by Joyce & Barry Vissell
Have you ever been lied to or betrayed by someone you loved and trusted? Have you ever been harmed physically or had a medical procedure that left you worse off than before? Has anyone ever harmed one of your children? Has anyone not believed you when you were telling the truth? Has anyone you loved walked away from the relationship and refused to try to work out the differences? Everyone has been hurt by someone else. How do we get rid of the hurt and move on with our lives. How can we forgive?
Thirty years ago we were close friends with a couple perhaps ten years younger than we were. They also loved our two young daughters and were the first ones to babysit when we went away for our first weekend workshop. As our first book, The Shared Heart, became popular, the woman, whom I will call Linda, started working for us as an assistant. Then Linda’s husband suddenly left her and decided he wanted to live a monastic life at an ashram. Linda could not afford the rent on her apartment and, because we were going away for the summer, we offered to let her house-sit.
We returned six weeks later to discover that Linda had robbed us of everything valuable. Because we were going camping and river rafting, I had left my valuable engagement ring in a very safe and hidden place. It was gone along with the only thing that I had from my grandmother, a beautiful (and valuable) diamond pin. Both were irreplaceable. Barry’s expensive camera was missing as well as countless other things. Linda had searched through every box and drawer in our home, even dumping out our Christmas decorations and breaking most of the antique ones from my great grandparents. Then Barry called the bank and discovered that Linda had stolen thousands of dollars from our banking account. She was gone with no way to discover her new location. Her former husband had no idea where she had gone. How does one deal with something like that? We loved Linda and trusted her implicitly. It was the betrayal more than the stolen items that hurt the most.
Of all of the things that were stolen, it was my engagement ring that hurt the most. Barry had worked for a whole summer as a waiter to earn the money to buy that ring. He gave it to me in a most romantic way when we were both twenty one years old. I dearly loved it! Nothing could replace the deep sentiment I felt for the ring given to me by Barry in the innocence of our youth.
Over the years, whenever I would tell the story about why I do not have an engagement ring, I would get tense and sometimes my body would start to shake. Often I could not sleep at night after telling the story. I just could not get it out of my head and heart that someone we trusted so much could betray us and then disappear. I hate to admit this, but I used to fantasize being able to tell Linda all of the ways that her actions had hurt me. After a while I just stopped thinking about it and sometimes several years would go by until someone would draw my attention back to the fact that I did not have an engagement ring.
Fifteen years after the robbery I picked up the phone and it was Linda. She was crying and told me how terrible she still felt about what she had done. She told me about her many sleepless nights and how badly she felt about herself. She was crying so deeply that my heart opened to her. I felt a strong presence of love come through my voice as I told her that Barry and I still loved her very much and that she must have been very desperate to do such a thing to us. I told her that we forgave her. Since she was living in New England and we were traveling there to do a workshop the next week, we arranged a time to meet. I told her it would be so good to get together and share our feelings and that she could begin to pay us back for the many thousands of dollars that were stolen. She agreed to meet with us and to begin paying us back. I ended the call with a lot of love and forgiveness.
She never met us, never started paying us back, and never contacted us again. For years I felt as if I had been too loving with her and criticized myself. Just last year I was reading the prayer of St. Francis in which he says, “Grant that I might seek to forgive rather than be forgiven.” In reading those words I felt that Linda had given me the gift of being able to fully forgive someone in this life for a deliberate transgression. Everything I had said to her on the phone fifteen years ago was right. The power of love asks that we forgive completely. I needed to let go of the story behind why I do not have an engagement ring. I will always miss my ring for I dearly loved it. But I do not have to cling to the story behind why it is gone. I can let go of the story and be free. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to truly forgive someone.
Last month I was sitting in a nail salon having my toenails done. There were five women my age having their fingernails done. Each of these women was wearing at least two or three very expensive diamond rings on each hand. The person doing my nails noticed me looking at their rings and gently said, “I like your wedding band.” I looked down at my simple gold wedding band, which we purchased for forty dollars forty-six years ago. I have worn it every single day. The lack of the diamond ring that went with it no longer bothers me, for I have a much greater diamond to wear in my heart … the gift of forgiveness for another.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Jul 19-24—Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR; Oct 14-20—Assisi Retreat, Italy for individuals and couples; Feb 7-14, 2016—Hawaii Couples Retreat
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.
