Old Me Better
Growth is Painful, Change is Painful, But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you don’t belong.
It has been almost a year since I had my version of a hitting bottom, and no it didn’t include any kind of mood altering substance so much as a ridiculously cathartic crying jag. In that moment, if I recall it was being kicked out of the DMV for toddlers that “decorated” a patron’s shirt with red berry sauce, I knew something had to change. Everything in my life seemed off course, random, unpredictable, and out of control. Life was happening to me, and not because I was busy making other plans, but because I was busy treading water trying not to freaking drown.
At some point that day I made a decision to fix what was ailing me. I set forth on a new undefined path with really only one thing in mind, please oh please let things get better. I started this blog to share my journey and sometimes perhaps I overshared, or even offended, but the words and feelings were all my own, and not intended to harm or maim anyone. It was a process, a good dirty process that I hoped would be the kick in the ass I needed to build a life I actually wanted to be living in a way that would leave me feeling happy, in control, and satisfied.
Shake it out Florence and the Machine
Okay, you can stop laughing now. I know I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was desperate and writing has always been what makes my mind peaceful. Knowing I am not alone gives me courage. Breaking things down and sorting them out creates knowledge to move forward and plans for action. So I went online searching for happy, better life, peace, Zen, anything I thought would help what I was quickly beginning to think was a broken soul.
I discovered so many things online and in books and in sharing with others. I sorted through all the advice and suggestions and methods for living better and being happy. I tried on the many “hats” of change at times stepping far outside my comfort zone or taking risks I hadn’t been able to take before. I lost some friends, I made some friends, and I found a soul sister. I lost weight, I gained weight. I worked out, I binged on ice cream. I danced. I brought music back into my life (something gone since my sister died and took it with her).
It is hard to really cover all the steps I took to arrive here in this moment, one year later. It is hard to truly break down the impact that this past year, and all my efforts have really had. So I’m just going to make a lessons learned list, because maybe there is a lesson in there for you, yes even you. Maybe something in there will spark something in you, and you too can start a journey that only goes where YOU lead it. Because I can honestly say, with out a doubt, that my life is better, far better, than it was. I feel full, in control, happy. So if you don’t, you can.
- Breathe- Sometimes breathing is all you need to turn a stressor into a pinnacle moment. I learned that when my patience was lost I had a much better response if I took a breath before opening my mouth. I learned that no moment in time is worth as much as the moment I take with that one cleansing breath, because all the moments after it are clearer, more focused, and easier to cope with. Not to mention nicer.
- Do something- No seriously, do something, anything. Most unhappiness seems to come from not doing, being too afraid to try, being too still to move. If you have a goal then step toward it, if you don’t then simply dance, but get up and DO something. Nothing will ever change without your participation, and the only way that can happen is if you freaking do something to make it change. I wanted to do more writing, I wanted to find other work where I could write something more interesting. So I wrote and wrote and wrote, this blog, my books, and silly songs. As a result, in April I applied for, and received, an awesome job working with great people that is closer to my dream job than anything I’ve had before. I still get to work from home, but now I feel a sense of pride in what I do, an excitement to “go” to work every day. The feeling is great, and I know in my heart that this job will help me attain the dream job, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if I hadn’t written this blog, they hired me based on this blog. I just have to keep doing something.
- Stop making excuses- I never made that many excuses, not out loud and certainly not for my situation so much as my inability to change my situation. But once I decided to just change what bothered me instead of finding an excuse about why I couldn’t change it, life got infinitely easier. It was far less work and effort to actually do work than to make excuses on why I couldn’t. No joke, the effort involved in doing nothing and letting life happen to you is remarkable. It’s only too bad it isn’t a great calorie burner. I got where I was because I had LET life happen to me and I had made a mess of excuses in my head as to why it couldn’t be changed. I clung to those excuses because it felt easier to do that than to let go. I can honestly say it is easier to let go, easier to stop making them.
- Live in the Now- this one almost couldn’t get more cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason now aren’t they? Once I figured out how to train my brain to be happy right now, consider this moment right now, I was infinitely happier than when I was planning or dreading the future, or lamenting and agonizing over a past I can never change. I recently went on a trip and my return flight was delayed by so many hours I had no hope of getting home that day. Instead of stressing and panicking or getting angry, I just thought eh? Could be worse, no big deal, what can I do with my extra night? How much more fun can I have? I’ll sort the rest out later. Sure it put a monkey wrench in my life, it meant my husband would have to change his plans, and my kids would be disappointed, but those were all things I couldn’t control and the NOW was one more moment with a friend. The extra night was like a gift from the universe, and we got to finish all the things we hadn’t completed. I’m glad I didn’t lose that moment to stress or worry. I’m glad that plane got stuck in Dallas.
