Take a moment and think about your life ten years ago. Who were you ten years ago? Who are you now? What did you accomplish? Who did you influence?
Ten years might seem like a long time, but it goes by faster than we think. It feels like I blinked and my youngest son is now ten. We as Mom's often go about each day doing tasks: laundry, cleaning, cooking, helping children with homework, making lunches, making dinner, getting children to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. Before we know it, our kids will be grown, we will be left with our spouse, that is IF we invested in our marriage over that time, and what else? What impact will we have made in our neighborhoods, communities and lives of our children over those next ten years? What changes will we have made in our own lives and hearts?
If I look back upon my last ten years, there was quite a bit of hardship and pain. Six years ago we started experiencing extremely difficult behaviors with our son. It is a long story but after years of misdiagnosis we finally found out that all of the psychiatric and behavior problems that he was experiencing were related to an underlying immune issue that he had. During this time of adversity our family unit experienced a great deal of emotional trauma. On a personal level I thought that I had completely lost my son. I remember the day a counselor sat with me and told me she believed that I needed to start looking for an institution for my son to live in; as he was becoming so violent and out of control it threatened to disrupt my ability to care for and keep my other children safe. We had to send our other children to be with friends and family at times, to keep them safe and so I could focus solely on my one child who was struggling.
I'm not sure if you are a mother, but if you can imagine the difficulty you are faced with when you are thinking about the choice between giving up on one child in order to save the others. It was the darkest place I had ever been. I remember spending countless hours weeping on the floor, praying for God to have mercy on my family. There was literally nothing I had not tried in order to help my son. We attempted diets, supplements, antibiotics, we saw expensive psychiatrists, counselors, specialty doctors. In a word I felt completely HOPELESS.
I am not sure if you have ever felt HOPELESS before. It is a dark place. A lonely place. When you are HOPELESS you have a choice. You can lay down and give up right then and there. Or you can RISE UP. Everything has been striped of you anyway, there's really nothing left, all the walls have been broken down, everyone has seen you at your very worst, there's literally nothing you feel you can brag about. Believe me, no one was giving me awards for being the mother of the kid who just threw a huge tantrum and punched a little girl at school.
For a very long time I let my son's actions define me. See, by nature I am a people-pleaser. Ah wait you know this one? Imagine her completely stripped of any ability to please anyone. Yes, I was completely broken down, after years of not being able to please the teachers, the principal, the neighbors, the bus driver. Everyone. Essentially, many had let me know about the things my son had done wrong or didn't do right.
I hate to admit that the words of others pierced my heart so that I began to let my son's bad behavior define him too. I became blinded by all the ways that he wasn't succeeding and forgot to focus on the good that was still in him, the good that was completely clouded by his illness at the time.
To say our family unit was struggling big time is an understatement. I am told that having a child with the level of needs that my son had destroys most marriages. Mine survived, thankfully by the Grace of God and by the fact that my husband and I joined forces and choose to be a team, because you can't survive something like this without a team.
My other children did suffer PTSD and trauma from some of what happened over those years. Did this destroy them? No. We are still working through things, but my other children are some of the most compassionate, loving, thoughtful children you will ever meet. They grew this way because of the struggle, we are closer as a family because of what we have endured.
When I look back over the past ten years I see that for much of that time I was stuck. The years prior to my sons illness, we struggled with my first son's medical issues and years of under-employment for my husband. After a while of back to back challenges, I got stuck for sometime in a cycle of:
1. Self Pity
When you are stuck in Self Pity it seems justifiable to walk around saying things like "My Life Sucks." When your life sucks it's not your fault, it's your life's fault or who ever dealt you these cards. I hate to admit that for a number of years I was the Debbie downer to every family gathering and outing with friends if I ever had the energy to even get out of my house to be with friends. I was probably well known for saying things like, "Oh, I wish I could do that but after this week with my son I can't possibly go out with the girls." "Or yeah I wish I could meet up with you guys for a play-date but my son can't handle activities like that." For those of you dealing with challenging situations right now, don't get me wrong. It's okay to say no to activities and events that might aggravate your child, set him off, or exhaust you. There is a complete difference in setting boundaries and that is completely understandable. What I am describing is a place where self-pity kept me from believing that maybe there were people out there who might be able to tolerate my son. Maybe my family wasn't judging me and would be able to accept what I was experiencing if I let them or didn't assume I knew what they were thinking. I stayed away from things because I was afraid of what people might think. I also was quick to say sarcastic things out of my deep resentment for what I was going through. My situation had become so consuming I was unable to mentally move out of it and unable to see beyond it.
