It was Thanksgiving 2014 and I was rushing and stressed, getting ready to run out for some last minute items before our guests arrived. I ran into the bedroom to get ready and was about to bolt out the door when I realized something wasn’t right. I walked over to the bed where my husband, Simon was sitting upright in bed and realized at that moment he had passed away in his sleep.
Fast forward several years later, I was trekking through remote villages of Myanmar with my now boyfriend, Steve.
It was on the 3rd day of our trek where we stopped for tea with some of the villagers and a group of kids approached us. Their age range was between a newborn and maybe 10 years old. One girl had her baby brother strapped on her back, the others were playing. We hung out and played with them for a bit before continuing with our trek. As I looked back and saw these happy kids waving goodbye to us, that’s when it hit me: They had literally nothing, but were simply happy - and in that moment my own self discovery began to unfold right before my eyes.
You see, after Simon died… I was pretty lost. But, I wasn’t sure why… so I did what I do best, I compartmentalized! I put a smile on my face and I got about with my life … after all...life has to go on, right?
But unfortunately, what it really meant was that I didn’t give myself the time I needed to process, grieve and deal with what was so much more than just losing a husband. What I realized was that it wasn’t Simon’s death that made me feel this way, it was who I was in that marriage, and the way we had LIVED.
Our relationship was toxic.
We weren’t good for or to each other, and we brought out the worst of each other.
We had big fights with harsh words and fists smashed into walls.
He was unfaithful… serially. I found out later he basically cheated until his very last breath.
How could I have given him SO much of myself in the seven years we were together… yet I wasn’t even the last person he thought about before he died? I was devastated.
I spent the next few years wanting answers and needing closure. So I started asking the internalized questions that I had avoided for so long, especially in the aftermath of a toxic relationship that ended so suddenly and finally. I started by identifying the feelings I had set aside when I compartmentalized.
SHAME that I allowed myself to put myself and my son in harm’s way.
ANGRY for allowing someone to take control and advantage of me.
SAD because I couldn't talk to anyone about this. I felt so alone.
UNWORTHY because despite all of this, how could he not have wanted me?
CONFUSED because I knew I was a strong person (or was I??) ... and a catch! I'm a freakin' catch! LOL
And then the big one… GUILT that I felt RELIEVED this was over and that he was gone.
But it was that moment when I waved goodbye to those kids in Myanmar was when I literally thought to myself...Tina, what is wrong with you? Look around you! These kids will most likely never see the world outside their villages. They’re wacking corn from sun up to sun down! They won’t have basic privileges like an education, regular meals, driving a car or riding a bike. Your problems are so small and insignificant compared to the problems of the world. Get over yourself, pull it together and make something out of this! And I did...and that’s why I’m here today. I discovered my WHY.
I do believe that a part of the problem with self-discovery is that we expect trauma to trigger a change in us. It doesn’t have to be that way. Self Discovery is not and should not be a one-time thing! It should be a constant and consistent check-in with yourself.
As I’ve gotten older and my life and friends and partners and careers have changed, I’ve had to update my definition of “Self” so many times. My identity, my desires, the things that make me happy or sad, or even the things I like and dislike may have changed since the last time I checked in with ME. These every day changes are a journey towards self-discovery….we can’t lose sight of that.
When you’re mindful of this journey happening...give yourself space and grace.
I give myself the space to go through a period of self-reflection, to re-orient and sometimes re-direct. And then I go somewhere and LITERALLY find the space to get out and make myself uncomfortable so I have to ask myself those tough questions! Who am I now? How do these people fit in my life? What are old habits that don’t fit with me anymore? Am I stuck or scared or moving too fast or whatever?
I also realize that I’m not the only one going through a journey.
Give yourself and others grace and understanding… and sometimes forgiveness. Sometimes people in your life will follow a path of self discovery that leads away from you. Realize too that you are probably a part of THEIR change - and it's not personal. They've gone through their own re-awakening and self-discovery ... just as you are no longer a part of their journey, their new chapter - you can easily be a part of someone else's reawakening.
SO GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to take the space you need to dream, plan, take action, take the time to understand yourself better... to find your life’s purpose ...and remember, enjoy the journey!