April 27, 2020 – on Day 43 of COVID lockdown – I wrote and shared this story as an inspiration during a work meeting with 150+ co-workers. I share it again today because it is timeless. I have had many ups and downs since April 2020 and I continue to find the gems in those hard times. Life does not happen TO US. We shape our life in the stories we tell. Here is mine.
LIFE. IS. HARD.
Think about your life for a second. Has it been smooth sailing, or a roller coaster, a day lounging on the beach or more like trying to escape a riptide? I bet that for every single one of us, life has been amazing and then awful….then you have the best year of your life until life seems just boring and mundane, and then you get caught off guard by some trauma or hardship, followed once again by pure, unabashed joy.
I strongly encourage you to think about one of those times in your life when you were overwhelmed by anger, grief or trauma.
Really….do not keep reading this until you have thought of an instance.
THIS. IS. LIFE.
Now that you have that in mind, think about how you felt. I bet you felt like you would never, ever smile or laugh again. I bet that while you were down, life kept kicking you in the stomach and in the head. Now think about how this story lives in you today and figure out which group you fall into.
Group 1: You found the good in that situation and have grown because of it.
Group 2: You added it to a long list of reasons why you are not living the life you really want.
If you fall into Group 1, you do not even need to read this article. But, keep reading and then can share it with someone you know who falls into Group 2.
Most likely you fall into Group 2 and if you do…PLEASE KEEP READING! I want to make a case for working as hard as you can to become a person in GROUP 1. It is possible. Those people are not BORN that way, they do not have a GIFT or TALENT that you do not have. They simply put in the EFFORT AND WORK needed to shift the stories they tell themselves and other people. In this article I want to convince you that you can be happy no matter what by CHANGING the stories you tell yourself about your suffering.
These difficult events in life, they will either make you, or they will break you, and it is YOUR choice – YOU decide. Now, some of you may not like that. You may say that you have suffered too much, too many times, to ever view life differently. I would like to lovingly and kindly tell you that I disagree. Maybe that will make you mad, or change your opinion of me. But that is ok, because we are all on our own path and no one can choose your path for you, certainly not me. I can’t make you change, anyway. Only YOU can do that. However, I know I made this change and so I know it is possible for you to make this change as well.
YOU. CAN. CHANGE
Even if you are 40 or 50 or 60 years old, you can change the way you think about the stories of your life. You can teach yourself to find a gem of good even in the deepest, darkest places in your life. My experience is that you only have to change ONE story and it can become the gateway to having the ability to change them all. It took close to 10 years for me to see the good in MY trauma story, but once I found it, I was changed as a person. I realized that if I could find the good in the worst suffering I had ever been through, I could find the good in anything that happened or would ever happen to me. Here is my story:
Shane and I had been married for 4 years, I was 10 weeks pregnant and it was almost time for our 1st doctor’s appointment. We were giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait to hear the heartbeat. I am sure you know where this is going. The Dr. could not find a heartbeat and through ultrasound found that the amniotic sac was fully developed, but the baby had died. Most likely I would miscarry in the next few days so she just sent me home.
I endured 3 more weeks of morning sickness, exhaustion and a growing belly waiting for my body to naturally end this doomed pregnancy. When it didn’t happen I started to convince myself that maybe I had defied all odds and the baby was growing and healthy. A full 6 weeks after the original doctor appointment, I still had not miscarried, so we went for another ultrasound. I felt so nauseous and was getting bigger every day so even though the odds were tiny, I could imagine we beat the odds and would see our baby inside healthy and strong.
I was wrong. The amniotic sac was healthy and fully developed for 16 weeks – exactly on schedule – but there was no healthy baby. My body had let me down in the worst way possible, continuing to nourish a baby that did not exist.
I cried until I couldn’t breathe, I locked myself in the bathroom and screamed at Shane to leave me alone, I dragged myself out of bed and numbly taught math to classrooms full of teenagers while horribly nauseated by an empty sac in my womb. This went on for WEEKS. The doctor was sure my body would miscarry naturally at some point and I trusted her. It never happened. At 20 weeks, still suffering from morning sickness, bloated with a pregnant belly and deep in a state of depression and despair I finally gave up and scheduled the surgery to remove this empty sac and try to get on with my life.
How would I ever trust my own body again? The whole experience and aftermath left me battered and bruised and a shell of who I was before. I was barely living. Even when I got pregnant with Alli 18 months later, I had a hard time letting myself get excited. I would only relax after Alli (now 17) was born. A second miscarriage a year later threw me deeper into a mistrust of my own body. How would I keep doing this to myself? Well, because life needed to go on and we wanted another baby.
My 4th and last pregnancy was Jill (now 14). I was so relieved I would never again be pregnant. I had deep mistrust of my own body and I would often get sad over the babies I had lost. I knew their due dates and would dwell on those losses when those dates came around. I was using this trauma story to justify feeling melancholy about what I had suffered in life, even with these two beautiful babies we now had.
MOMENT. OF. CHANGE.
When Alli was 6, I found a journal entry from my first pregnancy, the one I carried to 20 weeks with just an empty sac. 8 years had passed since that time. I was shocked at what I had written.
In a nutshell, I was not ready to lose myself to motherhood. I didnt want to give up who I was. Maybe Shane could stay home with the baby or we could just find a good daycare. I would not be one of those women who was “just” a mom. I had already planned that I would go right back to work after our baby was born. I had important goals in my life, I had things to accomplish, and a baby was not going to stop me.
As I read this, I was crying at who I was. How could I not even remember thinking this way? I had resigned from teacher when I got pregnant with Alli and spent the last 6 years of my life being “Mom”. She was going into first grade in the fall and I couldn’t bear the thought of her being gone all day. Her and Jill and I had so much fun adventuring around town on our bike, exploring the creek and learning at her pace – I had already decided to homeschool her in the fall. I was “just” a mom and I was the most fulfilled I had ever been. I wanted as much time as possible with my girls in the short 18 years they would be mine.
During that 1st pregnancy, I had no intention of becoming the mother I am today. It never occurred to me that being a MOM would be enough for me. I was shocked by the judgement I had towards stay at home moms! When had this shift happened? I dont really know, but I have my suspicions.
Might I have become this person without the suffering and trauma I experienced in that first pregnancy? I don’t think so. That loss hit me somewhere so deep, that it changed who I was forever. This story has a different meaning for me now and that means that my life has a different meaning. This story shifted in my mind and allowed me to think about OTHER events that I felt had happened TO me and instead look for a way to reshape the story I was telling myself.
I was never the same after finding that journal entry. I realized that if something good had come from that deep, dark and painful experience that I could find the positive in any hardship I had been through or would go through for the rest of my life.
CHANGE. YOUR. STORIES.
So, back to today and the COVID situation we now find ourselves in. I know that what we are living through right now is crazy and scary and very uncertain, but it is still life. Life is still going on while you are trying to figure out what the future holds when this is over. Life is hard. Life is awful, and then it gets better again. And then it gets hard again. Today, trapped in your house, your life is happening.
There is no pause button and the stories you tell yourself and other people become the reality of your life today, next week, next month, next year.
There is great suffering in our world, I would never claim that these are joyous times. But you will break your spirit if you focus solely on what is going WRONG right now. Take some time to find the gems that are happening today. They are there.
What is the story that you will tell when this is over?
You are writing that story, as we speak.