When I first began my mindfulness journey, I was completely worn out physically and emotionally and seeking peace — peace of mind, peaceful flow to my days and room to breathe. Looking back, I recall saying out loud that I just needed to preserve my energies and resilience for the really important moments in life. At that time, I was reacting and responding to anothers’ needs and dilemmas as though they were all 3 alarm fires on a very regular basis.
Many times, I was getting caught up in someone else’s stress, almost making it my own. Stress overload was really depleting my energy and clouding my ability to process with clarity. It was also affecting my health and my normally sunny disposition.
Often throughout my younger life I would power through the stressful, tough situations life would dole out and not surprisingly find myself completed depleted a few months later. I would either get so sick that I was forced to take a break, or I would lose my cool over a very minor situation and act way out of character for me. That would lead to feelings of embarrassment and regret.
Knowing that I could easily get caught up in another powering through cycle, I decided it was time to approach things differently. I no longer wanted to be robbed of my joy or sidetracked from my aspirations just to keep the peace — temporarily. I also needed to preserve my strength and resilience to address a health situation I was facing.
It was an eye opener for me to recognize that I always had possessed a lot of patience and I did have a natural resiliency but that I was compromising these gifts by my behaviors. My extraordinary patience prevented me from having boundaries with others and I relied heavily on my natural resiliency to pull me through tough times. But I was turning a blind eye to the fact that resiliency needs to be cultivated and nurtured in order to be replenished.
I had to take care of myself — and in a better, more self-aware way than I had ever done in the past.
If you’ve read my prior blog posts, you will know that I have done a lot of personal work through mindfulness and meditation to peel back the layers I had acquired through the years. Brene Brown was a great source of courage and inspiration through this process and it did require me looking directly at my life story and re-examining experiences that shaped my interactions and behaviors with others. I was so relieved to discover that these experiences did not change me at the core — they just caused me to put on a lot of armor to protect the authentic me.
I’ll share just one example to shed a little light on how I became such a patient harmonizer and rescuer of others. Like many people, I had a rather dysfunctional and unloving childhood. I felt a heavy burden to protect my younger brothers from the fighting and neglect, so I became a protector, a reconciler and consistent source of unconditional love and trust to them. I often paid a heavy price for this role but I was relieved that they were mostly spared. Is it any wonder that I went into my adult life pre-conditioned to avoid conflict and to be the consummate rescuer, safe in my comfort zone as a co-dependent.
Here’s the revelation I am excited to share about my transformation over these past few years. Precisely because I have learned so much about how I was sabotaging my own happiness and peace, I have evolved and grown back into my natural happy, buoyant, positive and resilient self. I have learned to set boundaries and to stand up for myself. I have learned how to support others but stop rescuing them from the consequences of their choices and behaviors. I have learned how to process my feelings in the heat of the moment and to give myself time to respond in a way that reflects my personal integrity. None of this came easy. I had to work and practice, research and practice, journal and practice, seek counsel and practice. The bottom line is it was incredibly empowering.
Most recently I had a long stretch where several of those bigger things in life got strung together and I found myself called into service to help others in a variety of ways. Some of it was fun and most enjoyable — like babysitting two of my young grandchildren for a 5 day stretch. Others tugged on my heartstrings — caring for a very sick family member and supporting a dear friend whose spouse passed away suddenly. And then there was travel made challenging due to delays and rude people, expensive car repairs and an unexpected painful root canal. It was my daughter who recognized that I remained calm, positive, energized and resilient through all of it and for weeks on end. She asked me how it was possible? My answer came easily — its because of the changes I made thanks to mindfulness and meditation. I shared with her that living a peaceful life, free of toxic draining people, and in control of my responses, has enabled me to fortify my foundation of calm, resilience and clarity.
I confess that I am so grateful that I could come through that period of time and feel so good physically and emotionally. The old me would have been exhausted and even sad. It was a big “aha” moment for me. All the work is really paying off in spades.
Brene Brown teaches us a lot about how heavy and dysfunctional all the armor we wear to protect our vulnerability truly is. She encourages each of us to really get to know ourselves so that we can take pride in our own worthiness and take the necessary steps to address old behavioral patterns that sabotage us.
It is my hope that by sharing my story and my experiences, I can help others who are striving for personal growth and more joy in their life. Everybody has a story, everyone of of us has been shaped by our experiences and relationships. We are not defined by this however, and we do have the power within us to rediscover our true selves and to bring our best selves to our families, friend and life experiences every day.