Recently, I took a drive in the mountains near my house to see the autumn leaves changing color. Describing this scene as incredible seems like an understatement. The mountainside was covered in a sea of reds, oranges, yellows, and evergreens. Bright red leaves next to golden yellow trees made each color even more vibrant. It literally took my breath away.
I’ve admired these leaves and the brilliant colors for years. I’ve driven through the mountains for as long as I can remember each year to enjoy the beauty of autumn leaves. It’s a favorite tradition of mine. Each year I am in awe of this beautiful world I live in. I’ve been reminded of how there is a season for everything. I’ve thought about the excitement of a new season and the sadness of closing the season of life I’m currently in. I’ve thought about the importance of letting go.
As I continued to drive and enjoy the scenery, I realized something new. It isn’t the leaves falling to the ground that make this season so spectacular, the beauty of autumn lies in change.
It is in the changing of these colors that we recognize the beauty they hold. Although still beautiful in their own way, without change, these leaves don’t dazzle and showcase all that autumn has to offer.
Change is required before letting go.
This is true in my own journey as well. Letting go is an important part of my recovery. Letting go of ideas, beliefs and stories that no longer serve me is a necessary step in change. Letting go of comparisons, control, resentments, and expectations are all part of my transformation. Before I can let go, I have to change. Without change, it’s hard to let go. A green leaf that is being nourished by the tree doesn’t want to let go. It takes a great force outside itself to fall to the ground. This force might be a strong wind, or a child who is walking past and pulls the leaf off the tree.
Once the leaves change color, it gives them a chance to let go. They are no longer being nourished by the tree, and letting go becomes easier. This leaf transformed from the inside out. That original change, the chlorophyll that stopped producing, wasn’t apparent to anyone walking by. Those beginning changes were only known to the tree.
Similarly, before letting go, something must change within me. My changes start from the inside out. For instance, before I can let go of an expectation, I have to change what I think or believe. If I have an expectation that my children will clean the house without being asked , and I don’t want to be disappointed or resentful, I need to change what I think to fit reality. This shift in my own thinking allows me the chance to let go of my expectation.
As I continued to drive down the canyon, I realized that the more intense the change, the more beauty I saw. To recognize that this vibrant red tree was once green made this drastic change all the more magnificent. How true this has been in my journey. The more intense my changes have been, the more beauty I see in my life. Many of my changes have come slowly, one leaf at a time. At times, entire trees seem to change overnight. Looking at where my life was 2 years ago compared to today, there have been some incredible and intense changes. I see the beauty in these changes and I’m grateful for these never ending Octobers, with continual change and letting go.
As Ann of Green Gables has said, “”I’m so glad I live in a world full of Octobers”. Me too.
To quote Glennon Doyle Melton, “Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful I call it.” My life has most certainly been brutiful recently. Some days feel I feel more of the brutal. And some days I feel more of the beautiful. In 2015, I took my childhood home and built an addition large enough that my family could live in all while my parents could have one level living and stay in the home they have lived in for 42 years. We remodeled the existing house to create one level living for my parents. We extended the kitchen and dining room and created some larger living space for the whole family to get together. This home was built with the idea of creating a home that my parents could easily live in through out the rest of their lives. Instead of making difficult decisions after a fall or a parent’s death, I wanted to preemptively create a long term plan. Little did I know that two short years later, this decision would be so impactful. In March of this year, my mom was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This was the third cancer diagnosis in 9 years and the second diagnosis of lymphoma. After four rounds of chemotherapy, she made the difficult decision to undergo a stem cell transplant to increase the chance of long term survival. This process has been brutiful. It’s pushed us all to the brink of exhaustion and feeling like we just can’t continue any longer. There are so many brutal components to the transplant. And throughout this process there have been beautiful experiences that have reminded me in dark moments that my Higher Power is holding space for me throughout this whole experience. Life is indeed brutiful.
