The Gift of an Ordinary Life

Do you know what it feels like to regret something with every fiber of your being, but still be incredibly grateful for the lessons you learned from that shameful experience?

I do.

My heart silently aches while it pours out happiness like sunshine.
My stomach churns with equal parts sorrow and joy.
My mind struggles to forget what happened but delights in the place I am today.

I can’t believe that I’m here today. This life that I have now is beyond my wildest dreams. On the outside, there’s nothing extraordinary about it. I’m a stay-at-home mom who takes care of a busy toddler and keeps house for a loving husband. It’s a life that many women live every day.

What’s extraordinary is that it so easily could be different.

I made serious mistakes. The kind of mistakes that change your life. When it came time for the consequences, I had choices. The first choice I considered was ending my life. I thought I couldn’t live with myself, knowing the pain I’d caused my loved ones. A selfish desire to see my son grow up saved me from those thoughts when I was at my lowest.

Once I decided I was going to live, I had another choice. I had to choose how I was going to live that life. Would I continue to live as I had been, ruled by addiction and compulsive behavior? Or would I choose the path of healing? Staying the same would be easier, but I would lose my family. Choosing to heal would involve a lot of pain and no guarantee that I would keep my family.

I chose the path of pain and possibility.

A year later, there is still some painful healing to do, but I’ve come a long, long way and changed drastically as a person. I’ve become someone I can live with, someone I can love and respect. I take responsibility for my actions and I find it easier to choose the next right thing.

And the possibility? It became a reality. My family is intact and healthy. Every night, I get to kiss my boy good night and cuddle him to sleep. I marvel at how easily I could have lost that. Every morning, I get to hug my husband and ask him how he slept. That, too, could have been lost.

My actions almost ended life as I know it, but choosing to turn away from the person I used to be brought me rewards beyond my wildest dreams. I’m not really a Christian, but this Bible passage resonates with my journey:

Ephesians 4:22-24 (New International Version)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

With time, the happiness will overpower the ache; the joy will defeat the sorrow. My mind won’t struggle to forget because forgiveness will have vanquished the shame.

But for today, I will simply enjoy this beautiful gift of an ordinary life.

Fantastic Mr. Fox Syndrome

Aprille at Beautiful In His Time recently wrote a post about how she saw a little Lightning McQueen in herself. It seems we can learn a lot from our children’s entertainment. A recent addition to Colt’s top 3 movies is Fantastic Mr. Fox, the 2009 stop-motion animated film based on the book by Roald Dahl. At first, the movie creeped me out. But after several viewings over the span of a day or two (thank you, toddler love of repetition), I started to enjoy it. Then, this quote suddenly stuck out to me:

“I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest, the quote unquote ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, and if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself.”

I hear you, Mr. Fox. I think I have the same complex. Now, I haven’t been shot at or helped destroy an entire community in my pursuit of fantastic-ness, but I did make a pretty good mess of my life.

My name was fairly well-known in the mommy circles at my last base. I helped found a breastfeeding support group and was all over the Facebook group, answering questions. Later, I became the first dedicated lactation consultant at the base hospital. I guess I was pretty good at my job, because the breastfeeding rates spiked shortly after I started (I’m assuming I contributed somewhat to the increase).

I had two commercials on the local Armed Forces Network channels:

This one’s all me: http://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=1994620313127

This one’s a voice over: http://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=488540477827683

A photo of me nursing my son was used to advertise the 2012 Big Latch On held at our base.

Image used in a magazine ad for the Big Latch On 2012
Image used in a magazine ad for the Big Latch On 2012

On the breastfeeding support group Facebook page, moms were constantly saying, “Go see Sara! She really helped me with xyz.”

I’m not going to lie – I loved the attention. I was a workaholic, so I thrived on workplace accolades. Every time I was mentioned, praised, thanked, I felt validated. I smugly thought of the doubters who didn’t think I could do the job and mentally gave them the finger while blowing a raspberry. I reassured myself that I was a good person because look at all the good I’m doing and how much people appreciate me.

Then all that came crashing down, as I’ve mentioned before. And I realized I didn’t need workplace fame to feel like a good person. Or so I thought.

I’m part of several breastfeeding Facebook groups associated with my soon-to-be-new home. I chime in from time to time, but I’ve kept a low profile since we’re not there yet. There are a couple private practice IBCLC’s in the area already, so I’m not really sure how much work I’ll be doing. I’ve been toying with opening my own private practice, but kind of want to wait and see what it’s like after I get there. With at least two other IBCLCs in the area, plus WIC, I’m wondering if the market is already oversaturated.

So really, I’m worried about my ego. I’m worried that I’ll hang my IBCLC shingle out and nobody will want to use me. I’m worried that I’ll take it personally and see it as a rejection. I’m scared of being just another breastfeeding advocate and not the local celebrity I used to be. I’m scared that the reason I want to hang out my shingle is because I want to be that local celebrity again. I feel a twinge of jealousy every time I see one of the other IBCLC’s name-checked in the local Facebook groups. I want to jump on there and start tooting my own horn about all the women I helped at my last base and how great everyone thought I was.

And that’s when I realize I’ve got a huge red flag waving in my face.
I’ve got Fantastic Mr. Fox Syndrome again.

CC image of fox courtesy of digitalprimate on Flickr
CC image of fox courtesy of digitalprimate on Flickr

I have to dazzle, to delight, to be amazing or I’m no good to anyone. This time it really snuck up on me. I thought I was doing a pretty good job appreciating me for me, without the need for external validation. This is a reminder that I am a work-in-progress. That I need to be mindful of the true motivation behind my thoughts and emotions. That my issues with compulsive thinking are always lurking in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

This could be contributing to my recent depression flare. It sucks to know I’ll always be trying to stay one step ahead of my brain’s desire to revert to compulsive thinking. It’s exhausting. It’s sad because sometimes, I just want to be “normal.” I don’t want to have to constantly worry about whether what I’m doing is healthy or not. I don’t want to have to question my motives. I just want to live.

But, I’m different. I’ll always be different. And that’s ok.  I suppose I can find some comfort in another Fantastic Mr. Fox quote (look how nicely I’m wrapping this piece up. Go me). Towards the end of the movie, Felicity Fox refers to Mr. Fox when she says this to her son Ash:

We’re all different… Him, especially. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?