I’ve been having a hard time of it lately.
I’m in the midst of one of those life transitions that requires me to rearrange the way my heart beats in my life. My daughter is going to college. This is a happy thing. She’s going to school at the university where I work. This makes me an extremely lucky mama to have her so close. But, she won’t be living at home anymore. Which will be a big change for all of us. So – I’m having a lot of emotions which seem to be surfacing at odd times. And I’m practicing quite a bit of escapism. Binge-watching Netflix, playing tappy tappy games on my iPad, reading lots of fiction – at least three novels a week – that sort of thing. This is me trying to take care of myself by avoiding taking care of myself. It may work for awhile, but ultimately it isn’t helpful.
Oh, and … I’ve been drinking and binging on chips and dips too. This is very old ingrained self-protective (destructive) behavior. Ugh! I thought I was beyond this, but I’m not. Which means I’m also confronting the truth that addiction is likely to resurface in times of stress. Why is this the first thing I run to?
During times of stress not only do I return to self-destructive behavior, but I also abandon healthy behavior and I abandon my purpose. I think I haven’t properly adjusted the bandwidth settings of my life so I can keep on keeping on in the midst of stressful situations.
So this is an opportunity to practice feeling all the contrasting feelings that are jangling around – feeling them and moving with them through my days to the best of my ability. And I need to know and accept that, for the next few weeks (or however long it takes to adjust) while I’m moving daughter into the dorm and my husband and I are acclimating ourselves to the empty nest (a term which I kind of hate quite a bit right now) – things will be jangly. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. All my best intentions have been tangled up in the jangly-ness of life.
The good news is, the time I spent in self-protection/destruction mode was shorter than it was during the last stressful event. A few weeks compared to a few months or years.
Transparency & Boundaries
I was wondering how to write about this. Is it too personal? Would it be helpful?
This is a blog about connecting with purpose at mid-life and beyond. And this transition is one of those life events that mid-life flings at us. We’ve all accumulated a collection of these transitions by now. And we all navigate them in different ways. They’re all different and all the same. They are transitions that require us to rearrange our hearts and the configuration of our lives in some way.
Both my daughter and I were having a hard time. I was crying and trying to hide it from her and my husband. She was crying and trying to hide it from both of us. Finally, we cried together and talked and things got better for all of us. We weren’t alone anymore. Not that any of us were ever alone in the first place. But, we were expending a lot of energy trying to protect ourselves and everyone else from our feelings. It wasn’t that helpful. It just led to a lot of silent suffering and stuffing down feelings using any means necessary – food, alcohol and video games for me.
Instead of trying to take care of everyone else by stuffing down my feelings – or not writing this post – I’m learning it’s best to share from my heart. This is what’s happening. This is how I feel. This is how it’s changing the way I’m showing up for myself and others right now. But, what’s the difference between transparency and healthy boundaries?
Since I’ve never been adept at establishing boundaries, I truly don’t know the answer to that question. I think the truth may be that it’s flexible and negotiable (sometimes). Maybe? I have a lot of questions.
Do transitions derail you? Yup.
How do you navigate them? Awkwardly and imperfectly.
How do you stay present? I don’t always. I’m practicing.
What falls away? The things that keep me sane on normal days like meditation and yoga.
What shows up? My addictions. Yikes!
How do you rearrange the pieces of your heart? By hook and crook. With force. With love.
Do you engage in self-sabotage and tell yourself it’s comfort? Oh, hell yeah. I’m a freakin’ contortionist.
Do you try too hard to protect other people from your truth? Yes, and it’s exhausting and it doesn’t really help anyway. I’m not as stealthy as I think I am.
Can you let yourself grieve? Ugh.
Can you let yourself celebrate? Yes. Sometimes. Criminy Crackers! I even need help with this. I need all the help I can get.
I’m learning that it’s better to ask the questions instead of trying to ignore them. I’m trying to ask the questions and answer them with kindness and curiosity instead of judgment, but I’ll be honest, I tend to be aggressive and hard on myself before I remember to take a breath.
Transitions rarely come about without a lot of logistics. Moving, learning new skills, meeting new people, rearranging your finances and your budget. So we’re navigating strange waters both internally and externally.