Last Sunday I woke up and realized that I needed a day “off”. My kids were going back to school the next day and I needed some time to get things ready. After a month long stay in the hospital, my mom was coming home and I needed some time to get ready for her arrival. And most importantly I needed some time to connect with myself, and to recharge on an internal level as well. I needed a break from the every day and a chance to reconnect to myself, my family, and my Higher Power. As I gave myself permission to have this day “off”, I started thinking of myself several years ago. Several years ago I was in a very different place. Taking a day “off” of any obligation wouldn’t have been an option for me. I felt a sense of obligation to do what I was “supposed” to do. I lived out of fear of what others would think. I lived in a state of feeling the need to earn love from others in my life and especially my Higher Power. It got me thinking of how important it has been for me to find a God of my own understanding. Trying to live a life with a God that other people had presented to me wasn’t working for me. I was working alright, just not in a way that felt nurturing or had any sense of self compassion.
I thought about a sign I have hanging in my dining room that says “Grace Changes Everything”. Grace has literally changed everything for me. It has changed me from doing something out of obligation to doing something because it feels right to me. I give myself grace when I’ve reacted in a way I don’t like. I give myself grace when I have every intention of calling a friend or finishing a task and it just doesn’t get done. I give myself grace when my internal dialogue goes back to negative self talk. I give myself grace when I stay home and have a day “off”. Giving myself grace is something I’ve learned in recovery. It has changed me from being angry and resentful to loved and supported in exactly where I am today. Giving myself grace doesn’t mean I don’t try again or that I’m justifying my behaviors. Giving myself grace doesn’t mean that I don’t circle back to make amends. Giving myself grace allows me to be ME. Today. Whatever that looks like. Grace is giving myself permission to be human. Giving myself grace means that I hold myself with compassion, wherever I am and accept myself exactly as that person. The crazy thing is that when I give myself grace to be whoever I am, I actually want to be a better person. I’m not fundamentally at war with myself.
Giving grace to myself has allowed me to give grace to others. When I don’t feel compelled to push myself so hard, I’m less judgmental of others around me. When I give myself grace and accept myself where I am today, I can extend that grace all around me. I can say to myself “It’s ok for you to do/be______. You are doing the best you can”. When I can really internalize that, I can extend that same grace to others. I can give others permission to be human as well.
My life is brutiful and so are other’s lives around me. I am not the only one living a brutiful life. Giving myself grace, in the brutiful moments of life, allows me to give grace to others in their brutiful moments of life. Giving grace in the brutiful moments, creates meaning and purpose. To finish Glennon Doyle Melton’s quote: “Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal and reject the beauty. So now I embrace both and I live well and hard and real.”
I live minutes away from some incredible mountain ranges. The natural beauty that is all around me can sometimes get lost in the busyness of the days. A few weeks ago, I decided to go hiking with my kids. The trail was labeled “moderate” and although early in the season, we decided to go for it. I knew the trail would be a bit hard, but I was unprepared for how hard it would be. The first half mile was at a steep incline. It was hot, and being the first hike of the season, I was out of shape. I stopped frequently to catch my breath. I questioned my sanity and if I should keep going. As I kept moving up the mountain I started thinking about all the life lessons that applied on this hike. I call these “Life Lessons on a Mountain”
1. Go at your own pace. I’m in a very different space than my 13 year old. She’s an active, bubbly, full of energy kind of girl. I’m a 39 year old, tired, never enough time for cardio kind of mom. Expecting myself to go at her pace was a set up for disappointment. In life, if I try to keep up with anyone but myself, I am setting myself up for failure. That doesn’t mean I can’t challenge myself or push myself to continue, but comparing myself to someone else’s journey will end in disaster.
2. It’s ok if you don’t make it to your intended destination. On our hike, my intended destination was a look out point called Grandeur Peak. When I started out on our hike, this was my destination. About 30 minutes into the hike, I could see that this wasn’t going to happen. I started setting up smaller, more manageable goals to reach. My goal became making it to the next shady spot, the next 100 steps, or to a look out point. If your intended destination seems out of reach, set up smaller goals and work your way to the top. It’s ok to take yourself where you are.
