I’ve always been happy—at least and, especially, outwardly.
Childhood was sweet, full of love and happy memories. Adolescence was exciting.
I felt all grown up at the age of 20 when I said “I do” to my high school sweetheart; then proceeded to move around the country with my military husband. I lived in gorgeous, wild places that introduced me to scenery, atmosphere, people and a culture of honor that I couldn’t have experienced back in my Midwesthome.
I had experienced no great struggle—until I did.
My intention is not to draw pity. I recognize that I am blessed beyond measure and that no one gets through life without a dose or two of heartbreak. Although I do avoid hanging my identity on the battles, because doing so ceases blooming; I do believe struggles are sacred and pivotal happenings, if we will allow them to be. I’ve found sweetness there when I have.
I was attached to my life—especially my husband and the security that being one of two brought me. I quickly learned, though, that being married to the military meant extended periods of solitude. This separation from the place I was from deepened my yearning and need for my partner—my yearning for connection. He was my home now and I expected that he would provide everything I needed to feel okay. The geographical distance proved to have the opposite effect on him, however. Where I developed a stronger wanting for him, he built a wall. After witnessing his path so closely for those 10 years, and now reflecting on it from afar, I can understand his separation.
Both of us were sincere in our search for something, it just wasn’t the same thing.
A few years into our marriage, we found out we were expecting a son. I carried our boy to full term while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. My partner witnessed the birth of our son via webcam. But the joy and celebration that usually accompany such an occasion was absent.
There were complications with my labor, and our perfectly healthy child nearly lost his life. Nurses were able to resuscitate him, but he suffered major brain damage and could not sustain life without support.
One of my most vivid memories is staring at the hospital ceiling after his delivery. I could see my reflection in the lamp above me, as the doctor tended to me and the nurses tried to revive my baby. In the suspended moments that I waited for his first cry, I felt an empty sense of nothingness.
My dread, my fear, my most hopeless and humble prayer that all of this was just a bad dream—all of that was numbed by the haunting sense that this moment had always been waiting for me. I walked around with that emptiness for a long, long time. My husband was rushed home to hold our child as he passed into the night.
Marriage was really difficult after that. Where there was a distance, now there was a black hole. We grieved separately, lived separately and eventually loved separately for quite a while. We did have another child, but our union dissolved quickly thereafter. I fought as hard as I knew how to, to keep it all together, but after a number of his attempts to leave, I finally let him go.
I found myself living with my parents and my young daughter at the age of 27. My entire identity as I saw it was in everything I had lost. I had no idea how I was going to support myself financially; I was without purpose. I was absolutely broken in every way. The life I clung to was no more, and I had no idea what to do next. But I knew that my primary options were few. I could fight. I could surrender. Or I could try to do both.
It took me some time to deal with it. Most days, I was an unwilling participant in my own life. I was many ugly things that I felt were shameful to be: angry, jealous, insecure, needy, gluttonous, lustful, indulgent, pathetic, trivial, desperate. I was all of those things.
From those dark places, though, I gained much. I swore that I was in a deficit and always would be, but life is exponentially more vibrant these days. I feel confident in mothering my daughter because my knowing comes from a much deeper place.
My compassion for others, especially those in pain is overwhelming. Impermanence is savory to me. My actions are intentional and I am driven by fervent purpose. As I was riding my bike this morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the ways my perspective has changed.
My hope in sharing this personal shift, is that you’ll find something in my story that you might have needed to hear to help you move through yours.
My Growing List of Guidelines for Living Purposefully:
I give myself permission to be extraordinary. There are an inconceivable number of things I have never attempted, experienced or practiced, simply because I told myself, “That’s not for me.”
Now I try new things, with the modest zeal of a beginner and the belief that I am flipping awesome. I don’t say so arrogantly, but from the most appreciative, loving and nurturing part of myself. I dive wholeheartedly into the subjects that spark my attention, and I watch in awe as I learn and dream and manifest this life that I am so in love with.
I’m intelligent in with my spontaneity. I used to consider spontaneity a fun but frivolous virtue—one that could get me into trouble or delay my “progress.” Now, I am grateful when spontaneity arises in me. I love being playfully tapped on the shoulder by inspiration. I know myself well enough to discriminate between a mindful and loving detour and a simple a distraction.
If I am being called by creativity or playfulness, I let it carry me away for a time. I’m exploring the balance between the discipline I’ve always valued and the callings of my heart.
I appreciate the cycles present in all things. I know all too well that every single bit of this life will come and go and change—with no exceptions. I no longer hold onto everything that is close to me with the white-knuckled hope that it will always remain. I know that it will not.
I enjoy the good but I don’t find my salvation in it. I lean into the bad and let it season me. I know when to let it go. I love this churning, vivacious life, in all of its ecstasy and sorrow.
I linger in my shadows when necessary. It is possible to sidestep through life, avoiding damage and quickly repairing blemishes along the way. I did this with a smile on my face for a long time before I realized I hadn’t mended a thing—only covered it and left it in the furthest corner. These days, I appreciate the darkness once in a while, and when it comes to me I do not push it away, but invite it in for a conversation. Unrest is the key to clarity.
I am trying to allow people to love me. I am and always will be an introvert. Much of the time, I feel plain exhausted from interacting with others. It’s not that I dislike others, but that I care so much about making them feel comfortable in my presence that I sacrifice my authenticity. I am working on loving myself as I am, and saying yes more often (mindfully). I try to present myself as honestly as possible and then refer to this next practice…
I give increasingly fewer sh*ts. Don’t get me wrong, I care immensely. I care about the people on my path, I care about myself, I care about my journey. What I try not to worry about is what other people will think.
I used to worry that people would think I had lost my mind or that I was imitating a trend if I dove too deep into the things that set me on fire. As a result, I became an imitation of a practitioner, fearing that I didn’t know enough, wasn’t talented enough, whatever.
Recently, I am taking action on my callings without over-thinking. My only goal is immersing myself in what I love. As a result, I have been in awe of my personal progress and satisfaction with life as it is. I practice humility and gratitude for my growth and my gifts. I share myself as an offering to others, not as a means of personal glorification. Lots of good comes from this one.
I am no longer delaying my bliss. I have so many goals and dreams and desires that fuel my energy and vitality. Some days though, these goals cause me anxiety and insecurity and hopelessness. The best thing I know to do is to start at the beginning and repeat it all over again, until I slip back into my contentment.
If I have learned one thing, it’s that I am never done learning.
Sometimes, those things we fear the most come true. While it’s not the most comforting sentiment, it keeps me grounded. I know that even if everything I hold dear crumbles to the ground around me, everything is going to be okay. It just is.
With faith in ourselves, we can find the beauty in starting over again.
A quote I often return to, from the movie, Dom Hemingway, is:
“A man with no options suddenly has all the options in the world.”
It’s all perspective.
I was thinking of myself today as an old woman—imagining how I will look back at this time, when I was full of becoming, and fondly reflect upon the magic in it. This is it.
I love where I have been and I dream about where I will go, but for now, I am so okay to be right where I’m at.
Author: Sarah Brandt
Image: Tareck Raffoul
Editors: Khara-Jade Warren; Travis May