If You Want to Conquer Fear …

If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~ Dale Carnegie

I’ve had some interesting conversations over the past few months about how my life has changed. Most people seem to be impressed and / or inspired by what I’ve done. Which is funny, because in the doing of it I’ve felt none of what they seem to see. What I’ve mostly felt is nearly debilitating fear and overwhelming anxiety.

I’ve always thought I was unusual, and somehow lacking, for never going anywhere on my own up until now. I even went away to college with my best friend from high school. I’ve thought so much about this, and can’t find a time in my life where I went somewhere alone, and stayed there alone (driving somewhere alone to meet up with friends doesn’t count). I had a conversation with a woman recently who said she’s never been alone – she went from her parents’ house at 19 to her new husband’s, and has been with him ever since, and she’s not the only one who’s told me a life story like this. So, perhaps I’m not all that unusual in this, not flawed in the lack of some important personality trait.

I took a Dale Carnegie course way back in the late 1980’s, when I first started working and had to give presentations. I was incredibly shy and so nervous when I got up to speak in meetings, and my boss thought it would help me get more comfortable leading business meetings. It was excruciating, because I had to get up in front of the entire group and speak about different topics, some very personal and emotional. The group was much larger than any meeting I would have to run (over 100 people), and the entire experience was basically awful. I dreaded those classes all week, and couldn’t wait to get to the end of them. It made my smaller meetings slightly less stressful, but I never did (and still am not) comfortable speaking in front of groups. I did get better at it, and came to realize that it was only getting slightly easier with practice. With going out and doing it.

My boss also had all of us take the Myers-Briggs test, to see where our strengths and talents were. Everyone else (basically all the men) tested into personality types that were extroverted, rational – good for business professions. Me? I tested INFJ, and so far over on the “I” that it was kind of ridiculous. My suggested professions? Chef, florist, artist, writer. Luckily my boss was quite a creative and open-minded man, and didn’t hold this against me too much.

All this is to emphasize something about me and fear: I am afraid of so many things: going places where I know no one; traveling by myself; going to restaurants, movies, concerts by myself; talking to people I don’t know (I always feel stupid, and like I’m either interminably blathering or coming off as a snob because I don’t talk enough); an unknown future; instability of any kind in my life; financial instability; anything outside my comfort level (which has been incredibly narrow); change. Good grief, have I hated change – to the point that I’ve stayed in jobs, and relationships, for far longer than I should have because they were known and comfortable.

This past year and a half has been nothing but change on a massive scale, in just about every aspect of my life, and learning to be completely on my own. Moving from the east coast to the southwest, and not only doing it alone, but quite literally knowing not one soul here. Living in a completely new and foreign place, alone. Joining the local art association, alone. Joining the local continuing education association and going to their potluck dinner meeting, alone (and good grief, was that hard!!). Joining a local hiking group, alone.

And now I’ve made plans to face my fear of traveling alone head on: I’m going to Taos, alone, for a weekend. I have grand dreams of traveling more – of going back to Scotland, England, Ireland, and more. Of sitting on some exotic beach, with myself for company and all the time in the world to do whatever I want, or not. I love to travel (and didn’t do nearly enough while married). Now, if I want to go, I will more than likely go alone. If I do go with a friend or friends, that will be a lucky happenstance, but not something I can depend on (and surely not something I can base my travel plans on, if I hope to go anywhere). So Taos is the first baby step on this journey; as Carnegie said – go out and get busy.

I don’t mind driving alone. I’m all about road trips, and have never minded being in the car by myself, even when driving all day. But on all my previous road trips, there have been friends waiting at the other end. This time, there’s no one waiting. I’ll be going to restaurants, alone. I’m heading up for the Taos Wool Festival, so I’m going to that, alone (unless I happen to find out someone I know is going, which is possible but not what I’m basing my plans around).

I know now the fear will never go away, at least not for me. But I also know now that it’s up to me whether I let it stop me or not. I’m learning to embrace this part of me, but not let it control me, who I am, or what my life becomes. I think going out and getting busy doesn’t mean conquering fear, at least not for me. It means no longer allowing it to be any sort of controlling emotion in my life. It means saying, “Yeah, I’m scared. But I’m going to do it anyway” – to whatever causes me to feel afraid, or uncomfortable, or insecure.

Embrace it, and move on.

