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What happens when a painful event changes the way you see yourself? How would you rebuild your life after an unexpected transition? What can sustain you through an extremely low point in life?
In the eighth episode of the How I Got Through It series, Joe Sanok speaks about disclosing an affair and working through a painful divorce with Thomas Olsen.
In this Podcast:
- “I felt like an impostor”
- Experiencing an extremely low point
- Finding your strengths
- What helped Thomas get through it?
- Thomas’ advice to his younger self
“I felt like an impostor”
Once Thomas disclosed the affair to his partner, the admission of the truth took some weight from his shoulders, but his world came apart.
I felt like an impostor with what I was doing as to my career, you know, helping people through difficult life transitions … I just couldn’t continue it anymore … it was a total shell-shock moment, of, “How did I even get in this situation?” (Thomas Olsen)
Difficult and emotionally complex situations can take an enormous toll on those whom it affects.
Thomas had to deal with this situation and felt like he was living a life that was not at all what he wanted.
Experiencing an extremely low point
During the summer of 2020, Thomas hit the lowest point that he could remember in his life.
The thought of continuing [to] live was so painful. I was just like, “I don’t know how to do this”. I’d look in the mirror and I couldn’t even believe what I had done and how I’d hurt my spouse and hurt my children. (Thomas Olsen)
Thomas felt that he had let down a community of people within his life, from family to friends, and struggled desperately with how to view himself, and to find a better place.
Finding your strengths
Out of all this, throughout this process … there were a lot of things I questioned about myself but I was able to maintain that I am a good father. I love my children, and I’m very involved and take a lot of pride in being there in their lives. (Thomas Olsen)
Throughout the difficult divorce, Thomas and his spouse maintained their co-parenting and put their children first.
They were able to divorce without needing attorneys and focused on keeping the process as pain-free as possible, wherever possible, for one another.
What helped Thomas get through it?
- Going to therapy, and investing in himself.
Therapy gave him a space to grieve the past experiences, process the grieving process of loss, and coming to acceptance.
- He spent more time in nature and the outdoors. Being outside helped him to feel better, to breathe – physically and emotionally.
Being able to get outside and [into] nature … even just getting outside and going for a walk. (Thomas Olsen)
- Thomas also kept a close circle of dear friends who supported him through everything. They listened to him and gave him a safe space to grieve and process his divorce in the company of friendship.
- Journaling and watching movies that resonated with his emotions were a big part of his healing, and coming to a better place in himself and his life.
Thomas’ advice to his younger self
Show compassion to yourself.
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Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
Thanks For Listening!
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Welcome to this episode of how I got through it from the Practice of the Practice podcast. Just some quick trigger warnings. Also you may just, because we cover adult themes, want to think about who you listen to this show around. In this episode, we talk about divorce, we talk about an affair, we talk about suicidal ideation, panic attacks, and uncoupling and divorce. So just wanted to make sure you knew that before you jumped into the episode.This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 743.Well I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. I am so glad you’re here. We have been doing this series, the how I got through it series. We started in late June and it’s just amazing. I shared at the beginning about how I’ve gone through quite a bit in the last year and a half of my own uncoupling and becoming an unexpected single dad. I mean, to hear some of these stories of people with like the death of a sibling or son’s seizures and just last week, lies of a married man and unexpected adoption, I mean, stories of just heavy, heavy stuff. Today I’m really excited to be talking with Thomas Olsen. Thomas has been on the show before and we’re going to be digging right in Thomas. Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast.
Hey Joe, thanks for having me back. I’m excited to be here.
Well, tell the audience a little bit about yourself, about what your life looks like.
