I think back to when I was in my 20s. I never really considered myself courageous but when I reflect upon my adventures and misadventures, I can’t help but believe that I was in fact, quite brave. I remember packing up my 1984 Toyota FJ60 with almost 200,000 miles on the odometer and moving to Florida. I had no job, $1400 in my pocket, 2 dogs, and a rental I secured site unseen through a newspaper ad (pre-internet). I didn’t even know if my car would make it the 1200+ miles from CT, but I went anyway. I never thought I wouldn’t find a job. I never thought the place I rented could possibly be horrible. I never thought I’d fail. And I didn’t.
That was only one example of my ability to “trust in the process” and just…go. To leap, then figure it out as I went along. I didn’t believe I was brave, I just was. I just lived. I just took action. I didn’t think about the consequences much at all. I knew deep inside, it would all work out. And then something happened. I got older. I listened to other people. I muffled the voice within. The voice that told me to leap and trust in the process. When I was young, I didn’t leap fearlessly, I was afraid, but the desire to go…to try…was always greater than the fear and the desire to stay. I was brave. I was truly courageous.
Now, at age 51, I find myself questioning the muffled voice that’s been trying to speak. I question it almost daily. I’ve looked at my life over the last 5 years, and although I have had the greatest mental and emotional transformation since I’ve been alive, I know I’m not living the life I really want to live.
Are there conditions to our courage?
Do we grow and step out of our comfort zone to a certain point of discomfort?
Do we cast out our line and allow ourselves to grow only to the distance of our throw?
When I broke down the walls, the barriers that kept me from being my most authentic self those 5 years ago, I felt so free, so connected to my world, to the Universe, to myself. I was so caught up in becoming the person I was meant to be that I wasn’t paying attention to what was around me. In some ways, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Basically, I was living mindfully. I was being present. Living my life in the moment. Discovering self and enjoying every moment of it. I wasn’t thinking about long-term goals or my future because I was so into my journey of self. So, one year, became two years. Then two years became three years. Before I knew it, 5 years had passed.
Then something happened…I looked around. While I personally had changed, grown, and really learned to love the person I was, I had not stepped that far out of my comfort zone. I was still in the same place physically, surrounded by the same people that no longer served me and had not for those 5 years. I was so focused inward, that I lost sight of the outward. Then something unexpected happened to me…I fell backward. I began to take steps back. Back to the person, I used to be. The person I worked so hard to not be anymore. It was like finding yourself following a map and putting so much effort and attention into that map as you walked down the road, taking turns here and there, excited about the discoveries along the way, walking, walking, walking, then suddenly realizing the map brought you back to where you started. You just walked a large meandering circle. You thought the map would take you far away, that you’d rescue yourself from the place where you no longer fit in, but it just brought you back to where you started.
The disappointment I felt with myself was overwhelming. I emotionally fell to the ground in disbelief that I walked so far only to be back where I used to be. The emotional and mental drain I felt was too much to bear. And I began to sink. The map brought me back to the body of water that I pulled myself from years before. Gradually, over months, I sank deeper and deeper emotionally and mentally. Occasionally, there were moments of stability. I was able to keep my head above the water, allowing myself to just drift. Sometimes I felt at peace in those moments, but they were fleeting and definitely not long-lasting. But as I floated, it felt like a weight was tied to my ankles. I maintained my position for a while. Sometimes it was easy to stay afloat, but I always felt the pull. Other times, it was a struggle. But one can only tread water for so long and I finally gave up and sank deeper. I sunk to a level I had not seen in myself in over 5 years. It was a scary place. It’s very scary to kick and kick and kick but just never quite reach the surface, maybe just enough that your mouth breaches the water line to take a breath, but to then sink back a little more. I saw the surface. I was right there. I saw where I needed to be, but I could not kick enough to breakthrough. The exhaustion was too great. I felt defeated. Like I had nothing left. Wanting so badly to just stop kicking to allow myself to sink into the peace and calm of the water. To give up and drift away. There was a part of me that was hoping for someone to reach in and pull me out. And some did, but not those that I wanted help from. They were not my saviors. They were not my heroes. Some were my seasonal saviors. They had a time and place in my life. They served a beautiful purpose but they no longer aligned with who I was or wanted to be. They changed. Moved in to a different direction. Their assistance was no longer genuine. They reached out their hands, but it was conditional. I was grateful to them for what they were to me in the time that I needed them but now I barely recognized them.
Then there was the one. The one that kept putting his hand in to save me. But what he was really trying to do was save himself. He was too blind to the fact that he was the one who pushed me in. He pushed me in years ago. And kept pushing my head under the water. Until I broke free of his grasp. And worked so hard to swim to the surface. To take that breath. To build up my strength. To pull myself out of the water. To feel free. To feel like me. The real me. The true me.
But this time, he didn’t push me in. I walked back in. Slowly, over these months. I walked myself back into the water. I think I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t notice the water surrounding my body. I didn’t feel the water on my legs, my thighs, my hips, my abdomen, my chest. I didn’t feel the water until it reached my neck. And I began to panic. I finally realized where I was going. I couldn’t stop the descent. Part of me didn’t want to stop it. I was torn. I yelled at myself. “Turn around, get out of the water.” But I could not. And he watched me as I walked back in. He offered his help but didn’t do what needed to be done to allow me to walk back out on my own. And that’s what became evident to me months later as I floated just beneath the surface, the hero that was to rescue me, was me. I had to be my own hero. I had to pull myself out of the water, just as I did 5 years earlier. But this time, I knew that once I pulled myself out, I had to keep walking, as far away as I could from the water. To walk with clarity, keep my head up, and pay attention to where I was going. To leave behind all the heroes and saviors from my past because they were no longer here to save me, they were here only for themselves.
I am scared. This I sadly admit. I am scared to be brave because I have to be brave for not just me, but also my children. When I was in my 20s, I only needed to be brave for me. But now I am responsible for the lives of other humans. I’m afraid. I’m ready, but I’m afraid. Maybe courage is conditional? If it is…I just might be screwed.