When the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change… you’ll change…
The first time I heard that I was a 22-year old single mother working in an office atmosphere that, at times, bordered on abusive.
I was getting ready to leave for the airport to pick up my boss, and I’d called Mom to let her know I’d be late picking up my son. But, as so often happened when I started talking about my job, I ended up whining and complaining about how unhappy I was.
Mom, who isn’t an overly-patient person to begin with, had reached her limit of listening to me whine without making any effort to change my situation. So in a very non-emotional… almost bored tone… she said,
I gripped the phone tighter and narrowed my eyes as I stared at the calendar hanging on the wall in front of me. I was shocked by her response, because it sounded like she was telling me to either stop complaining or… quit my job?
It was a terrible situation, but the thought of leaving was terrifying.
I was afraid if I left that job I’d go from bad to worse… worse being no job at all. And since my ex-husband didn’t pay child support, and I was solely responsible for providing for my baby… I had to have my job!
Drawing in short, shallow breaths, confused and incredulous at the bizarre turn of our conversation, I asked her to clarify. “Are you telling me to quit?”
Now, Mom was coming from an entirely different emotional state than me. She was viewing my situation from a place of love and possibility…
She wanted me to be happy, which I obviously wasn’t…
She saw my potential and knew I wasn’t living up to my abilities…
She wanted more for me, and she knew I could have it, so yeah… she was basically giving me permission to go find something better.
I, on the other hand, was coming from a place of fear… I was depressed, which is a low vibrational energy… I was scared, which caused me to have a “lack and scarcity” mentality…
I decided to borrow her faith in me, and on my way to the airport, I stopped and grabbed a newspaper!
I remember the nervous energy coursing through me as I sat in the airport parking lot perusing the want ads… I was excited by the possibility of doing something different… something better… I was also really afraid…
To keep myself moving forward, I repeated Mom’s comment out loud, over and over…
“The pain of staying the same is too much… I’m ready to change… I want something better… I want something more… I’m open to possibilities…”
One of the ads I circled was for a receptionist position at an advertising agency. I ended up getting the job… which led me to a career in advertising that I loved, but more than that… through that career, I met my second husband, Charles. 💗
Looking back on it, the risk was minimal. I didn’t quit that awful job until I had a new one lined up… and even though I didn’t know what the working environment at the new job would be like until I started… it would’ve been difficult to end up someplace worse.
I wouldn’t have taken a new job that paid less than my old one, which was barely over minimum wage, so that wasn’t much of a gamble either.
So with the benefit of hindsight, I look back and think… why?
But we all do that sometimes… don’t we? We know we need to make a change… we need to leave a toxic relationship, and yet we don’t. We’re no longer challenged by our job… or it’s sucking the life out of us, like mine was me… but rather than go find something that serves us better, we stay stuck.
It doesn’t have to be a big, life-changing thing… it could be something most people would consider small or insignificant… but it’s important to you… something that isn’t exactly the way you want.
(Last year, I did a 10-part video series called “Courage To Change.” It was primarily for women who love addicts… women who know they need to make changes in their life, but they keep letting fear hold them back. If you’re interested, you can watch the series on YouTube.)
The first time I let fear stop me from an epic adventure I was in the first grade.
You’re probably thinking, How epic could it have been at that age? But that experience, to this day, is one of my biggest regrets.
Fortunately, I was able to soften its sting by using the lesson to fuel my drive and determination to make a high school dream come true… I refused to live with another regret, even though I was terrified and thought for sure I was going to throw up on the gymnasium floor. 🙈
I grew up on a farm in rural southern Ohio. My family owned 1200 acres, so I was surrounded by a lot of trees, fields, and ponds… but very few houses, and even fewer kids for me to play with.
Most of the time I was either with adult family members or hanging out by myself… so I was incredibly shy and had very little experience interacting with “big kids” … meaning anyone over twelve.
My school was grades 1-8, the high school was 9-12. But because it was so rural and the buses had to cover such a large area, all the kids rode the same bus.
My mom worked in the high school office, and occasionally we would go to the basketball games on Saturday night.
I loved, loved, loved going to those games!
I loved the excitement of being in the crowd… remember, I was a farm girl who spent most of my time alone!