If you aren’t currently in a relationship—and especially if you’ve recently ended one—you might not be looking forward to Valentine’s Day. The lovey-dovey cards, heart-shaped candy boxes, sappy commercials, and made-for-TV movies can all feel like too much. (And let’s not forget about the unofficial my-partner-is-better-than- your-partner competition that takes over social media this time of year.)
Avalon Brandt, who is happily divorced, understands how difficult it can be to spend Valentine’s Day without the one you love—and she has some advice to help you survive the next few weeks without strangling Cupid.
“Our culture has made Valentine’s Day couples-centric, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Avalon, author of Still I Love: Loving After Three Divorce (Avalon S. Brandt, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-615-98121-5, $18.95, www.stillilove.com). “I use this time to consciously reset how I feel about love in general, and myself in particular. One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that if we don’t know, respect, and appreciate ourselves, it’s unlikely that anyone else will, and we’ll continue to attract unfulfilling, dysfunctional relationships.”
In Still I Love, Avalon tells the compelling story of her three marriages and divorces, which she navigated on the long road to earning her degree as an attorney. While Avalon’s story reads like a movie script, it’s interwoven with heartfelt observations and advice that will speak to anyone who has dealt with a broken heart and divorce. And most importantly, Avalon’s continuing belief in love—romantic and otherwise—will provide hope and healing.
Here, she shares 12 ways to show love to yourself—which is the first step toward attracting the relationships you need.
Identify all the things you love about yourself. Maybe you can’t stop replaying insults from your ex. Perhaps you constantly hear your mother’s critical voice in your head. It’s possible you dislike certain things you see when you look in the mirror. Wherever they come from, it’s so easy to listen only to these negative voices.
“This Valentine’s Day, focus your attention on more positive messages,” Avalon advises. “Figure out exactly what you love about yourself. Is it your smile, your hair, your laugh, your shape, your intellect, or your talents? Allow yourself to not only acknowledge these things, but to bask in them.”
Strengthen your existing relationships by celebrating other people you love. Make a mental list of the people who enhance your life: family, friends, mentors, colleagues, etc. Consider reaching out and making plans with some of them, or writing a “thank you for being in my life” email.
“When you have been disappointed in love, it’s easy to focus only on what you lack: a partner,” Avalon acknowledges. “But one thing my divorces taught me was the true value of all the other relationships in my life. I don’t share romance with my friends and family, but those relationships are still full of love. As February 14th approaches, put your energy into valuing and nurturing the people for whom you’re thankful.”
“De-friend” and distance yourself from people who are bringing you down. It’s amazing how far others can drag us down without our consciously realizing it. Especially at a time of year when you’re already feeling vulnerable, take a fresh look at your friend list and back away from people who act in a way that makes you feel worse about yourself.
“Maybe you need to block your ex from your newsfeed—even though you split ‘amicably,'” Avalon suggests. “Perhaps you should stop spending so much time with the ‘friend’ who constantly talks about how wonderful her life is (while implying yours isn’t), or with the coworker who has perfected the art of the backhanded compliment. You don’t have to sever all ties—but don’t sacrifice your self-esteem, either.”
Forgive your ex—and yourself. Even though your relationship is over, you may still be angry at your ex—and chances are, it feels good! Perhaps you’re savoring the fact that you have the moral high ground. Or, you might think, it’s better to be angry than to be depressed. Certainly, says Avalon, allow yourself to process your anger and resentment—but eventually, try to let go of those negative emotions. You may find it helpful to remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re condoning your ex’s bad behavior. Rather, it means that you’re choosing to let go of resentment, blame, and anger.
“You can’t fully love or be loved if you can’t forgive,” Avalon says. “As long as you’re living your life with bitterness and anger eating away at you, you’ll be a prisoner of the past. Learn the lessons you can, stop playing the blame game, and move forward.”
