Hannah: Hello and welcome to another episode of Happily Ever After. And today I’ve got a really interesting episode with.. I think friends aren’t we now?
Lea: (laughs) Yes.
Hannah: I actually met Lea just before lockdown because Lea is a writer and a speaker but she’s also the founder of something called instasisters which is up here in the North East and I’d been seeing loads about it on instagram and I really wanted to start getting out more. I’d just had Nancy and I was dipping my toe back in the water of blogging again and so I went along to one of Lea’s events in John Lewis and we all got to try on nice clothes.
Lea: That was such a lovely night.
Hannah: It was really nice. Was that one of the last ones?
Lea: Yeah before the pandemic. Instasisters was a special group which definitely helped women thrive I would say.
Hannah: I think when I first came along I was like - gosh I didn’t realise how many women.. because it was a lovely big group, then there were people there that I already knew and I was like ‘Oh you’re here too!’ and it was just such a nice way to connect with other people that are wanting to do stuff for themselves. Ambition! and all the things that can get pushed to one side when you start getting married and having families and..
Lea: That’s it. I think the importance of community is at the heart of it all. We live in a society now where community has fallen by the wayside sometimes and they say it takes a village and it really does. Especially when you’re going through something like divorce or separation. So I guess my aim was - Because at the time I was just working at home on the kitchen table and felt really isolated and realised if I felt that way then other women must feel that way. And so decided one day on a lengthy walk that I needed to do something about it. And so Instasisters was born! And it went from strength to strength and it just showed me it’s just a much needed community for women (and men) but community is just vitally important.
Hannah: and one of the big themes around Instasisters was this idea of empowerment. When we first reconnected, we’d both been through a divorce and as we were chatting it became obvious that for both of us, this idea of victim mode is something that we both had to work through and look at the ways that we can continue our lives after the tough time that we’ve had. So do you mind telling us a little bit about your experience of divorce and where you are now with it.
Lea: So basically I separated from my ex husband 5 years ago so it’s been a really long journey. The divorce only really started at the start of the pandemic and eventually settled at Christmas 2021 after which I believed I was going to have my Nicole Kidman moment and skip down the street from my lawyers office but unfortunately it hit me like a train, the trauma of what I’d been through. At first the marriage and then the separation but then also the divorce process itself I found very traumatic. It took me to dig very very deep to get through that. Again that’s a time where community and your support network becomes so important. Which was tricky because I was in the pandemic and in a barn in the middle of nowhere, very isolated. Thankfully, I’d done a lot of counselling and coaching and a lot of healing work on myself even before the end of the marriage because I think at the point that I left I was so lost, I’d lost my identity so much, that I almost needed to build myself up so much that I had the confidence and the self worth to leave.
So I built myself up to that point, then left and continued the healing work and that’s been ongoing the whole time so I built my own resilience and my own skills and coping tools through all those kinds of work including Somatic Therapies, I’ve done a lot of healing work and I don’t know where I’d be without all of that and also without the help of amazing friends and family as well.
Touching on your point about victimhood, because I think it’s a really important point that you make. There's a lot of shaming of victims of abuse and I think that’s about the culture that we live in. I think it’s fair to say that we still live in a fairly toxic patriarchy. And I think that it often benefits men to shame women or to keep women small. We’re almost conditioned that we have to be the good girl and we’re taught how to stay quiet for the benefit of others. The way that I understood it is that it’s really important to own and share your story. If you have been a victim, that’s okay, you can own it, but you don’t want to slide into victim consciousness, you don’t want to unpack and live there. You don’t want becoming a victim to become your narrative and become your identity and I think that’s where the difference comes in.
