It’s funny how day to day life happens so gradually, but one morning you wake up and come to a screeching halt as you realize how totally far away you’ve gotten from the person you thought you were and the person you hoped to become.
Not all that long ago I was in the midst of a personal crisis. I had just moved to a new state, was trying to get settled into a new house and was struggling to understand the tragic death of a dear sister in law and my unborn nephew. All the while, I was faking a marriage that had completely fallen apart. Instead of dealing with any of this in a healthy way, I escaped into my own little fantasy world. I still managed to take care of my 3 kiddos, unpack all the boxes and follow through with my commitments. I did it all under the guise of “I’m doing just fine”, when really, I wasn’t. At all. In fact, I hadn’t been fine for a really long time. Years. I tried to make everything look wonderful on the outside, to cover up the fact that inside was a big, old, ugly mess. Eventually, my fantasy world came crashing down around me, as they inevitably do, and it was time to start picking up the pieces.
I’ve always attached my identity to others…I’ve been a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend. But who am I? Who am I? I had absolutely no idea. And so began the quest to figure it out. I quickly realized that I had been so focused on taking care of everyone around me I had completely forgotten to take care of myself. That is, in a healthy way, not the self-centered way I had been living inside my own head as a means of survival. I took on the emotions of everyone else, to the point that I didn’t have a clue what I was feeling. I was getting buried alive under everyone else’s baggage. I had gone numb to my own emotions, lost the ability to feel and put up a wall. A big, thick, brick wall. On one side of the wall, I painted a picture of the always smiling mom with the perfect, happy life who had the kids sitting nicely, the house clean and dinner ready when their dad got home. But on the other side of the wall, I had allowed others to quench my spirit and break me down into a woman I didn’t even recognize. I went into self-destruction mode, crying out for someone – anyone – to just notice me.
Initially, it was easier to define what I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be a doormat. I didn’t want to be a cookie-cutter image of the people around me. I didn’t want to be an extension of anyone else. I did not want to be a victim. I couldn’t continue to ignore the fact that I have a right to set down boundaries for myself and other people need to respect them. I no longer wanted the heart of stone that couldn’t feel. And I didn’t want to stay trapped inside myself. How in the world was I going to break out? How was I going to take down the wall? Well, the only way I could, one brick at a time.
The first question I addressed pertained to how I could take care of myself through this process of, it may sound cliché, “finding myself”. Well, I love to run and it’s been on my bucket list to get to Boston for THE marathon of marathons. I had been training for another 26.2 in April of 2011 when my world began to crumble, but that got thrown by the wayside. I began to research fall races and map out my next course. Then, I started my training program to run the Quebec marathon on August 28, of that same year. Running gives me time to think, time to process everything going on around me. But it also gives me time to just “be”, when I don’t have the capacity to think anymore. My passion for running gave me an idea. I remember sitting at IHOP with my mom one morning talking about a need to get out and do something for me. We could see FLEET FEET through the window where we sat. Less than a month later I started my new job where I get to share my enthusiasm for an awesome sport with others, people from all walks of life and various levels of ability, from the beginning jogger who has decided to make a life change to the amazing ironman tri-athlete who has overcome great odds of addiction or illness, and everyone in between. Everyone has a story to tell and I love to hear them.
Writing is another of my passions. I know, go figure, right? But with a background in foster care, I never had any formal training in journalism. I enjoy writing and I believe it allows me to articulate in a way that I otherwise can’t. So when I stumbled across an opportunity to write for an online news page, I sent in a writing sample and was accepted. Voila! That was easy. It was just a matter of setting my fear and self-doubt aside long enough to put myself out there. Every Wednesday during that summer, was “Field Trip Day”. The kids and I would load up a backpack containing our essentials for the day and go off to explore our new surroundings. This not only gave us something to look forward to doing together each week, it also gave me great material to write about.
