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Life in the Toxic Fish Bowl

What Happens When You Know You Need to Leave But Don't

While I was swimming around in the ocean of my career as a counselor, author, and teacher I saw what looked like a cool bunch of fish.

It seemed like they were where the action was. I wasn’t looking to get in that cluster but somehow it happened.

At first it was exciting. I was privy to all the news and gossip.

I felt official.

But soon I recognized I was no longer in the ocean; I was in a small goldfish bowl inside the ocean.

I saw too much. 

Even though the fish in the bowl were Christian, their characters didn’t line up. What people saw from the outside of the bowl wasn’t what was happening inside.

Sweet looking fish inside the bowl bit hard like sharks. Bettas took swipes at me when I least expected it. As if that wasn’t painful enough, I got caught in a swirling vortex around one particular Big Fish. Like when you’re in those lazy rivers at theme parks   and you try to pull out but the current is too strong. I felt pressure to be all she wanted me to be. 

But I was never enough.

I could have jumped out of the bowl but I saw what happened to those who had done it before. It was ugly. 

So I decided to stay.

I missed my old life, I missed having friends who were “normal” (not perfect, but kind).

Wise people told me to get out before I got dumped into a blender and poured out as fish frappé.

But I couldn’t. 

Four years went by.

And then one comment from me caused Big Fish to pull out the numb-chucks. She thrashed all over and nearly broke the bowl. It was scary and painful. 

This time I had no choice. I jumped out.

I thought I would feel sad, but instead I felt free.

Weightless. 

Euphoric.

Almost instantly, my creativity and joy came rushing back. God filled my life with friends who made me belly laugh. People who were tender, kind, and full of integrity came alongside me.

Once in a while I feel sad and mad that I wasted four years of my life inside a toxic fish bowl. I look back and see my personality had changed while I was there. I had lost my joy and pieces of my character, and I had started to become like the fish in the bowl.

When that happens I remind myself I got out. 

Enjoying the freedom and beauty in the ocean has left me with a clear conscience.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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