I listened to a brave and brutally honest podcast last week on Death, Sex and Money. The host Anna Sale interviewed a mom of 2 autistic sons. The mom explained how when she met, fell in love and married her husband, she had her whole life planned out. Now she feels saddened and trapped by her overwhelming care taking responsibilities. She has turned away from her faith and describes herself as an enthusiastic atheist. When she talks about her sons and her worries for their future, you can still hear her love for these children. She and her husband have remained strong throughout. But she kept focusing on how she had imagined her life and how different the reality is.
I felt so much compassion and empathy for her. We all start our life with so many plans, goals, dreams, hopes and expectations. When I married my husband and began my teaching career, I was so stinking happy. And then when I became a mom, I thought life couldn’t get any better. I thought I had figured life out. All you had to do was set goals, dream big and work hard to achieve them. I think I even felt a little smug.
And then that horrible criminal tried so hard to kill my husband. I’ve often thought how that one, small hollow point bullet changed so many lives. When I was sitting in the hospital in what I call ICU hell, my sister said to me one day, “This is your before and after moment. Your life will never be the same again.”
I’ve got to be honest. I kind of resented her for saying that because I knew it was true and I didn’t want to face it.
And I bet if you think about it, you have your own “before and after” moment too. It could be a death, an injury, an illness, a divorce, a job loss, a difficult move. One of the main issues I help my clients deal with is surrendering to their new normal. This is so hard to do because we want to hold on to that picture of how it’s “supposed to be.”
I met a client who I’ll call Sue. She is 64 years old and spent much of the last 12 years taking care of her mom who dealt with Alzheimers. In that 12 years, she sold her house to move in with her mom and eventually lost her full time job because she had to take so much time off to care for her mom. Now that her mom has passed away, Sue is dealing with the shock of her mom’s will. Sue was promised her mom’s house which she felt was fair considering what she gave up to help her mother in her final years. But when the will was read, she learned that the mom had split everything 50/50 with her brother. I can understand this too. Moms like to be fair. But I get Sue’s anger and shock too. She had planned on spending her retirement years in a house that was paid off, traveling and volunteering at the hospital. Now, she has to sell her mom’s house or somehow come up with $120,000 to give her brother for his half. The house is for sale. Sue is looking to rent a small apartment and is actively job seeking. She has turned her back on her brother and is refusing to speak to him. Sue is stuck in anger.
I have another client I’ll call Jeff. He’s 34 and works in pharmaceutical sales. He has two daughters — ages 2 and 4. Last year, his wife announced that she was leaving him for her high school boyfriend and moving with the girls back home — all the way across the country. He spent his life’s savings on attorneys trying to fight this to no avail. Now he flies to his ex-wife’s town once a month, sometimes less if he can’t afford the plane ticket, and has to settle for seeing his kids for an afternoon or two while he returns to a lonely Holiday Inn before flying home. He’s looking for a job closer to his kids. Jeff has not attempted dating anyone since the divorce and has lost his zest for work and his love of surfing. Jeff is stuck in sadness.
Sometimes when we hit our “before and after” moment, we stay stuck for awhile in what I call a perpetual temper tantrum. I did this for years after my husband was shot. I knew he had a brain injury and yet every time it reared its ugly head, I would respond with anger. Then I would cry. Then I would call my friends and yell and cry to them. Lucky friends. Finally one of my friends said to me, “Are you the victim here or is your husband?” Whoa. That stopped me in my tracks.
Two things got me out of that stuck place:
1) I realized that life very often sucks for no reason at all. Period. I had to stop overthinking my new life and just accept it.
2) I was giving all my power to my anger and sadness. I had to let go of my picture of the perfect life I’d planned for myself and find the perfect joy that exists in the reality of my new life.
So there you have it. That’s my big solution. I know it’s not mind blowing or magic but trust me it works. SURRENDER your idea of how your life is supposed to look. Give that shit up. Seriously. Walk away from that. This perfect plan you have for your life is like that pair of skinny jeans you wore when you were 18. You know – the ones that still mock you when you walk into your closet. Throw those evil things away. And get rid of your “plan.” The beauty of life is that we have no control, literally no control, over what happens to us. What we DO have control over is how we respond to what happens to us.
ACCEPT your new normal and move forward with your life. Jeff emailed me before the holidays. He is interviewing this week for 2 jobs close to his daughters. He’s super psyched because both positions pay more and he’s kind of excited about making a new start in his life. Jeff is moving away from his sadness. Sue is still pissed at her brother so nothing is changing for her. She found a dead end job she hates and spent the holidays alone. I really hope she accepts her new life and takes some of the money from the sale of the house to travel and reward herself so she can start to move away from her righteous anger.
Once I surrendered and accepted my new life which was so different from what I had planned, I started to see how I’d grown in really cool ways through this experience. I never, ever would have found the courage to leave my safe teaching job and embrace my intuitive abilities if this hadn’t occurred. And because of that realization, I’m almost grateful this happened to us. Once I realized all of this, my husband started to shift and change and improve in amazing ways. Maybe he always was healing and I didn’t see it. He found a job he really enjoys. He’s learned how to truly live in the present moment, and he gets to be home to help me raise our children. When he was a police officer, he had to work every single holiday. Now, he’s home with us, and my girls get to see their dad all the time.
If you’re stuck in a “before and after” moment, ask yourself these questions:
1) What would happen if I accepted this situation and stopped fighting it? For example, Jeff felt that if he accepted this situation, it was almost like he was letting his ex-wife get away with something. Once he surrendered to that, he saw this terrible change as an opportunity to advance his career and make a fresh start in a new state.
2) What are some positive things in this situation? For example, Sue should find huge comfort knowing she helped her mom’s last years be ones of safety and peace. She also is now completely free of all care taking responsibilities and can do whatever she wants with her life now.
3) What have I learned and how have I grown despite and because of this situation? I hope Jeff has learned how devoted he is as a father. And I pray that Sue sees how empowered she became as a result of being her mom’s care advocate.
Once you surrender and accept your life the way it is, you will see miracles take place in your world and the life you’re meant to lead will start to form before your eyes.