Life doesn’t demand much of us, does it?
How do you manage the external logistics, to do lists, and communications and tend to the internal landscape? It’s a constant push pull.
Birthing and Letting Go
And the roles in our lives shift or how we show up and play them changes significantly. Not always by choice. This motherhood thing – let me tell you – not for sissies. Protect them with all our heart, but not too much. We have let them breathe and grow and make mistakes.
And we have to do the same for ourselves. Let ourselves breathe and grow and ache and make mistakes.
This isn’t just a motherhood thing. I’m gonna get all woo woo here and say that we’re always birthing in some way. Then learning how to let go – always letting go. We’re always engaged by choice or by default in multiple cycles of evolution.
Sometimes just showing up is the best we can do. There’s a yoga teacher that I follow named Jessamyn Stanley. At the beginning of class she says, “You’ve already done the hardest part. You showed up. You got on the mat.”
I’m writing this post to say, “I’m on the mat.” I’m writing this post to encourage you, my lovely friends, to show up too. Let’s get on our metaphorical mats with all our feelings. Let’s be open to the questions when we don’t have the answers. Let’s be truthful and present with our loving and our letting go.
The other options – tubs of french onion dip and bottles of wine – really aren’t options anymore.
But they aren’t.
I’m in the midst of rearranging my heart. It’s awkward, imperfect, and it hurts. But, here I am. This is me.
I’m on vacation! Hoo-rah! I’m in Traverse City, MI staring at East Grand Traverse Bay from the balcony of our condo. It’s 6:00 AM and everyone else is asleep. It’s a little chilly. I’m drinking coffee that’s gritty with grounds because I’ve lost the ability to actually brew coffee without a one-cup-coffee-pod brewing system. But coffee is essential so I’m drinking it anyway. The lake is still and looks luminous, like a sheet of glass reflecting the sunrise.
And that’s why I’m two days late getting this blog post written and posted so here we go…
We’re talking about Declaration and Commitment. (Eeeeek! Another c-word.) Last week I wrote about Choice and Experiment. I guess it stands to reason that if choice is difficult then commitment may be a psychological conundrum as well. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Choice is the most difficult step for me. I always want to choose everything which means I end up choosing nothing. The thing that upsets me about making a choice is that by saying ‘Yes’ to one thing, we have to say ‘No’ to other things. I tried to do it all for a long long time and just ended up wearing myself out.
This is how I ended up in the principal’s office at the start of every semester during high school. I wanted to be on the dance team, the yearbook staff, the creative arts magazine staff, the speech team, the Latin Club and I wanted to audition for every show. This meant I had to get the principal’s permission to take an extra class during my lunch hour. Which meant I had to to get a teacher’s permission to eat lunch in their classroom and I had to promise to keep my grades in passing range. I started class at zero hour – the class before classes started – and ended each day after rehearsal around 9:30 PM or later depending on the show. I traveled to all the football and basketball games and the speech tournaments on the weekends. I didn’t know if I was coming or going, but all of it was important to me. Frankly, I don’t remember a lot of it.
I was going to title this From Desire to Done, but I don’t believe purpose can ever be ‘done’. This is semantics, I know. But words are powerful. Also, I used up well over 1000 words covering only the first two sections of what I wanted to share, so this will be a multi-part post with the second installment coming next week.
My goal is to share the map I’ve traveled – that I’m still traveling – to get from Numb-ville to the Land of Purpose and I’m plotting all the points I’ve discovered from here to there:
- Waking Up
- Dissatisfaction & Desire
- Choice & Experiment
- Action & Repetition
Each of these topics may actually be repeat performers especially if this becomes, as I hope it will, less of a monologue and more of a dialogue between us. I sort of shared the Waking Up part of the journey in my first post. So let’s start with Parts 2 and 3 for today.
I’m a notebook fiend, a planner collector, and a pen freak. Joyfully, through the mediums of FB, Pinterest, and Instagram, I’ve found that I’m not alone. The Stationary Store Tribe is strong on the interwebs. Office Supply Junkies and Pen Nerds, unite! Just in case there are more of you among us, I thought I’d share my current round-up. These are the notebooks and pens I touch on a daily basis.
