This past spring I decided to participate in a 10-week relationship rebuilding support seminar. I did not come to this decision lightly. I was almost eight years past my second divorce and thought I had done all the work I needed to do concerning the reasons that my second marriage ended and how to move on.
And then I received a phone call right before my 60th birthday last year in November that changed everything.
I mentioned it in a blog I wrote several weeks after my birthday but didn't mention that the person who called me happened to be my ex-husband's son. It was, to most people who know me, pretty obvious.
But at the time I was still processing why my ex-husband felt it was necessary to give my phone number to his mentally ill son while he was sitting in jail pending trial for a very serious felony that I needed to block to some degree from my brain.
So what does this have to do with being a professional organizer?
As I said in the blog I wrote last year, I am not writing about this to embarrass or disparage my former stepson or his father. I am writing it to hopefully inspire others who have gone through a major life event that has left them with PTSD, sometimes without even realizing it, and what it takes to truly "rebuild" your life as well as your ability to have safe relationships by dealing with the internal clutter that causes so much external clutter.
And these days, external clutter doesn't mean just the stuff that might be taking over your home. We live in a very fragile world and we really do need to know how to manage all of the stuff out there that we have no control over.
For me personally, I can honestly say that the Rebuilding Seminar truly changed me in a way I never thought possible. As much as I have always believed in therapy, I struggled with the idea of being in a room with a group of people still so raw from their individual breakups. I had many friends who had gone through the program and, in fact, had referred at least a dozen people to it since I first heard about it in 2016 upon my arrival in Colorado.
Getting through the first two weeks was tough...as in painful.
I wish I hadn't felt that way but then I found myself trying to counsel my fellow group members, just like I try to some degree to counsel my clients, and that was not the role I should have been playing.
I called a friend after week one and told him I thought I had made a big mistake.
He replied, "Just wait until week three."
"What is going to happen in week three?," I questioned.
"Just wait," he said.
"Yeah, you clearly don't know me as well as you think you do. I am action forward and need to know what the payoff is going to be," I replied.
He, of course, laughed knowing exactly how I operate and think.
I did make it to week three which was the week that we were instructed to write a goodbye letter to the relationship we were mourning. But I had been there, done that with both of my ex-husbands post-divorce, and really didn't need to dwell on those pasts.
My goodbye letter I was told had to be written to someone else, someone who unfortunately got caught in the middle of the drama surrounding the phone call I received from my former stepson. With her permission, I am sharing for the first time publicly that my daughter and I ended up estranged from one another from November of last year until May of this year.
I had never shared a lot of what happened during the course of my second marriage and my involvement with managing my former stepson's mental illness with either of my kids.
Truth be told, I couldn't share much with anyone out of fear of what the fallout would be in terms of my relationship with them back then.
And there was also the fact that I really didn't know what I didn't know.
My ex-husband had lied to me about what he had been willing to do should his son ever reach the point of decompensation that ultimately resulted in our divorce. That's an undisputable fact and should he ever see this blog and wants to argue otherwise, I have all of the documentation I would ever need to support my take (aka the truth) with respect to what happened.
When someone says they will kill you and not feel guilty about it, I think that is a threat you have to take very seriously. That was my reality and leaving the marriage for my own as well as my kids' self-preservation and survival was paramount to anything else in 2015.
Should I have left the marriage years before when certain things happened?
In retrospect, absolutely.
But I believed my husband would always protect me and our marriage and still be able to have his son live a safe and comfortable life in a residential facility where he wouldn't be a danger to himself or others. In the end, I found out he was never going to do that and I was devasted to learn that someone I loved with all of my heart and soul set us up for failure years before.
So writing that goodbye letter to my daughter was gut-wrenching, to say the least, because I couldn't believe that I might never see or speak to her again as a result of something I thought was so far in our past.
I was saying goodbye to...
...trips to New York to see her thriving as an adult
...going to Broadway shows and being completely immersed in them together
...walking her down the aisle if/when she gets married
...being an active grandparent to any children she may have
...having her as an advocate as I get older and needing her support in terms of care
Suffice it to say when week four rolled around and we were supposed to write an anger letter to the person that we were heartbroken over, that letter figuratively went to my ex even though I was well past the heartbroken stage with him. I harbored no anger towards my daughter. She was truly innocent in all that had transpired.
My ex?...Not so much.
I don't think I had ever really gotten angry at him. I mean, I was disappointed with the way the marriage did end but I knew from my first divorce that holding onto anger serves no purpose. I will say, though, anger can propel one forward so I thought I had expressed the appropriate amount at the time and then moved on.
By week six of Rebuilders, I was actually in California to meet up with my father who was on a cross-country road trip and I had decided I would drive with him from there back to Colorado before he continued home to Michigan. My daughter had reached out and said she was ready to have a conversation. Suffice it to say, I was excited about the possibility of starting anew but also extremely nervous that she was going to tell me all the reasons she was not able to forgive me and my goodbye letter would be my new reality.
