Building Your Own Life

Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid it will never begin. ~ Grace Hansen

This post was written a year before the book was published and when Michael was well (I mention him at the bottom of the post). I think it needs a rerun. Someone asked me in an email to share what I did to build a life of my own (because I kept saying this is what you need to do in order to be the right person). Not that I recommend anyone do the same as I’ve done but here is my list of what I did to be a full and complete person ON MY OWN separate and apart from everyone else.

The Workbook (you can order HERE) has a chapter on Goals and how to plan them and make them HAPPEN.

You can take my list and fill it with your own “stuff”. 🙂 Happy Building!!!

1. Affirmations and positive-self talk. Very important to build your confidence to try new things. This should come first in all things!!!  Watch the GPYB videos on YouTube and use the WORKBOOK to add mantras and acceptance statements…these are SO important!!!

2. Journal keeping. Again, figure it out on paper. Think about it, sketch it out and then go for it.  Again, the workbook has a lot of what to journal about.

3. Support groups: all kinds. Meeting different people in different places (as well as workshops, retreats and conferences). I did not rely on one group of friends for all my support but it was important to me to meet others who were trying to change their life and work through issues in their pasts. Most people I know could benefit from Codependent Anonymous meetings but other 12 step programs might help if you have addictions or alcoholism in your family or former partners. Your community and/or church might have support groups as well.

I read a lot of different authors and then would find out where they were speaking (a lot harder before the world wide web but I would figure it out) and go. I think the GPYP seminar participants bond in a nice way and one of the reasons for it is the interactive and personal nature of the seminars. It doesn’t have to be a GPYP seminar, it can be any undertaking where people are looking for psychological self-improvement….go and talk to people. If you don’t like one meeting or workshop or seminar, try another one… Yes, putting yourself out there is HARD but the rewards are WORTH IT especially when you meet people with similar goals–making life better.

When I was a single mother not getting ANY child support, I put away the $60 a week for my therapist before I paid anything else. It was A LOT of money at the time. But people spend oodles on weddings and have no guarantee they will be married forever.

The money I spent on therapy, workshops and seminars was FOREVER money…money that made me FOREVER strong. My therapist said if I didn’t take care of myself I couldn’t take care of anyone else. I did weekends with John Bradshaw, Melody Beattie, Stephen Levine, John James and others. I did plenty of other workshops, retreats and seminars both locally and long-distance (I did a 12 step event in Reno Nevada where I knew NO ONE when I arrived on Friday night and left with 30 new friends on Sunday.) Spend money where recovery happens.  Please please please check out these things. It’s so much easier now than when I was doing (before the internet had information on everything).

4. Social groups.

Hobby groups. Reading groups (book clubs…IN PERSON clubs…go to someone’s house once a week and share about novels…these are incredible when you get the right one…as with ANYTHING, if you don’t like one group, go find ANOTHER).

Sports groups. I joined a basketball league for a couple of years (all 5’2 of me) and that was FUN (they were not intensely competitive have to find your type of group).

I belonged to some groups in NYC and started recommending them to others.  I went to baseball meetups, theater meetups etc.

I once had a client in Oklahoma who went to museum meetups and she was so happy with her new friends, she stopped having Skype therapy with me!  She told me that my insistence that she get out and do things and my recommendation for Meetups gave her so many new friends and interests, she was just hap-hap-happy and didn’t really want to talk to me once a week about her XBH. Funny.

I have been recommending Meetups since the early 2000’s and have so many clients and readers tell me how great their Meetups are.

I know that many members here have benefited from them in their home towns. CHECK IT OUT!!!

5. Classes. I took academic classes as well as fun classes. In the early 90s there was a guy named Bob Ross who did a method of painting called wet on wet and I loved it. I found a craft store that offered classes on the Ross method. I can’t draw a straight line (SERIOUSLY). But with the help of a good teacher and fun classmates, I DID A Ross painting!!! Okay, it’s not DaVinici, but hey! I DID it! It was better than sitting on the couch every Saturday and just watching him do it and thinking I could do it. I actually did it and that’s worth something to me.

Click on the thumb nail to see the full image.


That’s a photo of my painting which doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea. Do something that seems like a stretch but a FUN stretch! I LOVED this experience!

