Magic Can Be Found in the Darkest of Places

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This is one of my favorite sunflower pictures. I was in Upstate New York at Old Stone Farms, an inn near The Omega Center. It was a healing journey that August after getting my family (all five) through a cataclysmic transformation that left me emptied of who I was, am, and would become. My kids would be away from me for two weeks; an incomprehensible amount of time in any scenario but especially this one. It was a nightmare I desperately wanted to wake up from. I couldn’t wait for them in the house where there had been magic a lifetime ago, moments ago.

Through the poisonous fog and acid rain, I reached out toward the only thing I could do – write. Despite my past career in marketing, a graduate degree in business, and an ambition that used to propel me through the narrowest of passageways, my soul gently told me to write books about people, everyday traumas we unintentionally inflict on each other, and relationships starting with the parent and child, my dad and me. I traveled thirteen hours by car, airplane, train, and a night in Manhattan to get myself to a memoir workshop where Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, would be speaking among others. I spent five days at this lovely inn, mostly numb in my exquisite room, a blend of old and new. On the door was the word Spirit.

The ones who managed the inn were soft and loving, made me feel like I belonged right there on the other side of the country from home. They checked in on me when I didn’t come to dinner. “Are you okay? We were concerned about you. Can I bring you something?” the woman asked. Equestrian therapy, massages by a goddess (a young single mother with a singing voice like an angel and a spirit for listening), walks, yoga, reading, seclusion filled my days until it was time to move to the more austere Omega Center for the five-day writing workshop.

This photograph, half blue sky and the other a dense forest with a bright, golden sunflower in the center, reminds me of how far I’ve come. Writing was but a seed three years ago, it was the only direction I could go, and now my book is in its final stages of being completed. I have walked through the darkest forest and come to the other side where blue sky and bright clouds can be seen again.

This trip was magical and not in a euphoric, picture-perfect sense like life used to be. It was magical because I was on my knees like I’d never been before; because I allowed sadness to overtake me and because I allowed the kindness and concern of others to envelop me at a time when I couldn’t meet them at that place. I could only receive and say thank you. It was magical because there was love. It was the love you feel for someone who has done something brave and courageous, it was the love I have for my girls. I allowed myself to love and care for me, for maybe the first time in my life, and it made all the difference.

Walking Out the Door

Energy of Place

Have you ever been afraid to be away from your house? Afraid to say yes to anything—an invitation to a get-together, a party, a walk in the forest with friends? Have you been the kind of afraid that does not consult with your head, you just turn the other way and run or stay in a book on the couch or in your bed for twelve hours awake seeing nothing, listening to the sound of your own breathing?

I have.

It’s not who I am, I’ve always said yes, at least since I decided that I wanted to be a person who always said yes. I turned the button to fear off completely. I said yes to the things that made my heart quake but ventured forth anyway. I said yes even when every cell in me screamed NO! I turned my head, smiled and said, “Yes, I would love to, give me two minutes.” I said yes to selling books door-to-door for thirteen hours a day, on commission, in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the summertime! I said yes to jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 13,000 feet in the air, hurling myself down black diamond ski runs before I really knew how to ski, going away to college a couple months after my third stepmother died of cancer, getting married the first time even when my dreams all but slapped me in the face and told me to run because somehow the dream world knew I was not ready. And then I said yes to leaving the boy I’d grown up with because eventually, my heart message made its way to my head.

My internal guide was rendered voiceless from a very early age. I said yes to moving to New Jersey, going to graduate school at night while working fifty hour work weeks, and climbing the corporate ladder faster than others thought was appropriate. They complained. “Why does she get a different ladder?” I said I’m so sorry, you can come this way too.

Climb that mountain? Yes. Run that race? Yes. Grab my friend out of the abyss? Yes. Have a party? Yes. I said yes I can do that until I could not say yes one more time. I said yes until even speaking the word was too much. And then I stopped—for an entire year. I followed the breadcrumb path to my girls’ school and back, to the store and back, the soccer games and back. It was all I could do. Friends said, “I miss you, let’s have coffee or lunch.” I said I would love to but I couldn’t reach out farther than my own front door.

Last September, my head told me I needed to get myself back together. I’d been talking about writing a book for three years. I’d read a hundred books about writing a book, sat through a hundred hours of lectures, written hundreds of pages of notes in notebooks, and my mind swirled the story around hundreds of times yet I had not opened up my laptop and typed one word. Write the damn book! my head screamed. You are all talk, no action. Maybe you can’t do it. Maybe you will never recover from losing the life you thought you had. Maybe you will never be the person you used to be…

 I could hear them through the walls. “She used to do it all, but she was never the same after the divorce,” these people whispered.

And then courage floated in on a rain cloud one fall afternoon last year. I decided that I needed to be accountable if only to myself, so I signed up for an online class that came with a book coach. I sent ten pages in every week and Collette gave me feedback; she was a cheerful coach who told me everything I did was great. It helped. I could do this class sitting at my kitchen table with my dog next to me on the floor and my cat vying for a nap on my keyboard while I watched the weather coming and going.

I decided I needed to meet other people who write books and learn what they learn, so I signed up for a workshop on how to write that took me to Salem, Massachusetts where girls were deemed witches if they dared to speak their mind once upon a time. Thankfully, my lovely friend, Angela, joined me. My true self was coaxed out of hiding just a little bit more.

My head told me I needed a goal. You need to write this book before the end of next summer, she said. So, I signed up for two different writer’s conferences the following July and August to pitch my ‘finished’ book to agents and editors. I did it all in an afternoon. It was easy. I just sat down at my computer with my credit card while my heart felt happy surrounded by spa music and crystal rocks. I did it, I said. Oh, wait…

New York City was the last of my accountability action plan. I really wanted to cancel. I’m not done with my book is an easy justification. Agents only want finished manuscripts you see. I’m super busy, I’ll miss Lexie’s summer camp play, I’ve been gone too much, Sage and Apple have a hard time when I’m gone, there are only a couple more weeks of this gorgeous summer in the Pacific Northwest… The reasons went on and on.

The real reason is it scared the hell out of me. It scared me to get on an airplane and fly to New York—something I used to do without a second thought. It scared me that I don’t know anyone. It scared me that I would have to make my way from New Jersey into Manhattan on the train, which I’d never done before. It scared me that I would be told no, you’re not good enough over and over. It scared me to leave my house by myself, without the responsibility of being the mother. (I have a special cape I wear so my kids don’t pick up on my anxiety—it looks like a pasted on smile.)

But I did it anyway, just like my old self but the fear button is stuck in the ‘on’ position now. It was okay that I was feeling scared, I walked forward anyway. Maybe it would take four hours to figure out the train, but there is no hurry. I told myself it doesn’t matter what happens, it’s good enough you are here.

I happen to think my book is good and that when it’s published it will help many people navigate divorce in a more compassionate way because they read my story. This is enough. I remind myself that when I’ve been the most successful it’s been after I’ve had the most dismal failures or that ‘no’ was said to me more than anyone else in the group or that it simply doesn’t matter. I’ve succeeded if only because I’m sitting in a Manhattan hotel room after pitching to a handful of agents and I accomplished what I set out to accomplish: I have almost finished a book, I’ve put my shattered heart back together, I’ve forgiven those who were responsible, and I walked out my front door. I am moving forward body, mind, spirit, and heart. I am not broken anymore, but I am changed and for that I am grateful.