3. Come prepared. Although I brought plenty of water, I hadn’t eaten lunch or brought any snacks for the trail. Combined with the heat and my physical limitations, I was a recipe for disaster. Coming prepared by eating protein prior to the hike, or bringing along some nuts to snack on might have helped alleviate some of the discomfort I felt along the way. Preparation is critical to success.
4. Understand your own limitations. Setting my sights on a 5 mile hike when I had barely walked around the block this winter wasn’t realistic. Understanding my own limitations helps me to reach manageable goals.
5. Enjoy the beauty wherever you are. Don’t wait until you “get there” to open your eyes. Although I never made it to the top, I was able to see wildflowers, rolling green mountain tops, and butterflies. I heard birds singing. If I had waited until I was at the top to enjoy the view, I would have missed the beauty along the way.
6. Love yourself for trying. It would be easy to get frustrated with myself for not making it to the top. Instead, I’m choosing to love myself for trying. I’m loving myself for making an effort to enjoy the world around me. I’m celebrating the mini milestones and encouraging myself to try again. Negative self talk was my go to for so many years. Clearly, that didn’t work well for me. I’m choosing a different way.
7. There is always another chance. This wasn’t a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can try this hike again later in the season or next year. I can work my way towards another chance. I can take the lessons I’ve learned and try again. Just because I “failed” this time, doesn’t mean that I can’t succeed. Failure to me is when I stop trying.
So there you have it. Life lessons on a mountain. I think I’m ready for life lessons from the beach next.
I’ve been MIA for a while now. A bit of writers block. The past few months I have been feeling a lot of inadequacies at my job. I’ve felt a lot of blame and criticism from one of my coworkers that has fed my stories of “you are inadequate” and “you aren’t smart enough” and my personal favorite “you will never be good enough”. In addition, I work in a very demanding financial industry where we are in the midst of our busy season. It seems that no matter how much I put in, I’m failing in some way. If I spend lots of hours at the office, I feel I am failing as a mom. If I put in my normal hours, I feel I am failing at my job. Any way I slice it, I see failure. Those stories of “you are inadequate” and “you will never be good enough” continued to grow.
I took two days off work to go to a women’s retreat and getting to the retreat was quite the ordeal. I realized as I was getting things ready to leave that this career path wasn’t working for me. The amount of drama and pressure that was mounting for missing two days of work was overwhelming. I acknowledged again the reality that my current career doesn’t align with my beliefs any more. I used to believe that success was measured by how much money I made and by what my job title was. I don’t believe that any more. Success to me is found in fulfillment and by giving back to others. Finding purpose in life rather than just living life. For a while, my job gave me the financial security to find my passion in other ways. That worked for a bit, but I’m realizing it doesn’t work for me now. I need more. I need to feel like I’m making a difference in the world rather than just “working for the man”. I need to feel like I am helping others around me and I want to see the names and faces of those I am helping. I wasn’t sure where this would come from but I know I needed a change.
At the women’s retreat we talked about fear. One of the questions that was posed was “What would you do if fear didn’t hold you back?” My immediate response was “I would get a new job.” To be precise, the response is really “I would change career paths. Fear has kept me in this job for longer than I’d like to admit. Fear of what will happen with my current job (I currently work for my brother). Fear of what others will think. Fear of what a new job/career move would entail. I might not love my current job but I know what to expect. Fear of how this job change will affect my family, my finances. Most of all, fear of failure has been my biggest fear. Fear of wanting something so badly and not getting it. Fear of putting myself out there and being rejected. Fear of not being “good enough” or “inadequate”. All the things I’m already feeling currently. It’s as if I would rather feel the inadequacy and not good enough I already feel than branch out and reach for something more.
So the question was posed, my answer was given. And as only the universe can do, it gave me something to grasp. I went to my room to journal about what we had just talked about and happened to check my email. There, in big letters from an organization I am passionate about were the words “Position Opening: Local Service Director”. This was like manna from heaven. The universe’s way of telling me it had heard my answer and it too wanted something more for me. Could it be? I looked through the job description and realized….I wanted this. BAD. This job is literally my dream job. In the past, my desire would have created a fantasy that included me getting this job with little to no preparation, and it was magically mine because I asked the universe for it. And then, when it didn’t happen. The self fulfilling prophesy of “I can’t ever get what I want” was fulfilled.
