Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten ~Natasha Bedingfield
So Dan of Single Dad Laughing has done it again. Every so often, he writes something that I can relate to so deeply that it almost physically hurts. His recent post, Whose Life is it Anyway? now tops that list. In it, he writes about his learning to live life on his own terms, rather than for someone else. He tells of the process of finding his own voice, and ultimately leaving a church, a marriage, and a job on his path to happiness.
I’ve never left a marriage (in fact I consider myself very blessed – and lucky – that after having married at 19 with no earthly idea of who we were, that we were able to come into our own beside each other) But I’ve left a church. I’ve left a job. And six years ago, I left New Hampshire. I left New England. I left the entire east coast.
When I look back on old pictures, even of times that were happy, I will often feel a strange disconnect. Sometimes I even feel a profound sadness. I don’t know that person in those photos. She’s a person who made choices not based on what she wanted (and honestly, she wouldn’t know what she wanted even if you asked her) but based on everyone else around her. A person whose entire life… from the colleges she went to, to what she studied, to the kind of wedding she had, to what city she lived in, to what house she lived in… was decided, at least in part, by someone else. She lived her life in a box. And don’t get me wrong. It was a nice box, a lovely box. But it was a box all the same, and it wasn’t a box of her choosing.
I’m here to tell you that you can only live in a box for so long before the walls start closing in. Before you start gasping for breath. Before you start suffocating.
When people ask why we moved to Phoenix, I’m often left grasping for words. It was a big decision, and there were many factors. It was a joint decision too, so I can’t fairly speak for my husband. But I can say out loud for the very first time – and without hesitation – that for me, the biggest reason was clear:
I was suffocating.
I was 32 years old, and I had no idea who I was. I’d never made a decision on my own. I’d never stopped trying to please everyone around me. I’d never given more than a cursory thought to what it was that I wanted, so focused I was on what my family wanted, what society wanted, what the church wanted.
I couldn’t do it anymore.
So six years ago, I started living life on my own terms (and by the way, when I say “my” terms, I mean my terms within the larger framework of God’s terms. Which, ironically – or not – is a concept I hadn’t even begun to grasp until I’d left the church I grew up in.) It was the start of an adventure, to be sure, and a journey that is in turns exhilarating and terrifying and exhausting and just plain awe-inspiring. For the first time in my entire life I’m getting to know and listening to ME. Not society’s version of me, or my parent’s version of me, or even my husband’s version of me. Just ME, the me I was individually created to be.
And it feels so good.
One of the greatest things about it though? Once I started being true to myself, I realized that that respect, that authenticity, that truth that I was living started spilling out into the rest of my relationships as well. It’s made me a better wife. It’s made me a better mother. Which makes sense when you think about it, because how can you really give of yourself if you don’t even know who “yourself” is? How can you expect to have an authentic relationship with anyone if you can’t first be authentic with yourself? I have heard it said over and over that people who are hurting hurt others. So wouldn’t the opposite be true? That those who show love to themselves are then able to love others?
I spent three decades being partially immobilized by fear, anxiety, insecurity, and “what ifs.” Moving across the country was the catalyst that began to change all of that. It made me feel brave. It made me feel like if I could do that, I could do anything. And do anything I will!
I’m not suggesting that a 1800 mile cross-country move is the answer for everyone. But you know what, maybe it is. Or maybe it’s leaving that job. Or that church. Or that unhealthy relationship. Maybe it’s taking that pottery class, or belly dancing lesson, or volunteering in that soup kitchen. Maybe it’s the haircut you’ve always been too scared to get, or the tattoo you were afraid your dad would disapprove of, or the hobby your friends think is silly.
Two days ago, I sent in my enrollment paperwork for yoga teacher training, something I have been wanting to do – and putting off for various reasons – for years now. When I woke up the next morning, I felt more excited than I’ve felt in years. And it wasn’t just about the yoga. I was excited about life. I’m excited about all of it. I’m excited about the yoga; I’m excited about new friends; I’m excited about the shiny, colorful rings that I’ll transform into lovely chain maille jewelry; I’m excited about the mess on my head that will one day be beautiful and mature dreadlocks; I’m excited to know that I won’t be afraid to just chop it all off if I change my mind; I’m excited to get another tattoo; I’m excited to get better with my camera; I’m excited about cupcakes; I’m excited to write and to read and to learn and to grow; I’m excited for road trips and park days and singing loudly with my children and having drinks with my girlfriends; I’m excited about new adventures with the kids and new experiences with my husband.
I’m excited, for the first time in my life, to be REAL.
This. This is where my book begins. And it. is. awesome.