A house, once lovely and inviting, is now gone.
In its place are piles of blackened mess and an awful smell.
Now imagine that’s the equivalent of a person’s life.
How does it feel? What comes next?
People find themselves in that situation every day.
Nothing can prepare us for it, and usually we don’t even see it coming. The husband to whom we donated a portion of our liver in order to save his life has left us and moved in with his girlfriend. Our Honor Roll child who was heading off to college has dropped out and is using recreational substances we’ve never even heard of. We suddenly recognize that our career is not suited for us and we are stewing in frustration and resentment.
Our lives have “burned down to the ground.”
So now where do we live?
How do we support ourselves?
Where do we go from here?
That rubble is a scary place to be.
When I left my “paycheck job” and the traditional path I was on, I was terrified.
How would my bills get paid? How would I explain that I had just up and walked away from a job with benefits? What was I going to do? Shit! What about the brand new mortgage? How would I meet that?
Oh, the fear, the mind-numbing fear. For two days straight I was frozen, incapacitated, unable to move forward.
And then the world took on a new look.
It is by no means easy or fun to rebuild when everything we counted on is suddenly gone. But there is a clarity and a freedom that come in the wake of such experiences.
My decisions were no longer hemmed in by parameters that didn’t fit me.
Without the figurative four walls and roof that had previously sheltered me, I could now stretch out and move in any direction I wanted!
Choosing that new direction, however, was not so simple.
It is not uncommon for us to have a hard time recognizing what no longer works with who we are or where we wish to go. In my case, I had to decide if I really wanted to continue being a social worker. Maybe it was time to do something else, but what? I took a job unloading tractor trailers for a full nine months while thinking this over!
When our reality is shattered, we suddenly have new territory to navigate.
Think about those who are dealing with deaths or layoffs that came out of nowhere, or whose spouses sit them down and say, “I know we’ve been together for 25 years but I’m gay / lesbian / transgender / in the witness protection program / an IV drug user, and I need you to know that now.” In moments like these there are many, many questions that we get to decide for ourselves all over again.
As life-changing as these experiences are, we are usually quiet about them.
We don’t talk about it.
We act like everything is okay.
We shove down the emotions and press on.
Do we feel ashamed? Do we think no one would understand? Maybe we believe we are at fault for not recognizing the signs of oncoming collapse. I see this quite often with parents of substance-using children, and in marriages where there has been an affair.
But it’s not our fault.
How can we expect to see the warning signs when we’re busy trying to stay afloat in our lives?
Do the grocery shopping, walk the dog, don’t forget to gas up the car, did that call get returned, didn’t sleep last night thanks to that 9pm cup of coffee, big project due next week, pack the kids’ lunches, what’s for dinner, ballet recital and soccer practice, I really need new shoes, when is the electric bill due…
When our minds are swamped with these everyday necessities, we aren’t spending energy looking for red flags in the areas that have always seemed so solid.
If you have recently founds yourself surrounded by the smoldering remains of your old life, I invite you to spend some time with the following questions:
What are your priorities now?
Whose values do you feel you need to satisfy, and do they fit you now?
If you’re going to live your life in a new way, how can you best move forward?
What old ideas, limiting beliefs, and outdated notions are you ready to shed?
How can you express yourself now in this new reality?
Only when we are honest about what and who we are can we start again.
There will be some redefining and evolution involved in our new context. In the metaphor of the burned-down house we get to decide if we really liked the yellow wallpaper in the kitchen, or that staircase right in front of the door. In realistic terms we get to decide if we really liked being a real estate agent, or living in Ohio, or even something as simple as having long hair (maybe our cheating husband always preferred it but we’ve been daydreaming about a pixie cut!).
The event or situation that brought your old life to an end has also given you a beginning.
You stand now in the wide open air, surrounded by possibilities, with the freedom to be conscious and aware of the new life you’re about to create.
Clear away the ashes and the rubble.
It’s time to start fresh.
How do you want to do it this time?