I’ve had many identities in my life: daughter, sister, student, wife, divorcé, grandmother, woman in recovery and life partner. All of these identities represent a lifetime of transitions, evolution and change. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said, “the only constant in life is change,” and by accepting this, I’ve been able to see my life’s purpose grow and gain more clarity. I thoroughly understand how difficult it can be to change. I understand the fear of change and the internal dissonance that occurs when fear and the desire to change meet head-on. More importantly, I’ve experienced life and the process of deep change.
I was raised in a family which required perfection and “looking good” was more important than almost anything. My mother was severely depressed but undiagnosed. Her depression revealed itself frequently as rages that were inexplicable and frightening. As I grew older, I promised myself that I would never be like my mother but, without my consent, the rigid mindsets of perfectionism and “always looking good” had become ingrained in me as a way of being.
As my own family grew older and changed, I discovered that they weren’t perfect and no matter how hard I tried, they would always be imperfect. I believed that all of their flaws and imperfections were my responsibility, somehow. I was powerless to change them and felt like a failure. I began declining into a profound despair. I was disappointed and angry all the time. What I believed to be my life’s purpose was disintegrating before my eyes. I fell into a clinical depression and prematurely grieved what I considered to be a life wasted. Wasted, because I was enduring my life and wasted because of my alcohol consumption, preferring to live in denial and numbing my pain daily. I had become my mother.
I believe my strong but quiet desire for that unknown purpose and that feeling of a void within me pulled me from the brink plus a husband who pled with me to get treatment. So, on July 16, 2007, I went into treatment for alcoholism and depression. While there, I attended a workshop titled, The History and Meaning of the Labyrinth. This was a half-day workshop organized by the Spiritual Advisor at the treatment center. I assumed, as many people do, that labyrinths and mazes are synonymous and before the workshop began, knowing that the topic was labyrinths, I was engaging in morbid reflection, equating my entire life to the metaphor of being stuck and lost in a maze. The Workshop Facilitator began by explaining the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. She said that mazes have many entrances, exits, paths and dead ends. Labyrinths, although resembling mazes, have only one path and in spite of the winding nature of the labyrinth, you cannot get lost if you follow the path. When I heard this my interest was piqued.
When the lecture was finished, we were invited to walk a large labyrinth painted on canvas in an adjacent room. I cleared my mind and set an intention of just being open-minded. As I began my walk, I found myself reflecting on my life. When I reached the center, I was calm and able to receive an intuitive message that my life had not been wasted and that I was not at a dead end. The paths I had taken were the ones I needed to travel in order to be at the center of that very labyrinth, that very day. I felt the freedom of a release of psychic burdens that I had been carrying for a very long time. I meditated, mindfully, in the center of the labyrinth and when I felt ready to leave, I experienced a mounting sense of energy, self-forgiveness and joy. In the space of three hours, my whole perspective had changed from one of despair to hope. I had experienced something transformative. My body, heart and soul relaxed which allowed me to be open and willing to engage in the additional therapeutic work that I needed to do. No one told me that I was entering the realm of interpersonal neurobiology or that, someday, my brain would be re-wired, but this is the door that was opened for me after walking the labyrinth. By walking through this door, I was able to slowly change unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviors that did not serve me well.
As I recovered and my courage and willingness grew, I started to find immense fulfillment by sharing my experience, my strengths, my fears, my hopes, my failures and successes. I was learning how to let go of my rigidity and need for perfection and I was beginning to realize a new purpose in my life. I took a long, hard look at my own co-dependent behaviors and began to learn how to stop controlling others and start caring for myself. The visceral void that I felt – that “lack” – was literally being filled by what I’ve come to believe were many small spiritual experiences through my new-found connections and my willingness to be vulnerable and authentic.
These last five years have been filled with considerable change for me. A job that I loved ended, so while moving through the grief process, I decided to open myself up to new possibilities. I went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology, studied to become a Certified Life Coach, received a certification as a Labyrinth Facilitator as well as a certification as a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher.
Today, I share all that I have learned with women in early recovery by leading psychotherapy groups for a well-respected addiction treatment center and by seeing private coaching clients. My work focuses on the themes of transition, change, courage, acceptance, codependency, shame, self-worth, recovery and more. A new and broader purpose has emerged. That aching void was my authentic self, waiting to be revealed as well as the realization that I am, as said by the French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a spiritual being having a human experience. I want to share this with other women struggling with change because I believe that by nurturing women, we nurture the world.