Rising Up From The Ashes: How GPYB Began

Jul 24, 2020 | abuse, best breakup books, Books, codependency, featured, gaslighting, Getting Past Your Breakup, grief, self-esteem

Backstory to this post:  This was written in 2006 when the original blog had just started. It was written 3 years before the book was published and much of this is in the book or on the podcast, but this is one of the earliest blog posts and one of the ones that led to the books and the dissemination of the GPYB program throughout the world. I am adding links to material written or recorded AFTER this post, but this was the jumping off point.

14 years later, I’m still in awe as to how GPYB continues to grow and change lives. The book was published in 2009 and I had no idea how it would be received. I had no idea it would wind up on so many “Best Breakup Books” lists or continue to be on the Amazon best sellers in divorce. 

I’m incredibly proud that it was the first self-help, breakup book that was gender neutral, sexual orientation neutral, age neutral, etc etc etc. It wasn’t easy to write it without “he””she” or the clunky “they,” but it was important to me.  I am thrilled to have a high percentage of male readers (compared to the average self-help book) as well as those breaking up same sex relationships.  Too few self-help books acknowledge these groups because the “typical” self-help book buyer is a heterosexual woman between the ages of 21 and 45. So most self-help books are written to that audience and I refused to do that. I was adamant that GPYB take a neutral tone so that it could be all-inclusive. Everyone in the world has had a breakup and everyone can use this program. I want no one left out.


I can’t believe how all this has happened and I thank everyone who has taken the leap of faith to believe in the program. YOU CAN DO THIS! 


RISING UP FROM THE ASHES

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” -Joseph Campbell

When I first left my marriage, I was convinced it was the right thing for about 24 hours. Then I felt plunged into a darkness I had never known before or since. I woke up on day 2 feeling as if I was unraveling. I couldn’t understand it, but I had next to no ability to even begin to understand anything, let alone this HUGE emotional upheaval I seemed to be having.

After that first day, I was plagued by anxiety attacks, acute depression and waves of indecision. For weeks, I walked the floors at night and had no energy during the day. I was in so much emotional pain that I had moments of feeling that I was unable to breathe. For a while I was convinced that if I was dying, that would be a good thing.

When I went to my counselor, my goal became to put my marriage back together and go on, somehow, as if nothing had happened.

What I was not understanding was that all of the grief I was feeling was not just the end of my marriage…it was the grief of every loss I had ever had and not reckoned with.

What I failed to understand was that for months before the split I had been moving toward this time.

There was an episode the summer before where my husband’s best friend had locked us out of the house. I was out walking the dog, the kids were playing next door, my husband’s brother, cousins and grandmother were in and out of my house, everyone was in and out on that warm summer’s day. We left the side door open with the screen door closed. To close the side door was to lock it shut behind you. None of us closed it in the summer.

My husband’s friend, on his way out of the house, pulled the side door behind him and we were all locked out. Everyone had keys to the house, my husband, his grandmother, his brother, his cousins and his friend but no one had the keys with them, they all had left them in the house.

I was oblivious to what just happened until I saw my husband coming down the block. I stopped walking the dog and walked back toward him. When we met up, he asked me for a key. Like everyone else, I didn’t have one with me.

This enraged him. He started screaming at me in the middle of the street and calling me all kinds of names. People poured out of their houses to see what the ruckus was. People stared at him and at me. I just stood there, transfixed and embarrassed but something clicked in me about this scene. Something that I would not be able to shake for months.

He had always been critical and always had blamed everything that went wrong on me.

But at that moment. on that street, on that day, I knew it wasn’t me. Few incidents had been this clear that it wasn’t me. Few incidents came with such a scrolling banner that said, “This is not your fault. Everyone had keys. How are you the only one who was supposed to have them on you?”

For the next several months I watched and waited and observed how our relationship was so screwed up and how quickly he pounced on me for every little thing. I was able to stand back, for the first time, and see, REALLY SEE, the way he was treating me. I knew he was finding interest in other things, other women. He was verbally and physically abusive. And he continued to blame everything on me.  I had no idea what gaslighting was, but it was clear – years later – I had spent a long time being gaslit (gaslighted?) (see my article 10 Ways To Know If You’re Being Gaslighted)

After the abuse began to flow to the kids and the dog, I knew I had to act. My story of leaving a domestic violent situation is here: Journey From Abuse.

Still, once I left, despite all those months of moving away, mentally and emotionally, I was still so bereft I couldn’t speak.

