Nothing new I can add to the many summaries of the year 2020. I’m thankful and grateful for all who are in my life, for my family, my job and private practice, my coworkers, and the many clients in my life—all of whom sharpen, touch and teach me daily. I hope 2021 blesses everyone abundantly—above and beyond our wildest imaginations!
My high-lows for 2020 are the stuff of life but a bit closer to the edges than I’d prefer. I made a few resolutions last December. My #1 was to read the Bible within the year. Andy decided to join me and we added praying together every morning. In the course of the year, we missed only a few days of doing this together but doubled up after those misses. For many years, I’ve prayed and talked to God every day, as it goes. When I pray, I connect with God like he’s my personal, perfect therapist and friend, holding all I need, complete with the purest love for me. God wants me to have it all—love, peace, joy, meaningful connection. In my view, He can be this for you, too, if you want. God wants this for us all. In prayer, I like to express softly but aloud whenever I can, my known mistakes, regrets, and shortcomings just as much as my hopes, joys, fears, victories, gratitude and love. It’s good, feeling that God is my #1. We finished reading the Bible in a year yesterday, right on time. That felt good too. We did a big thing together, maintaining focus and discipline all year through.
As for physical health, my resolution was to get in 15,000 steps a day—about 7 miles in steps. Some days I was able to run as apart of the mix of steps. Most days I was not. Some days I strength trained or rode the spin bike in the basement. Most days, I did not. But all in all, I did very well with my steps goal— hitting that mark or surpassing it most days. All the while, I was climbing Mt Everest emotionally most of the year too—processing a big fear and grief piece—but with the support of all the tools, the friendship and love of Andy, always there in it with me, and the stability of my work and the occasional phone call to a close friend or two when I needed that support to re-center. It’s good to have friends who are therapists and some who’ve just known you since childhood. Before the year ended, and even day by day, I learned about letting go (again), on a deeper level, (again). How deep does that go? Just writing that brings up low-key fear… non-attachment is no joke! As exhausting as that journey is (always–no matter what the unexpected life prompt) it’s also madly spiritual and freeing. At our age and stage of life you already know this even as you’re walking the unknown path forward in faith… You know it will end okay, even well, most likely, but you’re also aware that everything you’ve known and taken comfort in might change in a way that brings initial fear and resistance.
Here’s a good example from long ago: After desperately trying to force my failed marriage to work in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, I learned surrender on a deep level.
One day, I was on my knees in prayer in my room like I had been doing a few times a day for months—-asking God to reveal to me what I wasn’t seeing, pouring out all of my feelings and asking for help to save our marriage. Our kids were 3, 7 and 9. I had been terrified by the thought of both options I could see at at time. Option 1: Raising them in a marriage with constant conflict and frequent deep sadness even though oddly their dad and I somehow still found moments of laughter and connection that kept me hoping we could find our way back to the good days. Option 2: The bigger fear, was failure, how I viewed divorce at the time. I learned a lot about so many crucial elements of intimate relationships that final year before filing for divorce. All of the bits and pieces I’d previously learned came together with these deeper realizations as I healed my inner child, my inner teenager, and that young confident woman with the low self esteem that came from all those unhealed wounds along the way. I was religious then—on that day in the summer of 2003, when I was praying on my knees, facing my bedroom window. I was spiritual too, which was building more, overshadowing my religion—all part and parcel to the healing journey I was on. But on that day I 100% thought God’s answer would lead to fixing our relationship–to restoring us back to the good I thought it was at first; that purity—the deepest trust I’d ever had in another person. That handholding, looking into each other’s eyes and sharing the deepest feelings and best laughs kinda love and trust. The fact is though, we had grown very far apart. We were each coping with life in very different ways and we were manifesting different desires and ideas about how to find our way back to happy. By this point, our relationship was toxic but I was still in denial more often than not. At the time, I believed God hated divorce so it was off the table and if I could just get it right (“it” was a moving target based on whatever or however I didn’t measure up on any given day or some new yet to be found way of saying the same old things, only this time, it would be heard, understood and met with compassion). If I could get it right everything would be resolved. I don’t know if I said things like this out loud but it’s what I believed inside. Yes, codependent. The belief that I could fix this if I could find the missing piece and God would reveal it to me if I just kept praying, trying, and working for it and asking for His will to be done. Only on that day, my heart was broken like it had felt more often than not in the few years leading up to it. I prayed that same prayer, pleading with God to help me—help us, to reveal to me what I could not see. I was in tears, in that pain you know if you’ve ever come to the end of fighting for something you thought you wanted more than anything. That day as I wept and prayed, the thought emerged, as close to a separate voice inside me as could be (which I always viewed as crazy when I’d hear someone say, “God spoke to me” but it was sort of like that). The idea—or inner voice that came over me was, “what if staying here in this marriage isn’t God’s will?” I stood up and felt this sensation of “whoa” followed by a sense of clarity I hadn’t had in years. My tears almost instantly stopped. I saw daylight and felt the freedom of options opening up to me. It was a turning point I’ll never forget. I don’t want to mislead anyone going through a similar journey. This letting go was not a quick process. It was the culmination of years of self work with the help of many resources and tools — some human, some literature, some techniques and practices—all with wholehearted and ever growing faith and mindful intention.