- Eat right- I’ve always eaten better than most people, but in July of last year my son was diagnosed with Celiac disease and it meant a diet change for all of us. He can’t have anything with gluten, and in case you didn’t know this, gluten is in pretty much everything, especially if it is processed or made in a factory. This meant we had to change what we ate entirely. Now we never eat out, we eat whole foods, and my little one snacks on peas like they’re candy. We eat more fruits, and I have become a whiz at hiding veggies. I hate to cook, and I imagine I always will, but there is some self-satisfaction that I know everything that goes into my children’s little developing bodies, and I can honestly say it is pretty good stuff. Children’s Hospital even gave me the seal of approval with the dietician claiming she has never seen a more complete nutritional diet diary, like ever. While I hate eating gluten free I will say this, I am glad that I was forced to do the right thing for my family and myself. I am thankful we are now healthier. I can feel it, I can see it. On a side note I no longer have seasonal allergies… coincidence? I doubt it. So while I am not saying “hey go gluten free!” I am saying be healthy, make wise choices, don’t eat fast food or processed crap. Treat your body well and it will treat you well. I really do feel better.
- Take control of your finances- No brainer here but I suspect lots all of us suck at this. Last year we were drowning in medical debt from emergency surgeries and a deathly sick child. We weren’t even living paycheck to paycheck because what we made was spent before we even made it. This knowledge kept me up at night, and made my life burdened and miserable. We would never get ahead, our fate was sealed. So I took over, I had no choice, and we had to make some hard decisions and some difficult choices. We risked hurting others and missing out, but we really had no choice if we were going to save our future, and build a great life for our kids. So we plugged away for a long time and I am thankful I finally said enough. I no longer worry about money, and at the end of the summer we should be out of debt with the exception of our house and my student loan. There is no purchase that feels as good as money in the bank does.
- Keep seeking medical help, even when they think you are crazy- this one is serious, because if I hadn’t my life would have been forever altered. My son was sick all the time, almost from the moment we brought him home. He was born healthy, but he seemed troubled forever after. I took him to the doctor at least once a week and often the urgent clinic after hours. No one had answers and several of the doctors implied he was fine, it was me who was crazy. Long story short, after almost a year in a half I finally convinced someone to do blood work on him. I could feel it in my heart that he was dying. A day later I got a call asking me to bring him in right away, it was a Sunday. His blood work was terrible, he really was dying, and we didn’t know why. Thanks doctors, thanks a lot. I couldn’t even take a moment to gloat in being right, it felt like a race to fix him with the race to diagnosis him. We were the “lucky” parents who got to keep our son and heal him. We are the lucky parents whose child only has Celiac disease, and not a life threatening cancer. I would never equate what I went through to the lives of those less fortunate, it can’t be compared. But what I will say is this… had I not continued to fight for him, had I not insisted and finally gotten scary angry and pushy he would have died. On a personal note, after 20 years of feeling shitty with a “managed” thyroid disorder, I finally hunted down a doctor who would give me T3. It’s magic, sheer magic. I feel better in the last month on this new drug than I have since I was 21. I’m only sad it took that long to get a basic hormone available everywhere. I’m glad I didn’t give up, it was only getting worse. I’m just sorry I wasted money on specialists trying to figure out what was wrong, when all I had was a bum thyroid and a crappy string of doctors.
- Forgive but don’t forget- People talk about this one a lot. In essence I say you forgive so you don’t poison yourself with hatred and anger, but you never forget so you don’t let it happen to you again. When people hurt you, forgive them. When people repeatedly hurt you, lose them. Life is too short to keep taking punches, there comes a time when you have to say for my own well-being I must tell you goodbye. And that is not a bad thing, but a healthy thing. Never be ashamed or feel you need to make excuses for letting people go. Their drama should never be your trauma.
- Surround yourself with like-minded, goal oriented positive people- The best way to become something is to invite it into your life and soak in it. The best way to do that, is to find people who are on the road you want to be on, have reached a destination you want to reach, or feel the same way you do about life. People who have goals and motivation are intrinsically happier, surrounding yourself with happy people will make you happy. Misery loves company, but happy throws a freaking party like you won’t believe. So find enough friends to throw a party, even if you don’t throw the literal party, you should have enough people to bring a smile to your face every day. For you this may mean 1 or 10, for others just a select few, but however many just find those people and hold fast to them.
- Feed your soul- If you have stopped doing something you love, start doing it again. If you haven’t treated yourself in a while, do it. I had made a lot of sacrifices for the people in my life. I had bent over backwards and picked a bale of cotton in the name of making others happy and in the process I no longer was. I had lost what made me and I had lost a part of my soul when my sister died and the combination of the two had left me a husk of a person and a shadow of my former self. I recently took a trip that made me unbroken and all I can say is sure I had the best company a girl could ask for, but essentially we did everything I had been missing. We listened to music, drank wine, ate cake, sat on the beach, swam with rays, laughed, talked, trained dogs, took photos, did silly things, held hands, gave support, and mingled with sharks. It was a perfect trip, but beyond the fun and the sun it actually, miraculously healed the broken parts of me, and I came home feeling whole for the first time in four years. I feel like I should have felt selfish for taking this trip for a week away from my wonderful husband and adorable kids, but I don’t. I’m a better wife and mom, I am a better me for feeding my soul, than I have been the last 4 years being broken.