I also learned to crochet (as I talked about in another post…what a disaster!) and while I was never really good, I did it and it was fun to do when the boys were little. I learned to ski, to garden and I did ceramics for a while. In each case I met people I would not have otherwise met and did things that were fun. I also learned to laugh at myself when things didn’t go well. 🙂 (Hi to my friends at Ravelry! Thanks for sharing this site over there!)

6. I learned Italian and traveled to Italy (once by myself!!) I not only saved up but took a flight that made 3 stops (including a 7 hour layover in London)…and hit the bargain bin at the local travel agents and made it happen. With a little bit of creativity there are travel deals to be found. Travel agents may be passe but if you find a good one (as I did), you can do a lot of traveling on the cheap.

7. I took a photography class at a university (UMass Amherst) and went to Sicily on a photojournalism tour. The student rate was very cheap. Because I was registered at the university, I qualified. There are a lot of creative ways to do things if you don’t really have the money. (the photo of the (what will soon become the “old” Tappan Zee Bridge ) on the Facebook GPYB page was taken by me, I have a framed copy of it in my house). Spending that money on that course was well-spent. I had a blast and learned a lot.


That’s one of my photos from a winery near Mt. Etna (we had been on Mt. Etna that morning). I had a great time. I was in a group of young students who wanted to be professional photographers but I had a tremendous time. I did go to bed about 11 pm after running around the countryside all day with the kids and they stayed up and partied but I had a wonderful time.  It was one of the most fantastic trips I’ve ever taken.

8. Take other trips…all kinds of trips. I’ve traveled by train all around the country. There is nothing like going across the country or up and down the coast like a train trip. Reserve a sleeping car, turn OFF the cell phone and watch the world go by. Meet new people in the dining car. FABULOUS! Again, save for these things…set them as goals. As a single mom I didn’t have a great deal of money but I squirreled away for what I wanted.

9. I renewed my motorcycle license. I had ridden when I was a teenager but when I tried to get on a bike later on, I fell A LOT because the bike was NOT right for me and that is why. I STILL knew how to ride but I had moved from state to state and never noticed that when I changed to RI, they left off my motorcycle endorsement from NY.  When I moved to Massachusetts, I transferred from my RI license…again no endorsement so I took a course because I KNEW how to ride but didn’t have a bike small enough to pass the motorcycle road course.  So I took the course and took the test on a 200cc bike, renewed my license and bought a Harley (HD fitted the bike to me, changing the seat and lowering the bike and changing the handle bars) after I married Michael. First a used one, then a new one…and ridden all over the country….a feeling of power (for sure!)

When I moved to California they transferred the MC endorsement after I took the written test (when you move to CA, you have to take a written test for the driver’s license AND the MC license…it was BRUTAL and both Michael and I almost failed but the clerk actually gave us hints as to what answer they wanted (which was the opposite of what you’d actually DO on the road).  When I moved back to NY, they almost left the MC endorsement OFF the license AGAIN and I said, “Okay now I’ve come full circle, I moved to RI from NY where I had an MC endorsement and RI left it off. Now I’ve moved from CA to NY and now NY wants to leave it off!”  The clerk looked at me like I had 14 heads but COME ON PEOPLE.  🙂 (that was just a little side trip down Department of Motor Vehicle nonsense.

10. Have a “me” night once a week. I used to TURN OFF THE PHONE and allow ABSOLUTELY NO INTERRUPTIONS and take a long bubble bath…deep condition my hair, mani/pedi and then off to bed with a trashy novel. After a while, I bought expensive bubble baths, expensive conditioners, down comforters and nice sheets and PJs that said, “I’M WORTH IT.” You have to design and craft your own sanctuary. You have to make your home, especially your bedroom, your OWN in a way that says: “I ROCK.”

11. Join a gym. I joined 2 gyms and bought a 10 speed bike. I biked 20 miles every Sunday. Watching your body change and becoming stronger gives you amazing confidence and it really really boosts the self-esteem.

When I rode on Sundays, I felt very lonely.  But honestly, it was one of the best best things I ever did. I truly suggest that if you go for a walk or a hike or a bike ride that you LEAVE THE PHONE AT HOME.  Those days of biking were so hard for me…but I learned so much and NOW I miss them.  I loved those rides and after I got hurt on the bike, I missed them.  And I was in FANTASTIC shape.

