A couple weeks ago, I had a mini freak out.
It was coming up on a year since I had left my old self and life behind. The unraveling of my marriage, the dismantling of my professional persona, the blow to my ego of not being able to replace the six-figure job I had left.
But all of that was nothing compared to the call that screamed at me. I had no choice. I had to leave.
Damn it! No details about where the call was leading me. My transition place would be Jacksonville Beach, FL, which was a half hour from my sister. It was safe – psychologically. I would be able to bunk with my sister’s family for a bit while I found a place to live and a job. And I could be a real aunt to my nieces, whom I rarely saw. Maybe I could find a teaching job after I secured my PhD.
My house sold quickly and for much more than I thought I’d get. This must be a sign, I was sure.
Then COVID hit, I lost my bartending gig, and my son was sent home from college. He moved in with his father, and I moved in with my daughter. Her roommates had been summoned home due to virus fears. We actually made great roommates. Daily cleaning and cooking were my gestures of appreciation for my daughter, who graciously allowed her mother to move in with her.
My daughter would laugh at me when I returned from my every-other-day trek to the liquor store. “Got any martini glasses?” I asked the wary store clerk one of the first days of the shutdown. Happy hour began at three with a Cosmo. It didn’t take long for me to join the ranks of the millions of people who felt a little paranoid about having turned into an alcoholic.
The three of us took the virus in stride, appreciating the unexpected time together. Scooby Doo episodes and Star Trek movies were food for the soul, grounding us in this new uncertain world.
And then . . .
My ex-husband relapsed, the stress of that invading the space between my children and me, resulting in explosive arguments.
My son really struggled with online learning.
My sister was now not comfortable with my staying with her family.
I can’t leave now. “Do you know anyone who will rent me a place for a month or two?” I asked a well-networked friend. I couldn’t leave. My son needed me.
My body collapsed from exhaustion. I was worried I had COVID, of course. “My throat feels weird,” I’d tell my daughter every few nights. I didn’t have COVID, but I was so tired in this in between space.
I didn’t know what to do. How could I apply for a job? I didn’t know how long I would be staying. Maybe I’m not supposed to leave.
My days included forcing myself to do tasks that I knew for sure I needed to do. I finished a draft of my memoir. I started writing the outline for my dissertation defense. I started designing an online course. And my son, my daughter and I had a couple of virtual family therapy sessions. I started to feel a little more grounded.
Then, one day, my daughter said, “Mom, you should go.” Her tone was that of encouragement. She was telling me to give myself permission to leave. Just as I had needed to give myself permission to not want to be married anymore.
“Really?” I had found my Savior complex. I think my son had to see the worst of his father’s addiction, maybe it represented a kind of bottom for both of them. He just wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t save him or protect him. That wasn’t my job anymore.
And then . . .
Freedom From vs. Freedom To
Freedom. It was my answer to a question posed by Tosha Silver, an astrologer turned author and spiritual guide, during one of her weekly Facebook podcasts. Standing in my daughter’s bathroom with headphones on, the gaze at my reflection felt more focused than usual as I put the finishing touches on my makeup. I carefully applied mascara to my lashes and then my signature Wild Orchid lipstick. My eyes casually gazed out the window.
My freshly showered body instinctively inhaled deeply, and the breath, now colored with traces of residue from my insides, exhaled with force from my mouth. “What are you most grateful for?” she had asked, but quickly followed up with, “No lists. Just one thing.” And “Don’t think too hard about it.”
And then, I experienced a new level of stillness that brought an unexpected answer from the deepest part of me. Freedom, I said aloud. I was surprised. In that moment I felt completely free. My body automatically took in another gulp of oxygen and held it as if wanting to stretch out this moment as long as possible. I hadn’t felt free in so long. Is this what the first breath of freedom feels like for someone who has been released from actual prison?
Suddenly, the density I had become accustomed to somehow melted away. My body became a subtle vibration that I imagined as a white light. For just a moment, I had transcended my physical form. I was dissolving into pure consciousness. And I wasn’t afraid – for a moment anyway.
My children needed me to leave as much as I needed to leave. They were so supportive. “Love you Mom,” they smiled when I started driving away.
“I want a picture of you looking sad too,” I laughed.
If not for my children pushing me out of the nest, I wouldn’t have gotten in my car and left. Those two amazing young adults knew that I needed to answer the call. And our relationship now is so amazing, it blows my mind. I never had this with my own mother.
I drove away, nine hours to Nashville. I appreciated the metaphor at work when I experienced downtown as a ghost town, a kind of threshold between two worlds. Another nine hours to my new home.
I’m Just a Baby Bird
“I have arrived,” I told myself. To what, I wasn’t sure. I was starting over at fifty-five.
That was a year ago. Still no job, but I can pay my bills. I’m a writer now! It took me a really long time to understand that I’ve been given a gift, a chance to have that big impact I’ve always wanted to have on the world. I’ve had to let go of the need to know exactly how it’s going to happen.
Back to my mini breakdown.
It all started with the tri-folded piece of paper that was placed in the crack of my apartment door. My breathing quickened and my skin felt prickly as I recalled the last time there was a piece of paper in my door. “You will be forced to vacate the premises,” or something like that. Apparently, I had failed to click the submit button on the second page of the rent payment app.
At first, I felt relief when I began reading the piece of paper. My lease would be ending in two and a half months, and I had to make a decision about renewing.
What? Five hundred dollar increase to go month to month. I can’t afford that!