Before I take a deeper dive into the adventure of purpose, I thought it would be helpful to look at the backstory. How did I get here? Are there familiar pitfalls? Where are the hidden traps? Are there detours I can avoid?
I think it’s interesting that I feel the need to make this caveat before embarking. Why do I feel the need to explain that expressing the desire for more doesn’t demean my current life or my current relationships in any way?
Is this a female thing? Feeling guilty for wanting more and ashamed to say it out loud?
This is part of the problem. Pursuing something new feels like letting go. I remember, when I was learning to swim, how I would cling to the edge of the pool and pull myself towards the deep end. I had to move past the point of no return where my toes couldn’t touch the bottom. Then I would hang there on the side waiting for the courage to push away from the wall.
This is what it feels like to declare the pursuit of purpose.
Is my purpose lost or am I the one who got lost? I think my purpose was kidnapped by the need to survive. I know I did the best I could at the time. In fact, I think I have excelled at surviving. But, here I am now, longing to reconnect with and refuel my life with meaning and fulfillment.
I’ve never been lost because I’ve always been where I am. Maybe distracted or otherwise occupied or too busy or overwhelmed would be more truthful than lost. But, If I think of all of those things like trees in a forest, then, yes. Lost is what I am and have been. Lost in the woods of living my life.
Purpose can get buried beneath the daily grind. This isn’t news to anyone. Let’s face it, pursuing purpose – opening to purpose and taking action towards personal fulfillment – all of those things require energy and time.
And we all have more than enough demands on our energy and time as it is. To do lists. Schedules. Responsibilities. The maintenance of daily life. I work full time and when I get home at night, I’m tired. I have reluctantly learned that, if there are only 24 hours in a day, I can’t demand 17 hours of productivity from myself.
Change and transformation have an impact on the rest of our lives. They demand from us the same kind of energy any relationship or commitment does. And, often, in the case of personal fulfillment and purpose, we are only accountable to ourselves, so any action we need or want to take will fall to the bottom of the priority list. Buried.
I lose track of what isn’t in front of my face and I have a fuzzy grasp of time. Years will pass and, but, I started that painting only yesterday. In the ordinary flow of time, it was ‘only yesterday’ two years ago. I think the paint is dry now.
This is an issue around our house too. I like to leave piles of things scattered around the house. The piles are reminders of things I want and need to do. My husband, however, dislikes piles of unidentified stuff lying all over the house so I’ve staked my claim to four locations. The art room side of the office. My bedside table where the stacks of books live. The little Japanese writing desk next to my closet (though I have to admit this one is too pretty to pile on). And my grandmother’s secretary desk in the living room where all my tarot and oracle cards are tucked away waiting to play.
I have abandoned my purpose many times over. I’ve started and stopped. I’ve engaged for multiple years and walked away – more than once.
- Two degrees in theatre and acting – BFA and MFA
- A minor in poetry
- Eight years of training in Psychodrama
- My Actor’s Equity card
There may be more, but this is the collection I can recall right now. I’m looking at what these things have in common: a focus on art and performance, love of language and story, the desire to entertain and move others, and a need to understand what makes us – as humans – tick.
Along the way, I’ve changed and learned and connected with a wonderful creative community. Yet, I’ve been afraid to commit, once again, to a calling and a purpose – one that lights me up from within and makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I’m using all of myself. I’m showing up with my whole self.These epiphanies and glimpses of purpose without action are only fleeting ideas or insights – temporary enthusiasms. I love a good insight or ‘Aha!’, but unless I engage with it in some way – what is it? Nothing more than a nice idea.
But, this story begins: “Once again upon a time…”
The Realm of Comfort Zones
I think what we call comfort zones may, in truth, not be comfortable at all. But they are familiar. At their worst, they’re ‘Numb Zones’. Maybe we don’t even notice comfort zones until they become too small for us in some way. They get a little tight around the neck and start to rub us in the wrong way, so we take a peek outside and see how dark it is. We see our inner critics and demons prowling around the edges of our familiarity. So we decide the too-small space that we know so well is just fine after all. It’s cozy. And I know who I am in this place. So the monsters get bigger. They become legend. And we stay in the roles cast for us by the circumstances of life.
