Updated: Nov 28, 2020
2020 has been quite a year. Many of us have experienced hardship and much heartache. But, in January, I had this feeling that this was going to be a really great year for me. Because I don’t measure success or growth by finances or career status accomplishments, I figured it was going to be a sort of personal growth for me, something that I myself would truly only see the great impact of. I just had a feeling.
The first few months of the year started off with a renewed feeling of freedom and joy that I haven’t experienced in years. Post-divorce and still having bouts of the rollercoaster of the five stages of grief taking me for a ride, this was a well-lit door for me and I was very aware that I was feeling differently; that I had begun to feel differently about myself and was opening my eyes to what was around me in new ways rather than looking down the same tunnel that was keeping me stuck in overwhelm and in a locked room without the key to my own heart. My perspective had opened and I had finally let go of expectations of my life and what I thought was “supposed to be”. I was learning to accept what was no longer, and what looked different. I finally saw that different can also be a beautiful thing. It’s just different. What freedom that is to let ourselves out of the locked room of our own expectations.
Then the work-at-home orders came on March 16th and my recent discovery of enjoying going out with friends to listen to music, eat great food and dance, came to a screeching halt. The loneliness began to settle in me in new ways, but I pressed into the opportunity to embrace whatever silver linings I could find, and truly, I was seeing them everywhere. Focusing on gratitude in the midst of the uncertainty around me was my familiar, best friend.
The months passed as I grounded myself in daily practices that fed my mind, body and spirit: mindfulness practice, stretching, hiking, walking, or paddling. I pressed into looking into my anxious soul and all the uncomfortable places, asking myself if I was happy just to be happy and if I needed to push through any more grief that was not finished with me. What were the deeper reasons during the pandemic that made me want to overeat from the stress or drink more days in the week than I normally would? Was I willing to sit with what was coming up for me?
When we’re faced with moments that force us to be alone, or live life differently that doesn’t allow us to fill every minute with distractions from ourselves, we have two choices. We can ignore the feelings and actions that are trying to help us grow, or we can press into them with a “hell no” mentality that still believes in possibilities, dreams, and overcoming difficulties. It’s the hard stuff we go through that makes us stronger people, and we’ll grow if we don’t turn our face away, but rather, look at it straight in the eyes.
I had pondered how so many people are feeling stuck in a time capsule right now, unable to move forward, feeling overwhelmed, perhaps unaccomplished, feeling like they should be doing more somehow in the midst of a pandemic. And I thought about myself. My first inclination was to think that I haven’t done much in the past 8 months, but when I thought about it, I was actually astounded at how much I really have accomplished. However, those check boxes are not what’s most important to me. Always, the most important, is my personal growth as a human being and the things that lead me to soul wellness, and in turn, being able to help others with the same. Things like straddling fears, overcoming anxiety, and learning to love people better without judgment.
Needless to say, I did make the list of accomplishments as well which has been very good for me to reflect on as this has not been a wasted year. I restructured many processes at work that left our department with less help and tidal wave of increased work due to regulation changes, software updates and loss of employees due to COVID-19. I took a writing course. I launched this website and blog. I started a side business. I started backpacking, did a very challenging hike and backpacking trip and overcame more fears in doing so. Make your list. I’m sure you have done more than you realize.
May was such a hard month for me. Thank God I had grounded myself as much as I had in those first 6 weeks. All within about a week my youngest, my daughter, (I have three kids in their 20’s and two already living out of state) moved from living a few miles from me, to out of state. Someone very close to me that I’ve known since I was 19 passed away. And, my former spouse got remarried, bringing up very unexpected feelings of anger and how-totally-unfair kind of thoughts. Well, we all know that life is not fair, there’s just no such thing as fair. There are only all our own expectations that we have elevated to a place of exultation, and when they crash, it shatters our hearts a bit with the fall.
Once again, I brought myself back to my lists of thankfulness and I pondered how astounding it has been that during this year that feels like there’s a dent in the universe, I have grown and loved in ways that have brought me miles closer to coming home to myself. I realized that although I have always been a giving person and have volunteered in many compacities, I needed to look deeply at the reasons I was doing all those things for so many organizations. My mental state demanded that I look deeply because I was completely depleted and stretching myself way too thin. Was it concern for other peoples’ judgment or expectations of me? I found the answer to that question to be yes over and over again. I knew that I had to put the magnifying glass over my own heart, and until I was healed and ready, I could not keep giving as much as I was to others. Being too busy, overwhelmed and stressed does not lend itself to help others or myself. The needs of others… my kids, my parents, my extended family, friends and strangers…it all weighs on me and pulls at me.
I had recognized last year that I had been feeling misplaced guilt over things someone else had done that had affected my family which was keeping me from being able to experience joy. I put that in the coffin it belongs in and will no longer allow the actions of someone else to dictate my joy. I have found my voice. Maybe for the first time in my life. That’s really big. And, I have opened my eyes to unexpected friendships and challenged myself to be open in unexpected places to new relationships, rather than trying to force friendships in my “new” city in the places I thought made sense like work or church. Instead, I have found some beautiful, unexpected, deep connections, especially a couple of friends who have made sure I don’t feel alone or disconnected during COVID-19. I stopped being afraid of new friendships and am learning to trust again.
And finally, I think the most amazing thing is that this year I can truly say that I love myself; really, really love myself. I’ve always known I’m a pretty amazing person in many ways, but that’s different than looking at ourselves completely and really being able to love ourselves. For those who have experienced abuse of any kind, this is a difficult mask to pull off. The pain of past experiences can blind us to who we really are.
It’s hard to be all things to all our people but, we can keep trying. Just take the necessary time to heal yourself first, so you can take good care of your people, next. I wish you blessings of awareness, and the courage to look inside during this season when all you may want to do is run away from the feelings that are coming up. It’s not easy, but you can do it. Find healthy ways to move through it and your next road will only be better.
As we come to a close on 2020 next month, I can truly say that this has been a good year. A year full of sadness and hardship for me personally, but also a banner year on my personal growth in learning to love in such deep, new ways; reawakened ways that have taught me to love differently, deeper and true, in unexpected places, and in the mirror of my own heart.