For nearly 25 years I’ve dreamed of setting foot in Italy. In the first act of my life I accepted it would not likely happen. A pipe dream. A fantasy. I tried to satiate my thirst to go there by purchasing the entire season of Rick Steves Europe-Italy and drinking it in—knowing deep down it would never be enough to really satisfy my desire.
Then three years ago my life shifted. No, that’s not a strong enough word. My life shattered. The path in front of me, that I thought would be the path I would walk to the day I died, splintered. Suddenly, as a broken and defeated woman, I had a dozen dark roads to choose from—every one of them a path into the unknown. The appearance of those paths proved two very important, and somewhat scary, truths.
Truth number one: Our future isn’t set.
Truth number two: Our future is a choice.
Circumstances are sometimes beyond our control—disease, loss, family discord, abuse, broken marriages. But here’s the hard truth—we still get to choose how we deal with our circumstances. We can choose how to move forward out of them or forward within them if getting out isn’t an option at the present time (or ever).
"There is no future but what we make for ourselves.” Sarah Connor, Terminator 2
For me, the pain from the loss of what I thought was a set future felt like falling into darkness and I found myself seeking out something familiar to cling to. There was a path among the splinters that I was propelled to take and I did start down it, but it was dark, unfamiliar, and seemed to promise loneliness in its depths, so I backtracked. I went back to that space of splintered paths and I paused there for a long time, holding onto familiar, but I wasn’t moving. I wasn’t going in the direction I wanted to be. I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was going to be two and a half years before I would start moving again. Two and a half years of learning in the space, gaining strength and courage, and then pushing my scared self back onto that dark unknown path.
I want to share with you something big I learned while existing in that familiar “safe” space.
We can hold a mirror to the world and blame everyone around us and everything that has happened to us for why we aren’t living the life we want. We can blame an abusive spouse, the way we were parented, a boss, a betrayal, the love of our life who left us. We can blame and shame… because it requires no work from us. It allows us to stay in the "safety" of self-pity.
This is fear based.
This is choosing to hide from life rather than fighting to live it.
I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad. That’s self-defeating and pointless. The most important lesson I learned in the space was how vital self-love and giving yourself grace is.
We can have pity parties. I even encourage them. Moments or days when we are just pissed off at life or super sad and disappointed that our life is not what we want. We can even blame others, for a minute, if we want to.
What I am saying is this, you can take a walk in the valley of self-pity but for the love of God don’t pitch a tent and sure as hell don’t build a house. You are punishing only yourself if you do. Even if every single person in your life feeds your self-pitying and excuses—justified or not— and enables your self-defeating behaviors, it does not make it a healthy choice for how to live your life—because that is not living. That isn’t even surviving. That is choosing to stand still.
The truth is we can’t move forward until we stop holding the mirror out and turn it toward ourselves. We are the only person who can make us happy. We are the only one who can choose to think differently, shift our perspective, choose the unknown path and take the steps in the dark no matter how terrifying and against our comfort training it may be.
I have heard so many times the phrase, “people can’t change.” or “people don’t change.”
This is an outright lie.
People sure as hell can change if they CHOOSE to. If they choose to fight the fight and do all that is necessary to face the humbling reality that their life is their decision. Their life is what they have made it to be and it can become whatever they choose it to be going forward, regardless of circumstances. Some circumstance may require you to be more creative in your how but I’ve seen people in even the most dire and awful circumstances rise up, walk or even crawl forward, and create beautiful lives for themselves.
I am living proof that people can change.
When I first faced this truth—that I was responsible for the things in my life I didn’t like—I was sooo angry. I wanted to blame certain people for my pain and misery, for why I never got to take that trip to Italy, go to school, or have a career and be a mom—which I am absolutely certain, now, that I would have been good at and kept properly balanced. I felt completely justified for my anger.
But blame was getting me nowhere—no matter how “justified”. No matter how many people enabled that mindset it did not help. It only added to my despair. It was not a hand forward, it was a tether to the past.
The truth is my codependency and relating behaviors did contribute to the unhappiness in my first and second marriages and their failures. It’s not fun to admit, it's like drinking vinegar, but it’s true. I know this now. I have learned to hold myself accountable for my part. Please note, I refuse to take more than 50% of the responsibility. They are accountable for their part whether they ever accept it or not—I’ve reached a point where I know it’s not my responsibility to deal out judgment or get them to see the truth of their own actions.
I am only responsible for my part.
I have learned that blaming and being angry fixes nothing, doesn’t change the past, or help me embrace the future I desire. If anything, it blocks it.
There is a big difference between blame and shame (of ourselves and others) and accepting responsibility for our part in the things in our lives that we don’t like. I will never again take responsibility for or blame or shame myself for other people’s actions just as I will never blame or shame others for why my life isn’t what I want it to be now. It is an infinite loop that can never lead to the one outcome I truly want—a life of peace and happiness.
A life filled with opportunity and beauty and adventure.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is when you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Blame and shame—even justified—will never provide a life of happiness, only one of chaos and bitterness.
I may not have chosen the circumstances that ended my first marriage, or even some of the not so great circumstances that existed during--but so much has been my choice. How I dealt with it, avoided dealing with it, ran from it, or faced it. All on me. When my marriage ended it was up to me what I would choose to do for work, where I would live, how I would handle my finances, who I would have or end relationships with. All of it is mine. I am responsible. I am accountable for my happiness. Period.