Please read THIS POST (“Living in the In-Between”) for more about those rides and the loneliness.

12. Go places and do things! I am a Broadway-holic and a Yankee season ticket holder. I brought the boys to basketball games and baseball games when they were growing up. We went skiing as a family. We went rollerskating and four wheeling. We GOT OUT and did things….not like maniacs, but we were out there living life.

I take the grandkid to the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Radio City Christmas Show, Broadway shows just as I did when my kids were little.

When I have the kids I have my phone but it’s OFF.  I pay attention to the KIDS.  When I see parents or even grandparents looking at their phones instead of their kids, it makes me crazy.  Put the phones AWAY when you have kids or dogs in your charge.

13. In contrast to number 12: Sit still and do nothing. This is incredibly important and a MUST to leaving a bad relationship in case you get sucked in somehow in the future. “Screw this shit, I know how to be alone.” was my mantra (see the workbook about mantras) whenever I was not being treated the way I wanted to be.

You can also go old school and color mandalas.  I used mandala coloring in the VERY BEGINNING when I was an anxious mess. I would color mandalas while listening to meditation music or classical music.  IF YOU ARE ANXIOUS THIS WORKS!!!!

But if you are BEYOND the early, anxious days, it is SO IMPORTANT to learn to just sit still and BE and if you CAN’T do it, there is an issue.  You have to learn to do it.

How I did it was I learned to make peace with the peace. Learn to be quiet and sit still…learn to be bored...learn that sitting there and doing nothing is okay too. You don’t have to be entertained or entralled every minute. Learn to just BE.

Turn off the computer. Turn off the cell phone. Turn off the ipod and iPad. Spend some time each and every day UNPLUGGED from everything. If you have trouble being away from all forms of communication, that is even MORE reason to force yourself to do it. You need quiet time to figure out what you want. Life is about living…it’s not about waiting for a call or a text or an email or someone to touch base with you. Develop quiet, unplugged time every day. NOT now and again but EVERY SINGLE DAY. This makes SUCH a difference if you cultivate this. You become less beholden to all the electronic machinery and more in touch with yourself. Go for a quiet walk (no Ipod, no cell phone, no computer) or sit and relax or meditate. Go to a Zen garden or something similar. Get quiet. Go inwards. Learn about YOU.

If you put your phone down and away from you and find you are anxious or just ITCHING to get back to it, that’s a PROBLEM.  The longer you can do without it, the longer you learn to do without it and you can get in touch with YOU.

GET OUTSIDE AND LIVE A LITTLE!!! or STAY IN AND JUST LEARN TO BE (again with everything turned off) If you live where there is public transportation try to BE on the train or the bus and just experience it. Don’t let life pass you by because your head is never where your feet are.

I take public transportation all the time and watch as people miss a lot of things around them as they are jabbering away on their cellphone or texting like crazy people. They are losing the sights, smells and sounds of what is going on in their immediate vicinity. When we do that we lose the ability to be good observers and good observation skills are ESSENTIAL to recovering and our well-being. Turn it all OFF and start to observe. Let your head be where your feet are!!!

Healing is about BALANCE. Building your own life is about being good to you and learning to be alone with you AND getting out and doing new things, meeting new people, going new places. DO IT IN BALANCE. Or do it at the same time: taking a train trip alone and just watching the world go by is an example of getting out and doing stuff AND learning to be alone and okay with that.

Think of things you can do to build your own list and then: DO IT!!
It was not always easy for me to do any of these things. Each one was SCARY! But I learned to do it and it got easier.

Not everything was successful…but I tried so many things and GAVE MYSELF CREDIT for trying (and not quitting too soon…those 6 months of keyboard lessons were BRUTAL).


This is NOT just busy work. This is learning to build a life and to care, REALLY CARE, about what you’d like to do–what you’re all about. It’s about giving yourself enough validation to figure out what you want to do and DOING IT. It’s about learning to be alone while learning to be out in the world as a single person. It’s about CRAFTING a life that is rich and full of meaning even if some of your interests and hobbies seem a bit goofy (wet on wet painting?…goofy). 🙂

And you will value you and your life and it will be a nice place to be. You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is to think: wow, I wanted to do that and I did it!

