Just because something causes you discomfort doesn't mean it's automatically bad.It was a whimpering sound like a wounded animal makes – something in between a wail and a moan. The pitiful cry emerged from way down deep inside of me. I couldn’t have suppressed the sound, even if I wanted to. It was like an involuntary gag reflex where you don’t want to throw up and try really hard not to, but vile liquid just comes rushing up to the top of your throat anyway.

As I sat outside the courtroom on the hard, wooden bench, the air grew thin.  I gasped as the pitiful sound continued to heave forth.  I had a visceral sensation of pain in the depths of my gut, like the sour, inside-out emptiness you have the morning after you’ve had too much wine. My parents and lawyer told me to put my head between my knees.

The judge had just announced his decision to take custody of my two sons away from me and give it to their father. As if that wasn’t enough, the judge had also decided that he was going to allow my ex-husband, who lived in the same city at the time, to move to another state, five hours away, with the children.

I had tried to commit suicide three months earlier, was brain damaged, and still emotionally unstable even though I tried very hard, but not convincingly, to put on the charade of being neither. While I definitely didn’t did not agree with the judge’s decision at the time, turns out that it was absolutely the best for the kids and myself.

I could not and would not have devoted the energy needed to heal from the brain injury or focused on my emotional healing had the kids stayed in town, even living with their Dad. Being without the kids, while gut -wrenchingly painful, allowed me to mature emotionally finally, determine who and what I was other than being a mother, find and develop strength I didn’t even know I had, and among many other things, learn to be comfortable with solitude. I even prefer it now.

The children, on the other hand, gained the invaluable opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise to get to know their Dad. At 11 and 13 years old, my teenage boys needed their Dad and have benefited in many ways from living with him. I couldn’t teach them how to be a man. He modeled a different way of life for them which I have come to appreciate as not being better or worse. It’s just different.  He exposed them to a wealth of new experiences:  boy scouts, extensive travel, high tech gadgets, a step mother and brother, and much more. My sons are more resilient, richer, and well-rounded people because of it.

Funny, how what scares us the most and what we try to flee from like a bat out of hell, oftentimes, proves to be the most beneficial offering the most growth and wisdom, if we just relax and allow ourselves to move through the experience, let things unfold, and not resist. Just because something causes you discomfort doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad.

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics) writes:

We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. ….feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we are stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s wherever we are.

When something “bad” happens, I’ve learned not to judge the situation initially. Nothing is good or bad by itself. Good and bad are determined by our individual thoughts, perspectives, and brains.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/seyyed_mostafa_zamani/

14 Comments

  1. Dr. Mark Langer Reply

    I came upon this posting almost as a matter of chance (if you believe in chance, that is) The raw honesty expressed here is indicative of a great maturing. As your boys grow older and they come to understand things about themselves, their world, and what transpired in your life to bring you to the actions you took, I hope they learn from your honesty and share in your growth. It is a gift that they might not now appreciate but it will serve them in their lives and carry them through difficult times.

    I'm glad to find that you're reading Chodron. I was given her book by a friend and Buddhist teacher at the time of my accident. It was a great gift, not only for getting me through the aftermath of the crash, but for reinforcing what I knew to be true.

    Continue growing. Your boys will be swept along in your wake and they will become better men for it. At some point, they will be back with you and continue to learn from your situation and from what has risen from the ashes of the phoenix.

  2. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Mark, thank you so much for your understanding and encouraging words. I do know that I am living the reality I created and that I am creating a very different one for the future. I also know that my boys are only benefiting from my example and my growth…….but it never hurts to hear it again!

    You know I love the analogy of the phoenix. It is my symbol! Just got a tattoo of a phoenix…did a blog on it a while back.

    Chodron is my hero. Can't get enough of her. Her teachings have guided me through this journey and have been just what I need to hear at the time. So much wisdom. Glad they spoke to you too! Again, happy birthday! Still celebrating?

  3. The Napkin Dad Reply

    What I realize about parenting is that it doesn't end at age 18. The needs they will have for you to be with them, guide them, be friends with them, and help them, will be even greater as they become adult men.

    Often I have to tell part of my life story. A big moment was when I was 18 and burned on 70% of my body in a boat explosion. Almost the very first sentence after I say that fact is 'and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me'. I don't want anyone hearing that story thinking for a second that it was a negative experience. It wasn't. It was a painful experience, yes. But that does not mean it was negative.

    Much of who I have become as an artist, and as simply a person in the world, stems from the lessons I learned during those 7 weeks recovering in Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY.

    In the same way, much of who you are, and much of how you are helping people in the world, stems from that painful period of your life. The world has benefitted greatly from you being able to take that pain and build it into something insightful and strong.

  4. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Napkin Dad (??? interesting tag:) Thank you for your kind words. I agree with you 100%,and I love the way you express your experience. Exactly. While it has most definitely been terribly painful, it has not been negative. As a matter of fact, it has been incredibly, positively transformative, and exactly what I needed to grow and become stronger and more fully alive. I like to call it a blessing in disguise.

    It has also taught me not to judge anything as good or bad which kinda makes me fearless. A great feeling. Everything just "is." How I experience it is up to me.

  5. Dr. Mark Langer Reply

    Hi Debbie, Sorry to go off-topic but yes, still celebrating. Can't find a good reason to stop. This weekend is the BikeMS Waves to Wine ride. It's going to be a huge celebration!

  6. Judith M. Hampton Reply

    You describe a moment that I shared with you in such painful detail. The person you were then and the person who writes this blog are now worlds apart with a universe of work that fostered your remarkable growth between then and now. Work that you sought out and pursued without much assistance, a tribute to your tenacity and determination. I'm proud of you. Love, Mom

  7. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Whew! It has been a heck of a journey. I am sure it has been also for everyone around me as they go to know and adjusted to the new me. It is like getting a whole new daughter…only better! Thank you for your positive thoughts now and the encouragement along the way! Love to you.

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