What hit me at that time was a lifetime of not dealing and not coping and not working through. It was not the loss of this one crappy relationship. Yes, I had to grieve the hopes and dreams and having my three children grow up in a house with a mom and a dad. Yes, I had to give up the dream of him finally seeing how good I was and treating me like he loved me. Yes, I had to give up my house and my dreams. I had to break it all apart and that was hard.

But the grief and the emotional reaction was so much more. I had to look at my life, my entire life, and see ALL of the abuse and ALL of the abandonment and ALL of the blame by others.

I had to go down into the abyss.

It was hard. It was horrible. And it hurt a lot. Whenever I thought of most of my childhood, it was like putting my hand on a hot stove. Deal with all that pain plus the end of my marriage and my dreams??? And what would take its place?

I had no idea what to do with all that I was uncovering AND the uncertainty of the future. What would become of me? Of my kids? For so many years, I was told how I couldn’t do anything right. Now it was time for me do something alone. Would I screw it up? How could I not?

With all the sorrow of the past and present and a future so unclear, no wonder I felt crazy all the time.

I did feel crazy and upset for what seemed a very long time. My therapist brought me to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation and placed in a group for those with major depressive disorder. I was there all day, every day, for 6 weeks.  At the PSYCH hospital!

I felt humiliated to be labeled “one of the crazies” as my ex and his girlfriend discussed (I came home one day to find he had picked up the phone downstairs while the answering machine upstairs recorded their conversation.) We had been separated all of 2 weeks when this conversation took place and, oh yeah, he denied she was his girlfriend (though funnily enough, she was magically his girlfriend 3 weeks later and his wife a few years after that). 

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and PTSD. I also had codependency in spades as a result of being a former foster child adopted into an alcoholic home.  I had no self-esteem (not LOW self-esteem, but NO self-esteem).  I didn’t know what a boundary was or a standard or a limit. I only knew my life did not work and something had to be done about that.  

I had been in abusive relationships since the age of 12, always convinced that it was something I was doing that caused people to act so badly. I had spent 18 years trying to turn myself inside out – to change myself into the person they would care about. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t me. It never occurred to me that they wouldn’t approve of me in a million years, no matter what I did. I had to be told that. 

Looking back on it, it seemed nuts that I had no clue that all of that abuse was not my fault. For years I was convinced that they couldn’t ALL be wrong about me…it never occurred to me that what was wrong was the type of person I allowed into my life, which were abusive, controlling bananaheads just like my family.  I had to be told that I gravitated toward the “FAMILIAR” (like FAMILY) subconsciously – it was my comfort zone from a childhood of abandonment and abuse.

Comfort doesn’t mean cozy and feels good, but what you’re used to, what is FAMILIAR (like FAMILY). How did I not know ANY of this?  I beat myself up – once again – for “allowing” all this and for not getting it. My therapist stopped me with “You didn’t know that you didn’t know. How could you know?  Who was going to tell you?  The very people taking advantage of the fact you didn’t know?”

Even though I tend to think I’m a smart person, there was no way to figure all this out on my own. I had to forgive myself for not knowing. But then, okay, now what do I do to change all this? It seemed like an insurmountable mountain to climb.

Upon release from the group, my therapist had me see a trauma specialist to work EMDR – a brand new technique at the time. She also insisted I join a group therapy and a community support group and go to 12 step programs (I pretty much qualified for all of them). She also insisted I engage in a routine of “self care.”  My husband did not want me spending any money so I had not had a professional hair cut in years and bought my clothes at bargain basement stores and, even then, had hid them at work so I wouldn’t suffer his wrath about how much I spent (anything over 0 was unacceptable).  

I had no clue what to do or how to do it. I only knew I was desperate, bereft, suicidal half the time, and I did the work prescribed by my therapists, my 12-step programs, my non 12-step support groups, etc. etc. etc.And, as uncomfortable as it was, I engaged in self-care. At first it was a bubble bath once a week but eventually I got the professional hair cut – complete with highlights – and bought clothes that didn’t make me look homeless. 

She gave me books to read like Women Who Love Too Much, Codependent No More, and Adult Children of Alcoholics. Within weeks I had a pile of books by my bedside. At first I read them with an eye toward what information would help me to convince my husband to come back. Then I started reading for me and my healing.

I pushed through the pain and did what I was told to do.    I had NO IDEA what to do. I had to be told the most BASIC things. I had to be given the most obvious instructions. My life had not worked before I got there. I have often said that had they told me to stand on my head and spit nickels, I would have done it. 

