Have Courage.

 

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
 – Eleanor Roosevelt

 Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
 – Neale Donald Walsch

 

Comfort zone.

As much as I believe the term has been overused, it is an easily understood concept. We do what we do out of habit and out of a love of routine. Just like when we nestle into our warm beds, once we’ve set ourselves up in a comfy spot, mentally or physically, we are loath to change. It doesn’t really matter if our zone is actually, truly comfortable; as long as it is familiar, we are more likely to stick with it than choose the alternative. Even when the alternative is better, we often find ourselves mired in the wheel-ruts of our routines. Why?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years and with increased intensity since WLS became part of my life. Why do I continue to hold the negative thought processes and perspectives that landed me here? Why is it so hard for me to embrace a more positive self-image? Why am I unable to let go of my old self?

What am I afraid of?

I have to believe that many of you are also struggling with embracing the change and leaving the old you behind with all its associated beliefs and baggage. It’s why we can’t let go of the past. It’s why we still have closets full of clothes that don’t fit and pantries full of food we don’t eat. It’s why we brush off compliments but take every slight to heart. It’s why we take tentative steps forward, all the while looking behind. It’s why we let the opinions of others dictate how we feel about ourselves. What if we fail? What if this new thing doesn’t work out? If you listen, you can already hear the ‘I told you so’ chorus warming up.

I am motivated, in large part, by fear. Fear is an unwieldy and unwelcome part of my life. I’d like to say I’m getting better at dealing with that part of my psyche, but honestly, I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that I have made it into a big, scary monster that either keeps me from doing certain things or compels me to do them. I’m afraid of the dark, so I leave lights on unnecessarily. I’m afraid of what other people think, so I don’t always say what’s on my mind.

What are you afraid of? Ridicule. Embarrassment. Being misunderstood. Failure. Risk. Success. Revealing yourself. Loss. Not being good enough. Commitment. Rejection. Missing out. Death. Action. Inaction. Change.

Real or perceived, fears can easily control us.

Fear can give me a ton of reasons to do something, and it also gives me a ton of excuses not to. It’s been very prosperous in my life; I’ve allowed it unrestricted access to my decisions, my self-image, my language, and my activities. I’ve deferred to it and allowed it to be my default position, whether I realize it or not.

As a result, I haven’t challenged myself much. It’s much easier this way, you know: if I do what I’ve always done, I’ll continue to get the results I’ve always had, and there won’t be any doubt or uncertainty about it. I can coast right along.

Right?

Well, if I am to be honest with myself, I’d have to admit that I like challenges. I like them because they offer me the opportunity to achieve, to learn, and to overcome. Challenges, by their very nature, are confrontational; they defiantly stand in front of you with arms crossed as if to say, “So what?” Challenges dare you to act; dare you to upset the status quo; dare you to prove them wrong.

In January of last year, I viewed starting a blog as a challenge, so I braved the naysayer in my head and met it head on. It may be too early to tell, but I think it was a good decision. Blogging has been good therapy for me in many ways, but it hasn’t healed my grief or solved my problems; rather, it has brought those things front and center for me to deal with. It has made me recognize and appreciate the flaws and frailties that make me who I am. Writing has helped my comfort zone expand, and as it has grown, so have I. I highly recommend it.

Losing weight and changing myself has been an even bigger challenge. It has dared me to rethink everything about my life and my choices. It’s teaching me things I never knew and giving me strength. I’m coloring outside the lines now.

As I live my post-op life, challenges arise on a regular basis. I admit I haven’t taken up all of the gauntlets thrown at my feet; some will have to wait until I feel a bit more confident. But each one I do accept makes me that much happier and secure in myself.

I’m slowly coming to the realization that allowing for what other people think should not be a platform of my personal development. In some ways, that position reflects how I felt through my grief – what is right for you is not what’s right for him, or her, or me. I can’t live my life in fear of the judgment of others. Chances are, they care far less than I give them credit for, anyway.

I’m 50 years old, but in some ways I feel like I’ve just started living.

 

 photo credit Garry Wilmore

Nightmares.

How do you describe a nightmare?

Unimaginable terror?

Inconsolable sorrow?

Devastating loss?

Paralyzing indecision?

Unquenchable thirst?

Unavoidable doom?

Irreparable damage?

Shocking revelations?

Shameful regret?

Irreversible harm?

Prolonged suffering?

Gripping fear?

Unconscionable evil?

Endless longing?

Infinite emptiness?

 

All of the above.

 

– RLP 9-6-14

 

 

photo credit r.nial.bradshaw

The Ides.

