We’ve all seen it before. Someone wins big in a state lottery and all of their financial woes are seemingly gone in an instant. If they play their cards right, they should never have to struggle again. And yet, within a period of just a few years, they somehow blow all of their winnings and end up back where they started, broke and in debt. We think that if we were in their shoes, we would do differently, but would we?
What about a person who has weight loss surgery? On the surface, surgery can seem like a great idea. If one has a slimmer body to start with, surely he/she will then do what needs to be done to maintain it. Right? But, we’ve seen instances where that is not the case, either. Without changing one’s behavior and habits, there is a huge risk of regaining the lost weight and then what does the person do?
Similarly to the above examples, I once had my own struggles which I wished could be instantly removed. Although my struggles were marital and not financial or health related, they caused me the same kind of day-to-day stress and worry and I was sure that if I could just somehow get out of my predicament, all would be well. In fact, there had been many times during my 17 years of marriage that I had prayed for release from my perceived prison and captor. I wanted never to be bullied, threatened, verbally abused, or harassed by my husband again. In short, I asked for nothing less than a miracle. I needed a miracle.
But miracles in such cases are somewhat rare and they’re often not the solution we think they are. When we hope, pray, and ask the universe for a miracle or go after a quick fix, we give up all power and control over our current situation and reality and often, this prevents personal growth. Without personal growth, we fall right back into the same patterns that got us where we were in the first place.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we have absolute control over our lives and that miracles don’t happen. Obviously, there are many things outside of our control and many situations demand that we let go of our need to control and accept what we cannot. That, too, requires personal growth and work and that’s really what I’m talking about here. The reality is that there are no miracle solutions, really. On the rare occasion that there is, one must often do something or give up something in order to receive. Without such an exchange, miracles and solutions that require little learning or growth can be rendered inconsequential in the blink of an eye.
In my particular situation with my manipulative and verbally abusive partner, it eventually became quite apparent that I must take personal responsibility for the situation in which I found myself. However, this didn’t mean that I sat around blaming myself. On the contrary, it meant that I must stop blaming him or anyone or anything else for all of my misery and actually do something to change it. I may not have been able to control his actions and what he did or would do if I tried to leave him, but I was able to control mine. Sound easy enough? It both was and wasn’t easy at all.
The key to remember whenever we find ourselves feeling imprisoned in any situation is that most of our prisons are self-constructed. Although I felt like a prisoner in my marriage, my real prison was my fear. I was afraid of what my husband would do if I tried to leave him or divorce him. Given his unpredictable behavior and willingness to take things as far as needed in any given situation in order to “win,” I was afraid he would destroy all of my books and things I cared about, burn the house down, or even harm me or our children. My fear was that we would be one of those stories so often heard in the news where someone kills his/her spouse and the kids before killing themselves. At the very least, I feared that he would take off with our children and I would never see them again or he would simply disappear or commit suicide and our children would never see him again. These were not easy fears to overcome, especially when threats are made.
Regardless, it was my fear that was my actual enemy. It left me feeling helpless and powerless in the situation and I had to think differently about my situation in order to overcome it. That was the first step in the process…..in my personal growth.
First of all, realizing that I feared losing material things and financial security, I challenged myself to imagine their loss and surviving it. Could I live without my books, the house, or any number of other things? Could I let those things go? Could I risk losing them? Beyond those things, could I risk losing my life or my childrens’ lives? What about his life? These questions and more, I contemplated. I went to work on them and on myself and here’s what I determined: I determined that I could let go of our material belongings. It was not an easy thing to do in my mind, but I did mentally let go. In the process of contemplating worse case scenarios, I realized that my childrens’ lives were the single most important “thing” I needed to protect. My own life came second, but was still important. If I focused my energy on protecting them and myself, everything else could go.
But that wasn’t the end of my struggle. I still needed to take action and that, in of itself, was an entirely different challenge. In taking action, I would have to go through literal hell. It would be a war zone in which I would be fired at daily with little to no rest from my spouse’s persistent and never-ending onslaught of threats and abuse. How long would I have to endure it? Years? How many? What if I backed down, again? I had tried before and failed and that had left me feeling even more powerless.
So yes, taking action requires a great deal of energy, courage, and determination to see things through for the long haul. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was trying to lose 150 pounds or attempting to crawl out of $50,000 in debt. It wasn’t going to be easy. And yet, doing nothing as an alternative would have left me resentful, full of blame, and a victim in my situation. Maybe some people like playing the victim and spending their entire lives in that role, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a life of hope. I wanted a chance at something good or even great. That’s it….just a chance. There are no guarantees of anything, even when you do the work and free yourself. There are always going to be more challenges, more fear, and more work. A chance at more joy, peace, and personal fulfillment, however, can make the struggles worth it. After all, one could continue to struggle with no chance at all.
And that’s really where my personal journey began. I don’t believe I really lived my own life until I took responsibility for it. Ultimately, my marriage and struggle with my husband ended in almost an instant when he took his own life in the early process of divorce. So yes, sometimes our biggest fears and worst nightmares actually happen. Sometimes, we don’t get miracles the way we want them. I wanted him to go away and leave me alone, but not in the way he actually did that. And yet, that was something that was beyond my control and maybe a form of help in disguise. I’m not going to claim to have all of the answers. Our actions do have consequences, whether unforeseen or unintended, and it’s one of the reasons why taking responsibility can be so difficult and why fear so often paralyzes us to act. What if we fail or completely mess up and what if we lose those people and things most precious to us?
And yet, what if we succeed? What if we live each day with hope, knowing we have a chance? Do we even need to succeed? Is it not enough to just live? Protect what you must, but take a chance. Give yourself a chance. Go live your life. For all we really know, it’s the only one we get.