- Let go- This is a big one. You have to let go of the past and everything ANY BODY ever did to wrong you. This isn’t the same as forgiveness not really, but you do have to move past it all and stop using it as a reason for why you are how you are, or why you make the choices you do. You have the ability to make intentional choices in life that have nothing to do with how you were raised, who broke your heart, how you were abused, what chemical you were addicted to, or how the world is out to get you. Every day you make the choice to either let your past define you or to define yourself. I am not a
victim, I am not a survivor, I am a participant. Once you realize that you are a participant in your own life, it becomes clear that participants get to choose, participants get to be active, participants don’t let things happen to them. And once you truly “get that” you can find a kind of happiness you have never known. Stop being any label anyone put on you, stop being a collection of mistakes or experiences you no longer want to define you. Make your own definition and start living to that. You are not your past, or what people believe you to be. You are whatever you choose to be, you can be whoever you intentionally work toward being. The choice of happiness is yours, but first, you have to let that other shit go.
- Be lenient on yourself- no one is perfect, you aren’t trust me. I was never really a perfectionist, and I am not one of those women who has a running inner monologue about my thighs touching, but I did dabble somewhat in a defeatist how did I get here attitude that had me overanalyzing choices I’ve made in the past and how my life might be different if only blah blah blah. The problem with this is, the blah blah blah doesn’t matter, I can’t go back and change what has been done, but I can only go forward and change what is yet to come. I remind myself daily that I am a work in progress, not a finished work of art, and that it is okay to be less than perfect because some of the most amazing and beautiful things are filled with imperfections.
- Do something that scares you- Maybe it’s a yoga class you know nothing about it, maybe its swimming with sharks, maybe it’s not saying every word that comes into your head, but whatever it is, if it scares you and inhibits your progress forward then just do it. Most of the time, when you get it over with, you feel stronger because it turned out better than you thought it would, or at least you are one step closer to being who you want to be or having the life you want to have.
Life isn’t perfect, I’m not sure it ever gets to be, and hoping for that might be setting myself up for failure, but it is pretty darn good. Financially we are right on track, and I feel confident we will reach our goals in life to be without money worries. Health wise my boys are doing well and I’m better than I have been in 2 decades, it feels good to have a body that works the way it should, and to not have to go to the cancer and blood disorders wing of Children’s Hospital every week. We have what we need, and even some of what we want, and it feels good to wander the grounds with my dogs and kids hunting flowers and poop. I wake up with a smile and I actually sleep now. I still have blue carpet I hate, and a small mouse problem, but I have the things that matter, and I can appreciate them all now.
Life is Beautiful Keb Mo
This one year journey came with lots of surprises and strangely three bouts of flu, but I wouldn’t have traded the moments or the struggle for anything else or any other life. This life is the one I have chosen, this work is the work that I enjoy, this man is the man I want to grow old with, these kids are the kids I want to rock at night until they are far too old for that shit, this house is the house I want to mark with their heights and fill with our laughter, these friends are the friends I want to have adventures with and invite to my funeral, this moment is the one I want to live in, the one I choose because it has everything I need (and some of what I want), and that is more than enough. It doesn’t mean I won’t be striving for more, if anything I believe now more than ever that I can get more, it just means that each moment is one that can be oddly perfect even when sad, or not going the way I had hoped.
On my trip, my friend had to put down one of her beloved dogs, and it was oddly perfect. A handsome fellow she had spent over 10 years with. A man that had played witness and supporting role in her life. He was a really cool beast of a dog, and I am grateful I got to share his space and photograph his face. But the point of this is not the sadness of his passing, for it was sad and she still feels loss and I do to for her, the point is that even that moment was a good one, because I got to hold her hand, I got to share her sorrow, I got to ease her pain, and I got to say goodbye to a really really good soul. I got to witness a peaceful moment between friends that somehow made my heart hurt less not more. I hate to sound selfish and I’d bring him back healthy and strong for her if I could, but I also wouldn’t want to give up that moment we shared because it brought us closer to each other and helped build a bond that won’t ever be easily broken.
I’ve learned that to be with those I love is enough.
Every moment has the potential to be good. You have the power to make it so. You can choose to create a whole new life. I did. I made a life that looks a lot like the life from a year ago, but this time, I’m making it mine, and loving every moment of it. This time I am in control and it is truly beautiful.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. Thank you for letting me vent this here. Thank you for the opportunities this blog has brought me, those I hoped for and those I could never have foreseen. There are great things to come. More great things to come. And you can bet, I will be sitting front and center having the time of my life.
Back Home by Andy Grammer