My Strange Relationship with Freedom
I’ve been having a whole new set of feelings lately—a mixture of feelings that’s difficult to pin down. A kind of malaise has overtaken me these days. All I know is I don’t like it! But I’m not running from the feelings this time, or pushing them down, or hurriedly trying to replace them with more pleasant feelings. I tried, but they're not going away, so I’m sitting in them as if I was a child sent to the corner for a time-out.
Part of me is amused with myself because having these feelings means I’m finally free. And then I recalled that saying about being careful what you wish for. What I’m learning is that getting what you never thought you had feels liberating at first and then is kind of scary.
I thought back to a dream I had in January 2020, five months before I got in my car, left my Midwestern hometown and my young adult children, and drove to a beach town in Florida
to start the next chapter of my life.
I was driving in a small town, looking for something but not sure what.
Suddenly, I found myself driving around a sharp curve. I'm too close to the edge!
Panicked, I gripped the steering wheel and tried to get back on the road,
but it was too late.
And then . . . I just let go.
My car drove off a cliff and into the water.
I wasn't scared, rather I was aware of my thoughts about how to escape from the submerging car,
which must have been an older model because there was a crank for the window.
I started turning it and the window seemed to be opening.
For years prior, I had always gripped the steering wheel as I drove over an actual bridge in my hometown. The fantasy of driving off the bridge plagued me. It scared me. I kept it secret for many years out of fear I had a deep desire to kill myself. When I finally brought the fantasy out into the light during a therapy session, I began to realize that what I desired was the feeling of being in the space between my life and something unknown. To let go, to be free from something, like Thelma and Louise. That look of liberation on their faces at choosing death over oppression has always stayed with me.
I'm Free. Now What?
This all caused me to think about freedom in a new way. As I walked the beach one morning this past week, I said aloud, “What a strange relationship I have with freedom,” as if freedom were a friend, a parent, or a lover.
I wanted to share an excerpt from my new book about an epiphany I had about my relationship with freedom. The dramatic insight gave me the final push I needed to drive off the cliff of my past without knowing where I was going to land. This excerpt is on p. 31 of Chapter 5—The Forces that Shape You, from my new book, Your Soul is Talking. Are You Listening? 5 Steps to Uncovering Your Hidden Purpose.
"Not until midlife unraveling, did I realize my life had been driven by an instinct for freedom, and that it had shown itself in different ways as I zipped through life. The childhood part of my life had been consumed by freedom from the burden of proving my mother was a good mother.
Skipping into adulthood with optimism and certainty that only I would determine the course of my life reflected my new drive towards self-determination—freedom to do things. I felt exhilarated as I freely pursued life goals like education and career, not worrying about what anyone thought of me. I worked in a male-dominated field, I found my voice as a feminist activist, and I felt free to have sex.
Even within the convention of marriage, I felt free to adapt it to fit my values, resisting the oppressive symbolism of the contract that was designed to achieve aims that most never contemplated. My husband and I walked ourselves down the aisle as partners. Two decades later, as my twenty-four-year marriage was falling apart, I realized that I hadn’t been as free as I thought I had been.
Now, my instinct for freedom feels like a journey to circle back to what being felt like before I was corrupted by other people’s ideas about what I ought to be and do. Circling back implies returning to a place you left, so leaving is part of the deal. Could it be that without the journey I have already taken—falling apart—the inspiration to return home might not have arisen?"
Circling back to being implies I’ve been there before, this place of pure being, but because it’s been so long, I don’t remember what it feels like. Convention corrupts but it also offers protection from the vulnerability that accompanies charting your own course.
Losing your sense of direction is disorienting at first, but it’s also part of the process of finding a new anchor. I was free, but I couldn't handle it—not yet.
First came anxiety about money. I laugh now as I recall not allowing myself to relax more than a couple weeks after I settled into my new home, even though I had enough money from the sale of my house to pay my bills for a year. “That’s not what that money is for,” I’d scold myself.
Then came anxiety about a job. Odd coincidences brought out a buried creative urge. I started writing and I loved it. “I should be looking for a job,” I’d scold myself. It had taken great emotional courage for me to leave my old life behind, and I knew I couldn’t go back now, but the anxiety caused the uncertainty about the right thing to do was almost more than I could bear.
A year went by, and my house proceeds had been depleted, but oddly I felt more secure than a year earlier. Progress! Then came shame about having to take money out of my IRA. “That’s not what that money is for,” I’d scold myself. But I did it, and a year later, I still have the same amount of money in my IRA as before I took the money out.
Now, I’m relaxing into my new life as a writer and I’m building a new coaching business. I know I'm doing the right thing because of how I feel every time I write a short story or a blog post, share a video on Instagram, explore dreams with my coaching clients, and get a heartfelt review about my book.
Living Without Knowing
Letting go of pleasing others, needing validation, and doing things out of desire instead of obligation leads to this sweet spot of bliss. Finding my new foundation had to do with letting go of fitting into someone else’s thoughts about what was right and wrong.
But it’s slow and I’m feeling antsy again. I want to move again, but I don’t know where to go—maybe Annapolis, MD. I don’t know what I want except to find a million people who will be entertained by and/or receive healing from my writing. The things that used to be fun just aren't anymore, and I've totally let go of all the definitions of what it means to be in relationship with people as friends and lovers.
It scares me to not know what I want or what brings me joy or makes me feel good. I've never not known what I wanted. Even when you think you know what you want, it might be convention that has shaped your desires. Not knowing what I want might mean that I'm even more free. I’ve concluded that this all means that I’m completely open to something I know nothing about. It’s fucking scary! It's also finally feeling exciting too!
All I can say is, “Bring it on!” The fact that I’m sitting in these feelings and I’m still taking money out of my IRA to build my new life means I’m building my new freedom muscle. I have no idea where my life is headed, but my discomfort tells me I’m free in a whole new way.
What kind of relationship to you have with freedom? Do you have a perfectionism complex? How does it keep you from pursuing the unknown? Where do your desires come from? What conventions are you letting go of, and to which ones are you most attached? Anxiety and depression can be seen as a prompt from the personal and/or collective Soul to let go of old structures to make way for new ones. This is never an easy process though. How is your individual anxiety or depression part of a collective desire for new structures to emerge when it comes to how we live our lives? Reflect and journal your thoughts about one or more of these questions. Leave a comment or ask a question below. And don't forget to like my post and share it with others who can benefit by my story.
I really appreciate your taking the time to read my post. As I mentioned in a recent Instagram video, I write for me AND other people. Writing helps me process and find meaning in my crazy life experiences, and because I know I'm not alone, sharing my writing is a way of helping other people make sense of their own experiences, especially the ones that we're quiet about.
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Please give a shoutout to these photographers who so graciously allow me to use their images for free.
Photo of jumping off a cliff by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash
Photo of broken sign by Drahomír Posteby-Mach on Unsplash