Yes, so I also a single dad, like you mentioned, and we’ll get into that a little bit more, but yes, last time I was on the show, I was in grad school getting my master’s in professional counseling. I finished that up. I was working as a counselor for a few years and some unexpected life things that, like I said, we’ll get into changed that route for me a little bit. I’m actually, I’m no longer practicing as a therapist, but I still am very much am involved in the space, like the mental health and all that things. It’s really still a big passion mine, but currently work now in tech sales, which has been a really great transition for me as moving into being a single dad and those types of things in my life.So it’s been, it’s support of that lifestyle that I’ve needed really well, but definitely been, yes, so I’ve been, that’s been keeping me busy being a dad. I have a podcast myself that I run. It’s about superhero movies. It’s really just a really fun outlet for my friends and I, a couple buddies and I to talk about these passionate things. We try to find some of the more inspiring themes that come out of those films. So anyway, it’s been a lot of fun to do that, and that’s been a big passion project for me. Yes, that’s what I’ve been up to lately
That’s interesting. During the summer as all of my uncoupling was going on I decided that I’d dive into the Marvel Universe I’d never dove in and so I was Googling, what order should I watch things in, things like that. It was interesting. I got through probably 10 of the movies and I needed a break from superheroes.
That’s a lot.
Well now I’m watching book of Boba Fett. It’s still in the same genre, but a little bit different, going back to the star wars stuff. Well, where does it make sense for us to start the story?
Probably, maybe just to take aback a couple years, I guess, for me. I really what I wanted to talk about mostly is just going through, I know you mentioned uncoupling and I’ve gone through a really painful divorce. So I wanted to share a little bit of that story, so maybe just starting back how everything started, if that works.
Yes, that sounds like a great starting point.
I want to preface too that I don’t know if, I think you mentioned earlier, you might have a trigger warning before we jumped on here, but I did want to say that. That I know this stuff can be heavy and sensitive to people. Everyone’s at different stages. And also too, anyway, I wanted just to share too, with my experience, what I’m about to share, I, in no way, consider myself a victim of anything. I just wanted to share my experience of how painful it is to go through an experience like this. This is the first time, I guess I’d say publicly, I’ve talked about this and so it still might be a little raw, so I might, anyways some emotions might come up anyway so I just wanted to put that there.
Yes, I mean, you’re in a safe place and to me, we can always pause the recording if we need to. It’s interesting, even just for myself in thinking, like I haven’t at the time of our recording right now recorded the first episode of this series, which in the series will already have aired. For that very reason, I wanted to think through how do I share my story? How do I do it in a way that is like my perspective without throwing my X under the bus while also not, I mean, it’s an interesting thing to think through. I get it that so yes, at any point we can pause it and, I mean, that’s something we’ll just dive in how you feel like diving in.
So tell us how things started for you.
About end of 2019, I was working as a therapist, like I mentioned, and I was working a ton. I was really busy, I had a full caseload, I was running groups, I was doing individual counseling. I was doing couples counseling. I was working with teenagers. I was working, I was just doing a lot. During that time, I think for several years, for me, I felt like, and I had also become a new dad. Well I had my first child in 2017, my daughter, and then in September of 2019, my son. So my former wife and I, we adopted our two children. We adopted our son in September of 2019. Anyway, it was just a really busy time and looking back on that experience, I can see that there was a lot of, I was struggling with depression but I was struggling with anxiety, but then also I was not taking time for my own self-care.I was at the beginning stages of burnout within my career. During that time, within that period of trying to, just life was crazy, new son, becoming a new father, my career was going well, but it was really busy and hectic. I ended up having an affair with a friend of mine and that lasted a few months. Eventually it was literally right as the world was changing as the pandemic happened and people, the world, everything shut down is when I ended up disclosing it to my wife at the time and ended that affair. She and I, our lives were left in this chaotic state of trying to figure out what next, what do we do with this? So really, I guess what I wanted to share was something —
I have a question about timeline. At what part of the pandemic was it that you disclosed this? Was that like right at the beginning?
It was literally right the beginning. It was like a Friday, the Thursday before is when I remember Disneyland shut down, the NBA, they paused. Everything was just, you go to the grocery store that was when you couldn’t find toilet paper. That was like you go to the grocery store and just the shelves were empty.