So I write a lot for my instagram account @thelifeshebuilt_ and I’m very authentic and vulnerable on that account so I have shared some of my experiences but I’m very very careful about how I approach that and I always want to approach it from a point of empowerment, so yes this may have happened to me but what did I do to get myself out of that situation or yes this has happened in my life but how did I find the strength to pull myself out or what can other people do to take themselves out of a very difficult situation. And I think that’s potentially the difference because I see a lot of women… almost half of marriages end in divorce now I think statistically and I’ve come across a lot of women who have unfortunately remained in victim mode. It can eat you up, it’s like being eaten up by bitterness and resentment and I think that’s a really dangerous place to be. Because then your ex partner gets to win, they get to overtake the rest of your life. And for me it was really really important that I found a way to rise above and heal myself. I think accountability and personal responsibility is really important in all of this, I don’t know if you’ve found that?
Hannah: I think that’s been the main thing for me. It is like ‘that wasn’t very fun, but which part did I play in it?’ and what can I control now to make sure what I do next is what I really want.
Lea: And it’s horrendously painful isn’t it. The levels of discomfort when you reach that point in your recovery (which we all need to) of ‘okay, what role did I play in this’ but I think that’s almost the healthy way.
Hannah: You’ve got to go almost back to childhood to work out how you ended up where you did. Like I’ve got memories that I had to unpack with therapists. There was a time when I wasn’t given a hotdog that is like a movie in my brain and what it basically told my 3 year old self is ‘you’re not good enough, you couldn’t have this thing’ and I didn’t stand up for myself and neither did any of the people around me. And it seems to stem back from that?!
Lea: I think the reality is that when we go through a process like this we’re taken back to childhood. What I’ve learned is what you often do (especially in terms of relationships) is you continue to attract whatever is familiar from childhood. If, for example, you had painful cycles that played out in your parents relationship then you’re more likely to play out those same patterns in your own relationships as an adult and that is the part that you are then responsible for, the healing so that you then don’t make the courageous decision to leave a marriage but then end up recreating that in your next relationship just with a different face, because that does happen. We repeat and repeat until we heal.
Hannah: That’s what feels comfortable and familiar and all those pathways in your brain are like ‘oh that’s a motorway, we get exactly what to do in that situation’ and then you’re just exactly in the same situation. But it’s not the easy route.
Lea: No it’s hellish discomfort to put yourself in it. I made a conscious decision, I knew that a lot of things were coming up for me, not just in the marriage but from my childhood and I made a conscious decision to put myself through the discomfort because I wanted to write a different story for my future and I, in particular, wanted to write a different story for Poppy who is my daughter. And actually it can feel so painful to put yourself through, I have to be honest, it’s a year's worth of work depending on what you’ve been through. But if you think about your own children, often as women, it’s like the greatest motivating factor isn’t it. The cycle will end with me. That’s what I’ve kept coming back to, I don’t want Poppy to be sitting in a therapist's chair in 10/15 years time having gone through a hugely traumatic childhood so it’s about protecting your own children as much as possible.
Hannah: Do you know what’s interesting about that? So many people stay for the kids, it’s… I don’t know! It’s just not the right way around, is it? You feel like you’re doing the right thing by then but actually they pick up on so much more than we do in terms of facial queues. They’re like little sponges for atmosphere so if you’re not happy, they know about it and they’re probably thinking ‘it’s my fault’.
Lea: They absorb it all, they are like sponges. I used to say, many years ago, that I was staying for Poppy. And then slowly as I worked on myself I realised I was leaving for Poppy and that was a huge shift. Also one of the most important things I learned was that children only need one safe parent. Obviously the aim for us for our children is for them to grow up into safe and secure adults with a secure attachment and they can get that from just one parent. So if you are a mum that is resilient enough and courageous enough to leave something that is unhealthy and then do the healing work and bring your child up in a way that is safe and secure, there’s a chance that they could get out of it unscathed which is my hope for Poppy.