2. Comparison Trap
When you are stuck in the comparison trap everywhere you look everyone else has it better than you. Wow, both my husband and I really struggled with this during certain times in our lives. We would say things like, "everyone else has it so easy." or "it seems like everyone else gets a break and we never do." We would think that others seemed to have it easier, better, and were more successful than we could ever be. When you are going through years of challenges it's easy to look around at others and wish you had the "easy" life that they "seemed" to have. Here's the thing, everything on Facebook and Pinterest isn't real. I would look at these beautiful family catalog worthy photos and wallow in deep pain as I sat with my son who was rocking in a corner drooling and screaming for half a day. I would long for that family photo of everyone smiling with their outfits all matching to be my family and my reality but it was not. It only made my pain deeper and it made me full of discontent. Guess what friends, those family photos are all staged. You know that right before that picture was taken, Jimmy was jumping off a ledge while Mom was trying to fix Susan's dress and the baby was screaming when Jack pulled her hair. Let's face it, what we see on Facebook doesn't reveal the deep dark secret corners of what is going on in our homes and hearts. We all know the Facebook friend who posted twenty pictures of her and her husband four times a day, every time smiling, and sipping cocktails at their fifth international leisure vacation this year who is now divorced and hates her stupid husband. How did it happen? Well, social media and the pictures on them are never what they seem, everyone doesn't have it all together, everyone doesn't have it better than you. It's a lie and you will never move forward until you stop believing it.
3. Idealizing others lives and situations
This is a lot like the Comparison Trap only there is the extra element of raising the other person or situation to a level which is completely unattainable for someone as mediocre as yourself. This involves both putting yourself down while raising others up on a pedestal. I was very guilty of this and I didn't even know it. My favorite spiteful comparison was the EXERCISE MOM'S. You know who I'm talking about, they are at the bus stop, the school functions, the bake sales, the grocery--every where but the gym maybe, I'm not sure. They are wearing the cutest matching exercise attire with the perfect hair and make-up. It honestly never dawned on me that since they weren't a complete sweaty mess and were perfectly put together that they might not actually be exercising at all or amazingly fit and perfect. Maybe they were simply normal women just wearing exercise clothes! Daily when I saw these amazing women I would put myself down and raise them up. "I could NEVER look like that because for one, I can't go to the gym because I am homeschooling my special needs son and I don't have that luxury." "I've never been an athlete so it's not like I could ever be in THAT KIND of shape." When I idolized others and raised them up to a level that was so far above myself it let me off the hook. I mean, what could I expect from myself anyway, "I'm just a mom, not some workout instructor that has all the time in the world to exercise." Or "It's not like I have 3 hours a day to try to look like that. I mean all these women must do is exercise all the time." Friends, these are the things I was actually saying to myself. I didn't realize it at the time but by doing so I was letting myself off the hook, I mean there was no way I could ever attain THAT LEVEL OF FITNESS. Idealizing others keeps us stuck, we have to understand that we don't know the situations of others. We don't know if they are even working out at all, or maybe it took them five years to get to where they are now, or maybe they have a child with down-syndrome but you would never know it because you never took the time to ask them, you just made assumptions. Wow, I am ashamed of the things I have believed and said to myself and about others in my deep pain, but it is good to think about how this keeps me stuck so that I can guard against doing it again.
So if you can relate to any of this at all, or if you struggle with any of these things, then I know you are wondering: So how did you get unstuck, how do you pull yourself up by the boot straps and get yourself out of the muck and into the life that you want and deserve to live? I'm telling you there will be people that can and will encourage you along the way, but you are going to have to take the first step towards them.
1. Examine your thoughts
Be an external observer of what you are saying to yourself. The easiest way to do this is to actually write down what you are saying to yourself. This takes practice. Be mindful of what you are saying and then like an outside observer, interrogate your own thoughts:
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Is this really true?