And so the journey begins. Here’s a little prayer for starting out based on a Loving Kindness Meditation:
May I be kind. May I be curious.
May I delight in the exploration of my purpose.
May I trust that I am safe to venture forward.
May I feel supported by my family & community.
May I be a light to others on the path.
May I find joy and know peace.
May you be kind. May you be curious.
May you delight in the exploration of your purpose.
May you trust that you are safe to venture forward.
May you feel supported by your family & community.
May you be a light to others on the path.
May you find joy and know peace.
I have spent a metric crap ton of my lifetime trying to fix myself. Fix all the things. My weight. My hair. Notice I start with the physical. I was going to revise that to show you that I understand that it’s what is inside us that matters – but, I’m a woman who is a product of the American Marketing Machine – and as a woman I have been drowning in messages most of my life about what my body should look like, what my hair and my teeth should look like and “blah, blah, blah” … and I’ve been taught that fixing my physical flaws and shortcomings will bring me happiness and fulfillment and sex – so that’s where the fixing habit started.
Side note: I once had a guy come up to me at a party and say, “Wow. You’d be the perfect woman if you had a tan.” Really!?!
Anyway, that’s not what this is about. Well, it is. But it’s not the whole story. I’m going to tell you a story about how this blog came to be. Hold on till the end and you’ll know if this is for you or not.
This story is about the time in my life I have wasted trying to be something other than, better than, more than, and less than who I actually am. This story is about how I plan to declare and end to that crap. I’ve also learned that “that crap” is so ingrained in my thinking and perspective that it takes a daily Declaration of Independence from it in order to claim my freedom.
My hell-bent mission to improve myself and fix all the things landed me in an MBSR class. MBSR is an acronym for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. My motive, once again, was to fix myself. What I learned, however, was the complete opposite of the verb “fix” – maybe “break open”.
Inspired by what I was learning and beginning to understand about not fixing myself in the MBSR class, I signed up for another class with the same teacher. This class was called Eat for Life. Even while I was beginning to understand that fixing myself wasn’t the answer, I was still fixated on fixing myself. And the number one thing in my life I have spent time trying to fix is my body size. Even when I weighed 115 pounds as a teenager, I was too fat because I wanted to be a ballerina and at the time the average weight of a proper ballerina was about two ounces.
This obsession with weight led to a lifetime of torture and self-hatred. And I’m not going to dive into the guts of that right here and now because I get triggered. And, when I get triggered, I’m pretty sure anyone else who has spent a lifetime loathing and battling their body could be easily triggered by the details as well. I don’t want to inflict that bullshit on anyone else.
For me, the gist of the learning from both classes is to give up the battle and take the time to feel what I actually feel and regard those feeling with kindness and curiosity instead of stuffing my body with food until I don’t feel anything anymore – other than stuffed.
I’m learning to appreciate my physical self for all the rockin’ things it can do and for the life I experience through it rather than valuing my physical presence as a mere decoration. In other words, I’m not a mannequin. I’m a human.
Based on the book we bought for the class, Intuitive Eating (which sounds terrifying, I know), I learned to pay attention to sensations of hunger and satisfaction. It’s mind blowing for me to experience these sensations even today after more than a year of practice. It’s so simple. And a total paradigm shift at the same time.
Paying attention to the sensations of hunger and satisfaction also led to paying attention to the sensations of sober and drunk. Which led to giving up my nightly bottle of wine. I really, really, really, really did not want to give up my nightly bottle of wine, but I couldn’t deny anymore how crappy I felt going to sleep and waking up with a headache every night and every morning.
I drank my last bottle of wine on December 3, 2016. Since then I’ve tried to have just one beer, or just one glass of Chardonnay and quickly learned that even one of anything containing alcohol causes me to feel like an ax is cleaving my head into two pieces and permanently separating the right and left hemispheres of my psyche.
