This post is a response to a few of the comments received from Part 2 and Part 3 of my series The Midlife Journey: Understanding, Accepting & Embracing the Outcome.

Background The original series referenced the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. In it the author spoke briefly of her affair and the end of her marriage.

As my mama told me many times, the world does not revolve around me. My actions impact others. I believe I can live a great life and be happy without hurting everyone I love (and killing that love).

We are all human and thus flawed; we do hurt people. Sometimes we hurt without intention and at other times we are aware of our actions. Maybe our sins are not as painful and damaging as adultery. Sometimes people choose to be hurt by our actions even when those actions are necessary and good—not sins. But we are all sinners and some of our actions are sinful and damaging to others.

How do you live with knowing that about yourself? How do you accept it within yourself? How do you make amends? Adultery is one kind of sin and yeah, it’s awful and I did not commit adultery. But I have my own sins.

Do well-adjusted people with basic coping skills, morals, self-worth… need to have a crisis or breaking open experience for their growth?
This question originally added breaking open as a parenthetical, implying it is synonymous with the word crisis. Though they share attributes, they are not the same! An experience of breaking open may or may not occur within a crisis and a crisis may or may not lead to or occur within an experience of breaking open. Both are about a turning point. I believe that most MLCers will come through their crisis and the point of MLC that is conducive to breaking open is Liminality. Escape and Avoid (Replay or Wallow) is not conducive to breaking open because it is about avoiding; breaking open is the opposite of that. But not all MLCers will come through—a rare few get stuck—and not all will have an aha moment or experience that changes them. Some come through and return to their former selves, some come through changed, but a breaking open experience may not happen to any, or it may. It probably will enable greater change in what they do with their life after MLC.

Danger + Opportunity
That is a general definition or idea. It involves a turning point or a decision. Life was one way before and is a different way after. A crisis can be something that happens to you—Sweetheart’s MLC put me in crisis too. So crisis itself is not about avoidance. A crisis during the years of midlife may not be a midlife crisis in the context we describe here. The crisis event or situation is traumatic, frightening and may be dangerous.

Breaking Open
Like crisis, breaking open is often instigated by the requirement to make a decision, and life before and after are different. But breaking open is responsive, it comes about because a person surrenders, accepting the reality of circumstances and uses that experience to grow rather than stagnate. It is a sort of epiphany-like experience that brings about a paradigm shift inside an individual. A breaking open experience itself is not selfish—though selfish actions may lead a person to a breaking open as they did with Elizabeth Lesser or Siddhartha becoming the Buddha and as they can with MLCers in Liminality.

Midlife Crisis
Midlife transition is a time for self-questioning, thus it’s a quest. It’s about change; denial and attempts to avoid the transition yield crisis which manifests through avoidance, regression and depression and in the context of a marriage often includes infidelity and separation. To further differentiate from what may be considered a mild form, MLCers react overtly with outward destruction; whether intentional or not, an MLCer hurts other people in significant ways. MLC is reactive rather than responsive.

Neither crisis nor breaking open are about selfishness, the selfishness is an attribute of part of midlife crisis. MLC Escape & Avoid is about closing rather than opening.

I’ve had a few experiences that I would classify as mildly breaking open. For Elizabeth Lesser, it was not a moment, but the entire situation of her divorce. For me it was a few of my Knowings and they felt like epiphanies—I felt I was in direct commune with God. They were not painful, but blessed and the first lasted less than a minute, a profound Knowing a few years later lasted a few hours or days and in that one I felt as though my head were opened up and everything was pouring in—love, knowledge, understanding, joy… My liminal period near the end of Sweetheart’s crisis was also a period of chipping away to break me open. It was more subtle than the other experiences; I turned inward and wrote a lot of poetry. In addition Sweetheart’s MLC itself was a breaking open experience for me. I now separate my life into before and after Bomb Drop and the time on either side moves differently in my memory.

The time before 20 March 2005 was another life, another person. I am the same and yet profoundly different and I think for me it feels like leaving a state of ignorance or unknowing and entering into reality which has opened me up to my bliss. There was not a secret life before MLC, Sweetheart’s affair was limited to the crisis, so I do not mean I was ignorant because I was unknowingly living a lie. But the world feels bigger now—or maybe smaller. What I mean is I feel more connected—so I have broadened and thus it feels bigger and yet being connected is about unity for me and that is like being smaller in the sense of intimacy.


Reflection of a Sinner1 Comment

  1. I appreciate all that you have written about MLC! My husband walked out this past August with no trying or working on our marriage just announced he wasn’t in love with me anymore no warning previous to this announcement. After 36 years I am crushed, it’s like an alien took over his body and mind and noone knows him at all. He has crushed our 4 grown sons and barely makes attempts to see them only once every 6 weeks for dinner. Has only seen the grandkids 2 or 3 times in 4 months and used to see them 3times a week regularly. My heart breaks for myself, my boys and for him because I don’t think he knows the destruction he has caused. I think he is liking the single life with his new girlfriend! So sad, but trying to move on with my life as best I can. Thanks for the articles they have really helped me!
    Dawnanne chase

  2. Dawnanne,
    I feel your pain. My husband and I are in the middle of a divorce. He's not in love with me. He hooked up with his soulmate from 30 years ago. They have been in touch with each other for our 25 years of marriage. He waited for our children to be older that way they would be fine with the divorce. They are not fine. It hurts me so to see them hurting. They don't want to even see "him" that's what they call their father. But h is very happy he has his freedom. He said he was never in love with me. Married me because he had pity for me.
    I'm trying to move on . I'm in therapy and also divorce care, which is a wonderful program.
    Stay strong Dawnanne, it's a tough road that we are on but we will come out better then ever!

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