45: Learning to Fly

45: Learning to Fly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Learning to Fly

The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.

~Steve Maraboli

It has been said that you are never more vulnerable than when you become a mother. It’s easy to interpret those words to refer to the way we, as mothers, feel about our children. It’s easy to identify the panic we feel when bad things happen to our kids. It’s easy to acknowledge that we would do anything, really anything, to keep our kids safe. What’s not so easy is to recognize the other ways in which we become vulnerable as mothers.

I had my first two children at ages thirty and thirty-one. A divorce and nine years later, I had three more children in less than thirteen months time. Not only did I become even more vulnerable through my incredible emotional attachment to my children, but I became vulnerable to the loss of myself.

When the twins were babies, the physical toll was tremendous. Trying to combat postpartum depression and a wicked case of sleep deprivation, I fought to keep myself upright and my family moving forward. I struggled to keep my wits about me at the job, and to stay focused on what mattered. Family, friends, and other mothers of multiples supported me and shared resources, but every day was a battle.

Even as the children grew and matured, I realized that the feeling of vulnerability and fragility still remained. I recognized that our marriage was suffering, and that I no longer felt the joy that I had earlier on. I came up with solutions for making life easier, for attending to the obligations and the opportunities, but below the surface, my fears were mounting, threatening the very core of who I was. While on the surface I appeared to be fearful of nothing — supermom to my kids, superhero to my patients, family and friends — the charade was killing me.

During the summer, while my husband and children were away, I tended to my long to-do list, once again failing to refuel myself, and instead putting the needs of others before my own. I had all but eliminated days off and nights out and I refused the dinner invitation that came that week from a friend. Following nearly an hour of badgering, I relented and agreed to meet her downtown. She was accompanied by her boyfriend and one of his colleagues, in from out of town. Despite my protestations that I couldn’t possibly take the time away from my projects, I found myself relaxing as dinner progressed. I enjoyed the smiles we shared, the laughter, and the unbearable lightness of being that emanated from the experience. I noticed a feeling I hadn’t had in such a long time: I felt grounded, yet alive. My friend snapped a few photos to memorialize the unthinkable: me, out at a restaurant, on a weeknight. After a few hours, I wished them well for their return flight and headed back home.

The following evening, my family returned and I listened intently to tales of their week away. In turn, I shocked the lot with the news that I’d actually gone OUT to dinner with friends. Later that evening, I shared the photos with my husband and tried to articulate the feeling that I’d noticed while at dinner. I failed miserably in my attempt to communicate and eventually ended the conversation with the feeling that something was somehow changing below the surface.

For the next few days, we talked, but each time, I felt as if I was floating further and further away from him. I pulled out the photos from time to time and kept noticing a look in my eyes that hadn’t been there in very long time. I realized that there was a light behind them, a twinkle that had been buried deep below the fears I had been accumulating. During the course of the marriage, I’d overcome my lifelong fear of heights as well as a terrifying claustrophobia. I’d even relinquished my fear of death, but what I’d desperately held on to were my fears associated with losing control.

Only weeks later that thirteen-year marriage ended. Life fell into millions of tiny fragments around me, and when my children left for a two-week vacation, I came undone. I did what I’d NEVER done for myself: I took two weeks off from work and sat with my feelings. With the support of some dear friends, I let the waves wash over me, at times feeling as if I would disappear beneath the surface. Memories of traumas and tragedies rose to the surface, demanding that I deal with them, and in my weakened, fragile state, I allowed myself to be vulnerable.

I didn’t die under the weight of it all as I expected. Quite the contrary: I rose to the occasion, unlike the woman I had been in the decade before. Gone was the superficial superwoman, and to the forefront came a force to be reckoned with. Armed with embers aglow in my core, I drove my daughter to college and then continued north alone to my favorite retreat spot. There, I wrestled with the grief that had remained capped about the loss in utero of three babies, whom I had named Emily, Melanie and Hope.

While I had allowed myself time to grieve Hope’s loss during my twin pregnancy at forty, caring for the remaining twin consumed me. But never before had I allowed myself to grieve the loss of Melanie and Emily. At age twenty-five, after two years of fertility procedures and protocols, the news that Melanie was on her way was sublime. But, unbeknownst to me, my husband had already chosen to leave the marriage. In the wake of his departure, I lost my long-awaited pregnancy and Melanie was gone before she’d had a chance to arrive.

As I grieved for Melanie in my room by the sea, I realized that I had never really grieved the loss of the marriage because it had been so unhealthy. I let go of the judgment I’d weighed on myself and let the tears come — for her, and for it. As I found resolution with that loss, I realized that I had to reach farther back and to finally allow myself the courage to grieve for Emily.

As strong as I had learned to be, and with all that I had survived, I had never felt capable of acknowledging the depth of that loss. Seventeen, battered, and pregnant, I had given up. I overdosed with a bottle of Valium, and while lucky to have survived, lost Emily in the process. Because of how she came to me, I’d never let myself be present with how deeply attached I was to her. Secretly, I’d believed that I didn’t have a right to mourn her loss, but as I finally allowed the waves of desperate sadness to move through me, I found peace. Each day I realized I was growing stronger, while each night the sadness steamrolled my heart. By the time I returned home, I could feel the spirit of my girls with me, uninhibited by my fear of the grief surrounding their deaths.

During the months that followed, I learned to open my heart more with every passing day, and even found myself learning to share with the mate I’d had for those thirteen years. There were good days and bad, but our love for one another and our children enabled us to morph into friends and co-parents. The memories didn’t stop coming after our divorce, and more than a time or two he listened as I grieved for the traumas I had endured and never shared with anyone. Each experience of disclosure and each layer flayed from my fear base left me more and more willing to venture forth.

Just two weeks after our divorce, we attended an Accelerated Free Fall (AFF1) class and with the support of an instructor went skydiving for the first time. A week later, we dove into the waters of the Pacific and completed a mile ocean swim. We repeated the experience just days later, in even rougher waters. I attended an entertainment industry event and embraced my role as a future producer of one of the actresses being honored. I committed to writing and publishing a series of books and I finally relinquished the desire to remain stuck and small. I recognized that it was time to fly.

Six months later, I am no longer bound by the fears that threatened my very core. I am willing to be all that I am meant to be, and to give to myself all that I deserve. I have accepted invitations to do activities that I never believed I could engage in, and have committed to performing functions that I’d always believed were meant for others to do. I am embodying the sage that I am and the wisdom that comes through me and I am finally ready to thrive.

~Sage de Beixedon Breslin, PhD

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