I loved the squeak of the players’ shoes on the floor… the trill of the referees’ whistle cutting through the cheers… and I was mesmerized by the cheerleaders doing what I considered to be tricks, as they flipped end over end and waved their sparkly pom-poms around.
I always cheered along with them from my spot on the bleachers. But one Saturday night, I did such a good job, I caught their attention. On the bus the following Monday, two of the cheerleaders came back and sat in the seat in front of me and said, “Hey, you were at the game on Saturday night, weren’t you?”
Wide-eyed and in awe that these beautiful “big kids” were talking to me, I nodded yes, but said nothing.
“We were wondering if you’d want to be our mascot.”
Mascot… I sat there with my heart pounding, eyes growing even wider, because they were asking me if I wanted to do something with them… but I had no idea what a mascot was or what, exactly, they wanted me to do.
My shy (also known as “backward”) self was confused… more than a little overwhelmed, and definitely out of my element… so I shook my head no, dropped my eyes to the floor, and shrunk down in my seat, trying to hide… because even though I didn’t understand what they were asking me…
I sensed I’d made a big mistake by saying no.
As soon as I got off the bus, I ran up the hill to our trailer, into the house, and told Mom what the “big girls” had asked me.
When Mom explained what a mascot was, she confirmed what I’d already sensed, and I started to cry.
She said, “I’m sure you can talk to them tomorrow, explain that you didn’t understand what they were asking, and tell them you’d very much like to be their mascot.”
But I was afraid… I was afraid to approach them… I was afraid they’d tell me no, since that’s what I’d said the day before.
And as silly as it is, I still wish I’d found the nerve to talk to them, because I know being the high school mascot would’ve been an epic experience.
So when I was a sophomore in high school and decided I wanted to try out for the majorette squad, I used that experience to fuel my determination and my drive… I constantly reminded myself I’d missed out on one “chance of a lifetime”… and I wasn’t going to miss a second.
Winter in southern Ohio isn’t exactly conducive for outside activities… at least not ones that require your fingers to work really well without wearing gloves. I lived in a trailer that was 12’ wide with 8’ ceilings, so the space available for learning to twirl a baton was limited.
The only room that was remotely big enough to practice in was the living room, which had a couch on one side and an upright piano with ivory keys on the other.
But I refused to make (or accept) any excuses… even when Mom yelled about the broken piano keys and the black streaks on the ceiling from my baton swiping across it… I refused to be deterred.
I was determined to teach myself everything I thought I needed to know for tryouts. I had no idea what I was doing… I just kept practicing, figuring out how to twirl between my fingers, and teaching myself other cool stuff I remembered seeing the majorettes do the year before.
When the spring rolled around, we had a week of group practice where someone taught us the routines, and then we tried out. On the first day of practice, standing in front of the school, one of the juniors, who was a friend of mine, whispered my name to get my attention.
When I looked over at her, she nodded to her hand so I could see the right way to hold the baton… I had my palm wrapped around it like a baseball bat… and she was showing me the right way, which was to cradle it between my thumb and forefinger.
I’m sure everyone thought my chances of making the squad were slim… okay, let’s be honest… everyone probably thought I had zero chance.
Surprisingly, I’d done a pretty good job of teaching myself what I needed to know, and I learned the routines without any problems. On the day of tryouts, I was a mess. I was so terrified I had to fight to keep from throwing up the entire day, and when it came time to actually walk into the gymnasium, stand in front of the judges, and do the routines… I was almost paralyzed.
I was so scared I could barely move, and it took everything in me to force my wobbly legs into the gym and stand there showing a modicum of confidence.
But once the music started, muscle memory took over and I went through the routines without any hesitation…
To this day, because I had to work so hard at it and refused to accept any excuses or limitations, I still feel that being a majorette was one of my biggest accomplishments.
I’m so thankful I used my previous “failure to face my fear” as the fuel to drive me to go for that dream… and I’m really grateful it all worked out so well, so I could have that as a life-long reminder to go for my dreams. 😄
But here’s the thing… even though I had that victory in high school, I’ve still let fear stop me from doing hundreds of things I’ve really wanted to do since then.
The week before my dad passed away, he was talking to my brother and his young son. Dad said to my nephew, “Be like your dad.”