So, I gathered the nuggets of wisdom given to me by my therapists, my many sponsors, my support group peers, and the stacks of books I read. I gathered them and shared them with others who were struggling with dysfunctional and/or abusive relationships, low self-esteem, lack of boundaries, terrible childhood experiences. 

I started to go to conferences and retreats and seminars by many authors I had been reading. I heard Melody Beattie speak, I did a John Bradshaw Homecoming seminar even though I didn’t really buy the “inner child” thing at the time, but it had an incredible impact on me. I went to 12-step conferences and “round-ups” as they called them. I did other recovery conferences. 

I did a few weekend seminars with Stephen Levine. I took a course at work called Investment in Excellence and became a facilitator because the affirmation materials were the best I found (and the GPYB Power! Affirmations are based on IIE teachings that I have expanded upon through my own research over the years).  I did a Grief Recovery group and then became certified and studied with John James himself. In other words, I chased it and chased it and chased it. 

Soon I was being asked to speak at conferences and seminars. One night I was the main speaker at a conference of over 1000 people. It seemed incredible to me, that as hopeless as I had been when I started this journey, that I was standing on that stage.  I went back to graduate school and became a therapist and a psychiatric clinician and my private practice specialized in grief work and those separating from the personality disordered. (update 2020: when my first husband was alive, I never called him a narcissist in public. He would have sued me for sure. What I wrote in the GPYB book about his abuse was documented in court records from our DV restraining order trial. He was there, he provided no defense, so it is taken as the truth of the matter and truth is a complete defense to defamation.)

As they say in 12-step programs, you can’t keep it unless you give it away. I kept storing the nuggets and passing them on and what worked for the majority of us, I kept passing on and if it was only something that worked for me because of my history, I dropped it. I created inventories, which I will share with you, after doing 12-step inventories and GRI inventories. (update 2020: my book contract does not allow me to post the inventories on the internet any longer. It’s copyrighted/trademarked material and its dissemination [even by me] is not allowed.) 

What I pass on is what I call the Getting Past Your Past program. (It was changed to Getting Past Your Breakup program for a few reasons explained in the workbook, but in 2006, it was still gpyp and not yet gpyb). The Getting Past Your Past program is a mix of what I learned and what worked for me and a majority of the people I met in early recovery. It’s a mix of things to do and concrete steps to take to get to healing.

It’s a mix of classic and modern psychology, self-help, 12-step, and eastern philosophies.  I have been researching grief and attachment since 1994 and have folded much of it into the program. The boundaries portion of the program comes, primarily, from Melody Beattie, and the affirmations come from Investment in Excellence and Positive Psychology.  I am an avid researcher and stay on top of all these topics and fine tune the material as needed.

As my therapist taught me: it’s about balance…work the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. Nature abhors a vacuum…if you take something out, you have to put something in.  I have worked through my childhood trauma, my relationship issues, my unresolved losses while journaling, doing my affirmations and self-care and building a good life. 

What the program contains are all the things that helped me build a new life that was all mine, that was truly a treasure. For years I built that life and reveled in my recovery. I also developed some material for moving into a new relationship such as the Standards and Compatibility inventory, which I will share with you.  And though happy in my life, my friends told me that my standards were too high and I’d never find a man to meet them. But I was fine with that. I’d rather be alone than spend a second in misery. As a former DV victim, this was HUGE.

But, guess what? Nine years after walking out of my first marriage,  I met an incredible man who met those standards. He  loves me and treats me like a queen.  He has never called me a name, has never gaslit me, had never made me cry.  We support each other and respect our time together and apart. We each have hobbies, interests and friends outside of our relationship, but we are true, loving partners in life and in love. But he loves me because I love myself and I never, ever lose sight of that fact.

And I am grateful to share my life with him, every single day. (update 2020: My love passed away in 2009, right after the book was published.  When he got sick, in 2008, I started an on-line blog to separate my grief from that of my GPYB blog readers.  That blog is here: RopeBurns  )

Eventually I found a life that was second to none, full of love and loving people. Eventually I plowed through all the bad stuff to make room for the good stuff…and the good stuff came flooding in…

It wasn’t easy but nothing that is easy is a treasure. Treasures are hard won.

When you come face to face with your inner pain, do not retreat.

Go down into the abyss and bring up the treasure that is your new life.

It hurts and it feels like hell but there is much goodness waiting for you.

Clear the wreckage of the past and find it.

Susan J. Elliott 12/19/06

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