I Am The Storm

In January I wrote “Me vs. The Storm”. https://thankfulgratefulhumblekind.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/me-vs-the-storm/ It was a moment, a sliver of hope and unbeknownst to me at the time…the eye of the storm. 2020 will forever be a distinct year in my mind. If you are reading this and describe 2020 to a “dumpster fire”, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. But this isn’t a story of despair. This is my story of finding my inner strength.

Let me rewind for a little bit. For me, this year started out much the same as 2019 ended and the majority of my 2020 has been filled with heartache and deep emotional pain. I started this year still jobless after a mass lay-off in 2019, painful relationships, and most days were filled with doing just enough to get by. I didn’t know that one person could cry as much as I did during the first 3 months of the year. Yet, as I reflect back on the last 10 months, I don’t even recognize the woman that brought 2020 in but I sure as hell know the woman that will ride the rest of 2020 out. I no longer want to shrink away and live in a small way. I have found out exactly what I am made of and I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. I’m not done yet. I am the storm.

Fighting the storm versus becoming the storm hasn’t been an easy journey. I didn’t just wake up one morning to everything being back to “normal”. Quite frankly, I don’t want what normal had become. I had to learn how to say goodbye to what had become my normal and hello to the idea of new possibilities, even if I didn’t know what those were. Even today I don’t know what my new normal will shake out to be, but I do look forward to whatever it brings.

“One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you’re going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.” (Author unknown) My oh my how these words ring true in my heart. I look back and I am so very thankful for all of the people that have shown up in my life this year to support and love me. Some were on a similar journey and others not so much. I anointed them into my personal support group with the tears that were streaming down my face. For months they called and texted me just to tell me they love me and remind me that I am not alone.

This group consists of people that I trust. These are my people. They have lent me their shoulder to cry on and tissues to dry my tears. A few have talked to me for hours on end on the phone. One video chatted with me for 2 hours until I was almost asleep. Another held me, cooked for me, and created the coziest most loving environment one could imagine. The collective wisdom of this group has guided me through the darkest days and loneliest nights. I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled that they chose to wrap their arms around me. It is now that I see that the best way to honor those who have shown me unconditional love and support is to share my own survival guide to help others.

For me there wasn’t some huge wake up call or event that magically made me spring out of bed and go full force at life. My story of strength and renewal is built on many small actions and moments that add up to who I am today. But know this reader, I am nowhere near my destination on my personal journey. Nor do I want to be. I am having fun getting to know me again. Maybe even for the first time. If just one person finds my story valuable or inspiring to begin embracing life again then I will have considered this blog post a success.

Here. We. Go.

As I reflect back to the beginning of this year I remember feeling lost and scared but I knew I needed to start somewhere. I started reading scripture. To this day I find Romans 5:3-5 as one of the most meaningful and comforting scriptures to be my light in those dark days.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn and endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. “

Romans 5:3-5

For seven months I perfected the art of smiling wide while holding back tears. I could win an Academy Award for “fake it till you make it”. This strategy did not serve me well and I don’t recommend it for anyone else. I spent days feeling as if my entire body was clenched up and a good nights’ sleep was a whopping 3 hours. I was scared and lonely 100% of every day. I pinpoint the true beginning of my healing process back to when I found a gem of a counselor. Rather than continuing to push my feelings away, I started talking through my feelings and unpacking baggage I didn’t even know I had. I spent the first 3 sessions clenching a box of tissues, crying my eyes out, and piecing my feelings together. My counselor has helped me to unpack my baggage layer by layer, fold it neatly and send it away. For me, talking about my true feelings is a raw experience and it is scary. This was hard and emotionally draining work but it was the very beginning of my personal healing process.

When going through life’s perfect storm a good counselor or therapist is an absolute must have. They will listen, ask questions, be a truth teller and help you sort through the mess. What I didn’t know then that I 100% know now is that it takes an incredibly strong person to make the call to go to counseling. This is NOT weak, embarrassing or shameful. There is no greater gift you can give to yourself than positive emotional and mental health. Let me shout it out for those of you in the back rolling your beautiful eyes, “THERE IS NO GREATER GIFT YOU CAN GIVE YOURSELF THAN POSITIVE EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL HEALTH.”

What a counselor will not do is hug you, hold you as you ugly cry for 30 solid minutes, make you dinner, create a cozy space to hide in for 4 days, or call you randomly to meet for dinner or coffee. This is what you need a strong tribe of friends for. Readers, I deeply regret undervaluing the healing power of a strong friendship. I will forever be grateful for the women who chose to ride this storm out with me and love me hard.

The one piece of advice that I heard the most was “Focus on taking care of you.” This didn’t mean that I was to ignore my children, responsibilities of the home or neglect others. Rather, a gentle reminder to make space for taking care of me. This looks different for all of us. What worked for me may not work for anyone else. I had to use a test and learn strategy to figure this out so it wasn’t a quick process.

