was not particularly religious but figured, “Why not? It might be interesting to attend services as an adult.” Moreover, it was enjoyable to spend time with a man who obviously liked me a lot, treated me respectfully and thought I was of value.
At around that time, a friend helped me get my first insurance sales job.
That "nice man" and I continued dating. He wanted to marry me. There were a number of things about him that I particularly liked. I liked the made-to-order grandparents for my children. His parents were thrilled to have “grandchildren” and my children were thrilled to have grandparents. The energy of it all swept me along. At any rate, I had a very muzzy idea of what marriage was about so I figured, “He wants to do it. Why not?”
Around this same time, he began working at the same insurance office as I did, doing the same sales job. He proved to be a shooting star – starting out doing well and quickly fizzling out.
Concerning my spiritual program, inasmuch as I am and was an enthusiastic, optimistic personality and my emotional health and life were growing at such an obviously speedy rate, I was asked to lead and speak at many meetings. I began to overcome my great fear of public speaking because I found I was an “instruct-by-example” teacher and it was my beginning-to-be-successful life I got to speak about. I went to many meetings, understanding for the first time the spiritual nature of the program. I did a suggested personal inventory and began to get a glimpse of the power of making amends and of forgiveness – particularly self-forgiveness. I created a caring community of spiritually minded people who loved me unreservedly. I spoke with my sponsor, gaining daily wisdom and new perspectives from her. My mother had taught me to be grateful that I could see and hear. The spiritual program taught me about daily gratitude lists. My sponsor taught me to be grateful for everything, even the hard stuff in life.
In January of 1982 on the stage of a well-known Los Angeles comedy club owned by his cousin in front of 200 people, that nice man and I got married. I sewed matching outfits for my children and the bride and groom. We looked a bit like the Von Trapp family of “Sound of Music” fame.
One day early in 1982, I was pulling out of the alley behind our apartment and another car crashed into my car door. No one was hurt; however, I was a wreck! My insurance might go up! I felt like a victim! My life was hard enough! When I told my sponsor about it the next morning she asked, “What did you learn from the incident?” “What did I learn?” No one had ever asked me anything like that before. People had either been sympathetic (friends) or made me wrong (mother and husband.) I was completely blown away. I will never forget that day and it was over 20 years ago. That one little question had utterly changed my life. I had a new tool and, more importantly, a new perspective.
On a Thursday morning about six months later I woke up knowing that I could not give another chunk of my life to a relationship that would never work. I had married a man addicted to his own failure. He was untruthful to himself and to me. When I spoke to my sponsor that morning, I told her how I felt and what I was going to do about it. I also told her how embarrassed I felt because we were married for such a short time and received gifts – my excuses went and on and on. She asked me, "Who are you embarrassed in front of?" At the top of my list were my high school friends – who, by the way, lived 3,000 miles away and with whom I had very little contact.
I got another quick look at how what others thought was running my life. My sponsor also asked me, “Did you have fun at your wedding?” I did. She had a knack of turning difficulties into positives. That quality worked quite well to help me continue uncovering the buoyant and optimistic nature I inherited from my father. I asked “that nice friendly man” to move out.
The following Saturday he moved out.
Because of the potential discomfort I might feel by running into that "nice man", I felt the urge to change which meetings I attended, however I decided that I did not want others to continue to control my life. If he felt uncomfortable being in the same room with me, then he could go to different meetings. I was willing to ride out the discomfort.
Around the same time, my sponsor suggested I begin looking for ways to deal with my anger. Me? Angry? She must be kidding.
I lived in a family where the unwritten, unspoken rule allowed only my mother to get angry. Or so it seemed to me. I remember being four and experimenting with spitting at my mother. She washed my mouth out with soap. I think that was the last time I tried to express any anger to another adult.
My sponsor continued to explain that I may have never really expressed any anger and that it was still inside me. She asked me what feelings I could list with which I was familiar. I didn't know where to begin. Was this something I should have learned in school? Should a normal mother have taught a normal daughter about the subject of feelings? I didn't know whether to look inside my heart or my head. I inferred from what she said that there were many human feelings. Nevertheless, I came up with a pitifully short list – “hurt”, “sadness”, “happiness”, “pain”. When I read it to her, she suggested I be open to any place where I could learn more about my feelings. Because I was open to change and expectantly looking for my answers to come, within days a friend called wanting me to go to a weekend workshop called Making Love Work (MLW) given by a young married couple named Barbara deAngelis and John Gray. I did not really know what a “workshop” was. As a single mom, I did not have any discretionary funds; however, my friend wanted me to go so much she loaned me the money.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. You guessed it, this workshop dealt largely with healing the emotional past and learning about feelings. During the course of this 36-hour weekend workshop, I participated in exercises meant to guide us into, out of and through our feelings. We learned new ideas about forgiveness, love, emotions and the effect our childhood had on our current life and relationships.