Literally that day, I remember going to the grocery store and seeing that. Yes, it was a really just dark, dark, dark moment. I don’t know how to describe it, except it felt just like darkness.
Now what was it about that time that felt like you wanted to come clean with what was happening?
I feel like it was, the person, the individual that I was having the affair with, I think she and I both knew that that point it wasn’t going to be sustainable. We had developed a real relationship, real feelings, but at the same time we knew it was not appropriate and so we needed to figure out what to do. So we had decided that we weren’t going to continue. My former wife right at that time began to have suspicions and so she asked me some questions about things and then I just ended up telling her because I was like I need to, I need to get this out. This is not okay. Even just, I felt I couldn’t become, I felt like an imposter with what I was doing as for my career, helping people through difficult life transitions and things like that. And I worked with individuals that had gone through affairs and things and I just couldn’t continue it anymore. At the time it was this total, like shell shock moment of how did I even get in this situation? It was confusing and just, yes, anyways, it’s hard to explain and I feel like I’m maybe rambling with it, I’m not making sense, but it was such a confusing time, I guess.
Then what were the next things that happened after you told her?
We then separated and for the next several months going back and forth on whether or not we wanted to try to work things out it was really just strange. I ended up resigning from my job as a therapist and then ended up that summer deciding to not continue no longer working as a therapist and making a career change, but within our relationship, yes, we just weren’t, there was just a lot of up and downs and I wasn’t sure what I wanted or what we needed to do. Around May, so that was March of 2020 is when I disclosed it, around May we decided to really give it a try, like really work through it. I feel like for me, a big thing was we had these two beautiful, beautiful kids together.My son was really, he was still a baby at the time. My daughter was two and a half. Our kids being adopted, I remember feeling like an immense amount of shame of like, I cannot believe that these birth families, they entrusted us with their children hoping for this two-parent home where these kids can grow up and then I was going to take that away from them. So I remember around May being like, I need to make this work. We need to make this marriage work. If she’s willing, then let’s figure it out. So we moved back in together. We were doing like an in-home separation at the time.It’s interesting because over the next, that summer, summer of 2020, it was one of the most, that was probably the most difficult part of my life. I have never been suicidal in my life before, but around that time, it was pretty consistent. I didn’t have any plans or anything like that, but I definitely, the thought of continuing living it was so painful. I was like, I don’t know how to do this, because I look in the mirror and I couldn’t even believe what I’d done and how I’d hurt my spouse and I’d hurt my children and the other people involved, the other couple that was involved in this and my family and my friends and it was a pretty big public thing.A lot of friends, a lot of family were very involved in it, which looking back, I wish there could have been more boundaries with them, some things, but it was very, there’s a lot of people involved and I felt like I had just let down like a community of people. It was really difficult. I had never experienced panic attacks in my life and I was daily having panic attacks. There was this deep sadness and loneliness that I had just never experienced and what was hard about it was, I knew that my actions brought me into this situation. So I was, I felt like I had, there was no room for me, like I didn’t have any reason to seek help.I was seeing a therapist at the time, but I also just felt like I couldn’t really go to my family or my friends because I felt like I’d let them down. I was continuing to just feel stuck and trapped in this thing. Then on top of that, I could see the signs that our marriage was not going to work. At the time I didn’t have all the words for it. I just knew within myself this is not going to be what’s going to be right, at least for me. I can’t speak for her but I just knew that I couldn’t heal and I couldn’t be the best father I could to my kids if we stayed in this marriage. But I didn’t know how to communicate that. I didn’t know how to like what those feelings were and so yes, it was just really difficult.
So when did it move into divorce, like filing for divorce and that side of it?
