Life takes a great many unexpected twists and turns. While some are welcome, others are not so desirable. The obvious negatives are the tragedies that are thrown our way in the senseless or unavoidable circumstances of losing someone or something, through death or divorce or distance. We lose jobs in times of tough economy. We lose houses and vehicles when we default on loans. But have you ever lost control of your entire life, only to regain your direction with a whole new perspective? Have you ever truly lost your concept of self, that you might be found again?
Five years ago, my husband's job moved us out of a very comfortable existence in Southern California. To be honest, living in California, we were never financially comfortable. Much to the contrary, as we were stretched to our breaking point on the mortgage in the upscale neighborhood we called home in San Diego. We lived paycheck to paycheck and well beyond our means so we could be part of The American Dream. We were the proud owners of a cookie cutter house with a postage stamp-sized backyard in suburbia where our kids were enrolled in the most prestigious elementary school in the district. We were poor, but happy.
We were so fiscally uncomfortable, in fact, we never dined out. We couldn't shop for desirable clothing or purchase new cars, let alone the Escalade like the Joneses on our street. My husband gave up golfing, surfing, triathlon, and other hobbies that required an investment for the paraphernalia involved. I learned how to cut corners in the budget to the tune of even teaching myself how to cut the kids' hair. We lived as lean as we possibly could, hardly in squalor in a community where the median price of houses was $800,000, but we learned how to live with less material goods. It was not comfortable, but we figured at least we had our foot in the door - we had purchased our tiny piece of coastal paradise and we were meant to live there forever and raise our kids happily ever after.
Or were we?
Somewhere along the way, there was a terrible communication breakdown between my husband and me. Somehow we completely mismanaged our words and connection. Someone changed the rules, or so it seemed. Our dreams and goals, once so beautifully choreographed and in perfect step had at once become a tangled mess of frayed hope and dead ends. We had failed to communicate with each other our authentic ideas of what a future together might bring. When he came to me in December of 2006 and told me that his biotech company was pulling up stakes in San Diego to pursue more widely available grants in Florida, I admit, I was in denial.
Certainly he did not expect that our family would follow? Absolutely, my husband of nine years and father of my two children knew me well enough to know that I could never possibly leave my beloved home state? No one in her right mind would willingly leave The Golden State for just any job opportunity, after all. There had to be probable cause, and simply staying with his company was not reason enough for us, for me, to leave everything I knew and loved. Surely my hubby would simply find a new job and our lives would remain uninterrupted, on par with the existing American Dream we had already established.
It wasn't that simple. In his specialized niche of biotech, there are rarely positions to be found, particularly in a bankrupt state like California. I still refused to believe there were no other options, however, to allow us to maintain our position in the universe. Perhaps we would have to sell the house, but leave the land that I loved? This was not an option, not even a thought in my mind, and most definitely against the popular vote. His company made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He promised me we would return home to California in two years. I just had to give him two years in The Sunshine State and we would call it an adventure, one that we would one day look back upon fondly and smile.
It's been five years, and we are still planted across the country from where I believed I was destined to raise a family. Living so far from my California roots has only recently become tolerable. Truly, life here feels more like a deliberate act of endurance now, as opposed to the anxiety-producing, wretched nightmare it began as originally. Upon first moving to Florida, everything felt surreal and foggy. I walked around in a constant state of confusion and sadness, not understanding where my former self had gone. Once effervescent and radiant with joy, I was reduced to a shell of the woman I had been, grief heavy in my heart. Nothing was familiar and my new environment felt dreadfully uncomfortable to navigate.
The tiresome screeching of summer cicadas in the trees only leant to the irritation I felt in my uncustomary surroundings. I despised the cotton-thick, sticky air and the insects that accompanied that humidity. I resented the simple people and small town gossip, desperately missing my previous life of a thriving metropolis in which it was so easy to disappear and remain anonymous indefinitely. Certainly I was above these circumstances... why did no one get that? How could I possibly be expected to live in a one-Starbucks town? How was I to run on a cinder track for my speed workouts when all I had ever known was tartan? How could I be reduced to shopping at B-rated grocery stores when I was so accustomed to the organics of Whole Foods around the corner? How could I justify putting my children in schools that paled in comparison to the district we knew and loved? All of this was such mediocrity.