Re-evaluate your daily life. Try to look at your daily routine through fresh eyes. What do you like about it? What don’t you like? What energizes you and what drags you down? What can you change to make yourself happier and feel better?
“The changes I’m talking about may be big, like researching a career path that would be more fulfilling,” Avalon says. “But they might be much smaller, too—like deciding to stop going to the grocery store that always reminds you of shopping with your ex, or quitting the spinning class you dread and signing up for tai chi instead.”
Plan a fun evening out (no chocolate and roses necessary). Odds are, you know other people who might also be sad or resentful that they’re flying solo this Valentine’s Day. Reach out to them and make arrangements to meet for drinks, go ice skating, or enjoy a potluck meal, for instance.
“One caveat: Consciously choose to stay positive, not to wallow in bitterness,” Avalon stipulates. “Look at this gathering not as an excuse to air your dirty laundry and rehash the past, but as an opportunity to support and encourage one another while enjoying the holiday.”
Give yourself a break. Be a rebel. Take a look at your to-do list and cross something off of it even though you haven’t actually completed that task. (Gasp!) Then do something nourishing instead.
“Get a massage, read a book, take a nap, go for a run, see a movie—whatever!” Avalon instructs. “Just make sure you’re nurturing yourself. The point is to see yourself as a human being who is worthy of being celebrated and indulged—because you are!”
Challenge yourself to be the voice of dissent. Anytime we go along with the crowd or keep our mouths shut instead of saying what’s really on our minds, we feel disingenuous, and our self-esteem takes a hit. Saying what we really feel and being true to our opinions is a courageous act of self-love.
“This could be as simple as speaking up in a colleague’s defense at the water cooler, or telling your friends you don’t like the restaurant they’ve picked for dinner,” says Avalon. “So many of us fall into the trap of living our lives to please others while not making waves, and in the process, we become disconnected from our true selves.”
Take yourself out on a date. Of course you would like to be going on a date with a romantic partner who likes, respects, and values you. Avalon freely admits that even though she has found happiness after divorce, she still hopes to find love again. But, she says, your desires for the future shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your life now.
“After my second marriage ended, I made a special effort to discover life beyond being a wife,” recalls Avalon. “For me, a big part of that was exploring and enjoying the spectacular dining scene in Washington, D.C. At first, it was strange learning how to enjoy a meal alone. I got curious looks from maître d’s, waiters, and other diners. But over time, I began to dwell less on what other people were thinking and more on savoring each satisfying bite of my meals. Sounds simple, I know, but learning to enjoy a meal alone became a crucial survival tool that enabled me to reconnect with myself after a disappointing marriage.”
Affirm a bright future. To help yourself stay focused on loving yourself, find a personal mantra and remind yourself of it frequently. Your mantra might have to do with moving on, finding someone new, or personal development. Don’t discount the power of the words you tell yourself. Positive or negative, they are powerful tools in focusing your intentions and shaping your attitude.
“As my first marriage was ending, I remember buying a calligraphy set and writing on construction paper some words and themes to encourage myself,” Avalon recalls. “I wrote on one sign the words ‘I’m on my way to the top one step at a time.’ I drew a ladder beside the words and I taped the sign on my bedroom wall. Every day I read it, several times a day, and slowly I started to feel myself changing, just a little at a time.”
Clarify your vision of Mr. or Ms. Right. Is it possible that your past romances have failed because you’re looking for the wrong type of person? Are you hoping to find someone who mirrors your favorite movie character or someone who will solve all your problems? Do you tend to overlook flaws and incompatibilities when the other person is funny or flattering?
“This year, stop daydreaming about what you want in a relationship and get real about what you need,” Avalon advises. “I learned valuable lessons from each of my divorces. And while I have had opportunities to enter additional relationships in the more recent past, my experiences taught me that committing to any of these men would be a mistake. Saying ‘no’ to individuals I liked and even respected was difficult, but it was also one of the most powerful acts of self-love I have ever shown myself.”