Everything worth anything is a process. My healing journey to that moment prepared me for coming out of denial and into the light of the freedom I felt. I was still scared but I knew and I trusted what I knew–finally. Things moved relatively quickly from there—not without the painful process through but from that point forward I never lost the clarity I was given in that moment. In fact, it became sharper as the weeks and months unfolded. Divorce with 3 small kids is scary, hard, and painful but it’s one decision I know with absolute certainty that was right for all of us. Being right doesn’t erase all the pain. It just gives peace and openness to all the light and goodness that comes after the letting go. The hard parts of grieving, coparenting, and later blending were nothing compared to the hard parts of holding on to a marriage that began with hope and love but had become toxic. I could have never imagined all the amazing changes that would come from letting go and letting God back then. I’m now closing in on 15 years of an incredibly peaceful, easy, supportive marriage and too many adventures to count. I know I can’t fix the wounds and losses my kids went through from the divorce but I hope growing up in our blended family home seeing a healthy marriage will somehow compensate for those losses.
That was a long story to give an example of the biggest letting go story of my life. All that to say in 2020, my letting go story felt surprisingly just as big and deep but quite different. It also came with the now long-held awareness that God, in His mercy, has been with me all my life, in countless ways, not the least of which touching me through many amazing people and experiences that all worked together to equip and prepare me, and always for my good. This is true for all of us. In the year of quarantine, this process of surrendering and letting go of attachments was even more an inside job. We just weren’t around other people at all. Sure, I talked to Andy about it on some level almost every day. I made a couple phone calls to my wisest most trusted friends a few times when I felt in over my head—then I’d find a new realization either directly from something spoken to me or a day later in my mental processing. I even thought about using our company’s EAP a few times to talk to a therapist myself, which our team was being encouraged to do by leadership during the early weeks of Covid. The idea was fleeting as I’d recognize the tools I was encouraging others to use were good reminders for me too—and I’d employ them with renewed focus. All of these—my therapeutic friendships, reading and praying, the hours spent meditating and pouring-in self love, lathering on nurturing self talk as needed, and of course, journaling, kept me moving forward through the hard feelings and trusting in the unknown future. Most days I felt a deep sense of peace as I worked through the anxiety that comes with threat; the fear and the resistance. I’d shift into welcoming the reality that “if this continues everything I’ve sacrificed, worked and saved for was a set up for an outcome that looks nothing like the idea I had in mind.” “Let Go”, I’d whisper inside. “Let go”… just breathe… As I walked by people sleeping on cardboard on the pavement or holding signs for help I’d feel our connection more profoundly in 2020. Maybe oddly for some, but I’ve always deeply felt that connection. I’ve always believed “you no more deserve that than I do this.” (And the two extremes have always looked significant to me.) I’ve worked hard all of my life and I’ve made good-values-based-decisions but I’d be a fool to think that means I have what I have because of just me and me alone. I have what I have because of the conditions of my life leading me to the skills, influential people, opportunities, ideas, outlook and attitudes along the way. “He or she” is in that position for much the same reasons. It has very little to do with what we deserve, maybe nothing at all. I’ll never think the billionaire is superior or in any way more deserving than the man who lacks a house or running water to bathe in. When you get an intimate view into people’s lives, as do we in the helping professions, you see the way social conditioning, environmental factors, internal and external skills, mental illness, unhealed trauma, and other, less significant factors all play a role in human behavior, worldview, and the building of our lives, the very positions we find ourselves in. In my, “take the fear to its deepest root—to its death”, concept, or as my friend Pam always said, “what’s the worst thing that could happen if that fear comes true?” In my deepest fear, I can imagine myself sleeping on that piece of cardboard on the ground—in the rain—in the sub-freezing temps or on the heat-warning days. You might say that’s an extreme place to go with a fear. I’d agree and yet in going there and making peace with that (among other far less intense ideas and tools) it made being at peace with the situation I was actually in, easier to hold onto or quicker to find my way back to, when fear robbed me of peace.
These are common human experiences. I listen to stories every day of people wrestling with hard in-between spaces, with valid threats, fears and in some cases, horrific traumas. In sharing our stories, we recycle the good gifts we have been graciously given. As a psychotherapist, I’m most moved by the stories of the people who’ve overcome suffering and hardship. I take inspiration from them.
The moral of my 2020 story for me, and my prayer for us all, is please be soft, kind, and generous with yourself and the people you encounter, and when you can, consider every living being is in need. For some, the need is obvious. For others it is inconspicuous. Judgement comes from assumption and assumptions are usually wrong or at a minimum flawed. We are all equal in value. We all equally want love, to be seen, heard, understood, accepted, and appreciated. We all matter. If you’re smarter than someone else, for example, great. I hope you’re thankful for that gift that was given to you. Maybe it began with capacity or potential and was developed through the gifts of a safe, loving home, an accessible library, a teacher or parent who sparked your motivation or just stayed out of your way. We earn, achieve and actualize through our all our connections and we can give back through them as well. After a year of heartfelt prayer and the discipline of doing the daily footwork, God’s 2020 “yes” came. What a relief, what a triumphant and grateful moment it was, and so many others along the way that kept hope alive. I’m still in process—working through my uncertainties about what generosity and giving looks like in action here in some of the situations I encounter on the sidewalks and streets of the city. I’m also nurturing and loving myself with compassion as I go, trusting this journey. I trust you are too.
2021 will be a continuation of read, pray, love and give with mindful intention, plus my ongoing physical fitness goals, mainly 15,000 steps per day, some of which I hope will include running.
Blessings to you and yours for a peaceful, healthy, prosperous and generous New Year!