When I was a kid my family used to ask me who did I think I was when I talked about taking classes or learning new things or meeting new people or going places. When I was married my husband criticized me constantly for having “big dreams.” Well, I made most of them come true but the ones that tickled me to DEATH were the smaller ones, the ones I’ve listed here. The ones that gave me reason to smile and plan on a daily or weekly basis.

I also did not give up these things when I met my husband Michael. I still travel alone sometimes…I still go out by myself…I still take ME time. IT’S IMPORTANT!!! And it was important for me to meet someone who takes his own time and encourages that in me. So many friends I had built their own life and then tossed it away (including friends, including me) when someone came along to offer them romance. Not good and not smart.

Your life is now!!!

Go live it. Build it! Today!

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12 Responses to Building Your Own Life

  1. sophia says:

    hi susan, thank for the repost. I started journaling yesterday. I found myself in writing letters to my ex, and i cannot stop crying. 8,5 months past; and i was thinking that i would be cool, but i am so much crying that i cannot stop it while writing. But again yesterday and today, i managed to cry only while writing and kept normal (not crying) during the day. I am hoping that i get sick of writing letters to him, and i will throw the pain thru this writing process. it is the case, right? As you suggested i will wait some more days to start doing inventories, but i want to do them asap so that i can move on.
    Also, which book should i read first among wwrwtw, wwl2m and codependent no more? I want to finish these in the coming days as well, but could not decide which one to pick. Many thanks!

    • Susan J. Elliott says:

      You will get sick of it but it won’t happen over night. I would read wwl2m and CNM togehter. I would hold off on the Women Who Run With The Wolves until later.

      Don’t rush this process. Even though you have been 8.5 months out, you haven’t been processing this so it’s really like it’s brand-new.

      Read Codependent No More and Women Who Love Too Much and journal as you read them. You will learn and grow and heal.

      • sophia says:

        Dearest susan, thanks so much for all your support. It is a very good feeling to know that you are here for us! You are a star, thanks a lot. Ok, i will do as u suggested. I will now buy the two books and carry on journaling. I will keep you posted for the updates.

        • Canvas3 says:

          hey sophia,

          all the best! i remember how painful it was writing letters to my ex at the beginning – I also cried each time I wrote them. Now 2 months later, it’s a bit better, I do tear up a little sometimes when I write them, but man, there was a lot to process from our relationship and I am still processing.

          you will heal each time you write the letters! you can do it! 🙂

          on a side note, I will have to check out those 2 books too!

  2. Coppergirl says:

    Regardless of any rship situation, I’ve always taken “me” and alone time and have always lived my life according to my values and principles. However, as a healthy vital woman, I yearn for connection, physical touch, affection, a functional rship as much as any other. Living in a mountain community, a full time job in a deteriorating workplace, getting out there is very hard. Today it is snowing; it’s a nearly 40 mile drive to any other town on icy roads. I get to socialize with new folk during the summer months only when runners like me are in town. We’re more educated, better disciplined, healthy, drug and alcohol free which, sadly, I cannot say for the local old mining and ski bum populace. Anyone who thinks an economy that was built upon resource extraction is a good thing needs to come here, observe. Mining had destroyed people and by extension, their children and grandchildren. Ditto for the min wage ski jobs where folk are trapped in substandard trailer parks. You want to help folks and their kids lift themselves up and out but often there’s not a damn thing one can do no matter how many committees and task forces one is on. End of social justice rant. As a support network is mostly nonexistent, I keep my home and land as sacred, quiet space. No TV or internet, just books. No electronic kitchen stuff cluttering the place. The workplace is banned; if I must do work stuff, it’s at the coffeehouse. Anti environment/anti women/racist values are not allowed past my property line. Ditto for fireworks, firearms, drugs, motorized recreation; that behavior isn’t allowed here. There are mountain ranges to my east and west; I track the progress of the sun as the days grow longer and feed the lame coyote thats hanging around so it stays away from gun luvvin neighbors. Probably have more life skills than most I assume; just don’t see many late 50’s chix moving huge amounts of snow, splitting/hauling wood, even calmly dealing with a house fire solo. Still, emotional disappearance of my bf baffles and hurts me. Part of it is my fear that from here on out my choices will be nothing or the bottom of the socioeconomic barrel, especially when I leave and move to my remote farm. Some of my feelings are anger at whatever it was happened to make him distance himself. The trigger was a stupid text degree I expressed my hatred of that mornings subzero cold and the month of January in general. He replied; “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. Ironically, his previous text had consisted of THREE complaints: one about his mentally ill daughter, onesbout his tiredness, one about his not losing weight fast enough. Plus he complains about weather all the time; both his and mine. Apparently I am held to one standard as to what I am allowed to feel and express and he another. Ironically, the same exact situation that’s happening in the workplace. He has often talked about his late wife’s death, her family, wind damage to his house, his bronchitis, his daughter and I’ve always been been supportive and emotionally present. Now, I don’t dare tell him about the true gravity of the work situation, my issues with this community, that I’m overwhelmed by a record snow year, needed repairs to this house, my inability to do so as I am still paying off expenses from caring for my late dad. This is bullshit.

