Thirteen years ago, I had a dream job, dream husband, and dream lifestyle by the sea. Happiness was on the rise, and its expected trajectory was limitless. I was living a perfectly charmed life, despite mild insecurity and self-doubt; and the formula I had created for it centered around pronounced wellness... in health, fitness, discipline of mind and body, and professional success.
I ran three miles five times a week. I practiced yoga. I worked long hours, but was rewarded for it in title and salary. I drank green smoothies, ate vegan meals, and consumed eight glasses of water each day. I wore a size 0. I had overcome a dysfunctional childhood, suffered career failures, and let go of unfulfilling relationships. I lived in an impeccably choreographed external reality, while my internal footing was not completely solid. I fought for the life I wanted, and created the best version of it I could. I felt happy. I thought if my life could just remain stable and secure long enough, then maybe I could feel a deeper sense of happiness and belonging in my soul, down to my core.
But it didn't stay that way. I was laid off my job, got unexpectedly pregnant, and tragically lost my mother, all within the span of a year and a half. This eruption of unexpected losses and unplanned detours blew up my life, triggering unconscious wounds and undesirable outcomes. Life's curve balls were thrown so fast, and from so many directions, that there was no time to brace for disaster. They invaded my intentionally crafted existence and destroyed what I had worked so hard to craft.
Now, not only was my mom gone, but my life, as I knew it, was over. I felt left behind and tossed aside by the world. This world, which I thought had promised me a good life, had lied and reneged on its promise. My baby was born amid my crippling grief. Postpartum depression, marital disillusionment, and a monumental identity crisis soon joined in; and together, these life altering states of being uncovered a minefield of hidden wounds within me, and ignited deep emotional pain, debilitating me.
I naively thought I had paid my dues of difficulties early in life, and that this was supposed to be my time to shine. It was my turn to have a happy life. One full of joy and love. One in which I felt that I belonged, and was wanted and needed. How I always dreamed. But it was not going the way I hoped and expected. I had lost the dream. I was angry and sad. I was no longer the me I wanted to be. My neatly landscaped life was now a messy, damaged life... one chosen for me, rather than by me.
Through sheer will and stubbornness, I hastily rebuilt myself and attempted to regain control of my life. I was a mother now, but also a motherless daughter. I kept mostly intact for years, and even thrived in short, temporary bouts... in motherhood, marriage, and fitness. But my proven formula of wellness, and the method of healthy functioning I previously used before the fallout, was no match for my unresolved wounding. My life appeared put together enough from the outside (again); but inside, insecurity, hurt, and fear were emerging from the shadows. They began to eclipse the happiness I had cultivated out of tragedy, and I couldn't sustain it. Compelled to remove the masks of coping and posturing, all too common in adulthood, I exposed the dark underbelly of my sadness and perceived inadequacy, and faced it.
By my own resolve, I was forced to grow.
This kind of personal growth is distinct from the growing we do as children, which doesn't take our conscious effort. Our new bodies, ripe with possibility, develop beyond our control and without our deliberate intention. Our minds, clean slates ready to be written on like new blackboards with fresh pieces of white chalk, soak up life’s experiences like sponges. Before our physiques are done developing, our young minds and hearts begin to fill with experiences... ones that elicit hope, hurt, conceptions and conclusions. For most of us, the development of our emotional intelligence is hijacked by wounding, in its many forms, encouraging a climate of managing and minimizing to take over while a regimen of denying feelings and numbing pain sets in.
The depth of hurt and vulnerability that's inside us by the time we are adults often remains buried and unexplored, sometimes for a lifetime; unless we are compelled to dig deep and break through to the other side of pain. Loss is most often the catalyst to this unearthing, as was the case for me. Although I had been an introspective student of yoga and soul centered living for years, this was different. More confronting. I realized that emotional, spiritual and whole body wellness could no longer be a surface goal, or merely a healthy or trendy lifestyle choice. Exercise, smoothies, and meditation weren't gonna do it alone. No more glossy top coats to conceal the flaws or slurry to cover up the cracks. I needed to jackhammer that shit up, down to the foundation... to the core of my soul. I had to confront my wounding, look my pain dead in the eye, and rescue myself from its clutches.
I am still under this personal and intimate reconstruction, and expect to be indefinitely. I have learned and healed so much, yet I have so much more to discover and integrate within. I love and fear the process; but mostly, I am grateful for the insight I have gained and the perseverance I have found inside myself to stay curious, courageous, and keep healing, growing and evolving.
I have concluded that if we don't commit to doing this healing, growing and evolving bit, we are at risk of staying stuck in a version of ourselves that we've outgrown, but insist on squeezing into... just like that tight pair of jeans we claim still fit, but require us to lie down and suck in to zip them up. Being stuck in those old, shrunken selves stifles joy, impedes our potential for true belonging, and immobilizes us from moving about our lives freely with comfort and purpose.
It is possible for personal growth and evolution to be intentional and self-motivated as well, rather than spurred on by loss or misfortune. It could be inspired by a desire for a more fulfilling existence and a deeper understanding of one's place in humankind, or it can be spurred on by the discomfort of trying to fit into those ill-fitting, played out denims.
Whether prompted by life changing challenges or by curiosity about what exists beyond our self-imposed limits, growth happens when we open ourselves up to the possibility of exploring, healing, and becoming who we truly are. Becoming more kind, compassionate, and empathetic to ourselves and others. Becoming whole and wise and open and vulnerable. Becoming who we were meant to be, before we began to tailor and fabricate a version of ourselves to present to the world for self-preservation.
Becoming you is the single most important thing you can do in this life.
From tragic to transformative, only you have the power to make your life what you want, out of what you have. All that is required to establish strong roots and grow magnificent wings is to accept the invitation to find what authentically grounds you, and to cultivate the strength and courage to let it fly free into the wonderful wilderness of this world.
It's all inside of you... it's inside all of us.
POSTSCRIPT: As a strong adherent of my writing, Dr. Jennifer Johnston-Jones, founder of Roots & Wings Personal Growth and Family Excellence, a non-profit organization established in Malibu, asked me to write an article for the premiere issue of their wellness magazine.
Although they shifted gears and ultimately decided not to publish the magazine, I had already finished the article. This is it, reconstructed and edited a bit for posting here.
Roots & Wings' mission is to transform individuals and families into their best selves through parent education, personal growth coaching, child development, and school educational programs. For more information, visit www.rootsnwings.org.