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Our Disappearing Selves

Sometimes you’re strolling along in the life-equivalent of a flowering spring meadow, bending low to sniff a tiny yellow buttercup, when a Big Life Moment comes up behind you, pulls your underwear over your head and kicks you into the dirt.

You know what I’m talking about:

  • a divorce/breakup
  • an eviction
  • being fired
  • the death of a loved one

A few years ago, I was the happiest I’d ever been. I had been dating a man I loved for nearly 8 years, I recently had surgery that relieved me of near constant pain, and I was looking forward to both lasik eye surgery and graduating with a degree that would help me move into a better job.

Life, in short, was a flowering meadow.

Then the entire vision I had of my future changed in the course of a weekend.

The Big Life Moment not only knocked me over, it stomped on me and ground my face into the dirt.

I went from being an almost-housewife (we weren’t married 🚩) to being single and  “old” (at least for the dating scene). I went from living in a three bedroom house to living in a one bedroom apartment with barely enough space for my bicycle and Legos.

I remember looking around one day and thinking, “What the hell just happened?”

But time kept moving forward. I just kept waking up, making myself breakfast, and staring at the blank screen that had become my life.

Before long, things started to make sense again. I loved being single — no longer was my life and time entangled with another human being’s. I could travel when I wanted, cook when I wanted, eat what I wanted. My days and weekends and evening were my own!

Recently, something else become clear.

In Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way — the seminal book on creativity and mastering your creative self — she asks us to list 5 things we used to do but do no longer.

I dug into my memory for all the things I used to love to do…

And panicked a little as I realized I couldn’t remember a damned thing.

What did I used to do?! How did I spend my days?!

Who was I back then?!

I had wanted to be a mother and a housewife…but when I tried to remember the actual things I enjoyed back then…it seemed impossible. Then slowly, like digging a splinter from your palm, I started to excavate a little of the past:

  • I cleaned the house
  • I meal-prepped
  • I  went for runs that left my bowels a mess & my legs stiff & achey
  • I made dinner
  • I tiptoed around my ex’s ego

And I was happy.

But was that happiness? Or was that the idea of happiness?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized, yes, I was genuinely happy.

Then I wondered, if i could unfreeze my heart and fall in love again, would I be happy cooking dinner for two? Would I want to bake cookies and cakes again?

No, probably not. Not any longer. I’m not the same person I was back then.

As our lives push ever onward, we change. Sometimes these changes are huge and daunting and brought on by a kick in the dirt, and sometimes they’re small and delightful — like realizing you really, really like

In fiction, we want the protagonist to change. We crave that change, read for it, anticipate it, and feel satisfied when it happens.

But I think for ourselves, more often than not , when we’re faced with a Big Life Moment, we enter into a period of mourning. I don’t mean a literal period of mourning. I mean a period where we mourn our old lives…and who we were in that life.

I know I sometimes miss the person I was before 2019. But just like the blank screen I face every morning when I sit down to write, the blank screen of my life is now a story full of possibilities. I’m free to change and grow and become anyone I want.

And maybe, through time, the rip in my heart will slowly heal as well.

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