Stumbling, Part One: Disconnection, a hit on the head, and a new awakening.
(Some of this material originally appeared in a much abbreviated form in the South Shore Women in Business Newsletter a few years ago as “My Pivotal Moment”. I have repurposed, edited and updated this article and have elaborated on the more personal areas that I did not totally disclose then, partly due to space constraints, partly due to the nature of the publication.)
A few years ago I was invited to write a story for a local business women’s association newsletter about a “pivotal moment” in my life that had influenced my career. That was a challenge because, although I have probably had many pivotal moments altering the course of my life, I have never felt I had much to contribute about business. This was a very personal journey, and ultimately it influenced my choice of career. While this doesn’t offer any guidance on business per se, I thought it could be supportive in helping women chart a course that was authentically theirs.
I started out the way many people do, at least those who can afford an education, doing all the things that fit my family expectations, namely, be a good student that goes to university, get an undergraduate degree and more, and become employed as some kind of professional, academic or civil servant. That was the atmosphere I was raised in, and people who did not go to university were the exception, not the rule.
I had first been enrolled in a journalism program because I loved writing, but having been easily intimidated as a naive 17-year-old freshman by a crusty journalist professor, I chickened out, and just pursued a B.A. in Political Science instead. When I later ended up a salesclerk a wicker store, I realized some advanced education might be a good idea. Without a great deal of foresight (or maybe any) I ended up in law school. I was young and had married too soon at that point, and my husband was in law school two years ahead of me and encouraged me to follow. I had an older brother already a lawyer in the federal civil service, another who was a PhD and a professor, and a dad who was an M.D., so it all fit the professional family profile.
However not having researched the practice and not really having a clue where I’d end up, I found myself miserable in a few years after my bar admission. Partly I felt I was unable to really help anybody with the law. Outside of property and commercial law (which bored me stiff) it was all about making the best of bad situations, never truly restoring people to where they were before their problems started. I could assist with legal remedies, but most people needed much more than that in their lives, especially in the area of family law, which was my focus. I wanted to help them on a deeper level, and bailed out of the practice, thinking perhaps some law-related career might be an option in the future, but I really had no idea what I wanted.
I also bailed out in my personal life then too, as I found I was trying to be someone I was not both personally as well as professionally. This was very difficult and hurtful for my spouse of course, and pretty scary for me too, as I knew I would face a lot of embarrassment for such a drastic life change and apparent throwing-away of my education and of a gentle man who loved me. My whole life at the time felt kind of constricted, by the law career and the public expectation of who you were supposed to be in that, as well as by a religious life that was not really mine…I had converted to Catholicism in order to marry my husband, and it didn’t fit either. On top of that I was dealing with the emotional pain of infertility, going through invasive tests and then fertility treatments, all the while totally conflicted as to how a busy young lawyer was going to be the kind of mother I had seen modeled. I kind of cracked under the pressure (all of my own making) and ran away.
I have changed course several times since then. For many years after this I ended up living a very comfortable life being supported by my second partner’s inherited income, and having the time and freedom to explore my creativity as well as to travel. While I ultimately left that too, in hindsight I have realized this phase was a gift to me, it was a stepping stone to recovering a more relaxed and sociable me, and allowing my creativity to blossom in the form of photography.
That relationship however, ultimately led me to an unsatisfying place in my life. Following my much older spouse’s lead, it was as if I had retired before I had even gotten established in any one direction. Although I did become quite a competent photographer and photographic artist, and exhibited and sold my work as fine art, on a personal level I struggled with some issues in our relationship and with who I believed I had to be in order to maintain the relationship.
As a result I unconsciously began overindulging in both alcohol and television, a great combo for numbing one’s feelings and avoiding the truth of one’s life. I had low motivation and low self-esteem, which I now attribute to the alcohol and perhaps to a minor depression.
Underneath it all was an unhappiness from trying to live in alignment with values that were not really my own. I was a pleaser, and I suppressed my own nature. I was also missing a deeper emotional connection, though on the outside, and even to both of us, it looked like everything was “fine”. It is easier to believe it is all good when the material trappings are in place, you actually function pretty amicably together on some levels, while keeping the deeper feelings numbed on a daily basis.
I finally had to “get disturbed” enough, as Tony Robbins says, before I could make real changes, and I did. Strangely it wasn’t enough that on a tropical holiday I had smacked my head on the bottom of a swimming pool hard enough that I feared I’d have a concussion and black out, after imbibing too many pool-bar Margaritas at the end of a trip. Not even when I subsequently lost my sense of smell (and taste) for about eight months immediately following this incident, which I attributed to said head-smack, did I quite get the need for drastic change.
No, it actually took another event a few months later, where I found myself reeling up the stairs to bed early one night after drinking too many glasses of wine, while helping my partner make pickles on an ordinary week night, and then continuing the wine through dinner and after. Suddenly I felt totally out of control, the room spinning around me. I “lost it”, got terribly upset with myself, knew I was in trouble, and that something must be desperately wrong with my life for me to get into this condition on an ordinary week night (let alone any night really).
