It’s always when I feel the most in control that life finds a sure way to remind me that control is a mirage.
It’s been 18 months since I crashed into rock bottom.
I channeled all of the pain into a frenzy of activity to repair my life for the first six months.
Then, I shifted into an equally frenzied renaissance period for most of 2016, a combination of relishing in my freedom and simultaneously distracting myself from the less desirable aspects of my new reality.
By the end of 2016, I recognized that it was time to slow down, to establish a routine now that I had firmly connected with a new sense of self, and that this process would require a painful phase of acceptance (hence all the avoidance).
I acknowledged this next step in Thailand on New Year’s Eve during my now-annual renewal trip.
We had just arrived in Chiang Mai the day before and I took off solo for the day, picking up a cheap journal and planting myself in the shade on a colorful love seat under a giant umbrella on a coffee shop patio, with a literal bowl of latte complete with heart-shaped foam to bolster my period of reflection on the year behind me and the year to come.
I committed my thoughts to paper and accepted that 2017 would be my year of serenity; a year to find peace in my new reality.
Easier said than done, especially for a control addict like me.
I successfully coped with early life challenges by throwing myself into action. I’ve overcome so much that I fell into a sense of security in my own ability to solve any problem.
But certain problems aren’t solvable, and tolerating that reality is very difficult for me.
There will always be toxic, hateful people in my life. I will (likely) always have type 1 diabetes. I will lose people I love. I will make giant personal mistakes. I will have regrets.
Control may have been a really effective coping mechanism early in my life, but it hasn’t served me during this past year.
Letting go of control over the uncontrollable means that my mind can stop trying to problem solve, I can stop feeling like I am failing, and I can shift my energy toward the parts of my life where I do have influence.
That night in Chiang Mai, I set my intention and found a peace I hadn’t felt for nearly a decade as I set my sky lantern free, alongside hundreds of others celebrating a fresh start for 2017.
And so, it was with a deep sense of happiness that I returned to the U.S. in mid-January.
Little did I know the first lesson in acceptance was already locked and loaded.
I injured my leg in Bali while hiking at a Hindu temple a few days before flying home. A bad contusion, but with ice and ibuprofen, it was no big deal.
I spent 21 hours in the air over the course of three flights and 30+ hours of travel time to get home. I elevated my leg at every layover, but didn’t get up to walk around much on any of the flights.
When I got home after the long journey, I drew a hot bath with lavender to soak away the travel and help me sleep, hoping to get a jumpstart on the inevitable jetlag. But this peaceful plan was disrupted when I discovered that my injured leg was an undeniable shade of purple with dark blue bruising from just below the knee down through my foot.
What do you do when you’re on the verge of panic? You call mom; the voice of calm and reason.
We ran through likely (and not-so-likely) worst case scenarios on Google and came to the conclusion that I needed to at least rule out a clot at the ER.
I watched my lovely bath drain while I took a quick shower, and then drove myself over for the ordeal. Five hours later, I was cleared of any clots and sent home with a baseball-sized hematoma and orders to keep it elevated, apply heat, and wait for the outrageous bill.
Between 40 hours without sleep, traveling halfway around the world, an injury that kept waking me up when I did sleep, and dumping myself right back into work and parenting, I fell into a self-perpetuating cycle of jet lag.
I found I could only get work done for a few hours in the morning before my tired brain when to mush, and then it would come back online around 11 PM and I could fit in another 4-5 hours of productivity before passing out again.
I spent three weeks in this phase of survival. Barely making the necessary ends meet for my kids and my clients during odd hours that better aligned with the Indonesian time zone than home.
In the midst of this disappointment, instead of feeling like a failure (as I would normally), I had the benefit of my new perspective along with non-negotiable routines for this so-called year of serenity.
Every day, I made time for meditation, yoga or some form of exercise, and reading. These cornerstones saved my sanity.
My meditation mantra became the lifeline of accepting my limitations while simultaneously giving myself permission to be human:
I am enough.
I have enough.
I do enough.
If it weren’t for this daily reminder to accept my situation…my injury, my foggy brain, my genuine need to put my business before my personal projects…I would have guilted myself into a self-inflicted coma, maintained by a steady overdose on chocolate and wine, my preferred self-pity salve.
Meditation was the foundation.
It allowed me to accept my limitations and put priorities first, letting go of the (often ridiculous) expectations that I layer on myself.
This meant that even when deadlines loomed and I felt overwhelmed at just the idea of locating and pulling on a sports bra, I still chose to go to the gym, to move my body, to make yoga a ritual of emotional and physical strength.
It also meant that I was open to all sorts of inspiration.
During the frequent “in-between” breaks in my life – when I was sitting in the school carpool line or waiting in line at the pharmacy – I always had a great book and highlighter handy.
It’s been a difficult month. And it took that long to find my new equilibrium.
The injury was that one evil domino that knocked down all of the others, forcing me to roll with what life had in store and make the most of it, and on some days just accept that I would do nothing but binge-watch Netflix in bed with a heat pad and Nova the hematoma for company (yes, I named it).
Acceptance: I am not in control.
I can choose to fight this fact in vain, or expect some exciting plot twists, absorb a lesson or two, and then continue forward with more wisdom.