But I want this job. I want it bad. I put together a new resume, cover letter, and got my letters of recommendation. I did what I could. And the universe responded. Again. My daughter got a scholarship at our local university and we went to an awards brunch. We sat down at a random table and made conversation with the people we were sitting with. One man was a professor at the university and talked about some humanitarian work some of his students were doing. He said to come talk to him about humanitarian work if I was interested in a career change. I figured he was just being nice and didn’t really think much of it. After leaving the brunch, I googled this man’s name and lo and behold, he wasn’t just a professor but the executive director of the university’s community service center. Universe wins again!
I emailed him my resume and cover letter and he responded quickly, kindly, and with additional information. He said to come visit him any time and he would be happy to help me in my search of a more rewarding community oriented career. It was as if the universe was telling me that even if the job that originally started this quest didn’t work out, there were other rewarding pieces to the puzzle being put into place. There were other options for me. It wasn’t the dream job or stay in my current job. There were variables in between.
So I started just looking around at other job posting, and applying for random jobs, in the event my dream job didn’t pan out. And I started getting calls and interviews. In my entire 39 years, I think I have had 3 job interviews and all of them were before the age of 21. My entire adult life has been owning a business and working for my brother.
I interviewed for jobs I didn’t really love. I looked at it as experience. Each of the jobs I interviewed for, I wasn’t real excited about. They were jobs I wasn’t sure I would really take if offered. Yet, when I wasn’t offered these jobs, the old stories of “you’re not good enough” and “you’re incompetent” were playing on repeat in my head. In addition, there were several jobs I applied for but was never called to interview. These stories only grew stronger.
Yet having job interviews for jobs I didn’t really feel passion around was helpful. In some ways, it was as if they were the warm up for the main event. Finally, after several weeks of waiting, I got the call to interview for my dream job. And by this time, I had been through several types of interviews. I had been through a behavioral interview. I had been through an interview with the entire board of an organization. I had been on phone interviews. Interviewing wasn’t so scary to me anymore because I had some experience. I walked into the interview a bit nervous, but calm. (I know it seems paradoxical) The interview was organic. Real. It felt more like a conversation than a job interview. And when I walked out, I felt confident in how I presented myself. I don’t know if that means I will get this job or not, but what it does mean is that I know I gave it my all. Fear didn’t hold me back. Fear of being “not good enough” or inadequate didn’t win.
I made a decision to do whatever it takes to find a new, rewarding career. Maybe it will be with this company I am so passionate about. Maybe it will be with another company I don’t even know about. Maybe it will be with the company I am interviewing for this week. What I have learned is that once I made the firm decision I needed more in my life, my current career choice is no longer serving me, the universe (AKA my Higher Power) has responded. I think often I have felt like I’ve made a decision to do something, when in reality I have made a decision to try until it gets too uncomfortable. I’m willing to try something with having failure as an option.
Deciding is freedom. Indecision is torture
When I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I let fear lead the way. For years I’ve been unsatisfied in my career but felt like it was all I could do. Torture is a great way to describe what I was feeling. It was as if what I wanted was just out of my reach and I couldn’t find a way to get to it. Fear had a big hold on me and I felt powerless in it’s grasp. Deciding that maybe I could do something different but not making a decision was torture. Making the decision to do whatever it takes to find a new, rewarding job was freedom.
