They say you should never make a big decision during times of stress. But what if making that decision is the very key to eliminating stress?
Besides, this decision has been a long time coming. Out of ego or fear or just not knowing what my next step will be, I’ve avoided making a change that I know needs to happen. Until now. My very health depends on it.
Teaching my workshop requires that I be completely centered in the moment, and then afterwards, be able to access the appropriate tools to release all that I’ve encountered.
I haven’t found those tools. And I am not centered. Not for a long time.
Within me—what an old friend called both my blessing and curse—is a deep-seated empathy that comes naturally. I feel between the lines, understanding much more about a person beyond what my ears hear and my eyes see. I’ve always been this way and I still remember the stories of people—more often than not, complete strangers—who for a brief moment sought me out in the aisle of a grocery store or at a cash register. Each encounter had absolutely nothing to do with me or my well-being with the exception that I was simply a receptacle for a lot of pain. Why? Probably because I listened without interruption. Because when someone is hurting so desperately they tell a stranger their problems, how could I turn away? I never did. And consequently, I took that pain home with me and shed many a tear for humanity.
However, by the time I started my workshop, I had developed ways to protect myself. I’d shower away the encounter. Sleep. Watch crap on the television. But just as I put myself and my workshop into a public forum, my work was stolen by a person with whom I had a contract. And out of ego, fear and a need to protect my creation, I worked like gangbusters. The website expanded. I began this blog. I started a Facebook page. But ultimately, I fretted. I tried to force things to happen quickly. My self-esteem had taken such a blow that underneath the busy-ness and strength I was trying to project was actually desperation: This is my creation! Mine! See me and what I’m trying to do!
So, I taught. Not well, at first. Not with a sense of trust or joy. And yet, I was connecting with the majority of the people I met in my workshops. For awhile, I was even able to release a bit of the pain I learned.
During this time, I started to write for a few publications in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I wrote 17 articles (14 of which were published) in a little over a year. The articles I wrote were filled with pain. I took a lot of time in my interviews. I listened. And when people revealed too much of themselves, I edited out the parts of their stories they were too afraid to share with the public. I talked to people so lost they abused their bodies with food and alcohol. Or people who were incredibly sick from the food they ate. People who were molested. Veterans with unspeakable injuries and PTSD; and those left behind when a soldier was killed in war. Or people whose self-worth had been so shattered that sharing their stories was an act of courage.
I listened to them and I taught my workshops. I didn’t take the time to protect myself. I was trafficking in human misery.
And, I did all of this the same time my own life started to implode. There was job loss and poverty. Separation. My cat, my grandma and my grandfather (for whom I wrote his eulogy) died. There was a lot of illness. And I said good-bye to people and things that were keeping me in a state of anxiety. I let go of a friend who I thought would be in my life forever because she created one drama after another for herself and tried to rope me in. When I found myself thinking about her problems more than my own and dreading her phone calls, I knew I had to walk away. I quit a writer’s guild I belonged to for a decade. All of the time and energy I spent contacting writers and trying to set up meetings never amounted to anything. I belonged to a local women’s group which helped me immensely (and I’m grateful for those women) but as I released my burdens, I picked up the emotional weight of the other women. I stopped writing my memoir because writing about my life kept me there, in the past. I walked away from it all.
Unfortunately, I bore a lot of this on my own. I tried pouring my heart out to friends, only to end up focusing on what they were enduring. I’ve pulled away from my family, not out of hatred or even anger but because within my family, nothing is ever resolved. Nothing new happens because none of us can engage each other in the moment. Instead, hurt piles on hurt and lifetimes of anger, disappointment, grudges and betrayal form every conversation. The players and the circumstances change but ultimately, it’s the same conversation and we trade negativity back and forth with each other like a virus. I’m not walking away from my friends and my family…but I am walking away until I am more centered.
Until I am well.
And that brings me here. It’s not really the workshop. Or the writing. It’s not obligations and pressures and other people. It’s me.
Because I allowed myself to get lost the last four years. My goal was to help people but I wasn’t ready. I thought I was. I wonder if I would have even gone this far with my workshop if it hadn’t been stolen. Probably not. That’s being really honest.
I’ve been feeling this way for a long time.
It started last September when I took on projects that I didn’t want and I forced myself through them, hating every moment, angry at myself. It started, too, with a realization: there are many people in the self-help field—people who have been doing it a lot longer than I and who have made names for themselves—that have gotten really sick and even died. Maybe, like me, they didn’t know where to put all of the pain of other people. Maybe they realized that when they created self-help workshops and books, they couldn’t leave themselves out of it. In other words, teaching what we’ve learned keeps the stories of our past alive. Keeps that energy—usually negative—alive.
That’s what I’ve been doing the last four years. I’ve been keeping the negative energy of my own life alive while imbibing the negative energy of every person I’ve encountered. It’s made me physically ill.
For the first time in my life, I’ve tasted bitterness. I’m usually a hopeful person but I’ve been bitter because it was me—every choice, every decision, every thought, every feeling, everything I took on when I didn’t know better or took on when I did—that has gotten me here. I need to forgive myself for the last four years.
I forgive myself.
And I love myself enough, I value my health and well-being enough, to walk away from what I’ve created because I’ve been hurt.
I hope that I’ve helped others. I truly do.
But now is the time to help myself and create something new and beautiful and joyous that puts my well-being first.
I’m taking a Sabbatical for my Soul.
Thank you to all who took my workshops. I will leave the website, blog and Facebook page up for awhile.