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Every Woman that Figured Out Her Worth …

Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change. ~ Shannon L. Alder

The other day I was visiting an older couple my daughter had met at work. They were adorable, and sweet, and mentioned they’d been married for 50 years.

When I got home, and had some quiet time to myself, I realized: I’ll never have a 50th wedding anniversary. Even if I met someone tomorrow and remarried right away, I doubt I’ll live to be 106. Maybe so, but not likely. And I felt so sad, and demoralized.

Part of me deeply grieves my divorce. Sometimes it almost seems like childbirth – we forget the messy, painful bits after it’s over. Looking back, I remember the good parts, and have to remind myself that yes, there were valid reasons why I left. And those reasons are still valid.

Still. Never to have a 50th wedding anniversary. It pinches the heart.

Then again, I never had the relationship that would make it to 50 years the way this lovely couple does. Sometimes I wonder – should I have tried harder? Should I have done something differently? Yes, of course. There are lots of things I could have done differently, but deep in my heart I really do believe that nothing would have been good enough to change the trajectory of our relationship. We were broken, together.

I’ve realized knowing that still doesn’t mean there’s no grieving. The rational part of my mind that gives me all the reasons why, and tells me it was the right thing to do, doesn’t silence the irrational, emotional side that grieves the loss of the dream we had on our wedding day. I grieve for our failed relationship. I grieve for my kids, that they no longer have one home with both parents in it. I grieve for the future, when there won’t be Christmas mornings with everyone in the house, meeting in the living room at 7 am for presents and breakfast. I grieve for the things I could have done differently, but didn’t in the depths of despair over a relationship that made both of us miserable, no matter how many times we went to counseling or tried to fix it on our own. I grieve for the life that should have been.

I grieve for myself, on my own again, alone.

Just because a marriage was bad, doesn’t mean we won’t grieve its ending, and all the things that now will never be.

I know this is all part of the process of moving on. I sit here in this in between phase, grieving the past and what wasn’t, and not knowing the future and what could be. It’s hard, and scary, and sad.

It’s also essential. I have to deal with this emotional crap if I’m to move past it. So there’s no telling myself not to feel it, not to grieve, not to wish things could have turned out differently. It’s essential to feel it all, to own it.

I’m working on that – feeling it, owning it, free from blame and guilt. It’s a process, and part of the process is forgiving myself for what I view as my mistakes that led to where we now are. Maybe once I do, I’ll be able to move on, not with grief but with hope. And embrace the unknown, the insecure, not with fear but with elation.

Friends tell me everything will be okay; I’ll be fine. I need to believe it.

To know what life is worth…

To know what life is worth you have to risk it once in a while. ~ Jean-Paul Baptiste

Wow, what an intense two weeks it’s been. I left my home, family, and friends on February 10, and headed West. Three and a half days of driving later, I arrived at my new home. I lived in the country before, but this makes where I used to live look like the suburbs.

I am OUT THERE. And I am alone. Except for my adorable puppy, but she doesn’t really talk back all that much. I was so lucky that my best friend was able to take off work to make the drive with me, and stay a few more days to help me start unpacking and get used to my new surroundings.

The day I took her to the airport and hugged her goodbye was one of the hardest in my memory. The only memories that exceed it are the moments when I hugged my college children for the last time before I left. That just about wrecked me.

After dropping off my friend, I ran some errands and picked up groceries for me and pup. Realizing that there was no one waiting for me, wondering where I was, why I was taking so long, was strange and sad. It definitely didn’t feel liberating. I arrived back from the airport after dropping my friend off to a silent , empty house. Alone. Gut wrenching. Truly.

I sat here wondering WTF HAVE I DONE?! Holy shit, I’ve made a collossal mistake and now I’m stuck here all alone. I had a good cry. I turned on Grace and Frankie to watch again, because the silence was just about killing me and I needed some noise, and something funny to get my mind off this terrible plight I’d put myself in. And then I got a text from my friend, and another from another friend. And then yet another friend facetimed me. I texted both my kids, and talked to my parents. Thank goodness for technology.

That first night was hard. I was scared. Every noise alarmed me. Luckily my room has a deadbolt, so I could lock myself in. Which didn’t help when pup had to get up in the middle of the night to pee, of course.

