Recently, I wrangled my 43 year old ass onto a mountain bike, and faced a fear that I had no idea was a fear until that moment! I felt my anxiety rising, I know this because I began to bark at my husband. I am unteachable in these moments, my mind is shut and I am angry at what I can’t control. My aching rear end continued to feel each rock underneath me and my mind panicked at the large roots that rose from the ground, creating an obstacle that most mountain bikers welcome. I was determined to not let this beat me, determined that I could do this, and determined that I would not grow old quietly! Well…..it beat me that day, but I managed to find something valuable in it…..and isn’t that what it’s about anyway?
When I was 5 years old, I was playing in the front yard of our home, when our neighbors pulled up to tell my parents that my 7 year old brother had been hit by a car, while riding his bike. What followed for me, was like I was in a dream. The memory truly feels foggy. My sister and I were taken to our neighbor’s house until our Grandma and Grandpa could pick us up. We were unaware at this time, that our brother was being life lined to the Children’s Hospital….and that his life and ours would change forever.
We arrived safely at our Grandma’s house and continued to live there over the next couple months, while my mom and dad stayed at the hospital with my brother. We visited my brother a couple of times during this period, and I recall feeling strangely disconnected from reality during this time. I believe I dissociated. His little fists were balled up, his eyes closed due to severe head trauma that had rendered him in a coma. Bruised from head to to……his lifeless body lay there. Yet all I can recall with certainty that day is my sister sobbing as we walked down the long hallway to return back to our grandparents…..and I remained stoic, independent. A dreamlike state. My life remained as normal as possible. My grandpa drove me back and forth to school, while I pried him with questions that leave adults feeling helpless. “When are mom and dad coming home? Is my brother going to die?” Grandpa did his best to redirect with his always welcome sense of humor. I asked my Grandma if I should start calling her mom now? She quickly hushed me, and encouraged me to never talk about this again, lest it hurt my own mom’s feelings.
Out on the mountain, with my anger yesterday, I met my 5 year old self. My mom always lamented at how independent I was from an early age. It often hurt her feelings, and I was very aware, and am now equipped with a healthy dose of guilt and shame. The story goes, that at age 5, in the spring of the year, while walking to school….I looked at my mom and said “you no longer need to walk with me anymore, I can do it myself”. She was hurt and dejected….and I was free to walk alone, from that day forward. I said this…..after they returned from the hospital with my brother in tow. I had experienced freedom and independence and at age 5, was pretty sure that I was in this alone. The troops had rallied for my brother, and at a selfish young age, this meant I no longer had the spotlight. This would become a theme in my family….there was always a problem, much bigger than me. A problem much too loud to hear what I was saying. Hence, she becomes a writer.
It took a mountain bike and a whole lot of mindfulness for me to meet and understand this part of myself. This bitchy, irritable, impatient self. I have always been fiercely independent, I don’t like to be taught…….anything. I want to learn on my own, at my own pace, in my own style. Yes, I am a joy to behold. This has been a gift and a form of self-sabotage my whole life.
How do I take this self awareness and use it to create change in my life? I needed to reconcile in my head, which of these coping skills, I learned as a child still serve me as an adult? Do any of them? Are they working for me or against me? This required an even closer inspection of my life and my intentions with the ones I love.
- I want to be able to learn from those I love, not be a know it all.
- I want to be humble enough to realize the lessons that surround me, not be a closed book.
- I want to be independent, yet able to lean in to support when I need to.
- I want to forgive my mom for needing so much when I was a child, not carry resentment.
- I want to process trauma, not let it guide the decisions I make with my children.
- I want to parent out of wisdom, not out of reaction to how I was parented.
- I want to continually challenge myself, not isolate from risk.
I used Mindfulness to look at my irrational fears, raise my self-awareness, and instead of being angry at myself and berating myself over it, I chose to have empathy for myself. Any change I have ever created in my life, has started with empathy for myself and others, in how I came to be at this place.
This is what that looks like: My brother was almost killed on a bicycle before I even learned how to ride without training wheels. The fear that enveloped my family over this, was palpable, understandably so. But it was silent fear…..we didn’t discuss this fear. So, it wasn’t a part of my story that was logged into my consciousness. I have instilled this fear into my children around riding bikes. When I look at my story, it is obvious how I have carried this fear over! For this infraction, I must also have empathy for myself.
The second part of this lesson, is much more impactful. On my bike ride from hell yesterday, I saw myself, like a flash, asking my Grandma if I could call her mom from now on. I could almost feel the moment I disconnected. The moment I became independent at 5 years old. The moment my feelings took a back seat, and for some reason, I decided I was on my own, from then forward I would figure things out for myself…..and I did, even though it may have taken me longer sometimes. In this, is forgiveness, for my parents, for some of the things I have put on them, that I think belonged to me. But also forgiveness for being independent. When you grow up with a mom who NEEDS, you learn to feel guilty for being independent. Today, I will forgive myself for being disconnected, independent, and stubborn. Today, I will forgive my mom for needing. I am wise enough to know that my mom needs due to what she missed out on in her childhood. It’s a cycle friends, and we have to be self aware enough to recognize the cycles and break them.
In cultivating gratitude, I am grateful for resiliency. I am grateful for an independent spirit and now knowledgeable enough to realize no one person can do it alone….and I didn’t, and I don’t. Independence is lonely. It took a mountain bike path, and challenging myself for me to be mindful enough to recall this memory. To understand its implications and to garner the lessons I needed to learn from it. Had I resisted the challenge of getting out on that mountain, I would never have discovered this valuable piece of myself. I would never have the chance to give myself compassion, or see independent in a positive light instead of negative. These moments are valuable people. I am also grateful for parents who never left my brothers side in the hospital. Regardless of the changes it created in me, the hospital is where they belonged, and they knew it.
So, I continue to seek. I am seeking those parts of myself that are unknown to me. They are a road map to explain who I am and how I got here. Only these parts can feed the rest of my journey. I will not allow myself to walk with my eyes closed, letting life happen to me. I will face who I am…..who I really am. I will offer compassion when needed, empathy when appropriate and expect better of myself whenever I can.
What coping skills did you develop as a child and why? Are those same coping skills still relevant in the world you are living today? Are you challenging yourself enough to get in touch with those items in your subconscious that haven’t surfaced yet? Can you imagine what you might learn about yourself? Can you imagine how that might affect those in your life currently? We must have the courage to go back, and the resiliency to keep moving forward. Never get stuck my friends, always live your life as a seeker.