I don't bare my soul often, if ever. But I have a story to tell here that I think might benefit someone who could potentially be going through a similar journey and if for no other reason than to hopefully help someone sort through their own internal struggles, I'm going to share mine here.
When I embarked on this journey of figuring out life as a single working mom, just under a year ago, I was in the throes of my busiest season at work. My kids were not yet back in school and underfoot 24/7. I moved us out of our beloved home and left behind everything that had encompassed our world for the past decade, both good and bad.
I was so busy trying to juggle all my obligations, my work, my kids, their emotional needs during a time of great upheaval, trying to meet everyone's physical needs, keeping myself together and attentive for my clients, managing a contentious divorce, and just trying to get through each day with as much positivity as I could muster up that I did not have so much as a milisecond to THINK. About myself. About our new lives. Anything. I ceased to exist as an entity. I made sure to attend to my physical needs and get in daily workouts to release any negative juju and ride that endorphin high throughout the day, or as long as it would last, but I completely turned off my emotions. Shut them down entirely.
Pain? Sadness? Grief? Anxiety? NO TIME FOR THAT. Sorry. I'm in survival mode here. I've got a whole lot of shit to do. So, I rolled up my sleeves, pulled myself up by my bootstraps and just focused on being the best mom and photographer and friend that I could be. I powered through every challenge, every struggle, every setback and just kept plugging along in a frenzied juggling act that would put Ringling Brothers to shame. I was determined to be a superhero for my kids throughout this process. Besides, everyone expected me to. How could I let them down? I've been a pillar of strength my entire life. I'm everyone else's rock. I'm the one people go to when THEY need help. I'm the one who holds other people up. I wasn't about to let anyone see me flounder. Weakness is not in my vernacular. I don't "do" weak.
So, I shoved aside any waves of sadness or feelings of vulnerability which would relentlessly try to enter my realm. I didn't just merely turn away from those feelings, I also endlessly berated myself for ever CONCEIVING of acknowledging their existence. No way, no how. Absolutely NO time for pity parties.
And this actually worked. For a while, at least. And then I hit my slow season. And finances became (are) truly worrisome. And my anxiety ramped up. And my faith in myself and my ability to support my kids with my work started to waver. And my resolve for keeping any negative feelings at bay started to crumble. And then, inevitably, I started to crumble too. And the slippery slope of falling into a pit of despair turned out to be quite slippery indeed. All my desperate attempts to stop myself from sliding downhill proved utterly futile. My self confidence evaporated, seemingly into thin air. My ability to put on a happy face for my kids became achingly difficult. I'd (barely) keep it together while they were with me and then as soon as they were at their dad's I would collapse into a puddle of angst and tears.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I just.don't.cry. And I certainly don't spend 48 hrs in my bed feeling sorry for myself and having what I can only assume were panic attacks. I didn't even recognize myself. I felt intensely destabilized by this sudden onslaught of sadness. I felt completely unmoored by my inability to control my emotions. I felt as though my circusmtances and my stress were swallowing me whole. And no matter how valiantly I tried to fight off these feelings, they just kept coming back. Bastards. Seemingly, the harder I tried to ignore them, the stronger they were. It was as though all my attempts at denial were simply fueling them.
I finally reached a low, dark point and realized that it was time to truly address this angst and resolve this situation before it got the best of me. I was scared of where I was heading. I am usually a pretty fearless person and yet here I was utterly consumed by fear and anxiety. I was, essentially, not myself.
So, after yet another 48 hr cry-fest which left me feeling completely pathetic, ashamed and beyond LAME, I called to make an appointment with the therapist my kids have been seeing since the separation. With his help, I started working through some of my anxiety. I had long, painful discussions with a couple very astute and wise friends. I started recognizing the essence of what was really going on here:
Vulnerability. It's apparently my Achille's heel. I've never allowed myself, as in not ever, to be vulnerable. It's a dirty word as far as I'm concerned. I associate it with utter and complete weakness. I see it as the being on the losing side. I view it as an inherent personality flaw. NOT for others, mind you. Of course not. Just for ME. It's just not something I want in MY life. And thus, as I struggled and fought hard against allowing myself to have ANY feelings of ineptitude, fear, anxiety, sadness, and stress, I was doing so simply to avoid feeling vulnerable.
My whole sense of identity had been wrapped up in being a strong, capable, confident, powerhouse of a woman. If I allowed feelings of vulnerability slip into my psyche then who was I really? And what did that mean about how I viewed myself and how others might view me? I'd spent my whole life erecting these walls to protect myself. This fortress around my heart to keep it safe and secure from those who could potentially cause it harm. I very diligently kept myself guarded from the outside world and only sparingly allowed those whom I deemed trustworthy to enter the inner sanctum of my soul. If I suddenly allowed that to change, then everything I knew about myself, and how I functioned in the world at large would have to be restructured. And where did that leave me in the equation? And how could I ever come to terms with me not only viewing myself as being vulnerable but also allowing OTHERS to view me as having vulnerability? This was all *quite* distasteful to me. I wasn't sure if I was more disgusted with my pathetic 48 hr cryfests or with the thought of people viewing me as anything other than a pillar of strength. Frankly, they both felt equally appalling.
And then, after long discussions with good friends, after countless sleepless nights in deep reflection and introspection, during sessions of self analysis with my therapist AND then finally, watching a video which proved to be the final piece of the puzzle, I had a moment of epiphany.
The video in question was THIS.
It all suddenly made sense. I was able to fully come to terms with my transformation. With my metamorphosis. I now understand the role of vulnerability in my life. I accept it. I own it. And I feel like my old self again. Only better. I don't view vulnerability as a weakness anymore. In fact, I feel more secure as a person now that I am willing and able to let myself feel vulnerable at times instead of having my own internal Battle Of The Titans trying to keep it at bay. In a strange, ironic kind of way, letting myself be vulnerable has allowed me to feel better about myself and my circumstances and even, yes, dare I say, stronger. Seems counter-intuitive doesn't it? I certainly can't wrap my brain around it. And I'm not going to try to understand it. I'm going to actually just leave that one alone and let it be. :)
So, rather than pretending (or trying to convince myself) that this journey is easy and that I'm doing "just fine" and everything is great, I'm now willing to acknowledge (to myself and to others) that it is actually, at times, incredibly difficult and very painful, not to mention scary. That I most definitely struggle sometimes. That not every day is filled with joy and light. Essentially, I'm in the process of growing a new set of wings. And that process, while magical and beautiful, can be quite challenging and incredibly painful. All growth has moments of deep pain. Allowing yourself the grace to sit in and absorb that pain (rather than trying to ignore or fight it off) makes you get past the pain much, much faster. I've learned this the hard way. And I'm hoping that by sharing my difficulties and challenges in understanding this all important lesson can help someone else who might be as stubborn, obstinate and proud as me. Don't fight it. Let it wash over you. Let yourself sink into it for as long as you need to. Let it open your eyes and SEE the things you don't want to see, and FEEL the things you don't want to feel. You will GROW from this. You will gain insight. You will evolve. And, eventually, you will soar.