I simply could not reconcile the huge discrepancy between hope and reality, so I just shut down as though I were a caterpillar in a latent stage of life, dangling in a precarious chrysalis, unsure of what I would become on the other side (if I even made it out alive). I avoided opportunities to meet new people and shunned social gatherings. I didn't linger when dropping my daughter off at school, afraid of having to put on the brave face around other mothers about what a wonderful life it was (not) for me. I completely retreated. I was no longer me. I had lost my inner light, the one that had always guided me. I felt like it had been snuffed out, and along with it, so too, my soul.
Now, here is the really interesting part about being wrapped up in a self-imposed state of pity: one can either choose to come out of that cocoon something bright and beautiful, or she can choose to whither and die. Without proper care and nutrients, it's easy to waste away. It took some time, and it was a rocky transition, but I decided I wanted to live. I had to evolve. I was going to need the proper soul food, however. My nourishment has always come in the form of one, two, or three square workouts a day. You see, I am always in training for some major athletic event. I am a runner, a marathoner to be exact, but having dabbled in triathlon along the way, I decided to become an Ironman. I am currently training for the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run this fall, and I have never felt so alive. The very idea of tackling this daunting task gets me out of bed in the morning.
Why does exercise feed my soul? Well, I don't need to drone on and on about the endless ways in which elevating the heart rate elevates endorphins and thus one's mood, but I will say those physiological benefits have never worked against me. I am an endorphin junkie, and cardiovascular exercise is my drug. Beyond the obvious perks, training has afforded me immediate luxuries I used to take for granted: friends. Waking up at 3:30 every morning to squeeze in a workout before the normal work day creates a certain camaraderie among those of us who are ridiculous enough to chase the road at that hour. We rely on each other. Perhaps we look to each other for reassurance that we really are not all that unusual or crazy, after all. We are dedicated to the cause and each other.
It occurred to me that if I can be this committed to working out, certainly I could apply these same principles to my life at large. For as dedicated as I am to exercise, I realized I had to make an active choice to live. I have long heard the old adage that we must first learn to walk before we can run. I might suggest life isn't as clean as this sort of perfect evolution. I can tell you I went from running like an Olympian in my safe and contented life in San Diego to a pace-halting face plant once landing cross-country in a town that felt anything but secure and promising. I had been wallowing in self-pity, relegated to a GI Joe crawl for those first four years in my new life. I dragged myself along by my elbows, merely trying to keep my chin up for the sake of my kids everyday. My body felt like dead weight. It was completely counterproductive. I was working against myself, standing in the way of my own potential. In hindsight, of course I can see there is little point in pulling oneself along while still digging her toes in the sand in an act of defiance, knees shredded in resistance. We must actively decide to get onboard with the new program, whether we like the rules or not.
Adaptation is huge. I have learned to run before the sun comes up to avoid some of the unforgiving Florida heat. I have become accustomed to (most of) the larger-than-life bugs here. I am learning to appreciate the many benefits associated with living in a small town (what traffic?). It's really not as simple as crawling, walking, and ultimately running. Life is about rebirth; it's about learning how to reinvent ourselves, sometimes more than once. Our very survival is dependent on our ability to adapt to our ever-changing circumstances and environment.
Sometimes it takes the wind being knocked out of us to remember just how precious (and imperative!) it is to breathe. It is then we discover that same wind has the power to propel us forward and allow us to soar. I don't want to just run anymore. I want to fly.
Have you been standing in the way of your own potential? Are you ready to reinvent yourself, regardless of fears and disappointments you might have to navigate? Here's to finding your wings.
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