What Worked

  • Bible study
  • Counseling
  • Journaling
  • Reading or listening to inspirational books & podcasts
  • Creating an exercise routine strength training, treadmill, elliptical, yoga
  • Asking for help from friends and family & graciously accepting it
  • Accepting comforting gestures from others

What Did Not Work

  • Listening to any music
  • Binge watching tv
  • Yoga

Heed my advice, the test and learn experience during the healing process can be both frustrating and rewarding. It is an emotionally intense journey but I promise you that it is well worth the effort. I had to let go of being ashamed of my circumstances to ask for help from friends and family. Asking for help is hard because many of us are just not wired to do so. If this describes you then I urge you to let it go. I bet there is at least 1 person in your life willing to help you but you have to dig deep tell them what’s really going on. Showing vulnerability can be terrifying but people cannot help you if you aren’t honest with them about what is really going on.

I also learned that some things that had served me well for years did not serve me well during my darkest days. For example, yoga has made a tremendous, positive impact in my life and served me well for several years. Yoga is also a deeply emotional and very inward experience for me. When I go to a class it’s like a massage for my emotions and soul. Even though I understand the healing powers yoga holds, in the thick of my storm I could not go there emotionally so I left it on my mat and walked away for a little while. I’m back now and loving that I am relearning technique and have a newfound appreciation for the way my body is serving me and how I can serve her (my body) better. Be open to shelving a few things for a bit if they seem just too hard on your first try. You can always try again later. There is no one “right” way to heal.

Do not expect this to be a fast process. This has been a year long process for me. I still have so much to learn and try. I know that I love life most when I embrace it as a journey of self-discovery. As I begin a new chapter of life I am excited to see what this chapter will be, what I will learn and how I will evolve.

To “My People, My Tribe, My Whatever You Want to Call It”

It’s been 4 months since I wrote my first blog post. It’s not that I haven’t thought about logging in. It’s more that I just didn’t think I had much to say. Today is different. My heart and mind are so full that I’m almost overwhelmed. I am inspired by a podcast titled “For the Love With Jen Hatmaker”, specifically episode 1 “Savoring Your Friendships”.

In this first episode the host and her dear friend reminisce of how they became friends and how they have learned to nurture their friendship. They also discuss the importance of making time to connect with other people. This has inspired me because for so long I have told my husband, “It’s easier for guys to hang out with friends and find things to do.”. For example, golf league and basketball. It isn’t easier for guys, that’s just been my excuse. I’ve had this picture in my mind of how I’m supposed to be or the things that need to be in order to invite a friend over for coffee or dinner. Let’s not forget the “mom guilt”. You know what I mean. That little voice inside your head that tell you that you can’t do something because you should be doing something or making something 24-7 with your kids. Yeah…I hear that voice too. What I learned from this podcast is that it’s ok to let it go and just be present. I learned that friendships, like marriages, take work.

Now you might be thinking that I’m a little all over the place in this post. You’re right but that’s how my brain navigates life. This is where my full to overflowing heart of happiness and joy comes.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day with a very dear friend of mine. I have known this friend since elementary school and we officially have been friends for 24 years (since the age of 13). We navigated side-by-side through jr. high and high school together. We went to different colleges but still remained intact as “best friends”. As we entered into adulthood we did it together but we ever so slowly began to drift apart little by little.

One day a few years ago I looked back and became saddened by the realization that I didn’t know my best friend anymore. I carry the blame for this as I realize I became lazy in our friendship. I became so consumed with myself that I didn’t make time to reach out and connect. We were in different stages of life and instead of cherishing this about our friendship, I unintentionally let it push us apart.

So how did we go from the occasional letter or text to spending the day together? We did it slowly and with humility. My friend showed me the grace that I had yet to show her many years ago. I will forever be thankful that we have reconnected and have begun to share our lives together again. The best is yet to come. How do I know this? I know this because at the age of 37 years old, driving down I-71 on our way to a day spa I found myself crying with tears of laughter as we discussed everything from work to kids to husbands. It’s like there hadn’t been a day gone by since we were 17 and getting ready for dance team together.

I share my story of reconnection because as human beings we need other people. Whether we realize it or not we need to surround ourselves with people that not only care about and love us but that we care about and love as well. Although I embrace being on the “hot mess express” I still feel the need to want to hide this from others. As in “my house is too messy to invite the neighbor over for coffee” or “I want to get these non-critical errands done so I can finish off my task list”. Guess where these perfection striving thoughts get me? If you guessed “nowhere” then you would be correct. (Thank you Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist for reminding me of this.) I’m a list maker and get sheer joy from crossing things off of my “to-do” list so I’ll always have a list laying around. What I won’t always have are the left behind moments that I didn’t choose to share with other people.

Our world is so full of negativity that it is up to us to bring positivity into our own lives and share it with others. We aren’t meant to be alone but we do have to put the effort in. Who cares if you have 19 baskets of laundry? Call your friend and invite her over for coffee. Dollars to donuts (donuts go good with coffee) her house has laundry to be folded too. What really matters is the connection we make and share together. This connection is what makes the happy times happier and gets us through the tough times. When it’s really bad our people help pull us through, even if we are kicking and screaming.

My people, my tribe, my “whatever you want to call it” range in age and life stages but they are so very precious to me. I love them all and will protect these relationships over my “to do” list. Take the time to show your people that you are thankful and grateful for having them in your life. Reach out to your people near or far and spend time with time or at least let them know how much they mean to you. Whether you choose phone, video chat, text, email or invite them over to dinner do it today because tomorrow is never promised. And to “my people”…thank you for the joy and kindness you bring into my life. You are cherished.