The next morning was the start of 8 months of total sobriety, no AA, no support, just a decision… a decision that was challenged within the first couple days by my partner who brought home a case of special wines from the liquor store “for when I was finished my break”. My “break” that time did not end until I had actually left the relationship, admittedly started my current relationship (which has become a truly spiritual partnership for the past 10 years), and had several months of incredible mental clarity and growth.
At the time I stopped watching most tv and cut out sugar from my diet, which helped a great deal as they both seemed to be triggers for me, tv being a situational trigger, and sugar priming my blood sugar for cravings.
It was a profound learning experience to discover how a couple could be apparently together, sharing activities, work, and friends, and yet at the same time be so emotionally disconnected, from each other and from ourselves and our values.
Recent research shows lack of connection to be one of the cornerstones of developing addictions. When you deny and numb your feelings so that you no longer even recognize how disconnected you are, especially when material needs are more than comfortably met, you can stumble along in a situation or relationship being more or less oblivious to your own misery for a long time. Until the inevitable wake-up call, that is. People adapt to the status quo and get comfortable, even when it’s not healthy, as long as their own needs get met at some level. My ex later apologized about the enabling behaviour, admitting, “I didn’t want the party to stop.” Seems we were both out of touch.
From a human needs perspective, people often create a sense of connection through the use of addictive substances. The self-comforting feeling of enjoying that drink can be a way of connecting with oneself. And the inhibition-reducing aspect can for some create a false sense of connection with others who are doing the same thing. Well, perhaps not false, but often at a shallower level than a more conscious relationship might be. The need for certainty, for something you can count on, is also satisfied easily by addiction. Even the need for variety, for the ability to change your state from one feeling to another, can be satisfied through addictive substances. It is no wonder it can be so difficult to stop. Developing awareness of what needs are being met is an important first step, before finding other ways to fulfill them. This is part of the training in Strategic Intervention I later received.
During these times of dissatisfaction, if you are awake to it at all, is when you might start “searching”, for meaning, for understanding of the self, for the bigger picture of existence, and so on. I had begun a lot of reading in spirituality and self-help off and on since my first break-up 14 years earlier, but the reading doesn’t help much if you are not being very self-aware by tuning out your feelings. At this point, however, I was driven to learn more and was conscious this time.
Over the next few months I reached a point of clarity as all the diverse sources I was reading began to magically coalesce and give me a greater vision of my life. I was studying everything from how to develop my intuition to reading some books by western Buddhists, learning about many concepts in mind-body healing, about the chakra system from Hindu tradition, even a great book on how to be a writer called “Writing Down The Bones” by Lynn Goldberg, who writes from a Zen Buddhist perspective.
During the same period I also discovered inspirational speaker, former psychologist (and sadly now-deceased) Wayne Dyer. I first saw him on a PBS special on tv and then found one of his earlier books, “You’ll See It When you Believe It.” I also saw the interesting film “What the Bleep” around the same time. All these sources were telling me the same things at the same time from different angles and in different voices. They pointed to a sense that there was something greater that connected us all, and did so in a language I could relate to, that seemed different from religions I had experienced.
I started noticing so many synchronistic events in my life, like how I ran into the only friend I personally knew to be an alcoholic in AA, (whom I had not seen in a couple of years) the very same morning I had made my decision to stop drinking. I knew it was a sign I was on the right track and that support was available if I needed it.
And then I would read something in a book only to turn on the radio later and hear something similar, or even the same author, being interviewed on a show. And I also started to really notice the beauty in the world around me more profoundly than ever before.
Ultimately I had what I could only call a spiritual epiphany, a realization that my life actually had meaning and that I had some kind of purpose being here on earth. I had felt quite adrift in the previous ten years since my parents had died, feeling like there was no God or unifying force, that there was only some dark nothingness that offered no comfort or meaning.
I realized at this time that I needed to tap into my true self, to find out who I really was, and learn to trust my own inner knowing to guide me rather than just follow others, regardless of how much older or more “worldly” I perceived them to be. And I started to learn that there was so much more to us as beings than our eyes could see. I began to relate to the idea of our being “spiritual beings having a human experience”. I had awakened from my slumber.
This all came to a head for me one weekend when I went alone to my cottage on a lake, where I experienced an incredible sense of gratitude for perhaps the first time in my life. I felt deeply peaceful, amidst spectacular sunsets, even an unexpected rainbow. It was very profound and was my biggest pivotal moment, now over 10 years ago.
This set me on a course which eventually led me to study intuitive development, shamanic journeying (another significant turning point where I learned that I had direct access within to very clear and deep wisdom), and then on to study the Reiki method of spiritual healing, as well as to Soul Coaching®.
