AT 39, I WAS AT MY LOWEST POINT – MY DARKEST DAYS. We moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Connecticut in 2004 and soon after, had our second child. No one in my family leaves the East Coast. Except me. It’s like me though – I have always been the one who did things differently…who would prove that I could do it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a community to rely on – we didn’t know anyone. But I didn’t think I needed that anyway – high-functioning, independent, hard-working, ‘get shit done’ kinda woman that I was…I didn’t need anyone.
I felt pretty good, albeit isolated, but thought I had a handle on things. No matter what curve-balls I was thrown – milk intolerance, babies that nursed every 90 minutes until they were 9 months old, acid reflux, a baby that cried whenever he wasn’t nursing for 6 months – I persevered…in the name of love! I over-focused on my kids and under-focused on everything else, including myself and my marriage. I justified this in my mind – of course, this is what all moms do. We give and give and give because that’s just what you do.
For a while, this was great and I was basking in mama-hood and enjoying being able to spend all of my moments with my precious kiddos. Until one day, I realized that something felt wrong. Well, even then, I kept on giving. This went on for a couple of years.
I thought that my kids needed me to keep my shit together so I just held on tight and kept smiling.
I thought that maybe if I did more – more parks, more museums, healthier food, more volunteering at school, etc. – it would get better, I would feel better. I even did more things for myself – more girls’ nights, get a babysitter for 2 hours per week so I could have “me” time, exercised more. Nope, still, something felt wrong. More time passed.
I thought that when the kids started school and I had more time to myself that I would begin to feel better. But I didn’t. I felt worse. Now I had to deal with the social factors of school…it was as if I was back in school. The pressure to conform, the deep desire to belong, the disappointment when I didn’t feel like I belonged, the fear that I said the wrong thing, the birthday parties we (I mean my kids) weren’t invited to, the hurt feelings, and the other mental chatter that consumed my brain. I could no longer keep it together and keep smiling. This was big, I ALWAYS kept smiling for every year of my life since I can remember. From everyone else’s perspective, I had a pretty darn good life. It’s true. I live in a beautiful area and have great kids…I have a husband who is a terrific dad who works hard to support our family and enabled me to comfortably stay at home with our kids for nine years, I have a beautiful home and nice cars, and we eat out at nice restaurants and buy organic foods.
BUT, AT NIGHT, I WONDERED, IS THIS IT?
I felt a profound sense of restlessness and aloneness. Yet I was rarely actually alone (and at this point I had lots of friends). I felt bored. Yet I never actually had any free time. I felt numb. Why, I asked? Why do I feel a sense of numbness? Why do I feel like my life is dull and bland and lacks any sense of excitement? I remember times when I was alone and I even felt like I wasn’t connected to my life in some strange way – “who is this living my life?” I wondered.
So, I started searching. But I didn’t reach out for help. I just stayed in my head (biiiggg mistake, I would later learn) and looked externally for what would make me feel better. No one knew that I was falling apart inside – even my husband barely knew. I read books. I analyzed my life. The first thing I “decided” was that we needed to move. So, we toured Colorado…we contemplated what it would be like to move. Fortunately, it was not the right place for us so we didn’t make a drastic move. I know now that would not have satisfied my longing.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD…WHAT REALLY IS WRONG?
I began to spiral to darker places. At this point it appeared to me that my marriage was the problem (still blaming and looking outside of myself). It’s true, it was rocky. It was not fulfilling for either of us. For a while, I justified that it was normal – all parents feel disconnected while raising young children, right? Soon, however, I “decided” that my marriage really was the root of the problem.
At this point, I nearly lost my marriage (and my mind).
Fortunately, my husband had the strength to tell me “No” when I was utterly unable to see the situation rationally. In fact, he told me in these words exactly: “you do not have the right to leave this marriage.” Holy shit! He really woke me up. Honestly, I was pretty pissed off. But I agreed. We have two kids for God’s sake. So, I committed right then and there to work on things. In the beginning it was just a mental commitment – like you would do when you go on a diet or something. My heart was not in it. But I decided to fake it until I made it.
For three years, we went to marriage counseling for 2 hours per week every week. Yes, my husband rocks. We began excavating our emotional lives.
“People frustrate us and let us down. Not because we aren’t lovable, but because we rely on them to do our job of loving us. We must accept that our lovability and worth doesn’t come from others. It comes from within!” -Sonia Choquette
While working with our marriage counselor, it became clear to me that my husband was never the problem (well, sometimes lol). The most empowering realization I had was that it was all inside me. I realized that my happiness is not dependent on others, rather it was coming from inside me. What? Yes, indeed, my misery was because my inner world was miserable, I was knee-deep in my own emotional pain. My outside perspective of the world was just a reflection of how I was feeling inside. Yikes! Well, that certainly changed things. This meant that I, alone, could follow my own joy and begin to feel more happy. It was up to me.
SO BEGAN MY JOURNEY – FIRST OF SELF-DISCOVERY, THEN OF HEALING, THEN OF SELF-ACCEPTANCE, AND NOW SELF-LOVE.
“People are searching, but can’t articulate what they are searching for. What they are searching for is the courage to be who they are and to act on their own impulses, to be a deeper expression of themselves.” -Caroline Myss, I Can Do It! Conference in San Jose 2013
I believe that I was searching for this courage that Caroline Myss mentions. The dissonance I felt years ago became increasingly more uncomfortable until it became unbearable. I’m so grateful that it got so painful that I had to do something about it – I had to find this courage – because it is what has brought me to the fulfilling, free and harmonious place where I am in my life now.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~Rumi
In looking back, I can see more clearly now that I was living in a space of “should-ing” on myself – feeling like I needed to be what other people expected of me or wanted me to be. I had been bullied as a teenager, so the more I was with groups of women (specifically, when the kids started school), the more triggered I felt – fearing that if I don’t behave the “right way” or if I say something wrong or if I stand up for myself – the risks are dire. I protected myself by shutting down my heart. I stopped allowing myself to feel the feelings that were coming up for me around my past (and present). I was not fully showing up as myself.
I also was a compulsive approval-seeker. I bounced back and forth between a superiority complex (I’m better than others) and an inferiority complex (everyone is better than me). This meant I bounced between judgement and self-criticism. Then, layer on my desire to be kind to everyone. There I was being kind and smiley to others but feeling judgy, fearful, worried, critical, and approval-seeking inside. It was a recipe for disaster. But I began healing, one trigger at a time…and one judgement at a time. I wanted this:
“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.” ― Barbara De Angelis
…but I had no idea how to actually live that way.
Over the past decade I’ve been circling back up that spiral from darkness to light, from thinking to feeling, from fear to love. Along the way I discovered the angry me, the people-pleasing me, the tender me, the self-doubting me and many other pieces and parts. Each time, I pick up the piece and put it back where it belongs within me – integrating and loving more of me along the way. Slowly coming into wholeness.
I no longer feel alone because I no longer abandon myself. The greatest source of suffering I experienced was the disconnection from Self. The way I was cut off from my heart. The fragmentation I felt because I rejected aspects of myself.
I’m living my path and know how to get back on when I fall off, live in integrity with my values and who I am more times than not, and let life be my teacher every day. Oh, and for those of you wondering – we made it through. I’m happily married. Most of the time.
What I'm saying is that there IS a better way to do life. And self-love is the secret.