Becoming You: From Tragic to Transformative

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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.

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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.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

I'm sick. My head feels like it's full of cotton packed in tight and my nasal passages are so stuffed that even after using half the tissues in the box to blow my nose, I still can only breathe through my mouth. My lips are raw and so severely chapped that they burn. Ouch.

When I crawled into bed tonight, curling up under my teal afghan a dear friend knitted for me, all I could feel amidst the discomfort and exhaustion was a need for comfort and peace. I lie here and I just want to feel warm, cozy, and safe. I want to feel that everything is as it is supposed to be... me nurturing myself back to health and doing nothing but relaxing with that focused intention. I want to feel like there's nothing in the world more important to me than getting rest and recovering.

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Achieving this peaceful state of presence and acceptance is always a challenge... for me, and I would guess, for many others. I have already been sick for a week now, and the myriad of the things I wanted to do, believe I have to do, and feel I need to do, all have not been done (and are not going to be done) any time soon. The important "must-dos" of my mind have been moved to the back burner, proven to be nothing more than precious "want to-dos".

After muddling, almost sleepwalking, through the necessities and responsibilities of life that couldn't be put off, all in a cloud of stuffiness and in a body full of achiness, my personal to-do list has gone straight out the window this past week. The big plans I had - to publish new blogs, to submit articles to editors, to clean out my clothes closet - all have easily fallen by the wayside, while I continue to lie under my afghan, drink my hot tea with honey, and incessantly blow my persistently stuffy nose.

Feeling this way can throw your priorities for a loop and quickly demonstrate how little power you have over your life when you're not feeling well, and when it comes to the things you wanted to make happen. Accepting the fact that you don't have the strength, clarity and capacity to actually do those things in your weakened state is not easy. And as a recovering perfectionist and moderate control freak, it's hard for me to not be disappointed or deflated by this all too apparent truth.

But as my mind turns to the people that lost their lives in last Friday's Paris attacks, along with those who loved them, my perspective shifts. It's only been a week in which so many people have been living in this new reality, in the aftermath of tragedy, and I know it has already changed them and their lives forever. I understand from my own experience the shock they felt (and are probably still feeling) upon discovering they've lost someone... so suddenly, so unexpectedly, so devastatingly; and I cannot help but feel an equal mix of empathy, sadness, and frustration. I also feel a hesitant gratitude... for my life, and for the safety of my loved ones.

All I really have to do right now is keep breathing. That's it. If I do nothing else, even in light of not getting much done last week, I can at least just do that. BREATHE. Breathe and be grateful that I am still here on this Earth... breathing. I lie here, breathing in and out, and fully recognize the privilege I have of doing so, even if it is only through my mouth and past painfully dry lips.

I GET TO DO THIS. I get to lie here, in my comfy bed with my cozy blanket, and I get to feel the warmth of my life in all its overwhelming, overbooked, and over-complicated glory, while the virus that has taken hold of my immune system gives me a reality check, and gives my week's to-do list the finger.

And for this I am so fortunate.

As our world was collectively shaken by the tragic events of last week, ALL of our individual existences are subject to a reality check... on why we are doing what, when, and how; and how we are affecting ourselves and each other in the process. I began feeling really sick on the day the attacks took place, and as I lie here now a week later, still sick, I see that not reaching my goal of posting a new blog, nor accomplishing all the other tasks I deemed significant or important, is far from tragic. Heck, it isn't even newsworthy. It's a trifle, a mere delay, a setback easily recovered from. It's a blip on the radar of this blog's life. Of my life.

But those people that lost their lives to terrorism last week? They don't get any more opportunities to fulfill their goals or reach for new ones. They don't get another chance to live their lives or realize their dreams. Yet, I do. I get more chances. I get more time. I get to be here still.

Finding forgiveness for the evil in this world is hard, but finding gratitude for the good in it is easy. And it is SO VITAL.

Recognize the good in your life. Be grateful for it. Celebrate it. Cherish it. SEE IT... for it is most definitely there, living and breathing all around you... even under that mound of used tissues.