2. Is this thought serving me?
3. What is the actual truth?
4. Why am I saying this to myself?
5. What could I say instead?
This is a practice that takes discipline but it will change your life and it will change how you feel. When you are constantly putting yourself down, or putting others down or telling yourself your situation sucks or it isn't fair, it will be reflected back in the way that you feel. On the flip side, when you examine your thoughts and turn your words around you will be empowered to see things in a new light. Here are some examples:
"My life is a living hell with this kid and I am the worst mother!" or instead
"Things are really hard right now, my son is struggling but I am doing the best I can and my son will get better"
"I am fat and tired and out of shape and there is no way I have the energy to change." or instead
"I am dealing with some health issues, I can't work out for an hour a day, but I can start by walking with a friend, I can work out for 10-15 minutes in my home three days a week."
"I hate my spouse, he is so selfish and doesn't care about our family at all." or instead
"I don't like how my spouse is behaving right now, maybe I need to take space and work on myself right now and control what I can."
Examining our thoughts helps put us back in the drivers seat, and gets us out of the trap of negative thinking which leads to negative results. If you constantly tell yourself you are a failure of a human being it's very unlikely you will radiate charm and success on your next interview or attract the man of your dreams or a best friend.
2. Be brave, be vulnerable, take a risk, and humbly ask for help
In an act of complete bravery I took a risk and signed myself and the rest of my family up for Family Taekwondo classes. It was a huge risk. My son might scream in class or be disrespectful to the Master. Everyone might reject me and tell me to take my horrible kid out of there and never come back. That could have happened, it had happened in other social situations. Guess what, the Master of our studio could handle my son, and at times sometimes better than I could. I was tired of sitting alone with my son in my house. I kept going to class, I didn't hide my struggles, I talked to the other women there. I chose to be real, I was vulnerable, I cried sometimes. I told our story and I shared my pain. For the first time in a long time I developed a community of real friends, the kind of friends that love you no matter what. The kind of friends that love you for you and don't judge you because you are struggling to raise a child who is acting like a child. We need more relationships like this but we aren't going to find them on Facebook. We have to take the first step and be our real genuine self. Maybe some people wont like that, that's okay; those people aren't your tribe, so let them go. Your real tribe will be there for you through thick and thin. One lie I had told myself was that this kind of community didn't exist. I told myself this because many times before when things got hard the people I thought would be there for me where not. I told myself, I was tired of people and tired of getting burned, why try. It's true, people are human, they will disappoint and you may have been hurt in the past. Sure, if you stop putting yourself out there you might never get hurt again but you'll never find your tribe or your soul mate. Stop assuming that everyone out there is a jerk and couldn't care less. There are beautiful loving amazing people just like you out there, ready to embrace you with genuine love and kindness and do this life with you. They are out there, but you have to stick your hand out of the muck and reach out to them.
3. Release what is not serving you and Embrace what will
Here is what happened: Last year, I made an investment in myself. I spent a week on a retreat just for myself, without my children or my husband. I know this sounds weird but I observed myself. I was mindful and I noticed I was relaxed, I was funny, I was outgoing, I was playful, I was happy, I was silly, I was alive and free to be me. I asked myself why I wasn't this way when I was at home. Well of course when we are home we have our responsibilities, we have the stress of taking care of everyone, we have chores and tasks to do. When I was out at this event, I was only responsible for me. I was my genuine self without the weight of the world on my shoulders. And that was the big reveal: suddenly I realized that I was putting the weight of the world on my shoulders every day and I had been doing this for many years. I was telling myself that I alone was responsible for saving my son. I alone was responsible for his behavior and what everyone thought of him and me. I alone was responsible for protecting my other children from being emotionally destroyed by what we were going through. I alone was responsible for making sure everyone was happy, emotionally stable and well.
Well of course this is not true. No one person can be responsible for everyone's happiness and security. Yet these were the lies I was telling myself and as a result I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and it was starting to show big time. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. The stress of this burden I was placing on myself was manifesting itself in physical pain, fatigue and insomnia and weight gain.