It got me thinking, indecision has been torturous in every aspect of my life. When I’m indecisive any way, fear gets in my way. It’s like I’m telling fear that it still has a chance. When I’m indecisive I let fear win. When I make a decision, I chose freedom. That doesn’t mean that every step of the way will be a breeze or that I won’t continue to need to make the same decision over and over. When I made the decision to live a life of recovery, I found a new freedom. Prior to that point, I wanted recovery but hadn’t made the decision to do whatever it took. I was indecisive. I wanted it some days, and didn’t on other days. Living my life with one foot in recovery and one foot in addiction was torture. I never felt settled or secure in what I was doing. Once my decision was made to really live in recovery, whatever that took, I felt a freedom I had never known. Admitting powerlessness was an incredible relief. When I made the decision to turn my will and life over to the care of a Higher Power, I found a new freedom. I didn’t have to feel in control any more. I didn’t need to worry about every aspect of my life and the lives of those around me because I had a Higher Power that was taking care of it all. I could relax and let my Higher Power do his thing. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t invested in my life or the lives of those I loved, but that I didn’t run the show. Deciding was freedom.
I’m not sure what the next few weeks will bring. I am not sure if my “dream job” will pan out. What I do know is that I have made a decision to make a change, and I am leaving the results of that change to my Higher Power. He’s pretty awesome at taking care of me.
“Life moves pretty fast…if you don’t stop to look around once in a while you could miss it” -Ferris Bueller
Last week I went on a field trip to a local tulip festival with my daughter. The flowers were AMAZING and there were so many different colors, sizes, and shapes of tulips. As we overlooked the whole gardens, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of tulips in front of me. There were so many different walking paths lined by rows and rows of color. It was easy to get lost in the largeness of it all. Our group started out with the purpose of getting through the gardens. They were so expansive and we had such a limited amount of time that I was afraid we wouldn’t see it all if we didn’t hurry. A few walking trails in, I started to notice the “sameness” of it all. Each walking path had different variations of flowers yet they were all similar, almost predictable. What started out with such a sense of awe was starting to become mundane. And then, we decided to start a scavenger hunt to look for specific items. An acorn, a spider web, a flying insect. The items on our scavenger hunt list were things we needed to pay attention to. If we didn’t pay attention, they were easily missed. As I slowed down to look for these items, I started noticing the small variations of each tulip. Different patterns within the petals, even variations in the shape of the leaves. There was so much I was missing in my race to get through the garden.
It hit me, in the middle of the garden, with a bunch of 3rd graders at my side.
How much of life do I miss trying to just get to the finish line?
Get to the next day, next project, next experience. How much of life passes me by because I am so consumed with just getting by? How much of my life is missed because I am just busy scanning the whole field instead of looking at a single flower in all of it’s individual glory? How much of my life is missed because I’m completely unaware of what is going on around me? How many acorns, ants, flying insects and spiderwebs are missed because I’m not opening my eyes to them? How many variations of color in my life are missed?
This is what recovery is teaching me. To slow down, enjoy the small things in my life. I don’t need to start over at the beginning to see it all. I can start where I am today, in this very moment and start to notice what is going on around me. I can be present in this very moment and enjoy all life has to offer me today. I can chose to focus on the end of the garden, or I can chose to focus on the flower in front of me. It’s important for me to check in to make sure I’m on the right path to get to the destination I want, and it’s equally important for me to enjoy the journey. Today I am choosing to make the most of this day. Not with endless to do lists or a laundry list of chores, but to be present in every aspect of my life. I’m choosing to notice the external view around me and I’m choosing to notice what is going on inside of me as well. Life moves pretty fast and I don’t want to miss it.
Since November, my family has spent an enormous amount of time (and money) at the doctor’s office. We’ve had a run of Influenza A, Pneumonia, Mono, as well as our fair share of the sniffles. I was hoping the warmer weather would bring welcome relief from the doctor’s office but so far, that hasn’t been the case. My youngest daughter woke up last week not feeling very well. She had a headache and sore throat, that soon went into body aches. The body aches turned into chills and a fever, and before long we were at the doctor with a strep throat diagnosis. Within a few days, this was passed on to two other children and we had made several more trips to the doctor and the pharmacy for antibiotics. Popsicles and ice cream have been consumed in large quantities and there have been many days spent on the couch snuggled up in a blanket.