    • Susan J. Elliott says:

      It sounds like he has NO personal insight AT ALL. Have you pointed out the ridiculousness (i.e. hypocrisy) in his positions? It sounds like bullshit indeed.

      • Coppergirl says:

        At this point, I am sitting back and waiting for him to contact me, if he doesn’t, I have my answer. Not sure of his level of insight; certainly the time having to care for, then watching his wife die of cancer must have been devastating. What I see now is someone who lives in a high end mausoleum to her. He’d finally been getting around to using up her care products, hauling her clothes to Goodwill, getting rid of her stuff. Been over two years. My side of the bed, my nightstand at his home, was referred to as mine, not hers. He didn’t know squat about the artwork in his own home until I told him about it. He’d mentioned some issues before her cancer that he was clueless about. Seems like she had serious abandonment issues with her first husband so she wanted him around 24/7. He seems to need to escape home often, be on the go a lot, take major trips, work on major distracting things though he claims he enjoys his alone time. He comes here far more than I go there because he doesn’t often invite me. Odd in that he prefers the pet free environment of his home over my more labor intensive farm. He admits he wants looking after, then he doesn’t. He can be super attuned and sensitive and he can be callous. May still be grief, confusion, reaction to a huge difference in our lifestyles and pasts, anger with me for some unknown reason. Until recently, he always asked for advice, respected my intellect, thought I was far more together than he. Nope, I don’t think that he realizes how he presents himself at times.

        • Susan J. Elliott says:

          As someone who grieves my late husband, I find it baffling. I would definitely need to be over a whole lot that I’m not over to have someone in my life. I’m wondering if he’s just in it for himself. Not thinking about what you need or want. I certainly am not involved with anyone because I don’t think I could put that kind of effort in.

          Being a caregiver and watching the person you love pass is a very traumatic experience. I don’t think the world has a clue how horrifying it can be. I also think that most of us just don’t even talk about it (though I have days I want to scream about it). Maybe I’m just insightful enough to know I wouldn’t be a great partner at this point in my life. I’ve often said that if I was dating someone and they got as much as a cold, I’d be running out the door.

          I’m wondering what he thinks he’s doing IN the relationship – unless he’s just in it for himself.

          • Coppergirl says:

            Dunno Susan
            He may be selfish or clueless. I lean toward clueless as he’s demonstrated some extremely unselfish behavior. He is not nearly as insightful as either of us. Few people are, sadly. When my marriage broke up, I didn’t socialize, date, put myself out there for years. I was heartbroken, angry as I’d never wanted to leave our area, newly impoverished and understood whomever wanted me in that state was serious bad news. I too get, to a point, what it’s like to watch a loved one die. I was the one who upped the morphine and removed my dads respirator. Also did hospice care for my mom, who’d had a brain tumor. ID’d what was left of my brother after his motorcycle crash. Getting really good at conducting funerals. Interestingly, unlike yourself, bf talked about what it was like tending his dying wife all the time perhaps because I am a cancer survivor myself. He’d once said if I became sick, he’d be honored to take care of me. Maybe that’s just words. I also think; who the hell am I to expect a relationship with anybody now? When I met bf 18 months ago, I’d written off my life completely til I could get out. Figured life and the enjoyment thereof was done until that happened. I wanted and still want out of the job, away from Narcboy et al and the sick situation here forever. I may never teach again after this. At the end of next academic year, I’d intended to ask what bf wants; for me to stay closer to him or I leave the state for good. He’d indicated a desire to travel with me, do cross country bike races, worried I’d be exposed to more sickness when his grandkids reach preschool. Coulda been just words. In a way, I’m in a weird situation myself; seriously wanting a rship yet place, demographics, and timing are all wrong and may be for good. Like someone recently widowed, logically I should force myself to not feel, desire companionship, have physical needs until the present situation is solved. Don’t feel my own house is in order. Conversely, sometimes I feel as though the universe owes me for enduring the past 10 years or so, Narcboy, cancer, being stalked, having hard earned programs taken away, facing resentment because I am educated and brown. Often feel punished repeatedly for something I didn’t do. Don’t worry, I fully understand to feel one is owed anything in life is BS.