Remind yourself that February 15th will be here soon. No matter how much you focus on showing yourself love and boosting your mood, you may still feel the “Singles’ Awareness Day” blues—and that’s okay! It’s normal and natural for a holiday focused on romance to bring up feelings of sadness. When this happens, Avalon advises you to remember that February 15th will come.
“This is some advice I had to give myself recently,” she shares. “I was listening to a love song, started to think too much about my past relationships, and the next thing you know tears were streaming down my face. I had to get myself together quickly before I ruined my makeup! My point is, nobody is immune to negative feelings, so when they hit, allow yourself to experience them for a few minutes. Then remind yourself that this too shall pass—and maybe turn the radio to a song that will make you smile and dance!”
“Even after experiencing infidelity and divorce, love is still the center of my existence on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year,” Avalon concludes. “My number-one goal and priority is to value, honor, and love myself. I affirm this intention by looking into the mirror each morning and saying with a smile, ‘I love you.’ Then, I show myself love through actions big and small, such as the ones I’ve shared here. I encourage you to do the same!”
About the Author:
Avalon Sequoia Brandt, Esq., is the author of Still I Love: Loving after Three Divorces. She is a successful attorney in Baltimore, Maryland, who for 13 years has practiced complex civil litigation. From 1994 through 2001 she worked as a family law attorney in her firm, Wilson & Brandt, P.A.
Over the years, Avalon has appeared as a guest speaker for career day programs at various public schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Since 2008 she has served on the Board of Directors for L.I.F.E. (Living in a Free Environment), Inc., a successful non-profit that provides housing, daily activities, and job training for persons with physical and mental disabilities. Avalon is a member of the New Psalmist Baptist Church where she has worked in numerous capacities for over 35 years.
After unexpectedly experiencing divorce, Avalon decided to share her story with others. She still believes in love and has a strong desire to be married in the future. In the spring of 2015, Avalon will launch her workshop, “Still I Love: Healing for Victory.” In this workshop, Avalon will explore with others what it means to love and how to overcome the pain of being hurt by love.
About the Book:
Still I Love: Loving after Three Divorces (Avalon S. Brandt, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-615-98121-5, $18.95, www.stillilove.com) is available at www.stillilove.com or Amazon.
All the good ones are taken … I’m too old to feel THAT way again … I don’t look as good as I used to … I haven’t accomplished enough at my age … I don’t even know how to flirt anymore …
For older singles hungry for partnership, these common worries can prevent taking the steps that lead to fulfilling relationships, says dating and life coach Deborah Downey. And, of course, the dating scene has changed quite a bit in the past decade alone; younger people meet online and wallpaper their profiles with “selfies.”
“Although the ‘selfie’ is now widely accepted, there are some older singles who are intimidated by what it seems to signify: that we’ve gone from the ‘Age of Aquarius’ to an age of vanity and superficiality,” says Downey, author of What Are You Worried About? (http://www. coachdeborahdowney.com/).
“It’s one thing to be self-actualized and self-enriched; it’s another to be self-absorbed.”
For older singles looking to date — and more, there’s plenty to feel optimistic about, says Downey, who found romance later in life after her husband passed away. Despite living with multiple sclerosis for 25 years, she says, she’s happy and fulfilled.
There are more singles than ever age 40 and older that are looking for love. Downey offers tips for the older single looking for a meaningful and lasting connection.
- Ignore ego-based doubts. It’s easy to idealize memories of dating when you were younger, perhaps in better shape and more energetic. But most likely, your younger self was also scared of not being “good enough” and was probably not as self-actualized as who you are today. Don’t fall for the ego doubts of your youth; embrace your maturity, part of which includes accepting who you are in any situation. If that is difficult, consider this period in your life as an opportunity to improve self-acceptance.
- Know your target and have fun! Dating takes time and effort, so don’t go into it blind. You may want to specify your preferences, such as “non-smoker” or “financially independent” or “health conscious.” Once on your date, remember that you’re supposed to be having fun, nerves notwithstanding. The best way to gauge whether the date is going well is to take note of whether you’re actually enjoying yourself.
