I’ve caused two car accidents in my life thus far, both during the same chaotic year. I was working and going to graduate school and raising kids and both accidents involved my phone. One was a minor fender bender, but the second was rougher – I rear-ended a car driven by a teenage girl, only a few years older than my daughter. The front end of my car lifted the entire back end of her car into the air momentarily before her trunk slammed smartly on my hood. I remember the sour taste of fear in my mouth, and then the tears came.
When I poured out my latest tale of woe to my sister over the phone, she said, “I remember going through a time like this in my twenties. I guess it’s happening to you, now, only…in your thirties.”
Being over thirty-FIVE years old only made me feel more pathetic. I should be smarter than this, I thought. Don’t text and drive. Put my phone in the backseat or lock it in the trunk. What is wrong with me? Why is this so hard?
These memories came rushing back during a chat with a friend going through a difficult time. I think she’s one of the bravest people I know, a real badass, and yet the kudos died on my tongue as I listened to her story. What could I say in that moment that would be of any use to her? When my life felt chaotic, how much would I have liked to respond to someone saying, “Hey, it’s gets better!” by punching the speaker in the neck?
Facing a life challenge successfully has always felt like it should be an end point, a finish line with shady trees, a hammock, and a margarita. Coming out a decade ago was incredibly difficult, but I naively figured that following my heart was a one-time decision that would be rewarded with lifelong peace and happiness. I could simply sit back and revel in the universe’s abundance for speaking my truth, hands behind my head and the wind at my back.
Reality was…not that. By the time I had those two car accidents, I was nearly FIVE YEARS post-outing and my life was still a mess. I’d been fired; my family relationships were tenuous; I was struggling to find my way as a parent. I felt lost and lonely and exhausted, because everything felt out of control. I walked through life in a daze, trying to stay focused but constantly distracted, which is why my phone was in my hand that fateful day instead of on the backseat.
It’s been nearly ten years now since I came out, and my life has changed for the better. My recovery work, living life one day at a time, allows me to be responsible for me and only me. Keeping the focus on myself fosters happier, gentler, kinder relationships with the people I love. I’ve even started putting my phone away while I’m driving, although my children might say I don’t do it often enough. But none of that seems to matter when I’m yanked from my hammock and thrown back into the chaotic swamp, covered in messiness of life with no discernible path forward. In those moments, I could care less about the good things because OH MY GOD ALL THE BAD THINGS.
I have learned that BAD THINGS are not a punishment from a power greater than myself. I am not bad, but I am human, which means sometimes bad stuff happens and it hurts and it’s not fair and the other person is never going to say “sorry” and that’s not fair either. But the God I experience now is not an angry, judgmental, vindictive parent, which means acting like a little kid won’t get me very far. As someone very wise once told me, “we live in a loving universe.”
I have also learned that it will get better (don’t punch me). It always does. Pain changes, softens. Beliefs change, circumstances shift. There’s growth and change every single day. I will get on the other side if I hold on long enough and remember I am loved.
I know for sure that the only person I can control is myself. Every difficult moment in my life involves an effort to control another person in some way. My favorite prayer is:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the people I cannot change
The courage to change the one I can
And the wisdom to know that one is me.
And guess what? Keeping the focus on myself doesn’t mean that everyone else “gets away with” anything – they all have their own paths and I don’t have to police everyone on the entire planet (hallelujah). One of the greatest paradoxes of recovery is when I keep the focus on myself, my interactions with every single other person improve significantly. I don’t get it, but I like it, so I’m doing it at often as possible.
It’s hard for me to remember in tough times that I’m not alone, but I’m not. Acceptance feels impossible sometimes, but it’s the only way through the muck, and that’s where the true hero’s journey happens. Not standing atop the mountain or crossing the finish line to the cheers of others, but slogging through the crap, chin up, reaching forward to grasp a kind and loving hand while also reaching back to pull the next person along.