So, what have I learned through my journey to find myself? I learned that the answers I was seeking weren’t nearly as profound as I expected them to be. I’ve learned that I really hadn’t lost who I was as much as I thought. In fact, I’m still most of the things I was…a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend; but I found out that I’m so much more, too. All of my labels that attach me to others are part of who I am, but they don’t define me. I’m an individual, I’m a runner, I’m a writer. I’m passionate about the people and the things I love. One of the best things that anyone said to me during this journey to find myself is that I am valuable. I deserve validation and all the time it takes for me to process and respond to any given situation. I want to be totally authentic. I have real feelings and emotions and I’m not afraid to figure out what they are and express them anymore. I get very excited and animated when I share stories of things that make me happy. I get sad when the people I love are hurting. I get very scared when I feel vulnerable. But I allow myself to feel those emotions fully. I express them. And then I release them so they don’t weigh me down and overwhelm me. I set goals for myself, sometimes I accomplish them and sometimes I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I’ve failed, it just means I need to reevaluate my goals and keep on trying. I make good choices and bad choices. Hopefully, the good out-weigh the bad, but when the bad blow up in my face, I want to teach my kids and myself that I can get through it. My successes and my failures are part of what makes me who I am, but not my definition. I want to be a good example of a strong, healthy, well balanced woman for my children. I can’t expect to do it all perfectly, but I hope that I can teach my children to be self-assured, well-adjusted people who are not afraid to love whole-heartedly, laugh often, live fully, take risks and stand up for themselves and what they believe in. I hope that we can celebrate each other’s successes and I hope that when we mess up really big, we can say, “Well, that sucks, but I still love you and we can get through this.”
In loving myself, I am much better at loving others. I am a more calm, caring and patient mom (most of the time). I am a more empathetic friend and a better listener. Self-awareness has helped me to really not sweat the small stuff, because I am able to declare the things that truly bother me and let everything else slide off, instead of letting it all fester in a cauldron of stress and unevaluated emotion. There is a sense of freedom that comes with that and freedom was something that I was desperately longing for. It is highly unlikely that I will ever be completely fearless, but I am no longer willing to let my fears hold me back from doing anything.
So, what does define me? Well, it’s an ongoing, changing, evolving definition. But life is not necessarily about the definition, it’s about the journey to try and find it. The best part is, if I discover something about myself that I don’t like, I can change it. For now, I just try tolive in the moment and enjoy the things I love, with the people I love. I love to run. I love to write. I love the funny things my kids say. I love to walk on the beach and stare up at the moon on a clear night. I love coffee, probably more than I should. I love that my little brother can make me laugh so hard I almost pee my pants. I love singing at the top of my voice when I’m driving and I don’t care who sees me. I love exploring new places. I love that I sometimes talk to my best friend on the phone multiple times a day. I love the extraordinary moments that happen when I least expect them. I love surprising someone with the perfect present. I love crappy, reality TV (I know, it’s sad, but I do). I love a good glass of wine with my girlfriends. Most importantly, I love that now I can say, and really believe, that this is who I am. Take it or leave it, this is me.
As for my dream of getting to Boston for the pinnacle of my running career, Hurricane Irene had other plans for me in Canada. Despite my training and preparation, I was unable to even attempt the Quebec marathon that day because of the gale force winds that caused the race officials to cancel my event. I spent an amazing weekend in Quebec, only to find out the morning of the race that my goal would have to wait. But I learned a lot more about myself through that whole experience that completes me as a person. I was devastated that I didn’t get to run my race and I cried. I cried the whole long, miserable walk back to the hotel in the rain. Then I spent a rainy day sitting in a quaint, French coffee shop looking at the whole situation to assess what I could gain from it. However, that didn’t stop me from throwing a 2 week long pity party about lost chances. When I finally put a stop to that, I felt like I still had an itch that needed to be scratched after the frustrating demise of not just one, but two marathons. Sometimes life just takes unexpected turns and you have to figure out what direction you’re going to head from there. The direction I chose was south, to Dallas for the Whiterock Marathon. I didn’t run it with numbers in my head, putting a lot of extra pressure on myself. I ran it for the pure joy of running and to honor my dad who ran that very same race 30 years ago. I ran it 2 days after the 10th anniversary of saying good-bye to him. I ran to heal. In 40 degrees, gusty winds and pouring rain, I ran my heart out. I missed my Boston qualifying time by just minutes, but I ran my fastest marathon ever because I ran simply for the feeling of joy and freedom that running gives me. I don’t know if I will ever get to run Boston, but that doesn’t take anything away from what I’ve already accomplished. Just like everything else in life, it’s really not about the destination; it’s about how you push through all the obstacles you face and what you learn along the way.