Resilience and The Edge

In the last two years I’ve experienced divorce after 20 years of marriage, a move, major business challenges, a breakup, and massive attacks from members of communities that I have built. I’d had the arrogance to think that I’d done the work to heal my wounds, that I was tough as nails, and that the opinions of others truly didn’t bother me. I could rise above, untouchable.

The funny thing about that level of certainty is that with it comes a guarantee of situations expressly designed to remind us, in the most unpleasant of ways, that the work is never done.

There were moments over the last two years that I thought that I had reached the end. There were moments when none of it seemed worth it. There were moments that the word “FAILURE” lit up in front of my eyes like a billboard, flashing and blinking and blinding me to what I had, what was most important, and allowing me to forget that, in spite of it all, I was still me.

“Down, girl,” said the universe. “You’re getting ahead of yourself.”

I went directly from my marriage to a relationship that was rife with instability. Like clockwork, every two months, for reasons I could not hold against him, my partner descended into a doubt-filled, dark space, and my world was rocked to its core, over and over and over again.

“You cannot be ALONE,” screamed my lizard brain. “You must be partnered, or no one will be there to take care of you if something goes wrong. Cling, grasp, sob, weep. Do what you must. You are not safe if you are alone.”

The fear of alone had so much power over me that I would wake in the night, in the throes of gripping anxiety, worrying worrying worrying about screaming and not being heard.

And so I held on, so tightly, to a situation that we both knew could not work, because the alternative – that I would have to face myself in singleness for the first time in my adult life – was terrifying enough to bring me to my knees. My adrenals reached near burnout, my digestive system was set into disarray due to frequent flight or fight states, and my nervous system went into hyperactive overdrive.

I walked myself to the edge, over and over again, but I could not find the courage to leap.

And all this because I’d never been unpartnered.

And then one day, for the first time in my adult life, I jumped. Feet first, I jumped straight into the mouth of my own personal beast – my fear of being alone – and I let it swallow me whole.

My partner and I looked at each other, and rather than repeat the exercise that we were both finished with, we decided to go our separate ways.

There was pain. The pain and the grief were so big that I was afraid I would drown in my own tears. For two days straight, I wept. I wept in a way I had not allowed myself to weep for six years, when my father’s recovery from emergency triple bypass surgery was not a guarantee. I howled like a wounded animal, and I didn’t care who bore witness. I told my staff to carry on as if all was normal, while the tears poured down my face and soaked my t-shirt.

I immersed myself in my fear. I spoke to it. I honoured it. I poked it when it began to quiet down a bit, making sure that there was no part of it I could hide from any longer. I shared it with my Sisters. I allowed them to hold me. I allowed them to remind me who I was, what I had to offer the world, and who they were, that they would never leave me. They were my shepherds as I navigated my fields of sadness and despair.

And on day three, I stopped crying. I was alone. But the fear of what that implied was gone. Tentatively, I allowed myself to grow excited about what might be in store for me. I spent my first weekend without the kids basking in the luxury of ALONE. The house was quiet. Things stayed where I put them. I didn’t have to cook for anyone. I could eat what I wanted, when, and where I wanted. I could sit and binge watch Shtisel and no one would be annoyed. I didn’t have to do. I could leave dishes in the sink. I didn’t have to expand my mind. I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself.

I breathed. I expanded into my space, fully, for the first time in my entire life. And I remembered that I was complete, just as I was. In that moment, nothing was missing. I need people, I need friends, I need my kids, but I don’t NEED to be partnered to be okay.

And even when the novelty of alone wore off, the fear did not come back.

I had walked to that edge so many times, but until I jumped over, I had no idea how resilient I was. Resilience comes not from avoiding fear, but from facing it, head on – letting it tear you down and break you open. And then, when there are no more tears, getting back up, brushing off the dust, and walking away from who you thought you were, towards who you are, right here, in this version of now. This new me knows that the kind of fear that I was living with for so many months was simply a story I had written about my own safety. When I chose to see the story for what it was, I could mourn the loss of beauty and the end of that story, but I was then able to see how much space was opening up for a new story, or many new stories.

Resilience is cultivated. It’s practice-based results. It’s choosing to separate from the stories and allow to be what is rather than holding on to that with which we have become intimately familiar.  It’s hard. It will hurt. It can be the scariest choice you will ever make. But there, on the other side, is a hardier, more flexible version of you. It only talks one walk through the fear to know that you can do it again if you have to, and that it will not destroy you.

 

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