The shamanic journeying had been a mind-blower for me, as I had experienced a great deal of left-brained resistance to the idea that while someone drummed I would meet and talk to a power animal that would have some wisdom for me. After several attempts to journey, I finally met this animal who wouldn’t stop talking, and who repeatedly offered me deep insights which helped me through some difficult transitional months in my life. I was forever changed.
This in turn opened me to the idea of studying Soul Coaching® after I was given a copy of the book of the same name. This body of work created by author, speaker, and healer Denise Linn, offered another method of accessing one’s inner wisdom through a different form of journeying using dialogue and questioning (hence the “coaching”). I knew immediately I wanted to learn to help facilitate that for others because I knew how amazing the shamanic journeys had become for me in finding my own insight. They were just different ways of tapping into that same well.
Subsequently, still being well-conditioned to be a student and have “credentials”, I went on to add a few more modalities to my repertoire, including the study of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Strategic Intervention coaching, as well as some courses in leadership. I also added a brand of feng shui training created by Denise Linn, called Interior Alignment™, as well as space clearing and blessing to the mix. The idea of creating sacred space and working with the energy and sacredness of a place as well as people, had become important in my life.
These all inform my professional practice as a coach now, bringing in all of the learning that shifted my perspective those years ago, and I share that with others through coaching, journeying, and experiential workshops, as well as through this blog.
I finally found a place in my life where I recognized my own inner knowing was to be trusted, that I could deviate from what had seemed a “traditional” path and find a satisfying life of my own creation. I also found I could be someone who helped people in an even deeper way than I had imagined when I became a lawyer more than 25 years ago.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been such a slow learner and that these tools had come to me earlier in my life. For one thing I would have found this career sooner and been more established by now. On the other hand, I know I had to experience what I experienced in order to inform me and build my wisdom and empathy. My stumbles and apparent wrong turns along the way have only served to increase my awareness of and sensitivity to what some other folks have to deal with. We may not share exactly the same path but no doubt there are some similar ruts we’ve fallen into.
Oh and, “What about the alcohol?” you may ask, “your abstinence only lasted 8 months?” Yes, I admit I gradually reintroduced it into my life, mainly because I do really enjoy wine, more so with friends at dinner, but sometimes while cooking, writing, or cartooning in the evening. It is one of life’s small pleasures. And occasionally I am even a sales rep for a local vineyard. If one is able to consume it in moderation and with real appreciation for what it is and not as an unconscious habit, I think it’s a good thing.
I can recognize now whether I am reaching for a glass of wine simply out of habit (It’s “wine o’clock” as some people say), or worse, out of a desire to tune-out (in which case I abstain), rather than as simply something to enjoy. My past has made me cautiously aware. And my age and perhaps menopause has also reduced my tolerance for alcohol, making it easy to self-limit. There is a huge cultural problem today around dangerous levels of alcohol consumption, among younger women in particular, so I am conscientious too about being moderate.
I now enjoy a life with deep, authentic, and empathetic personal connection, to my husband, my close friends, wonderful clients, our animals, and our land. And while I continue to peel back the layers of who I am and learn to be okay with how deeply I actually feel things…my often tender emotions seem to live right at the surface without any numbing… I also get to experience a level of profound love and real joy on occasion that had been elusive for so long.
I’ll always remember that one day when I first hugged Edward, my now husband and true soul mate, and a loud laugh come out of somewhere deep in my belly. I actually startled myself, almost looking around to see who it was that had let out that sound, it was so unfamiliar. My shift in consciousness had unlocked something that had been shut down for too long.
I feel like it is part of my mission now to help others tap into that place inside them and reconnect with their essence, their soul, so that they too can realize the fullness and beauty of who they are and live a more joyful life in alignment with that truth. I hope you stumble less and awake sooner.
~If you would like to get in touch with your own inner knowing to get more awareness and clarity about your life, and become more congruent with what you really value in order to find more peace, I offer coaching, both one-on-one and in small groups such as the Soul Coaching® 6 week program, and the soon-to be launched Embodying Presence one-day workshop, and the Medicine Wheel Weekend Intensive, through our business, Co-Creative Healing Arts.
Mary, I just want to congratulate you on the writing of this article so well done and displaying courage, honesty and integrity. I relate to so much of your life and my journey continues, also realizing there have been those parts which have been necessary in carving out the path which continues to unwind.
Well done. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Judi, thank you so much for that. I was a little anxious about sharing all this, but there is always at least one person for whom my words seem to be supportive. So I appreciate your comment very much. ~Mary
Thank you for sharing your story. i especially connect with the slow learner. I started saying that about myself a couple of years ago. I embrace now that it is part of the person I am.
Thanks Blue Chakra. I guess we are just in a constant state of learning. What else is there really? 🙂 Mary
It’s Debbie Eikle Thompson. I thought my comment would post from my Google + page. I hadn’t expected to post from my blog page. You are right, Mary. We are in a constant state of learning. You are inspiring to me as you continue on your journey and I continue on mine. 🙂
Hi Debbie, I knew that was you! Wasn’t sure if you were being anonymous. 😉 We are journeying separately together! xo