I did not cognitively learn much or, actually acquire the tools offered; rather I underwent another shift and expansion because I released so much anger, hurt, sadness and fear from the past by doing what they asked us to do. I actually felt that event altered my DNA. It must really have showed because when I walked into my Monday morning sales meeting after the workshop, my boss asked, “What did you do over the weekend? You look completely different!”
A couple of months after the MLW workshop, the shine on my “new me” began to cloud a bit. Because I wanted to choose when I felt good and not to feel good just because of attendance at a workshop, I decided to volunteer to work part-time for the Making Love Work company in exchange for attendance at workshops so I could master the tools and techniques to use in my daily life.
As I became more and more involved, I built another loving community with the Making Love Work participants - this time with people who had different tools than those in my spiritual groups. The thing that was unusual and distinct here was learning how to express not suppress feelings and do it appropriately and quickly.
I learned a kind of letter-writing tool that covered five broad levels of feeling in a particular order – the order in which it seems they naturally occur if we have not been programmed by our families to feel them differently. I began writing these letters often. I wrote them to my mother who had been dead since 1976. I wrote them to my father who was still alive but I followed the MLW advice not to give the letter to anyone who did not understand the process. He certainly did not nor had any interest in learning.When I was upset with them, I wrote these letters to other members of my MLW community who had agreed to receive them. My first letters were very stiff and almost academic. I did not actually feel the feelings in my body as I was writing the letters. However, feelings unfroze in me anyway. The effect of all this interaction with feelings was that I became more and more aware of how feelings affected my body – where in my body I felt them. I gained an emotional education by writing my feelings and forgiving people who had hurt me and made me angry.
The combination of constantly being willing to directly express my feelings and going through the fear and discomfort I had had about expressing feelings and, additionally, interacting with them in writing and not having to express them to the people who affected me in the past, was my schooling. It opened the door to my high emotional intelligence quotient.
Growing up I was taught it was not polite or safe to say something that might not be popular with the person I was feeling it about; however, what I never understood was that negative feelings pile up and cause resentments, misunderstandings, disconnection from self and distorted views of those in our lives.
Remember this was 1982. There was not a lot of support any place to tell the emotional truth. It was such a revelation to me to walk into a place that said, “Tell the truth about how you feel right away and that’s a good thing”. It was an experience akin to beginning to learn to tell the truth to myself. I had begun to be able to differentiate the negative from the positive voices. The negative voices sounded critical, like my mother, and did not feel good in my body. The positive voices sounded optimistic, empowering and supportive – and felt that way in my body. Those positive voices brought me freedom from the gigantic fear of being on my own that had plagued me. I was discovering that I had the fear because of all the scary things my (negative) mind was always telling me would happen if I were on my own.
The following year, Barbara deAngelis and John Gray saw something in me that I did not know was there. In being asked to head the Making Love Work Assistants’ Team, I moved closer to uncovering my Real Self as I began to discover another one more of my talents – my leadership skills. I also discovered a great deal about how feelings flow and how negative feelings simply cover up what is underneath –which is always love.
John and Barbara taught forgiveness. “Forgiveness” as a concept did not live in my awareness as separate and distinct from anything else that had to do with healthy relationships. I began to understand how liberating it is to forgive. I learned a definition of forgiveness – “to give love as before” - that did not condone bad behavior but did eliminate the constant thinking about, being angry and hurt about what “they had done to me”. This definition freed me and allowed me to cut what felt like negative energy ties with people who had “done me wrong”.
The unconscious question I had been asking was, "How to have relationships that work?" and Barbara and John were teaching two important aspects of that: 1) how to heal the past so it was not in charge of how I had relationships or who I had them with; and, 2) how to empower myself.
After ending a 19-year mess of a relationship with my children’s father and then ending the quick year and a half relationship that couldn’t succeed because I didn’t really know my wants and needs, and then learning the rudiments of healthy relationships, I began yearning to try out my newly found emotional intelligence in a loving and healthy relationship.