- Internet dating is legit. The stigma against meeting dates online has all but lifted. You’ll want to represent yourself fairly and accurately in a profile. Don’t go blank and write an overly simple profile; tell a good, positive story about a small victory during childhood or talk about your bucket list. Forget about clichés like wine tastings or hobbies, avoid poor spelling and make sure your photo is current. Don’t try to be “cool” or clever; just be real. When meeting someone, use common sense: take it slow, be wary of scams, meet in a public place and so on.
- Consider the sensibilities of your date. After a few successful dates, remember that men and women share universal sensibilities. Men and women both like to be complimented, admired and appreciated. Everyone wants to feel important. Specifically, men like it when women suggest doing something together that he will like, such as going fishing or to a sporting event. Women generally appreciate being encouraged to express their feelings, and when men share their own feelings.
- Above all, be comfortable and in touch with your inner self and you’ll be more likely to be ‘lucky in love,’ ” Downey says.
About Deborah Downey
Deborah Downey’s experience spans 25 years of recovery in various 12-step programs around the country. Holding certifications as a professional life coach and as a chemical dependency counselor, Downey has dealt with addiction in its various forms, both as the child of alcoholic parents and as a confidant for others. In her self-help book, “What Are You Worried About?” (http://www. coachdeborahdowney.com/), Downey, who has multiple sclerosis, details a proactive approach to training one’s mind to think positive.
Not only have online dating sites opened up a whole new dynamic for singles looking for company – attitudes about the viability of these sites have become more positive.
The Pew Research Center recently published the following survey results:
• Almost 60 percent of Americans say online dating sites are a good way to meet people, up from 44 percent in 2005.
• While one-third of those who use the sites never go on an actual date – that leaves 66 percent of users who do.
• One in five young adults have used a dating site, and they’re growing in popularity with older adults, too.
“I was one of those older adults who found online dating sites to be a convenient way to meet women for potential romance,” says Charles W. Massie, a baby boomer who wrote about his online dating experience in a new novel, “Stains on the Gavel”.
“Middle-aged singles have a smaller pool to draw from because so many men and women are married with families by then. That makes finding love tough.”
Massie, an entrepreneurial businessman with his own business and a full schedule, says he was elated when things progressed quickly online with a hot prospect.
“I almost couldn’t believe how lucky I was,” he says. “Unfortunately, I did believe it, which led to this woman taking advantage of me in the worst way.”
The woman set him up in an elaborate ruse that resulted in him going to jail on false charges, while she took possession of everything he owned.
“Something that was too good to be true wound up becoming a nightmare,” says Massie, who suggests these red flags:
• She likes everything about you. “To put it simply, I quit thinking with my brain,” he says.
No matter how smart, established or successful you may be in other aspects of life, just about everyone of any age loves being love-drunk; it’s not just for teens like Romeo and Juliet. But what are the chances that a smart and very attractive woman, about whom you know next to nothing, likes everything you like, do and are?
“The food I liked, the hobbies I liked, the music I liked and political affiliations were identical to hers,” he says. “That was a red flag.”
• She asks you to move in almost immediately. Most smart young women are somewhat cautious while getting to know a potential new love interest.
“This woman, however, was all too eager for me to leave my home state to move into her home,” Massie says. “That should tell you one of at least two things: she’s either desperate for someone because she’s emotionally unstable, or she has no fear of you, which could mean she’s working an angle.”
• She really is, physically, too good to be true. It’s possible that a hot date that’s “out of your league” will come to love you for who you are – in time! On the other hand, when you weigh all of the conditions that may include the fact that you don’t really know her, nor she you; that you are financially sound and she is not; that she suggests a living situation that’s moving far too fast; that you’ve only known each other for a matter of weeks, and never met in person – “yeah, at that point, you should be at least a little skeptical,” he says.
About Charles Massie
Charles Massie is an engineer, former member of the U.S. Navy and businessman, overseeing several companies including Massie Engineering Associates and InfoTech Consulting. He’s also a prolific writer and owner of Starshow Publications. “Stains on the Gavel,” www.starshowpublications.com, continues the story of his online dating and criminal justice nightmare, which began in his first novel, “Pinned: A Kentucky True Crime.”