This spring I decided to begin a new, enormously daunting project. I decided to become stronger – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – than I was a decade ago.
That’s a tall order, considering the shape I was in at the time I made the decision.
It’s actually a project I started in mid 2009, about eight years ago. I had just come out of a bad relationship and decided to put myself on a sabbatical from dating to figure out why I kept picking guys that seemed so great in the beginning, but turned out to be not so great in the end. I had a knack for choosing emotionally unavailable alcoholics (they’re very cunning, I found, and I apparently had ‘codependent’ tattooed somewhere on my forehead), and I wanted to put a stop to whatever it was that seemed to draw me to that type of man. I especially wanted to put a stop to whatever it was that KEPT me in awful relationships with emotionally unavailable alcoholic guys long after I realized who they were.
My original goal was six months..no dating. I thought it would KILL me not to have a guy around (I’m not kidding…I hadn’t been alone for more than a couple months at a time since my first boyfriend at age 14). Six months went by and I was feeling so good about it I decided to go another six months. Then in winter of 2010 I lost both my parents, and I sure didn’t feel like dating after that.
Despite the loss of my parents, I had become a much stronger, much more together person during that sabbatical. Taking the time out to find out who I was and to become content to fly solo led me to believe I would never make another bad choice. My project was complete. I was single, happy, evolved and healing.
But just when we think we’ve got a handle on things, the universe will come along and test us. About 9 months after I lost my parents I found myself in another toxic and emotionally damaging relationship that lasted (off and on) for about five years. The first nine months had seemed perfect (well, except for the red flags I was ignoring)…until we moved in together. It was only after living under the same roof did I realize that ’emotionally unavailable alcoholic guy’ was back…in spades. Although I ended the relationship in early 2016, it took me more than a year later to realize what a mess I was, and how far back into the abyss I had gone over that period of time.
My body was a stranger to me. Whose extra 30 pounds of fat was I carrying around? I was battling anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem…a laundry list of the very things I had worked so hard to exorcise. The thought of starting over at square one was a dismal one. It was so disheartening to realize I couldn’t trust my judgement or my instincts after all. It seemed that instead of improving myself and becoming stronger I had merely jumped right out of the frying pan into…hell.
And how do you find the strength to climb out of the fire and take another shot at it?
So here’s the point of this post: I’ve come to the realization how painful healing and rebuilding is, and why a lot of people quit before they reach their goal(s). It doesn’t matter if the healing is emotional, mental or physical…the bottom line is, it HURTS.
This quote describes what I’m trying to convey…perfectly.
Ask anyone going through physical therapy after a terrible injury and they’ll tell you how painful healing can be. Repairing the broken parts of you can be excruciating.
Look at what people go through when they’re trying to break an addiction…uncontrollable trembling, sickness and mind numbing pain.
So…a couple of months ago I decided to fix myself…again. I made a conscious decision to turn my ship back around and set sail to the port I left so long ago, when I felt strong, healthy and confident.
First I changed my diet. I started eating good, healthy, organic food. Then I decided to get my ass back to yoga class. I downloaded meditation apps. Yoga and meditation were things I couldn’t live without when I was healthy and happy, but were tossed to the wayside after meeting EUAG (emotionally unavailable alcoholic guy). Go figure.
I dusted off a few of the inspirational books I had purchased in the summer of 2014 after I was unceremoniously dumped (very unexpectedly via an email – a method which actually makes me laugh now) by EUAG. I had just been diagnosed with cancer less than two weeks earlier, so yah…THAT was a double whammy that had me reeling. I was scared to death and heartbroken, but at least I was lucky. The cancer was detected before it had a chance to spread to other organs or my lymphatic system, and a total hysterectomy solved the problem.
So, once I was healed physically I immersed myself in a hectic social life of drinking and dating new guys…(because why not pour gasoline on the fire and go balls-out; ignoring what I really needed?). Granted, I was seeing a counselor, but I didn’t REALLY want to hear what he had to say. He was telling me to move on, that the break up was actually a gift. Me? I wanted to wallow in my poor choices. Healing takes work…and I felt too sorry for myself to make the effort.
Seven months later I took EUAG back for another year of crazy before I decided how ridiculous it was to try a do-over of something that failed miserably the first time. We attempted to stay friends for another year after that, (like I said, I’m stubborn), but the same things that were toxic in the relationship remained toxic in the friendship. By the time the whole ordeal ended a few months ago, I thought I was fine. I had finally walked away, and I felt good about it. It was something I knew I should have done a lot sooner. Plus, I was starting a business…and I had moved to a new city and had new friends. I even met a really great guy. All good, right?
Then about a month before opening Luna Joon in Tulsa, while I was having a phone conversation with my son, somewhere in the middle of me telling him how ‘great’ things were, he interrupted me mid-sentence and said “Sorry, mom…but bullshit.” After a moment of stunned silence he said, “Mom…you’re not ok”.