Dad, Wendy, and Mom - Dec 1996
Dad, Wendy, and Mom – Dec 1996

Many of you know that I lost my parents, a sister, Wendy, and her friend on March 15, 1999 – the Ides of March.

Every year since then, I have marked that day: early on, I would stay home from work and be miserable.  It was too much to try to be ‘normal’ when I was grieving so deeply.  Between late February and late March, I faced heartache on days that should have been celebrated:  February 26, my parents’ anniversary; my mother’s birthday; Wendy’s birthday; and even my birthday, which was the last time I ever saw the four of them. 

Every one of those days was tough to get through, but not as tough as the day: the 15th, the Ides of March.  For a long time, I was unable to function on that day; it was overwhelming, and I couldn’t manage much more than taking flowers to the graves, awash in tears.  After several years, I would take flowers to the graves and spend the day in quiet reflection, but I no longer took the day off from work.  I would still be overcome with the memories, preferring to keep to myself that day. 

For the last few years, the day has passed much more easily for me.  If I let myself, I can easily be swallowed up in that quicksand of sorrow, but I don’t want to do that, because it’s hard to return when you sink so low.  So I have deliberately tried to go the other direction and find some happiness in that day; it’s tough but necessary.  This year, I am happy to report that I am attending a dear friend’s wedding.

In the last fifteen years I have become a different person.  That sudden and catastrophic loss changed everything.  My heart was shattered, but in healing, it became more open and loving.  I have become more compassionate; living through those terrible times when I thought I might never recover broadened my capacity for love and understanding.  My empathy for those who are struggling is deeper than it ever was.

But I am also afraid.  I am more fearful than ever before of things I cannot control.  I worry constantly, and I can’t seem to stop.  I know my anxiety won’t change a situation or make things better; and I know that being concerned and worrying are two different things.  But no matter what I tell myself, the worries creep in.  I no longer believe that things happen ‘to other people’ – they happened to me and my family – so I keep wondering what will happen next.  It is always — always — in the back of my mind. 

My mind reels with ‘what ifs’ for every situation.  What if that driver crosses the center line and hits me?  What if this plane goes down?  What if a prowler shows up when I’m home alone?  What if something happens to my children and I am helpless to do anything?  I am mostly able to manage the worries, but some days they take over, and when they do, I am an unreasonable, agonizing mess.  Nevermind that many of the things I worry about are not going to happen; that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that once the fear arises, all reason goes out the window, and I become a frightened child. 

I have also noticed that my memory is not as reliable as it once was.  I think the trauma of that incident was a huge factor.  My recall of those first days and weeks is rather muddled, which is understandable, but even long-term recollections of my childhood and young adulthood are gone.  Wiped from my mind.  I can’t remember movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, or things I’ve said and done.  This is one of the hardest things for me to accept.

My priorities are different now, too.  I used to envision myself having a successful career, great investments, and a busy social life.  Those things changed.  Now, I value time with my family more than I ever did.  After the crash I stopped balancing my checkbook and lost interest in building my investment portfolio; instead of hoping to maximize my profits, I only cared to have enough to pay for my sons to go to college.  I prefer gifts of time and experiences to material things, because I am always aware that time (and life) is short.

My internal turmoil during those first few years matched both the external chaos of the tragedy and the subsequent upheaval among my siblings.  It was an exceptionally difficult time for us all, and with emotions running so high, conflict was inevitable.  There was a lot of anger and pain, and I think we learned more about one another than we ever wanted to.  But that time also taught me to look deeper into people’s hearts for their motivations.  The roller coaster extremes of emotion, the irrationality, the impulsiveness, and the inertia that I experienced all taught me to take a second look at situations instead of merely reacting.  I try to see the underlying issues that make people act and react the way they do. 

Using myself as an example, I realized that stress and emotion cause people to do crazy things sometimes – things that are uncharacteristic of them.  At times, I was sure I was going crazy.  I lost interest in my life in general and sunk into depression.  I acted strangely.  I would hope that people who saw me like that realized that the crazy person wasn’t really me, but a product of what I was going through.  So I try to extend that same understanding to other people.  Who knows what their back stories might be?

Not a day has passed since March 15, 1999 that I don’t miss my parents and sister; the gaping hole in my heart is still there.  So I’m marking the day.  I’ll take flowers to the graves, but then I will go to the wedding and enjoy myself.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). 

I spent some time in the pit of despair, and when I crawled out, the world was different.  But I was different, too.  Not all of it was change for the better, but that is life. 

And life is still good.