The next morning, things didn’t feel so bad. I miss my kids like crazy, but the truth is, they’re gone already. They’re off to college, on to their own lives. Of course, I used to be a drive away from both of them, and now I’m not. Knowing that is hard, and it sucks. But I guess we’ll manage.

I will have been on my own for one week tomorrow. It’s been a week spent unpacking, organizing, getting settled. Wearing myself out each day so I’ll sleep well each night, and not lie in bed fretting that I’ve made a mistake.

Things are looking up. I’m proud of myself – I did the scary thing I’ve never done before. I took – am taking – a huge risk. I would say my life up until now has been Risk Averse to the Max. I realized, Sunday evening, that I don’t think I’ve ever actually been completely alone anywhere, ever. I even went off to college with my best friend (who made the drive out here with me). I’ve never been further away from my parents and family than a relatively quick car ride.

Now that I’m in my mid-50’s I guess it’s about time I grow up and learn to depend on myself, by myself. Time to take the risk, dammit. The bottom line for me was that I knew I would regret not giving this move a try, and I knew I would always wonder “what if I had?” The answers to both of those questions are what drove me to step way, way out of my comfort zone. Time will tell how it works out, but at least I won’t regret not trying, and for once, not taking the risk.

So far, this week, I’ve learned how to work a pellet stove (yeah, I feel like a total city-chick). I’ve taken myself to the dump, the local coffee / breakfast place (but didn’t have the courage to actually stay and eat by myself … baby steps), made the trip into town for supplies, and hunkered down for snow that didn’t end up coming (I’m okay with that, this time). I’ve moved all my stuff here, ferrying it up the driveway when the moving truck couldn’t make it up the steep incline. And learned, when the local guys who were helping me unload didn’t run for the hills and instead stayed and dragged all my shit up in two pick up trucks, that there are truly kind and lovely people here in this remote neck of the woods.

I think I’ll be okay. But I need to get a shotgun. There are also mountain lions out there.

 

Unexpected Emotional Cesspool

Wow, it’s been quite an unanticipated emotional roller coaster since I moved out of my house on January 6. I’ve been sharing bits of my journey on my social media platforms, and my most recent post talked about this and my upcoming cross-country move  a little bit (basically as a reason for why my accounts have gone silent). I said something along the lines of calling this time I’m in my emotional cesspool because it’s been a quagmire of excitement and anxiety, exhilaration and fear, and unexpected mourning and grief.

I realized I have to embrace and really feel all of these emotions, no matter how uncomfortable or exhausting, in order to fully move forward. It’s not fun, but it is necessary. And I also realized that the definition of cesspool – an underground reservoir for liquid waste (such as household sewage) – really fits. I know I’m not alone in this, as one of my SM followers posted a comment that resonated with me on several levels. It was:

“You’ll never know how many women who read your posts are in painful , scary, confusing, and even dangerous situations. None of us has known how we would EVER get through it. But, we do, scars, lessons, strengthening and all. We need each other in those times to see glimpses of another’s courage, hopefulness, and success. So thank you on behalf of all of us who are on our own journeys, for your generosity and courage in sharing yours.”

Wow. It brought tears to my eyes to read this, and reading it again now, I’m tearing up yet again. (This is likely due in part to the fact that being in the place where I am, it doesn’t take much to make me cry. My emotions are like raw, exposed nerves and it doesn’t take much to set them off. But, to be honest, I’m a sensitive and emotional person in general. I cry at sappy movies. Heck, I cry at stupid TV commercials. It gives my kids no end of entertainment to look over at me to see if I’ve teared up over something.)

I started this blog as a way to work through my own sh*t, and for whatever reason it felt more “real” to be writing it in a public space. I’m writing it anonymously because I wanted the opportunity to be completely honest about my life and changes, but I don’t want anything I’ve written to hurt people, even my ex.

But, her comment is the other main reason I started this blog – to perhaps show others that we are never alone, or even all that unique, in what life throws at us. That it IS possible to make changes, no matter how scary change may be. For so many years I felt afraid and just stuck, and I felt all alone in this. I only talked to a few close friends about the details of my marriage. I felt like I was stuck. Rationally I *knew* I wasn’t the only one in an unhappy marriage, but I felt very alone.