So around end of summer, around August of 2020 is when I ended up letting her know that I wanted to move forward with divorce. That’s when that process started. That is really, I think, to another turning point where it was like, so parents were divorced, they got divorced when I was in end of high school my senior year. I remember at the time telling myself, I would never get divorced. I was like, I’m never going to do that. That’s not going to be me. That’s not going to be my life. So to finally have that moment of that was my life, I was actually doing, I had just done two things I never planned to do in my life, have an affair and get divorced. Those were the two biggest no-nos that I could ever commit.Somehow I found myself in these situations and it was just, even though I knew I needed to get divorce, it was still incredibly hard. There was this, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie The Dark Knight. There’s this quote that one of the characters says, he says, you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I remember feeling like I was the villain of, I’d become that. Anyway, that was when the divorce process started, was like August of 2020 and —
Well, and that process can be, I mean, at least in my situation, I mean I have friends that it’s been easier. I have friends that been hard. It’s been like the ups and downs of not even knowing what’s that person or that attorney going to say today, or this week or this hour. Are there any things from that process that you care to share?
I think it’s been, yes, that part has been difficult. One thing that I will say that’s been really beneficial about all, this is our relationship has become really, it’s a really difficult relationship, obviously. There’s a lot of hurt and a lot of pain, but as far as like our co-parenting has gone, I feel very blessed and fortunate. We’ve been able to maintain that and we’ve been able to do divorce, everything without attorneys and divide everything up really well. That we’ve been, I’ve been very fortunate in that way that, yes, it’s been done very well and we both feel, like we have a 50/50 custody plan with our kids and we both are very much involved with their lives and then the kids, I feel like obviously it’s been difficult for them as well, but they definitely have, I know that they have some security between the two of us.That in a lot of ways has been a pretty big benefit of all. That’s gone smoothly as far as like that process but I think getting to it, getting to that decision of divorce and I mean, it’s not that it’s all been smooth. Obviously there’s been a lot of difficult conversations she and I have had to have, and we both have had moments of, really difficult moments of not handling our emotions the best or whatnot, but I think now we’re at a spot of that getting to a healthier spot of co-parenting. That’s really what I think in the long run that for both of us we want, and I hope we can sustain.
What do you think that you each did to have that healthy co-parenting? How did that unfold? Was that expected? Do you think it’s just your natural characters or do you think that there’s things that you each did that helped step into that?
I think it’s a little bit of our natural characters. I think we both are very, out of all this, throughout this process, I think I lost, there was a lot of things that I question about myself, but I was able to maintain that I am a good father. I love my children and I’m very involved. I take a lot of pride in being there in their lives, and I know that she is as well. She’s a great mother and I think that we both have maintained that no matter what. We both want the best for them, but I think, honestly, I’d say the biggest thing is learning boundaries with each other. So when it came to negotiating, dividing up assets and debts and all those types of things we tried doing it in-person and it didn’t go very well.We did it a few times and one of them just ended pretty badly. So I think it was, we both recognized we needed to have boundaries and so we needed, we communicated all through email and that was really helpful for us to have time and space to read and respond and not feel like you’re not in the emotions when you’re in with each other face to face in-person. So learning to have boundaries throughout all this has been really helpful for me because there was times I was like, no, we should be able to sit down as adults and talk about it and figure it out. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of emotions involved and it’s still very raw and hopefully, maybe one day we can do that but this point, email is great and it works really well and things aren’t miscommunicated, and you can get to straight to the point. That’s been really helpful, I think as well,
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I’m wondering for you personally, having made the choices you said, and I know that in the application, you said there was guilt and grief and shame and all those things, what were personal habits, mindsets, ways that you have either grown or even just sat with all of those feelings that got you through, especially the thickest part of it. You were talking about how there are certain parts that maybe felt heavier than other parts. What were things you did for yourself that have helped you come out on the other side, maybe just a little bit different, a little bit stronger, a little less full of shame?