So here’s what happened. I was sitting in the Eat of Life class and the exercise for the day was to share with the group the ways in which we “used” food (“used” in the way an addict “uses” heroine – my words not the teachers) – to share the ways we used food other than to nourish our bodies. We were sitting in a circle sharing one at a time and everything everyone shared before me was a “Yup. I do that too.” I eat because I don’t want to say what I want to say. I use it instead of getting angry. I use it instead of being intimate. I use it to take a mental vacation in the middle of, at the end of, or before the beginning of a stressful day. I use it for entertainment. I use it so I have something to do with my hands…it was getting closer to my turn to share and I was running out of uses.
And – at the same time. I could feel an inkling of something – some new information bubbling up from somewhere inside me – and when it was my turn to share, I erupted with, “I use food to make up for the lack of relationship I have with any sort of purpose in my life. I’m 50 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m completely unsatisfied with what I’m doing with my life.”
Wow! Where did that shit come from? My own eruption stunned me into silence. There was a little pause. The person sitting to my right, whose turn it was to share her “use” for food, was staring at me and her mouth was a little bit agape. I guess my little eruption had come out more forcefully than I expected it to. The teacher said, “It’s never too late.” And I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes and we moved on.
The teacher said, “It’s never too late.” And I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes and we moved on.
You know those moments when you feel like you revealed a bit more than you intended to reveal and you feel somewhat naked – or completely bare-ass naked with a giant pimple on your right butt-cheek? This was one of those moments.
We all got up at the conclusion of the class and started to gather our things. And two women from the class approached me. I was sure they were going to give me the number for their therapists, but they didn’t. One said, “I’m so glad you said that. I feel exactly the same way.” And the other one said, “Me too.”
I said, “Wow. I didn’t even know I was going to say that until it came out of my mouth. It helps to know I’m not the only one.”
“Oh, you’re not the only one.” They were both genuinely kind and made me feel much better about my emotional lava fart in the middle of class.
When we returned to class the next week other classmates came up to me and said almost the same thing. What I shared about purpose had rung true for them too.
And, in my little head, I thought, “This is a thing.” And later, “This is an important thing.”
Purpose and the lack of relationship with a purpose that leaves women feeling empty and sometimes desperate is an epidemic. And all the things we “use” to avoid feeling this emptiness have the potential to become instruments of self-torture. I know that sounds extreme, but I believe it’s true.
I believe it’s especially true for women “of a certain age” who’ve had multiple careers (or jobs), raised their children (I say this in the past-tense, but I know this job is never done), started and left long-term relationships, loved and lost the precious people from previous generations of their lineage (or God forbid lost those younger than them).
We’ve all spent lifetimes doing what’s necessary to pay the rent or the mortgage, we’ve driven cars that have left us stranded in a Target parking lot or on the side of a highway … we’ve done all the things that we had to do to survive and most of the things we’re told we should do until we reach some point in our lives where we ask the question, “If I’m lucky, I’m facing another 20, 30, or 40+ years of this. Is it enough?” Then we head to the kitchen to cook a lasagna and open another bottle of wine because the answer is, “No.”
That’s what this blog is about. Purpose. Cultivating a relationship with purpose that is fulfilling, loving, and exciting.
I’ve thought a lot about my purpose since that class and lo and behold a memory bubbled up from my deep dark past.
When I was in sixth grade or thereabouts, I read a book called, The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. I read it because I found it on my parent’s bookshelf and I wanted to read the books the grown-ups read. This wasn’t a new ambition of mine.
When I was in second or third grade, my mother sent me to school with a note to my teacher asking her to let me check out books from the “other side” of the library. The “other side” of the library was where the books reserved for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders were kept. And I had shared with my mother how frustrated I was (read: downright pissed-off) that my teacher wouldn’t let me look at or check out any books from the “other side” because I was too young. I was especially covetous of a book of poetry called Songs of Experience by William Blake.
Back to The Painted Bird,I read it with the eyes of a sixth grader. I stayed up late reading it when I was supposed to be sleeping. And when I finished reading it, my world had changed. I had discovered that writers can write about anything and make up anything. They can make bad things happen, and good things happen, and they can write about ugly things and mean people and they can make up worlds and places full of scary and sad and magical things. Beyond the story, this is what I grokked from The Painted Bird. I shut the book and got out of bed. I found a notebook and a pencil and sat down at my desk. I sat down ready to write about those “things”.