The comment caught my brother off guard because, like all of us, he’s made some mistakes that he regrets and beats himself up for.
Dad went on to say, “I’ve always admired your dad because he’s not afraid to go after something he wants. He has an idea, and he goes for it. He doesn’t let fear stop him.”
As my brother stood outside, fighting back tears and sharing that story with me, I recognized that, through my brother, Dad was also sharing an important piece of wisdom with me.
I wasn’t in the room with them, and this was toward the end of Dad’s life, so I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with him more about it. But I can only assume from his words that he had regrets… there were things he wished he’d done but didn’t, because he let fear stop him.
If there’s something I really want to do – or feel like I’m supposed to do – I’m going to remember the feeling of being terrified as I walked into that gymnasium when I was fifteen… and then I’m going to remind myself of how amazingly well that worked out.
I’m going to think of my dad on his deathbed, telling my nephew not to be afraid of going after something he wants.
And I hope you’ll do the same. If there’s something you’ve really wanted to do but have been letting fear hold you back, commit right now to doing it!
And please share with me, either in the comments or through a direct message, what it is you want to do… What are you afraid of? How have you been letting fear hold you back… and commit to a date to do it, or at least develop a plan for getting it done.
If you need help breaking through that fear, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know how I can help you get started toward achieving your goal.
“Telling all,” for me, is about living more authentically and transparently than ever before. It’s about dropping the smoke and mirrors I’ve lived behind for most of my life, and not only being truer to myself and who I really am, but sharing my stories in hopes of helping, encouraging, and inspiring others.
I want others to know they’re not alone… that there is someone who can relate to what they’re going through… I want others to know that no matter how awful a situation seems right now, it’s possible to make it through. But in order to do that, I have to drop my masks and be real…
That’s how old I was when my parents discovered my great-uncle had been sexually abusing me for years.
My great aunt and uncle practically raised my dad, so we used to spend a lot of time at their house. We often went there for big, family cookouts… and that’s where I learned that a smile and a laugh can hide anything.
While writing this post, Mom and I had lots of conversations about that time in our lives. Both of us remember events transpiring pretty much the same way: Mom found out what was happening to me; Mom was furious with Dad because he didn’t confront his uncle about the abuse, it was just decided I would never be out of sight at their house; and Mom learned my uncle had also abused another, older family member… but everyone who knew kept it a secret.
I remember, in vivid detail, the first time we went to their house for the next big, family picnic after all this came to light…
Addie and Tom had a long gravel driveway that ran from the road back to their detached garage. Their house sat off to the left, and on the right was a large yard with big, beautiful shade trees and picnic tables where everyone sat and ate.
I remember standing in the yard, watching everyone carry on as if everything was normal…. But I knew it was all just an act. On the surface, my aunts and uncles, grandmother, and cousins looked happy… but the underlying tension, and the anger rolling off my mom, was palpable.
I remember listening to the cicadas and feeling like they mirrored how I felt on the inside. Their incessant humming created a never-ending thrum of tension… loud….louder… louder still… then a pause that allowed me to catch my breath before the tension started building again.
I was very intuitive, so I picked up on the taut exchange of energy between everyone more than understanding cognitively what was happening. I understood what Uncle Tommy had done was wrong… and I got that everyone was tense and/or angry about it… but I wasn’t clear on my part in all the drama.
As a little girl trying to pick my way through what I intuitively understood was a very big thing, I looked to the adults for clues about how to act and how to respond. And what I learned was…
This behavior was reinforced when, in 6th grade, my classmates voted me as having “The Best Smile.” By that time, my parents were divorced, my dad was mostly absent, and on a personal level, life was hard… at least by 6th grade standards.
But I also lived in a rural Appalachian town, the steel mill had recently closed, and life was really hard for pretty much everyone. I’d learned that, like my classmates, most people appreciated my smile and I often heard, “Your smile lights up a room.” Or, “Your smile always makes me happy.”
Even at that age, I was on a mission to be “The World’s Best People-Pleaser,” and I wanted to make people happy… so regardless of what was happening with me personally, I always wore a smile.
I got so good at it that no one, not even my mom, knew the pain and shame I felt after a high school boyfriend raped me. In fact, I didn’t share that with anyone, other than my husband, until 2 years ago.
