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October 10, 2021

How I finally stopped wishing for a Life Do-Over.


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I’ve tried rituals.

I’ve written down things I should release—like my need for control and some childhood trauma—and burned the little scraps of paper, standing knee-deep in snow, surrounded by mountains and trees on the side of a pretty, deserted highway outside Banff. I’ve burned candles and I’ve meditated and I’ve memorized mantras.

And I’ve scrawled meaningful quotes on paper and on walls, and even framed some, printed on pretty floral paper and hung at eye level. Each time I read something profound, I think yes! That is what’s going to change things for me.

I’ve gained weight, and then starved it away, and then ate it all back—my skin becoming less forgiving with each drastic change. I’ve found love and lost it, over and over, each time learning some new, hard lesson. There’s been birth and death, regrets and accomplishments. Things I wish I had said, and many things I wish I hadn’t. There’s been a lot of hiding who I am, mostly from myself, punctuated by moments of confidence, like now, when I spill out words and thoughts that normally never get the chance to take shape.

After devouring pages of self-help filled with glossy pledges of healing and health, I’ve made weighty promises to myself. I’ve felt resolved. I’ve demanded inner change, yearning silently: This time, will it finally take?

I’ve been searching for that feeling, that moment, when I’m certain that I’m fixed, I’m enough, I’m healed, I’m whole.

I’m worthy.

I’ve ached for moments when I can write something and share it and feel like I know what the hell I’m talking about. When I can go anywhere in public and not be consumed with trepidation and shame. When I can speak and not rehash my words a million times over, wishing I had said it all differently.

And while I’m busy attempting to “fix” myself, to get through this transition, to reach the finish line and finally be—I’m not really sure what…perfect?—everything else good in my life is pushed to the side and forgotten. Like the way the trees pattern my fence with droplets of shade, and the fact that I can notice this while working—doing something I love in the comfort of my little backyard haven. How the sound of my son’s snort of laughter floats up from the basement, creating bubbles of joy in my chest. And the realization of how far I’ve come since my family fell apart in divorce—the proof of my strength is evident not just around me but within me.

I’ve been trying to change myself using anything I can grasp onto, completely disregarding the me I am now. It’s a total absence of self-love until I’ve deemed myself worthy enough to receive it. In the process, I’ve been shoving away all of my precious, present moments, the “now” where so much beautiful life is contained—for what?

A skinnier body, a sharper mind, a more likable personality?

Begin again, I whisper to myself each time I fail. As if I can erase and redo those pieces, like words on a screen.

I’ve been telling myself that this feeling of “broken” is wrong and have spent half of my 41 years chasing what I now understand to be the impossible.

Because there’s no white satin ribbon strung across the road that we can cut through when we’ve made it. Life’s rough and it’s beautiful, wounding us one moment and exhilarating us the next. Things are going to heal, and then more things are going to break. Some things will grow us and others will decay us—and there’s no guarantee how much of each we’re going to get.

And we can’t discount those unsettled, disheveled pieces of our lives as if they are worthless. These bits are our lives, they make up who we become. Living is transition, each thing blurring into the next.

I think of an old friend who had experienced mental illness, financial ruin, and relationship breakdown all at once. She was steps away from being homeless just months after having it all. She called me on the phone in tears one morning, each word interrupted with a sob. I could barely understand what she was saying, but after she’d calmed down, I invited her to stay for a few days.

I picked her up, brought her back to my place, and then I made us thick chocolate chip pancakes and cups of strong, creamy coffee. Over the meal, we talked about how everything had changed so quickly for her. Her new medications seemed to have changed her a little, too, and she wasn’t quite the same friend I knew before—she was jittery, anxious, and her voice had gotten louder and harsher. She smoked a lot more and weighed a lot less. A mix of disquiet and defeat emanated from her in waves. She’d barely touched her pancakes but lapped me three times on the coffee.

I really just wanted to help. To comfort her in some way, to offer some relief. I could see she was in pain and I wanted to help her get back on her feet, to take the shadows of loss out of her eyes, to soothe her shaky, wringing hands.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself—why have I never felt worthy of the same love and care during my own messy bits? Why do I, instead, keep searching for a life do-over?

The Spanish word estar means “being something only temporarily” and that is exactly what our lives are. The years within a lifetime, the moments within our years—we are constantly shifting.

And those darker transitions, like the ones I seem to be stuck in, or the drastic one my friend went through, are where we need to hunker down and get grateful that we’re even here to begin with. So I love myself even while I’m working on healing those broken parts of myself and my life. Even while I nurse a fresh heartbreak or cool the anger of an old one that still surfaces from time to time; even while I struggle with mental health or financial stresses.

I’ll still try new rituals, learn new mantras, and squirrel away that next life-changing quote any time I read it. I’m still going to work on the parts that call out for repair and rehabilitation.

But the difference is this: I finally just get that life is a series of transitional stages. Whether I am dragged from one to the next by my own hand or by circumstance, they continue—there is no fresh start, no perfect future, no etch-a-sketch magnet to wipe it all away.

During a meeting years ago, my boss said to me, “You have the right intuition and instinct, and you come close to saying what needs to be said, but then you stop. You need to recognize you have the right to your voice. But that is your journey.”

At that time, he recognized I was still in the midst of my professional evolution. He shed light on an area that I had yet to grow (that I am still, today, growing) and still honored where I was right then, in that moment

Let’s all do ourselves a favor and start recognizing and honoring these hard, messy, transitional moments, all of the gorgeous life contained within them, and ourselves as we move through them.

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