I appreciate you asking that, because that’s I’d say the shame has been a lifelong battle that I’ve carried with me, that I’ve struggled with. At times, before all this, I thought I’d conquered it, or I felt like I had a handle but I realized throughout this experience that I really, there was a lot of things that I still needed to confront in my life. I mentioned in August, 2020 was when that decision was made and we stopped our in-home separation at that point but at that point I was, I mentioned I was seeing a therapist before that. I decided to see a different one. I just wasn’t getting what I felt like I needed with that other person. Nothing against that individual, but it just I think sometimes things just aren’t the right fit.So I started to see a new therapist right around there from about August of 2020 to October of 2020 for about a two-month period. I would meet with her at least twice a week sometimes and really just, I feel like I almost, I did almost like two years of therapy within two months. What we did a lot in that was she allowed, she gave me a space to finally start to grieve all these things in my life that I had never grieved before. I mentioned that we adopted our children and I had never grieved, that I never was, that we weren’t able to have our own children, which that doesn’t take away my love that I have for my kids and the way things turned out.I’m very happy and I love my kids. I’m not trying to act like it’s not, but there is a grieving process that happens when a person goes through that of the idea of not having children at all. There was just a lot of different points in my life that I finally was able to start grieving if that makes sense. So not just that, but then like grieving the relationship, the loss of the relationship, the loss of friendships that I had because I lost friends because of this and I lost family relationships, like her family, my in-laws, those relationships have changed and have become different.It was just like, I actually allowed myself to be sad. I would sit with myself and I’d have moments where I would, I’d cry a lot. I mentioned beginning of the show I love Superheroes, but I also love movies in general. Film is one of my, it’s like almost a spiritual experience for me, watching movies sometimes and emotional experience. So I would watch movies and it would bring out certain emotions and it would help me to grieve and let go of some of those feelings. That was a really important thing. Then of course with that, one of the big things was I got back, I’ve always loved outdoor. I love nature. I love hiking, but I didn’t do a lot of that once I got married and once I had kids. So I started to allow myself to go on hikes and get outside and get outdoors a lot and that was a really grounding thing for me to do.When I feel my emotions getting out of the point where I didn’t feel like I had the control anymore, like being able to get outside in nature. Obviously, it was hard to sometimes get up to the mountains, but even just getting outside and going for walks and even it was just with my kids. We would go on a lot of, my kids and I went on a lot of walks around that time. Then the last thing I’d say was having just a few individuals that I could go to and I could express these things too, like I could cry with, I could just share my grievances with and all I had to do was just listen. I didn’t need anything else besides that. Those were probably the biggest things in that moment that helps me to get through that, so like to finally let myself grieve it and let out these feelings and then having some like the hiking and the friendships to help get me grounded.
When you were processing the therapy, was it you’d meditate on it, you’d journal, you just let it just sit there while you were living life? How did you, after you were in the therapy, allow your brain to process and grieve?
That’s a great question. So I think one was, journaling was huge. That was, my therapist, every session she’d give me journaling assignments and writing. One of the things she had me do was she had me write out all the events of what led up to the affair. So I literally went back two years of my life before that even started and I just journaled about what was going on in my life, trying to recall what feelings I was having and I seriously wrote like a novel. It was like, a couple, it was a lot. I’ve never written that much before, but it was really therapeutic for me and really healthy to get all that out. So journaling was huge.I’m glad you brought that up, because I forgot about that. That was a really, but as far as like other things too, like I mentioned, I would watch movies and that was like this safe space where I could, I remember watching the movie Lynn Erra with Hugh Jackman, the one that came out seven, eight years ago. It’s a story about this guy that, he’s at this lowest point in his life and he ends up stealing from a priest, but then the priest ends up forgiving him. I can’t really, I think he lets him keep what he stole and he ends up having this great life afterwards, but then things from his past end up coming later on, later in his future and he has to confront those and it was this really, it’s a story about forgiveness and redemption.I remember just crying throughout the whole thing because, and it was just this really, for me it felt very cathartic to just let those emotions come out in a safe place, if that makes sense. That was some of the things I did. I can get into this too in a minute, but as I started get myself, I feel like more grounded. Yes, I meditated a lot as well. I did yoga. I started doing yoga in the spring of 2020, but continued. That was really helpful. But in 2020, winter of 2020, January, February, I started doing EMDR with my therapist and that was a really, really healing experience as well.