Commit for another twelve or thirteen months? I can’t do that either! But what do I do? I felt trapped. Is this a sign? I started researching where I should go next. Affordable beach towns. Progressive communities. Liberal communities near water.
And the carpeting. Ug! The well-trafficked areas were so flat, it was an eye sore. I loved my place, but I couldn’t imagine staying there if that stupid carpeting wasn’t replaced.
“We only replace carpeting when tenants leave,” was the reply I finally got when I emailed the right person.
“I’m pretty sure you will replace it after I leave. Why wouldn’t you want to use new carpeting as an incentive to keep me another year?”
It was as if the universe had orchestrated the event to push me. To do what? I wasn’t sure. My obsession with the carpet – the eye sore –manifested as impatient emails to the leasing manager. Her communication – or lack of communication – reminded me of the passive-aggressive nature of my marriage. My attempts to advocate for myself felt immature, like a temper tantrum. Negotiating required my inner bitch to come out. I knew I needed options.
I was still too chicken to go out to CA. I had met a man who was from Maryland, and I still had a fantasy that we would meet again. That was the push I needed. I secured the cat sitter, and I got in the car two days later for my road trip up the east coast.
I pulled into the parking lot of a lovely Italian supper club in Petersburg, Virginia, right before closing. The homemade meatballs and personal sized pizza felt like comfort food. And the upside-down dining table, chairs, and dishes that were attached to the ceiling made me smile.
The literal part of me tilted my head in confusion when the nice attendant at the Quality Inn hotel asked me, “Would you like the eighty-nine-dollar rate or the ninety-nine-dollar rate?” “Please tell the manager you appreciated my service.” I said I would.
Hanging out in Annapolis, MD was amazing. I enjoyed a glass of red wine and a salmon salad outside Harry’s on the circle across from the State House. If not for COVID, I might not have been able to enjoy a night at the Graduate Hotel. “I could live here,” I thought. I even found a couple affordable apartment buildings.
My trip to Old Town, in Alexandria, VA was even more enjoyable. The mixture of historic, contemporary and lively energy felt welcoming. I enjoyed a nice glass of red wine and dinner at a restaurant on the harbor. “I could see myself living here too.”
And then I headed back home, spending the night in Petersburg, VA again. The casual restaurant, which served many versions of a fish fry, also provided entertainment in the form of a bearded older gentlemen who played songs from my youth on an electric guitar.
The road trip helped me breathe better. I really could just pick up and leave. My carpet negotiation continued. As much as I had enjoyed the road trip, I realized my compulsion to pick up and move was a disguise for the fear of how my life was unfolding. “Am I crazy?” I said to my sister on the phone. I’m finishing a second draft of my memoir, a major publisher has asked me to strengthen my book proposal to publish my research, and I know some kind of work is going to come from all this. Why would I pick up and move now? “What’s wrong with me?”
But I still felt trapped. The carpet obsession had meaning, and I had to see it through. The day after I returned from my road trip, I spent one day finding another apartment option in town. I notified the leasing manager that I would not be committing to anything, nor filling out the most recent customer satisfaction survey, until there was resolution on the carpet.
Having options, which allowed me to feel empowered, made me feel better. Now, I didn’t care which way it went. If I got new carpeting, I would stay. If I didn’t get new carpeting, I’d move.
And then I just let it go. That night I had this dream:
My external sex organs
– labia, clitoris, vulva –
are all huge and just hanging out of me.
It scares me.
I say to someone, “go get Mom.”
I got the news the next day. “You are the first tenant to get new carpeting.” I’m staying for another year. What about my dream? The oversized symbols of creativity cannot be contained any longer. I will be rewarded for surrendering to what seems to be unfolding in my life. Intense bold creativity that will entertain and bring healing to millions.
The Past Doesn’t Exist
One morning soon after all the drama had subsided, I wondered whether my road trip had been a dream. I really couldn’t feel it. There was no evidence of the trip except the photos I had taken. It reminded me of the moment I realized that all the amazing stuff on my resume really didn’t matter anymore. It was like it never happened. Sure, I could point to my activism sixteen years ago as having contributed to the fact that Bradford Beach in Milwaukee became cool again after it had died. But really, no one who goes there, cares about how it happened. They just enjoy it, and that’s the way it should be.
Then I remembered that when my marriage was falling apart, and I was grasping for meaning, I decided to read through the Course in Miracles. My mind was blown after I read the first lesson: This table does not mean anything. Nothing in this room means anything. In essence, there is no meaning except that which we give.
Right before my daughter told me it was okay to leave, I experienced a feeling of liberation that I hadn’t felt before. I felt released from the past and all of the ideas about it. And I wasn’t afraid.
Fear returns from time to time, as I practice allowing into my life what wants to come. In the moment I wondered about whether my road trip was a dream, I was released again.
Stay tuned . . .
How About You?
C.G. Jung warned that complexes are particularly triggered during times of stress. Before you know it, you end up doing or saying something for which you will be doomed to feel embarrassment. It’s really unavoidable.
These events are invitations from your psyche to grow. When you are swept up and overtaken by mysterious forces that make you do things out of the ordinary, there are so many insights to be gained by finding meaning in the symbols, metaphors, and emotions.
Journal about the last time you did something for which you felt regret. Can you find the metaphor?
Can you find the pattern of thinking or behaving that might be getting in your way?
Can you find the life lesson you learned or were supposed to learn?
Ask your dreams to help you out.
If you’re intrigued, and you would like to have a framework for doing this kind of work, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read what people say about working with me, learn about my research on women, sex & God, and subscribe to my email list at www.deborahlukovich.com.
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