I was married for 18 years, most of which were lived on remote sheep and cattle stations in western Queensland where my three daughters began their lives. We shared droughts, floods, extreme isolation and other challenges unique to the Australian outback. However, our relationship was strong and carried us through our hardships.
It wasn't until we moved to the coast that our marriage imploded. We lived on a picturesque property which our friends called 'happy valley'- because we were all happy with our private lake, a river ‘beach’ and a menagerie of happy free-ranging animals. I had a yacht and ran a charter business- sailing with whales and dolphins. Every day was filled with love, joy and sincere appreciation of our home and family.
In 2009, my bliss suddenly plummeted to a deep, dark abyss. My ex announced that he was "too valuable" for our marriage and replaced me with another woman. Like a discarded washing machine, it was out with the old, in with the new!
I moved into a rented house in town, closed my dream business and sold our yacht and property for settlement. I recall walking around one of the paddocks with the real estate agent and finding one of our beloved kelpies (a retired, loyal sheep dog) lying dead on the ground. Our herd of beautiful healthy horses was almost gone too! Instead of finding good new homes for them, he had most of them euthanised and buried in a pit.
Heart-broken, shocked, shattered, fearful of the future, fearful of the immediate and long-term wellbeing of my girls..... enter my 3 mistakes and the lessons I learned from them.
1. I let my emotions take control of me.
Having lost my business, I urgently needed a new source of income and moved to Melbourne for a 'good' job as a Humane (Animal Welfare) Educator. My girls understandably didn’t want to come with me, preferring to stay with their father in their familiar surrounds. I promised it would be temporary, that we’d be back together and happy again one day. Off I drove to city, watching my girls huddling and crying together from my rear vision mirror. Tears flooding, heart aching all the way.
I pined for my girls, my home in the bush, my animals and loathed living in the city. Yet, I did it anyway because I thought I was being responsible and a good role model. Little did I know, that the cocktail of negative emotions I was feeling each day (grief, resentment, loneliness, anxiety and frustration) was impairing my decision-making, mental clarity and immune system! Within 18 months of our separation, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and resigned from my job for treatments.
LESSON: Learn how to master your emotions before they control you. When you're the gatekeeper of your mind, you can listen to your emotions without letting them harm you. You can reduce your stress, maintain clarity and energy, make better decisions and improve your disease prevention capacity! Managing your emotions is vital for your decision-making, health and wellbeing.
2. I didn’t follow my heart.
For me, peace and harmony were found with my children, animals and in nature, whether it be the bush or the coast. These were my highest values, yet I sacrificed them all by a self-punishing sense of duty to move to a city for a good job. I wasn't living authentically and it didn’t work well for me.
LESSON: Follow your heart and live authentically. When we live out of alignment with our core self, we become stressed and eventually sick. According to the Chinese, yin/yang principle, all things need balance. When our outside world (work, environment, friends etc.) doesn’t match our inner world (values, beliefs and dreams), we become stressed. Fortunately, it’s never too late to tune into your heart and live in alignment with the true you.
3. I smashed my confidence.
Being replaced by another woman like a disposable commodity, I subconsciously reached the conclusion that I wasn’t good enough. I was unworthy, a failure and flawed. I tried to convince myself otherwise, but that stubborn, inner critic knew better! After my cancer came along and I subsequently lost my job and a breast, that inner critic became louder and stronger! It took years of dedicated, inner work to restore my confidence and love myself again.
LESSON: Protect your confidence. Don’t let your inner critic take over your mind and don’t confuse healthy self-reflection with unhealthy self-doubts. Nurture your confidence. Guard it as a precious possession. When you have confidence, you're free of limiting beliefs, you feel capable and competent and trust that you can cope with whatever happens.
Separation and divorce are among the most stressful life experiences. I was fortunate enough to survive and wake up to the importance of reacting carefully to traumas. As Epictetus said, it's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
If I understood this and had stronger resilience skills during my trauma, I would have reduced my stress, considered other options that were more aligned with my heart, made better decisions, been happier and my body may not have opened the door to cancer.
There are many effective tools and techniques to reduce stress, manage emotions and safely navigate your way through the trauma. It’s now my pleasure to support and guide others.