Hannah: Yeah we touched on this earlier but, when we say shifting out of victim mode, I don’t want anybody to think that means you aren’t allowed to think of yourself as a victim and I think people who have maybe been in abusive relationships or anything like that, that are probably unlikely to think of themselves as victims anyway because often the result of that relationship is that you’re constantly questioning yourself anyway and being like ‘it’s my fault, I should have done this, I should have done that’.
So this process of maybe acknowledging that something really shit has happened is one thing, and then staying stuck is a separate thing. But a very important part is making sure that you’re still setting boundaries and doing everything that you possibly can to look after your children and not mistaking that for ‘victim mode’ and feeling sorry for yourself. Because in this culture there’s a toxic culture of ‘everybody loves being the victim’. That’s not what you’re doing, it’s almost the opposite. If you’re willing to stand up and say ‘I want my children to be safe’ that’s very different don’t you think?
Lea: Yeah that’s a very different narrative. But I think what’s important is, anyone going through a separation, there’s a world of grief involved in that. There’s so much grief and I think allowing yourself the space to actually go through the grief and really feel it, I think that’s also different from being a victim.
Hannah: Like, totally sit and feel sad and go under the blanket and eat ice cream. Do all the sad things.
Lea: Of course! And be really really kind and gentle with yourself in that process. And grief looks different for everyone, all of our circumstances are different. One person's grief will last a very different amount of time from another persons but I think the point is at some point on your journey there has to be a shift towards ‘okay, I’m going to start and take control here. I’m going to start and empower myself to then create the next chapter of my life.’ I guess it’s about asking yourself what is your truest most beautiful life. What does that look like, what does that feel like because I think there’s a lot of stigma around divorce and separation but the reality is it can be a beautifully empowering experience and we can reframe it so. It gives you a gorgeous opportunity as an adult to reassess where you’re at in your life, what you would like your life to look and feel like, what kind of home you’d like to create for your children and yourself and I think that’s a beautiful way to reframe what is a really difficult time of your life.
Hannah: So for me I found that I had all these massive dreams and this idea that I’m ready to move on and I’m gonna do this next great thing and in my head it was like, it had to be amazing. It couldn’t just be like a stepping stone type effect so I got frozen for about 6 months from when I had an idea to actually starting where I just felt stuck and it was the old narrative again. Like what you were saying, all the things that have come up in the past ‘I’m just not good enough to do it’. It was about a year and a half after we’d split up, I was like ‘right I’ve got this amazing idea and I’m gonna move on’ and I was like, frozen, couldn’t do anything.
Lea: But I think that’s perfectly normal really because your whole world has just been absolutely obliterated. And quite often that will take all of your sense of identity, confidence, self worth with it and you have to… That comes down to the name of my Instagram account ‘The Life She Built’. I literally feel like I’ve had to rebuild from absolute scratch.
Hannah: Yeah, like brick by brick approach.
Lea: Yeah and it really has been a lot of toil to get there but I think that speaks to the part about going to get the external support. I think it’s very very hard to get through an experience like this without some kind of professional support.
Hannah: I would agree.
Lea: For sure, so that’s the stepping stone to you getting back to your own sense of self and self worth and from there you can springboard into your big dreams and aspirations.
Hannah: I think one of the really big things that helped me was knowing that you can just do a little thing every day, it doesn’t have to be huge and momentous. So my ex was really successful and I think I pinned a lot of my self worth to the idea that the only way that I could be really good is if I was really successful. Whereas actually, it takes shit loads of work to get to the point where you’re really successful and it’s like years of brick by brick and one day it might just be, you manage to write 100 words and the next day you’ve written 1000 and you’ve gone and done Oprah! Obviously that’s the next step after this podcast for sure.
Lea: Well it’s on my vision board so..
Hannah: I think it’s just taking the pressure off, and being like, it doesn’t have to have happened yesterday, it can happen in three, four, five, ten years time.