“Happiness is a choice, not an obligation.” - Abraham Lincoln
I have had so many reasons in the last three years to give up, throw in the towel, and I bet a lot of people wouldn't have blamed me for doing it. They would have said I was justified. They would say they understood why I was angry and bitter and cynical. Many would have enabled and supported that behavior—pitied me.
But living that way, wallowing in it, would never have brought me true happiness. It never could have led me to where I am now.
Using our hardships as excuses not to live a happy life is creating self-fulfilling prophecy. You say your life is miserable—then that’s exactly what it will be. We can stand still and hold that mirror out at all the people who’ve “failed” us, blame, and refuse to move. That is our choice.
I chose not to wallow in self-pity and the pity of others. I don’t want excuses. I don’t want pity.
Now, please, please don’t mistake what I’m saying. Compassion, love, patience, genuine kindness—these things are not pity. I do want people to show me such and I try so hard to offer the same. I am incredibly grateful for the people in my life who have given me these things.
These "true" actions, and the people who showed them to me, never let me sit and wallow, they encouraged me to get up and not let my circumstances drag me down and stop me from living my most beautiful life. They helped me rise up, fight, and live.
What I don’t want is validation for the negative feelings that only me back. I don’t want to be told it’s okay to be miserable because life dealt me a rough hand.
I want to surround myself with people and things that say, “never let that stop you”, or “own the life you want and go after it will all you’ve got.”
I want to act. I choose to act. I choose to fight for a beautiful life and I kid you not it is a literal fight against myself at times. I have extraordinarily hard days where it’s physically painful to drag my sorry ass out of bed, but I've discovered pity, even self-pity, blocks all forward movement. It keeps me shackled.
Pity is deceptive--it sucks you down holds you still. Compassion is honest--it holds you close for a moment but also demands you rise to your capabilities because it believes in you, truly loves you. Both look like sand, but pity is quicksand, compassion a safe harbor.
One of the first things I did when I started back down the path that beckoned was choose to make my Italy dream a reality. I was sitting alone in a little cottage on the beach in Oregon watching Eat, Pray, Love, and Under the Tuscan Sun, and I knew I had to go. It was time to make it happen. I didn’t know how it would come together but I fought for it and it did happen and it was even more than I dreamed it could possibly be.
Magical. Transformative. Beautiful. Perfect. Necessary…
While there I received gift after gift of knowledge. I gained insight on just how far I’ve come in the last three years. Lights began to appear on my path and I accepted the truth that I can make my life anything I want—so long as I choose to keep that mirror facing in, keep learning to love the person I see there, and reminding her to be accountable for the choices she’s making that may be preventing the life she really wants. Take responsibility.
When I surrender all the self-pity, all that anger—even the justified anger—all the blame and shame toward myself and others, when I hand all of that over to God, my Higher Power, He replaces the vitriol with His love and I find I can have a blissfully open heart and mind that can see the world and it’s people for all its beautiful possibilities.
Am I still scared? You bet your ass I’m scared. Going into the unknown and leaving familiar is terrifying. It’s damn scary to do things you’ve never done before. But does that mean God is telling us not to do it? Hell no. God is not driven by fear and He never uses fear as a tool. God is all things good. You know the saying, “if your dreams don’t scare you they aren’t big enough”? Well, if the path ahead doesn’t scare you, then it probably isn’t the right one—fear can be a signal that you are on the right track. Try replacing your fear with trust and see what happens.
Sometimes we have to take several steps in the dark before the pinpricks of light are going to be noticeable, but once they start to show up, more and more will come until the darkness is completely defeated and the path ahead is bright and clear…and eventually we realize the darkness over the path was likely of our own making. It was our fear clouding the way, causing us to doubt. The more we trust God, the more faith we put in the unknown, out into the Universe, the clearer our path ahead becomes.
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” - William Shakespeare on confidence and courage
Every step I take on this new path it gets brighter, and even though I have no idea where it’s going to lead me I will continue to take it because I have not regretted a single adventure I’ve been willing to take that God has placed before me—even the really hard scary ones, especially the hard scary ones.
Choose today to turn the mirror away from the world, and your circumstances, I know it’s hard, I promise I do, but do the extraordinarily hard and humble thing and turn it toward yourself. Stop blaming, stop making excuses, stop letting others enable you, and stop letting fear dictate your life. Stop giving away your power.
Love yourself enough to fight for the life you want to live. Master your fear. Resist it. Move forward despite it. Claim victory over it.
Because YOU are so incredibly worth it and you deserve to be happy.
NOTE: If you are a victim of domestic abuse or are living in any type of harmful or damaging situation, know you are not alone and there is help out there. You can move forward out of your situation. Trust me. Research local support groups, 12 Step programs, hotlines, and shelters. Utah has a great organization called CAPSA. Know that even if you are not strong enough now, there are people you can lean on until you get your strength back. You don’t have to suffer anymore. Put it out there and God and the Universe will lead you to people, and people to you, who can and will help.
Some of my favorite fear-fighting quotes:
“Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something is more important than fear.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear, and not the absence of fear.” -Mark Twain (Jacob the Liar)
“Courage isn’t the absence of fear but a victory over fear.” -Nelson Mandela
“Feed fear a suck-it sandwich” -Jen Sincero (You Are a Badass)
Invictus by William Earnest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced, nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance,
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears,
Looms but the Horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years,
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.