  3. topf says:

    This is a good post for a question I’ve been having for a while about friendship. I am doing some of the things you describe here. I have been going to sports classes for a while, to places where a tight knit community forms (I practice 2 martial arts at 2 different schools). We do board games or movies from time to time but the people there are so different. We get along and spend time together and there’s a huge value in spending time with people different to me. But in that context no deep and nurturing connections happen (at least to me). I also have a breakup-forum-group online that formed ages ago when we were going through a breakup. We still support each other and chat regularly. Sadly, it makes a difference to me to not be able to see this people physically. I have a few friends with the potential for that deep friendship I want from other contexts but people seem so busy with work and the rest of their lives. We see each other rather seldom, so things don’t really develop in that direction.

    I am a highly sensitive and introverted person and this type of friendship is important to me. I’ve been doing the work for it for years and somehow it refuses to happen. Any tips, tricks or words of encouragement for me?

    • Susan J. Elliott says:

      Do you think that you might have a roadblock against being friends with someone very different than you? You seem to find value in them to a point. What is it that you’re looking for? Are you open to connection on any level? I know that I spend time with people who are not close friends but we have common interests. I have also made friends by being open to going places and doing things with people that are not similar to me. I know that one woman in one of my groups hung out with a group of women, all very different than she, but they had a good time and one had a barbeque and invited all her friends and family and this woman met her future husband there (not that that is what you’re asking about but it’s a stretch from the group she was in).

      I also know that when I first moved back to NY and Michael was in Texas, I joined a few baseball meetup groups. The women there were not interested in the men but we were very much outnumbered. So we would go to a bar and sit at a table together. I became really close with one woman and another was a baseball game bud. I’m not even sure I’m anything like the woman the woman I became close to, but I liked her and we went to other places, like plays and museums, separate and apart from baseball.

      I’m just wondering if you are looking for something specific and not finding it or if you can just be open to what is there. I know that when I met my best friend, I was NOT interested in friendship at all and I was pretty closed to anything she said. Then one day in class (we went to law school together), she made me laugh. I had known her for months at that point and I was surprised that I not only laughed, I almost guffawed in the middle of a class at something she whispered to me. I saw her in a whole new light and realized I had been very walled off to being friends with her at that point. It was NOT her, it had been me. I had been very hurt by my last best friend and just didn’t want to give anyone a chance.

      Are you looking for something specific or do you have expectations that others might not fill? I think that if that isn’t the case then just being open to who is out there will sometimes bring you to new and exciting places.

  4. topf says:

    Thanks for your answer, Susan. Well, maybe saying that they are different is not the problem. I laugh with many of this people, and we get along and it’s really nice. I’ve just understood real friendship to be this deep connection, to talk about your sorrows and worries and to be yourself, even the painful and ugly parts of yourself. When I am around the people I spend time with, I know they have their issues and I have mine and I know how these issues interact, and I know I have to behave in a certain way so it works on a certain level (we have to train together, so functionality is important!). I cannot come and say “dude, wow, you know your insecurity concerning xy and my speechlessness in certain situations? They sometimes interact so stupidly, have you noticed that, lol?”. I know this conversation is not possible with them (and believe me, I have already tried). And it makes me sad. But maybe I am misunderstanding friendship? Maybe friendship is this laughing together and being tolerant about the shortcomings? What do you think?

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