When you think back to, you can pick whatever moment you want to pick, but if you could go back and just give your younger self, some piece of advice or a thought or a mindset or something, what would you go back and say to yourself a couple years ago? You can pick where whatever time that is.
I think what I would do is I would want to tell my young, I would want to essentially just show a lot of compassion to my younger self. I’ve learned throughout this process that one of my talents or one of my natural abilities is compassion for others. I know that maybe sounds counterintuitive if I had an affair, but I am a very compassionate person. I always have been to the point where I’ve like even neglected myself at times trying to help others. But I’ve noticed though throughout my life, I struggled a lot showing compassion to myself and through the EMDR that I did, I learned that that was a missing link for me throughout my life and that’s become a huge heal is to be able to tell myself, I wish I could go back to myself when I was 22.I was brand new. I got married really young. I was scared out of my mind of what I was going to do for career and all these things. I wish I could go back and just give that version of myself a hug and just say like, “Hey, it’s going to be okay. You are capable. You can do this. You’re strong.” Just those things that we tell our friends, when our friends come to us in difficult moments, I wish I could have done that more to myself, just throughout my life. That’s something I try to do more of now and I think that’s been, I know we talked before we start recording of like, I still feel like I’m getting through this. I don’t know if I’ve got through it, but I feel like that has been a key for me is like, self-compassion, like having compassion for myself to continue to navigate this really difficult experience.
I think that’s one of the themes as I’m doing this, I mean, I get the benefit of interviewing all these people who’ve been through really interesting and tough things that one of the common themes I’m noticing is just how people are still getting through it. Even if stuff happened 20 years ago, that it’s not, there’s not an end cap. So, yes, thanks so much for sharing that. Thomas, if people want to connect with you, is there either a website, social media? How can people connect with you if they want to connect?
If you want to, you can reach out to me. I’m on Instagram at Tommy Olsen 88. That’s my name there. Or if you want to follow my podcast, that’s probably a good way to do get in touch with me too. It’s called Superhero Movie Cast. If you wanted to email me, you could do that at email@example.com. Yes, that’s, we talk about movies and superheroes, but we talk about other stuff, too, movies and things. It’s just usually just a fun time, but that’s probably the best way to get in touch with me
That’s so awesome. Well we’ll have links to all those things in the show notes. Thomas, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
Thanks for having me.
Man, this series is so unexpectedly helpful for me and I love that this series, first and foremost doing is a selfish exploration for myself. Because I think then, not that the business and the marketing and all those other things that we talk about but a lot of that stuff, when we talk about business and marketing, I’ve sometimes felt like, well, I’ve learned some of these things and I’ll pick up tips, but just the personal nature of this series, it’s getting me really excited. I’m really, even just thinking through like those of you who listened to my episode where I talked about my uncoupling to see the world through my ex’s eyes of her decisions and then to just be able to interview Thomas and hear the opposite side of my situation just builds a little click of empathy or compassion for my ex.That was unexpected. I didn’t know Thomas’s full story here going into it and to just have that shift a little bit inside of me is just a big shift for me. So just thanks so much to all the people that have been participating in these episodes. Thank you so much to our sponsors. We could not do this show, this type of series this depth of just conversations. If we didn’t have the sponsors that we have and today’s sponsor is Brighter Vision is another thing you can outsource to. They do websites for therapists. You can head on over to brightervision.com/joe. Right now, Brighter Vision is offering one of the biggest discounts ever during the 4th of July sale, sign up for any website package by Friday, July 8th, to receive their exclusive tiered discount of $5 per month off the start plan, $10 a month off the grow plan and $20 a month off the flourish plan during your first year with brighter vision, all you have to do is go to brightervision.com/joe to learn more and take advantage of this great deal. Again, that’s brightervision.com/joe. Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music.This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.