Lea: I always remember this quote vividly. I mean, there’s lots of quotes on my instagram and one of them was about… ‘be sure in 10 years time you can say you chose your life and you didn’t just settle for it’. And that really hit me hard but what also hit me was the 10 years and I was like ‘wow! why would anyone put in 10 years be sure you chose your life?!’ And now I’m not out the other side of my journey yet and I’m definitely a good 6-7 years in.
And the reality is, I don’t know if you’ve found this, but this is a long haul situation. It’s a total transformation of your life, it’s a total rebuild so it’s gonna take time and the only way to get through that, I believe, is being extremely gentle with yourself and extremely kind to yourself and like you say, baby steps forward every single day. I also have a lot of tools myself that I feel ground me every day. I think it’s become really critical to my life and progress. For example, gratitude, literally writing down 5 things I’m grateful for every day and meditation has become massive for me because I think that’s where I get the space and I can connect with my intuition and things like that. And getting out in nature for walks and things like that. There’s so much we can do to really support ourselves through the process as well.
Hannah: We’re going to take a very quick break and then Lea is going to give us her top tips to get out of victim mode.
Hannah: Okay we’re back now and I’m here with Lea from The Life She Built and you were going to give us your final thoughts on how you feel you can get out of victim mode.
Lea: Yeah, I think one of the trickiest things to talk about is probably the concept of forgiveness.
Hannah: ..what’s that? (laughs)
Lea: Forgiveness for yourself but also forgiveness for your ex partner and potentially your ex family as well for things that you might have gone through.
Because I think that ultimately forgiveness is for you, it’s not for the person that has done you wrong or treated you badly. I think it’s this idea that for us to move on and really thrive in our lives we really really need to let go of the painful stuff. And I think that’s one of the most challenging things we have to do after divorce and not everyone can get there. I’ve had to work very very hard at it, but I’m motivated by Poppy my daughter to make sure that she is okay with the whole situation but also for myself because that kind of anger, bitterness, resentment, hurt, is like a poison that can seep through your body and the reality is the only person it has affected is you!
Your ex partner is going around life totally unaffected by the feelings that are going on in your own body and so I think it’s really important if you can, when the time is right for you, to get to a point of letting go of all of these really difficult feelings. Because that’s the time you’re going to be able to reach peace, and peace is so important in this process. Otherwise why have you put yourself through it if you’re going to remain in a state of turbulence internally. I’ve done lots of cord cutting meditations which have been really really helpful, but I think it’s true! We have energetic ties to our exes…
Hannah: I’ve done a lot of them too.
Lea: It’s so hard to work through letting go of those ties but it’s so liberating when you can get there. Now when it comes to my ex husband I feel absolutely nothing, there’s just absolutely no feelings which would have been unthinkable a few years ago so it shows me how far I’ve come but for me to achieve the life that I wanted to create, that had to be part of the puzzle.
Hannah: I think you’re so right, because it’s just toxic otherwise and like you say it’s not affecting anybody else except you and your children.
Lea: Exactly and the whole point is for you guys to be able to create this beautiful new family unit for yourselves.
Hannah: …with as many throw cushions as you want!
Lea: Yeah! All the throws and throw cushions you could ever want, yes! So yes there’s lots of hope for the future.
Hannah: We’re both on the other side and we both went through a rough ride. So if anybody is listening at the beginning of the process, you’re going to be okay.
Lea: Yeah for sure. I would never wish this on anybody but it’s really comforting to be with someone who’s gone through the process and who really understands what it’s like. It’s one of those things that you can’t understand until you’ve actually been through it but I would say to anybody that it can be one of the most empowering things you could do for yourself. So if you are hearing those little voices of discontent inside then I really hope you can find the strength to act on them.
Hannah: Yeah and you can reach out to me and Lea can’t you.
Lea: Any time! My DMs are always open and I’m often communicating with people online to support them through difficult situations, yes.
Hannah: So I’ll link to all of the links so you can connect with me and Lea in the show notes. Thanks so much for coming on Lea!
Lea: Thanks so much for having me Hannah!