I was afraid to be on my own, supporting myself, after so many years of not being the primary breadwinner. I was afraid of damaging my kids by splitting up their home. I was afraid my ex would make my life hell – he said he would many years ago, in a fit of anger, when I said I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to be married to him anymore. At that time, it scared the hell out of me because my kids were very little and I could not imagine putting them in such a situation, or splitting custody and not being there. So I backed down and soldiered on.

This time around, my kids are grown and off to college. I finally realized I had two choices – to stay where I was, content sometimes, miserable other times, probably more financially secure because we had two incomes. I could see my life stretch out before me – kids gone (because, of course, that’s what we do as parents, prepare our kids to leave us), just the two of us at home, the inevitable arguments, and the constant undercurrent of anxiety about when the next blow up would be. I could no longer do it, and the alternative of being on my own, wholly supporting myself (I’m a self-employed artist), splitting up our home, was terrifying, but I knew it was the direction I had to take.

Change is f*cking scary. But what lies on the other side of the fear of change and the unknown? We’ll never know until we confront it the fear, and walk through it.

I’m doing it. Some days kicking and screaming, others weeping and afraid, still others completely bogged down in grief. But yes, some days are with excitement and anticipation. Time will tell what’s on the other side for me, and for any of us finding that where we are doesn’t work, and has to change.

Courage is not the absence of fear …

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. ~ Mark Twain

When I thought about courage, I always envisioned people being super brave, on the outside. I never really questioned how they might be feeling on the inside. I’m sure there are some people who ride off in the sunset on grand and crazy adventures without a qualm or question. I always thought they were the brave ones.

The ones nearly crippled by fear but doing the scary thing anyway? I’m not so sure I considered them courageous.

But you know what? These days I think the people who are terrified, and doing that scary thing in spite of it, have a shitload of courage. It’s easy to do the wild and crazy thing when you’re eager to do it, looking forward to the adventure with open arms; chomping at the bit, so to speak. It’s substantially more difficult to do that wild, crazy, or scary thing when your insides feel like jelly, when your inner voice is screaming “holy shit, WTF are you DOING?!” And everything in your being is crying out to stay where you’re safe and comfortable, where everything is known (the good and the bad).

That’s where I’ve been sitting for the past six months. Having made the decision to end my marriage, I’ve been in this place where part of me says, yes, it’s the right thing to do, everything will be fine, you’ll be fine, you’ll be able to support yourself, you won’t end up worse off than you are. Meanwhile, that obnoxious OTHER voice (I call it my Gremlin) pipes up at nearly every turn to push me back into my comfort zone. To make me stay where I am; to make me fear the unknown future, being on my own, supporting myself for the first time – by myself – in 22 years, questioning every decision I make. It’s incredibly exhausting.

But, I’m forging on. Telling the Gremlin to shut up and go away.

My divorce is now final. I moved out of the house I researched and helped design with my Dad (more on how unexpectedly gutwrenching THAT was another time), and moved in with a friend for the time being. Put 90% of my studio into storage until I get settled.

A few months ago, I made the monumental decision to move to New Mexico from my east coast home, friends and family. Another terrifying decision, but it came down to honestly answering two questions: if I don’t go, will I always wonder “what if?” (YES), and if I don’t go, will I forever regret not giving it a chance? (YES). The answers to those two questions gave me my answer: yes, I’m going to New Mexico. Leaving my kids at their east coast schools, leaving my parents, family, and friends. Leaving the community of which I’ve finally started to become a part. Making a giant change, and a terrifying risk into a completely unknown future.

But I’m doing it anyway. Maybe I’m courageous, or maybe I’m crazy. Time will tell. I’m telling myself I’m only moving for a year, because thinking beyond that is more than I can handle. I’m not really mastering my fear, I’m just doing the scary thing and being scared all at the same time.

I was supposed to move at the end of December, but things got a bit complicated and delayed. Now it’s looking like mid-February. I feel like I’m in a limbo between lives – old one is over, new one has yet to begin. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, and I feel like it’s making me mourn moving out of my house more than I would have, had I moved out and immediately on to New Mexico. But it’s also giving me more time here, to visit friends, breathe deep, try to plan and, or course, worry (and try not to worry).

Now that my divorce is final, I’m starting to feel lighter. Starting to hope that maybe life will be better. Feeling myself take deep breaths and feeling almost as though I’m coming back into myself. At the same time, strangely feeling very sad when I think about my ex living in our house all alone. I hope that we’ll both be happy, and find what neither of us could in our relationship.