So it shouldn’t have been surprising when I woke up with a bit of a headache. Yet, my initial reaction was to reach for the ibuprofen and ignore the warning signs my body was trying to send. I didn’t think much about my headache, because the ibuprofen did it’s job. It masked the symptom and I felt pretty normal for a few hours. By lunch time, I started feeling my body aching and I felt a little cold. I chalked it up to stress and work and cooler temperatures, and again reached for the ibuprofen to numb those achy feelings of physical discomfort. As I caught a glimpse of those pills in my hand, something inside me stopped. It was as if there was a little part of my being that was saying “PAY ATTENTION! Your body is trying to tell you something.” When I stopped and took a moment to listen to this voice, I knew that I was sick. Not just a case of the sniffles, I knew that I had strep throat too. I didn’t want to pay attention to the signs, but they were there all along. If I had been paying attention instead of numbing the symptoms, I would have recognized my need for medical attention sooner. Yet it was so easy for me to numb out.
It got me thinking…my entire life has beens spent numbing, hiding, disconnecting from myself. From a very young age, I learned to ignore what was really happening in my life. I learned how to numb out with fantasy, food, and a variety of other substances. I learned how to look outside myself for answers.
Disconnection was way I learned to survive. It’s the way I learned how to cope with things I didn’t like in my world. I ignored anything that was uncomfortable and pushed it out of my mind. The more I ignored, the easier it became. Soon, disconnection was all I knew. My life became one big game of “how to avoid pain”.
Disconnection was at the core of my addiction. I was treating the symptoms, ignoring what was really happening. I was disconnecting instead of stopping and allowing myself to feel hurt, sadness, anger, frustration or a host of other emotions. I was taking the proverbial ibuprofen every time I felt the slightest ache or pain. I bought into the idea that if I stayed busy enough, I wouldn’t have to face the truth of what my life was really like. Sometimes I disconnected with “good” things. I numbed out, masked what was happening inside by taking care of my family, serving others, focusing all my time and attention outside of myself. I stayed busy. Busy with work, busy with family, busy with endless to do lists and projects. Sometimes I disconnected, masking these feelings with negative and self destructive things like unhealthy relationships, drugs, alcohol, food, and sleep.
Whatever the case, whatever the reason, when I ignore what is going on inside of me, I am disconnecting from myself. I’m numbing feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. Disconnection has kept my life painful and complicated. Instead of feeling fear, I push it away.When I dismissed my headache, and chose to take some ibuprofen to numb, I was disconnecting from myself. I wasn’t allowing myself to connect to what was really happening inside, so I wasn’t allowing the opportunity to heal. I would rather stay in an endless state of numbing than to face the problem head on.
The moment I stop resisting what is going on, I open myself up to new possibilities that weren’t available to me before.
When I stop resisting, I can connect to the parts of myself I’ve been longing for. Listening and paying attention to my body allow healing to begin. When I don’t allow myself to feel hurt, grief, or pain of any sort, I get caught up in disconnection. In trying to protect myself from the pain of a headache, I was actually making myself more sick. In the same way, when I’m trying to protect my heart (by not allowing myself to feel), I actually allow the negative thoughts and feelings to grow rather than experience them and free myself from them.
Each day I take my antibiotic for strep throat, I heal a little bit more. Each day, more and more of the bacteria that caused me to be sick is removed from my body. In life, reconnection is my antibiotic. Each day I practice this, more and more of the disconnection that caused me to be sick is removed from my body. When I experience whatever it is that I am experiencing, I line myself up with what actually is. I stop pretending that it isn’t. Denying what I feel doesn’t make it go away. I’m ensuring that it grows and gets stronger while I ignore and pretend it’s not there.
It is easy for me to fall back in these patterns because they have been my lifeline for so many years. I have ignored, pushed away, avoided, and fought back for most of my life.
Some days I get frustrated when I fall back into these old patterns. Ok…most days I get frustrated when I see old patterns in my life. But I’m learning to listen to myself and take note. I’m learning to breathe deeply and check in with myself to reconnect. I’m learning to share that connection with others. And little by little I’m seeing healing in my life. And for that I am grateful.