“Be a lantern, or a ladder, or a lifeboat.”
Sometimes, the truth is so real that no Instagram filter could possibly make it look better. Sometimes, life hands us more than lemons—potent, sour fruits that could easily melt our hearts. But if we can find a way to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and not run away, we can make some pretty kick-ass lemonade.
Turning 40 helped this blogger, artist, designer and mama share the real truth on her blog and in her life.
Turning 40 got me thinking. Among many other things, I pondered the spectacular Instagram-style filters we lay over our blogs and our lives and our social media to make it all seem so appealing. To make us feel good enough. To show the world that we are perfect.
I am not a fan of perfection, and, as a general rule, I am not a photo-shopper. I try to live in my life in the messy, imperfect, beautiful way that it is.
But, a lie of omission is still a sort of lie, right?
In March of 2010 when I began blogging, it was a bold move to make a beginning. It was a tiny speck of dust, a throat-clearing, a squeak that I spoke into the immensity of the internet. I didn’t know where it would take me, but it was a start.
My blog was a place to put my favorite stuff from the web and to showcase the things I was sewing, painting, and designing. I was healing, so I was following my bliss. Then, I started my company, SUCH Designs, and the blog became a vehicle for marketing and branding.
All the while, my blog was still a place to put my favorite stuff. Therefore, there were omissions in the story I told there. Favorite means favorite. Favorite included the things that inspired and interested me, but excluded the hard parts of my life: the pain, sadness, fear and anxieties of a human life… of my life. My blog was anathema to that stuff, yet not a fantasy or a lie or a glossed-over version of my life.
My blog was just a space with boundaries. A place to share certain things, but not everything.
I did not include the story of my son’s rare illness, the egg-sized tumor in his hipbone, diagnosed when he was not quite two years old. I did not include the port they put in his chest for injecting his vinblastine, the year of chemotherapy and how it perfectly healed his beautiful body, but unraveled me emotionally.
Yet, it made me stronger. While at the same time, it sent my husband running behind a smokescreen so nothing could get in. I didn’t tell the story of how my husband’s father had a port in his chest at the same exact time as our son—and how he was receiving chemo also, but for something else. How he succumbed so quickly to his fierce disease.
I didn’t share that the next year, our blue Weimaraner, Solace, died in my husband’s arms. After his body gave out, how our 16-year business collapsed with the economy. How my husband fell into the bottle, many bottles of craft beer and Rhône-style wine and single-malt Scotch to “drown the sparrow in his chest.”
I didn’t write that when he did that, he nearly drowned the songbird that lives in mine.
I would have never believed in love and marriage again if we weren’t blessed with the resources to get help. So he went to rehab and he healed his traumas, new and old, in a flurry of Kleenex and letting go.
He came back. We worked with an army of therapists to clean up the mess of sadness that had laid waste to both of us as we walked through the pain of our lives. We healed and are still healing the sadness of that time, just a few short years ago. He is vibrant, now—a loving and present father and husband. He has been sober ever since. He is now studying counseling psychology.
I have learned things, and changed. I know new things. Mainly, that I am not in control and am much happier not trying to be. I have learned that gratitude is my guide and my best friend. It helped me walk through those fires without being burned.
Every night during those hard times, I would lie in bed and list every single thing I could think of to be grateful for, otherwise, my mind would spiral into pain and sadness and fear. I let go of thinking that any of us has a picket fence, glossy-photograph life. There is no such thing. We just pretend to make ourselves feel better.
The writer Sue Monk Kidd wrote in Traveling with Pomegranates that women who have faced obstacles become a sheltering umbrella for others. I know exactly what she means. When one has walked through fire, one is much more able to unflinchingly hear with one’s whole heart the stories of the lives of others.
One is a better friend and listener because there is a foundation for knowing things—the things that can’t be taught, but which inevitably come to us during the course of our lives and change us forever. Those things age us in an instant in visible and invisible ways. Frankly, there are many worse things than what we went through, and I know that.
Now, I find that my relationships have an easy depth and connection. Often, I’ll see an old friend and ask, “How has your year been?” And some will say, unblinkingly, looking into my eyes, “Hard. Very hard.” And I understand just what they mean, with no further explanation. I don’t feel uncomfortable because of their pain, just empathy from that understanding. I say, “I am so sorry; I understand.”
And each time, a beautiful flower of conversation blossoms from that connection. Each time my heart grows, the love in me pours out and surrounds us, and I do whatever I can to be right there, full of love, and listening. That is all we can do, really: listen and love, and be honest and authentic about our lives.
So, I didn’t write much about all of this until I turned 40, but I did post the whole story on my blog. This story is the backbone of my blog, my life, my business, and the radiant joy and gratitude that fills my blessed life with my beautiful family. In many ways, turning 40 feels just right.
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Assistant Ed: Moira Madden/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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