We spent about five hours that day on a phone call where I let her do a massive brain dump while I took copious notes. I barely spoke in the first three hours and trust me that was not easy for me. But I have to give credit where credit is due...I have Rebuilders to thank. In the first five weeks, I really did dig so deep into the roles I played in any past relationships including the ones with my kids.
Most importantly, I apologized profusely for putting my husband's and his son's needs before my own kids far too many times during the course of the marriage. In my defense, I was taking the advice of the therapist we were very engaged with but, again, her advice was primarily based on the information at hand at the time and my husband had essentially lied to her as well so she also didn't know what she didn't know.
I cannot even begin to describe the relief I felt when we ended the call that evening. I knew I still had a lot more work to do to prove to my daughter that I was on a very impactful journey that was changing so much of my past behaviors including my desire to be "the fixer" of everything...and, yes, that has extended to how I approach some It's Just Stuff clients.
I have become much more selective in the past six months since finishing the Rebuilders seminar in terms of clients I probably shouldn't take on if my gut tells me from the get-go that they will fight the process we have to go through. It's a waste of their money and my energy, something I cannot afford to give anymore unless I know I can ultimately set them up for success.
Most recently, I had the daughter of a former senior client reach out to ask if I and one of my team members would return to help her mother get rid of a lot of clutter that had collected since we had last been there. We spent almost 2 hours on a phone call to discuss how to approach her mother and not let her argue with us about what really needed to be done so we could make her very cluttered apartment safe from any potential accidents literally waiting to happen.
I explained to the daughter that we had tried ad nauseam for months to convince her mother that she simply had too much stuff, especially too much furniture in a very limited 400 sq. ft. independent living apartment. This particular story started last January and, yes, I wrote a blog about it too. But at the time I was told by my client that her family had abandoned her in her time of need and that wasn't, as it turns out, 100% true. Her daughters had both been engaged all along but they also realized that their mother was unfortunately a very difficult person throughout their lives and they had to learn to keep their distance.
So getting a call asking us to help her and learning about the lies told meant deciding whether I should cross the line I had drawn months ago to no longer schedule appointments only for the mother to cancel an hour before or allow her to attack me and any of my team members verbally. Everything...and I mean everything...turned into an argument. And while my role as a professional organizer is to never judge anyone for the trauma they may have suffered and led them to their current chaotic existence, I still have to protect my safety and sanity.
Yep, that is the loose definition of boundaries people and I will not apologize for creating much more pronounced ones. And that does extend to the men I choose to date in the future. Recently, a man I dated for a very brief time seemed like a good guy and I was trying to make it work past five or six dates but then I caught him in a lie that was inexcusable and despite his attempts at "negotiating" his way out of the lie, I wasn't going down that path again with anyone, especially a man I barely knew and definitely didn't know me. I owed him nothing, not even more than a one-sentence text but he relentlessly continued to beg for mercy. When I explained I couldn't be put in the "fixer" role anymore, he basically screamed through his text that he didn't need fixing.
Maybe he's right...but not my monkey or my circus to discuss with him further.
Maybe that is just exactly how he needs to be to justify how he functions through life.
And maybe the same holds true for some of my clients?
I really wish that wasn't the case, but it is what it is in this world and if a client is resisting the necessary changes that I do believe in my heart of hearts will be transformational, then I now have to respectfully bow out. It goes back to the title of the blog from a year ago i.e. "Owning Your Stuff".
And I am...I really really really am owning my stuff. I will never be perfect and don't expect anyone else to be but I at least am trying to continue to grow and learn from my past. I cannot tell you how many of my clients have gone through estrangement from their adult children and while it is so heartbreaking to hear their stories, if sharing mine helps give them any hope for the future then I don't see the harm.
With the New Year just around the corner, I am obviously reflecting back on a rather tumultuous year for me personally but also for the world at large. No sooner did I feel I had all of my emotions under control again at the beginning of October, the conflict in Israel happened and, putting aside the fact that I am Jewish, it has been incredibly heartbreaking to see so much death and destruction happening in the name of religion and politics as a human living on this planet.
I don't even begin to understand why a demographic that represents only 0.2% of the entire population on this planet is such a threat. That really is all that the Jewish population represents but as one friend said a few weeks ago when I gathered together a group of all religions and beliefs to celebrate the holiday season clearly with an emphasis on Hanukkah, it does seem that the rise in antisemitism in recent months is partially because we are perceived as having some sort of white privilege that is above and beyond all non-Jews.
Is that fair?
Of course not but my parents raised me and my siblings to understand that we had to work hard to be able to afford a comfortable life. I don't think that I should have to apologize for simply being born to parents regardless of their religion who could send me to college and I could walk away without any debt. I promise, though, I took none of what they were able to do for granted. And I still don't take any of what I can do in life for granted.
All the world's problems aside, I really am feeling incredibly grateful for the life I am living and will never regret all of the work it took to get to this point in my journey. Rebuilders definitely made it possible to create, as I often talk about with clients, the mental and emotional clearing I needed and I truly hope that for anyone struggling with their own internal and external clutter that you are on your own path to finding your own personal peace in 2024.
Be well and, remember, always be kind,