I will admit I am still working on this. I want my children to be happy and live their best lives. Guess what, I can't make them happy and make them live their best lives. What I can do is model being happy myself and living my best life. I know this really hard for those of us who love to serve others and give until it hurts. Yet we have to serve ourselves if we are going to continue to live in strength so we can work from a place of power not defeat. We can't serve others from a place of complete depletion. I realized that if I was going to get thorough this struggle with my son and be the mother he and my other children needed me to be I needed to release others to be responsible for themselves.
I needed to allow my children to feel the feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration or disappointment and not feel that this was always my fault. We can't make everything better, we can't shield and protect our children from every hardship, difficulty and pain and in a situation where one family member is in high need or in crisis even more so. What we can do is formulate a plan to begin to care for ourselves and embrace what we need most so that we can rise above the pain and model this for our children.
When you start letting people own their own stuff, then you are freed to own yours.
4. Find out what you value most and align your goals with your values
Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I know some of my readers are not of faith but please don't be distracted by the fact that what Jesus spoke has so much truth. Whatever has the most value to you and means the most to you is where your heart and mind will be focused. If you put stock in what people think of you, you will work to please them maybe to the detriment of yourself. If you value money above everything else you will be dead set on obtaining it and might neglect your relationships in order to obtain the next big deal. On the flip side, if you treasure relationships more than things you might not have the cleanest house because you will drop your plans to do laundry to meet with a friend in need.
Ask yourself what you value more than anything else. If you are unsure, be brave and ask you the people who know you. Or ask yourself, "What makes me the most fulfilled?" or "I feel the most alive and energized when...(fill in the blank)"
Now look at your life each day. What occupies your thoughts, your energy and your time the most?
Now here's the interesting part: What you value might not be what you are spending your time and energy on. You might deeply value relationships but find yourself completely bogged down with daily tasks and realize that you are so unhappy because you are not working on your relationships because you have been so distracted. Or, you may be most fulfilled when you have the freedom to be creative and independent but you are in a cubical micro-managed job where you feel completely stifled and drab.
Take sometime writing down your core values, spend sometime thinking about what most energizes you and lifts you up.
When you find it then you are ready for the next step:
5. Begin to Dream
If you are stuck in the mud you might not be able to move but you can still dream. I know this sounds like a stretch, because many people say, "I've lost my ability to dream, I don't have any big ideas, I don't have any drive or desire." You might have to go back to step one and examine your thoughts, because when you are in that mindset of defeat it's going to be hard to dream. However, even if you feel like you don't have any dreams right now, can you remember a time when you did? What did you want to be when you were a child, when you believed anything was possible? I started to do this, even in the midst of my struggles, I started to dream of what things could be like if my son was better. I started to dream of what I wanted to be like three years from now and I came up with a very clear vision of what that looked like. I wrote a letter to myself from my death bed telling myself of all that I had accomplished in my life.
Dreams are powerful! Some might say they are a way to escape reality. I say dreams are the vision to create the reality you want. Many of the dreams and hopes I had have come to pass. And there is that word, hope. If you remember that six years ago I found myself HOPELESS. Hopelessness happens when we stop dreaming, when we stop envisioning and believing that something better is on the other side of our pain.
My life isn't all roses and everything is not perfect. My outlook has changed. I have accomplished more in two years than I had in the prior eight. Now I stand at the precipitous of a new decade, 2020. In the next ten years I will go from age 40 to 50. Just say that out-loud if you want to scare yourself! Friends, we can go through the next decade stuck in the mud or half asleep while the dreamers take the world by storm, reach their goals and live their vision. Or you and I, in spite of hardships can rise out of the trenches, covered in dirt and grime and all that we've struggled with and fight like hell to grab hold of what we really want to attain.
Its really up to you. What do you want to accomplish this next decade? Who do you want to influence, who do you want to become? What impact will you make in your neighborhoods and communities? What changes will you make in your own life and heart?
What do you want to accomplish this next decade? Who do you want to influence, who do you want to become?
If you are stuck, start working through some of these suggestions. If you need someone to grab your hand, reach out, send me an email or a text. I'm waiting there, covered in the same mud, just a little bit beyond where you've just been.