Then he said, “Remember when you used to work at the newspaper? That’s the proudest I’ve ever been of you. You were really happy when you had that job and when you were on your own. You were strong. You were fearless. You’ve changed so much since then. You seem so fragile now. Maybe you should try doing what you were doing back when you actually WERE ok.”
After we finished talking I hung up the phone and I cried. I cried so hard my throat tightened up and ached. My son was right; I was broken as fuck. The weird part about it is this: I didn’t even realize how broken I was. I had to think back a half dozen years ago to the person I was when I “used to work at the newspaper” (I was a writer there from 2008-2011).
I was a completely different woman. Where six years ago I felt at peace most of the time, despite any circumstance (even losing my parents) now I was always worried about something.
Then, where I had been strong enough to endure huge losses and still pick myself up and keep going, I was now someone who crumbled at the slightest bump in the road. Where I was optimistic and positive and always seeing the best in people, I was now jaded…and untrusting of nearly everyone. Insomnia. Anxiety. Worry. Over-thinking and over-analyzing everything to death. Beating every dead horse I could find.
All the things I had vanquished during my 20 months of soul-searching and hard work were back…only this time around I was overweight, too.
The woman I had become over the last half dozen years didn’t remotely resemble the woman I was.
Let me be clear about something. This was no one’s fault but my own. I chose to stay with EUAG. That was on ME. Even when everyone I knew and loved (including our mutual friends) told me I’d be better off steering clear, I chose beat the dead horse. I chose to stop healthy, mindful practices. I chose to eat too much and stop doing things that brought me joy. I chose to wallow for years on end. My choices…my consequences. Period.
And here’s the thing. You can’t clean up your shit until you own it. AND THAT’S HARD TO DO. It’s painful. Nobody likes to take a long, hard look at the clusterfucks they create for themselves. Flaws and mistakes? Who wants to look at those?
But flaws and mistakes are ok. Everyone has them…everyone makes them. They’re only a problem if they’re fixable and you’re not interested in fixing them. And sometimes people don’t want to fix those flaws and mistakes because fixing them isn’t nearly as much fun as getting used to them and having them over for dinner on a regular basis.
Emotionally, staring down your fears and insecurities when you want to run is painful. Mentally, you have to practice (constantly) rewiring your brain, and that’s pretty damn difficult, too. Physically, you have to have the discipline NOT to eat whatever makes you feel better when you’re feeling like crap…or feeling sorry for yourself…or bored with your life because you’re not living to your full potential. You have to work your body and your muscles (including your heart) if you want to be strong and healthy and get back into your skinny jeans… and your muscles will not be happy about that in the beginning. I’m starting to sport a pretty decent set of guns, but even after a lot of of every-other-day upper arm workouts, they still hurt.
Totally worth it, though.
Here’s something I did to help me start fixing. In the beginning, I put a rubber band around my wrist and every time my head started to go into a negative place (self blame, blaming others, feeling angry for no reason, feeling afraid for no reason) I’d SNAP that little sonuvabitch HARD. Pretty soon I got sick of the sting so I PURPOSEFULLY and MINDFULLY began to think more positively. The rubber band on the wrist is an old trick, and it sure worked for me.
When I first got back into meditating, my brain wanted to go ANYWHERE but to a peaceful place. It wanted to make long lists of things I needed to be doing (besides sitting cross-legged in the middle of my living room floor). It wanted to replay episodes from every series I binge watch on Netflix. It wanted to go over the last fight I had with my ex, and it promised to let me win if I’d just go there and play it out. It wanted to ponder politics, religion, sex, my budget, my haircut, my neighbor’s haircut…ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to avoid NOT THINKING ABOUT ANYTHING.
It was like training a stubborn dog. My mind did not want to roll over, fetch, shake hands or play dead. I got headaches trying to put a leash on my thoughts. The first few weeks of getting back into meditation were frustrating and difficult.
Again, however, totally worth it. Now I can meditate a full fifteen minutes before my brain starts to dig holes and pee on the carpet. I’m aiming for a half hour, but 15 minutes will do for now. After meditation, there is no place for fear and anxiety. No place for self-doubt or worry.
And here’s another thing. Believe it or not, you get to a point where you stop avoiding the pain…and you actually welcome it. Numb isn’t good. Numb is when you stop feeling pain because spiritual gangrene has set in. Feeling pain when you’re doing self-work means you’re doing it right. Also, the pain becomes more manageable. It hurts less and less the further you go in your healing process. Sometimes you need to stop and have a good cry…and that’s good. Tears are meant to help things along.
But…there’s a bonus. I’m a whole lot better now than I was when I had that conversation with my son a couple of months ago. Last night we talked and when I said I was doing good he didn’t call ‘bullshit’. A couple of months from now I’ll be even better. I don’t know how long EXACTLY it will take me to reach my goal of being mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually better than I was ten years ago…but I know now it doesn’t seem so daunting a task.
I’ll let you know when I arrive.