By the way. I still have that desk. It was an old school desk with an attached seat and the top of it opened up so you could store your schoolwork inside. My grandmother rescued it from an elementary school that was condemned and about to be torn down. I got in trouble for carving my initial into it with the beak of a metal penguin figurine. I still have that desk stored away in my basement. I’ve never been able to let it go. (I’ll dig it out and take some pictures to share with you.)
I sat there tracing my finger over the ‘K’ I carved into the surface thinking, “I’m a writer. I’m gonna be a writer. I want to be a writer. I’m a writer.”
In that moment I was connected to a new kind of relationship with myself and my life. It was my first memorable experience of being passionately connected to purpose. Since that moment, over forty years ago, I’ve flirted with, searched for, fought with, abandoned, and kissed and made up with multiple purposes. And I’ve spent a lot of time, calories, and bottles of wine avoiding The One.
If you’re still with me, I’m guessing you and I may be on similar journeys so I’ll tell you what I’m hoping for by showing up here on the interwebs.
I’m hoping to start a conversation about purpose. There’s loads of literature out there and I’m wading through it. I’ve decided to devote myself to learning more about purpose and how our relationship or lack of relationship with purpose impacts our lives. I’ll share what I discover with you and connect you with any valuable resources I find along the way.
I’m in the process of cultivating a new love-affair with my long-lost purpose. The one that got away – writing. And I’ll share that process with you. I think it’s helpful to know you’re not the only one. I know it was helpful for me to know that when my classmates shared their stories with me after my eruption in the Eat for Life class. I also hope to become a better writer by communicating with you to the best of my current ability.
I hope that we can become a community of women passionate about the lives we are creating for ourselves and that we can clear the way for others. I hope we can leave some valuable breadcrumbs behind.
Some things you may want to know about me before you bookmark this blog or sign up for the feed:
- I cuss. If you’ve read this far, you already know that. I know cussing is offensive to some people, but “bad words” come out of my mouth and I’m not interested in trying to edit myself in that regard.
- I’m what I call “a little woo woo”. I have a strong spiritual bent that isn’t anywhere near mainstream. I talk to God as I understand God not as any religion dictates the rules of God to me. Angels, Tarot, and Oracle cards play a big part in that dialogue and I’m going to share that here as well. If you think those things are delusional or “of the devil”, move on. This is not the blog for you.
- That being said, I’m all about the practical. For me, “woo woo” is practical, but I understand how some people think of it as extraneous to practicality. Being effective and taking action is synonymous with being connected with our purpose and in love with our lives. I want to learn what works and what doesn’t. I’m all about experiments in action. My current experiment is to write 1,000 words a day. Since this post is closing in on 2,500 words, I’m considering myself in bonus territory for the day.
- I’m focused on the female experience here mostly because that’s my experience not because I want to exclude men. I don’t want to exclude anyone, but I’m not going to argue with anyone about the gender gap stuff. I believe our society throws a lot of crap at women that is confusing and detrimental to the mental health of our nation and our world. Yes, I said world. A world that includes men and women. I think it speaks volumes that there was only one man in our group of thirty taking the Eat for Life class. I’ll rant about that bullshit from time to time because I think it’s one of the largest barriers that exists between us and our purpose, but this will be a political debate free zone. I’m setting a clear boundary on that. If you are a human who is getting any benefit from what is shared here, you are absolutely welcome, but please respect that boundary regardless of gender, sexual identity, or romantic orientation.
- I’m writing from the American experience because that’s the sauce I swim in. I hope to expand my travels before my time on this earth is done, but I’m a white girl from Midwest USA, and my experience and my interpretation of that experience is limited by that perspective. Just know I’m open to expanding my perspective. Please give me a shout out when I start sounding overly white-bread-fed.
- Lastly, I reserve the right to revise at will and without warning. I’m learning too. I’m not an expert or a guru. That word gets bashed and beaten over the head quite a lot in the web-o-sphere. I will share as I learn and I promise to always be honest about that. All of this is written with love and vulnerability.
That’s it for now. If you identify, if you want to play, if you’re all in and ready to write your own romance, leave me a note. I mean it. Please, reach out. You can leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.