As happens with all of us, time passed and life kept dealing its blows: our house burned down, my older brother passed away, and I found myself to be a single mom at 21.
I met Charles (the best thing that’s ever happened to me) when I was 26. Life got really good, and for a while the smiles were genuine. We got married when I was 28, and I had my second son just before I turned 30.
He was born with severe ADHD and bipolar tendencies so life, once again, got hard and complicated. Charles worked 60 hours a week, so I was basically a single mom again, and I didn’t know how to best help my young son deal with the challenges he faced.
Depression settled in and for the first time in my life, I not only stopped hiding behind the smile, I pretty much stopped smiling altogether.
And then one day my oldest son, Dusty, and I were riding in the car, listening to Shawn Mullins’s song, “Lullaby.” There’s a line that says,
“And all her friends tell her she’s so pretty, but she’d be a whole lot prettier if she smiled once in a while.”
Dusty looked at me with the saddest expression and said, “Mom, that’s you. You’re so much prettier when you smile.”
His comment (and deep sadness) hit me hard, and I instantly flashed back to 6th grade… where had the girl who made people happy just by smiling gone?!
I went farther back… to six… and realized I’d forgotten a basic tenet for handling life!!
I didn’t want my son, or anyone else, to be negatively impacted by my sadness…
So from that day on, I stayed consciously aware of how I appeared to the world… I made sure the smiling mask was always in place. And if I couldn’t fake a smile, I stayed out of sight.
Years later, when my husband was battling a brain tumor and both my sons were struggling with addiction, I developed an elaborate array of smoke and mirrors to create the illusion that everything was okay…. Or at least not as bad as it really was.
When Charles got a good report from Duke, I gladly shared that… but when the MRI showed his tumor was growing again… well, I shared that too, but I always spun it in a less-scary, more-positive way.
After my oldest son moved to California in 2014 for rehab, I used his degree in Audio Production and Sound Design as the basis for his move and told everyone he’d gone to LA to be near a producer friend from school… not a lie, but not the entire truth either.
In 2013, when my youngest son was involved in a tragic accident, the lawyer instructed us to never discuss the accident, at least not until all legal issues were resolved. So for over two years, we lived in a silent hell, being publicly persecuted – mostly for our silence and for not openly showing any emotion about that horrific day…
In public, the smiles were in place, and I told everyone our youngest son moved to California to be near his brother, where there were more opportunities to live a better life. Again, not a lie, but certainly not the whole story.
In 2016, after my husband lost his battle and I was on my own, facing the challenges that come from loving two sons who were heavy drug users, the smoke, mirrors, and masks got even more elaborate.
I moved to California to be close to my friend, Reverend Millie… but I also felt like I needed to be closer to my sons so I could more easily manage the never-ending crises that kept popping up.
No one knew I was living in hell, because on social media I played up the good parts… living in beautiful San Diego, walking along the waterfront or beach, attending events and activities I couldn’t have experienced in Eastern NC.
But behind all that, I was drowning in despair and depression.
Keeping up the ruse became more and more difficult, so I withdrew from everyone. But isolating isn’t healthy and life finally caught up to me in September 2019 when I suffered a breakdown.
The following week, when I was finally able to pull myself together, I called a friend for help. Sitting in her study, I said…
She gave me a warm, knowing smile and said,
“You also get to decide what you’re going to pick up and carry with you… and what you’re going to leave behind.”
As I look back over my past… especially the past six or seven years when my sons’ addictions took me to places I never thought I’d go, doing things I never thought I’d do… I experience a wide range of emotions.
Sometimes I’m disgusted for not being stronger or smarter or setting better boundaries. Sometimes I laugh and shake my head at the absurdity of it all.
I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in introspection this past year, making peace with my past, forgiving those who hurt me… while also forgiving myself for my mistakes.
The smiles I share now are real… the joy and laughter genuine.
The ones who truly care about you and are meant to be in your life will stick around… And if people drop off along the way because they can’t handle the truth of who you really are… they weren’t meant to be in your life anyway.
There isn’t another soul in the entire world like you… YOU have a purpose… so please join me in taking off the masks… clear away the smoke, lay down the mirrors, and be the amazing YOU that you truly are.
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