One girl’s quest for happiness, midlife reinvention and a great ass
Some of you may know me, most of you do not. For more than 23 years I have defined myself as a pretty successful Advertising Executive living a fun filled life in NYC. Interestingly while I had all the trappings of a great life, there was a restlessness inside, which made it easy to move from agency to agency tempted by bigger titles and bigger paychecks. I kept thinking when I make it to “here” I’ll be happy. And then when I did that, it was, when I meet the “right guy” I’ll be happy. And whether or not the job was elusive or the right guy was elusive whatever external validation I had was never enough to quell the sense of emptiness inside.
Still I plowed ahead with my version of climbing up the ladder and looking for Mr. Right. Because my view of success came from what had been defined by others before me: work hard in high school so you can get into a good college; then make sure you have the right internships so you can get a good job when you graduate; then work hard some more and look for opportunities to prove yourself and climb the corporate ladder; and, of course, find the “right” guy, get married, have kids and start the cycle over again.
And with every passing year I had one filter for every choice presented to me — was this getting me closer to one of my goals? If the answer was yes, then I would move towards whatever “that” was and discarding whatever was between me and the better thing. And with each move, after the initial high, I would feel disappointment that the satisfaction I’d hoped for once that box had been checked remained elusive. In fact, in some ways the let down was worse than the period before, when I was on the quest. And so inevitably I’d set my sights on the next thing, and the whole vicious cycle would begin again.
And then everything changed. I found myself at the end of 2016 unemployed without any obvious options to choose from. And people whom I would have imagined would be “helping” me, or on my side — not so much. I wasn’t in a relationship and so I didn’t have the support system I’d hoped for either. How could I be in this spot? Hadn’t I done all the right things and checked the right boxes? Wasn’t I smart, hard-working, pretty and whatever else you were supposed to be, to NOT be here?!
I went through every emotion on the grieving rainbow and then some. And the harder I tried to “fix” my situation, the more I felt rejected by everyone and everything that had always before been so readily available to me. So, I decided to get “spiritual,” i.e., read a bunch of books, all telling me the same thing — anything that you feel is an obstacle, is really your own resistance. (these all made me want to smack the authors in the face). And to continue to see my therapist of a decade, who said “listen to your heart. All the answers were inside.” (The answers? I didn’t even know what the questions were anymore!) I even went on a “retreat” where celebrities go to reflect and renew, i.e. recover from a nervous breakdown. But thousands of $’s spent later, I was still miserable and wallowing in a whole lot of self-pity.
In a moment where the old #badass Julie popped to the surface, I started to think how could I find my way out of this emotional quicksand I had put myself in. I only knew what I knew and barking up those same old trees was not helping. So I started by reaching out to my friend Sarah, whom I’d always admired for her mental strength and healthy life choices. And this is really where my journey begins.
Lesson #1: Instant gratification often has costly consequences. Let me explain what I mean. When I opened up to Sarah (i.e. whined about how “stuck” I felt) she not so gently suggested maybe I was perpetuating my own misery by talking about how much everything in my life sucked and not really taking any action to make my life suck less. And that while there were lots of things I couldn’t control there were some very obvious things that I could, specifically my health and well-being. Just because my life seemed in bad shape didn’t mean I had to be in bad shape! And so indulging my sugar cravings to make myself feel better, or drowning my self pity in a bottle of wine, or spending $ I didn’t have on a pedicure….were actually pretty self-destructive behaviors. Sarah told me to start with the obvious actions — clean up my diet, amp up my exercise, and stop spending my money. Duh. So I did all of the above. And guess what? While my circumstances didn’t immediately change, I started to feel different. A little less out of control and a little glimmer of my old self confidence started to re-emerge.
Lesson #2: Being vulnerable doesn’t make you a loser. Being pathetic makes you a loser. When I reached out to Sarah and got really raw about how awful I was feeling, it was the most exposed I think I had ever felt. I am a marketer for god’s sake and letting people know how insecure and sad you are feeling, feels like pretty bad advertising if you want to market yourself for a job or a date or whatever. And if you act like a loser, people will treat you like one, right? Actually, yes they will. Which is why there is a difference between being vulnerable and asking for help vs. being pathetic. A big difference. Being vulnerable shows that you have humility, are open to growing and improving and is actually a sign of strength. Not taking personal responsibility and expecting people to “fix” you or your situation is loser-like. By seeking Sarah’s advice and then actually taking it, I showed I was open to growth and willing to do the work.
Not a loser!
Lesson #3: Instead of focusing solely on who can help you, start thinking about who you can help — starting with yourself. As I started feeling better physically, I started thinking about my entire status a little differently. What if instead of feeling sorry for myself about all the things I don’t have — a job, a husband, house and kids, what if I started thinking about what I do have? Total and complete freedom. So what if I allowed myself to acknowledge that even when I had had all the things I now felt were missing, I wasn’t really happy. Maybe now was a blank slate to actual create a life where I felt happy?
And low and behold, almost instantly, a dear friend and her husband told me that they were renovating their apartment and not looking forward to a month plus in their hotel. So, I thought, what if I gave them mine? And in helping them, gave myself a ticket to explore new possibilities outside of NYC.
Which brings me to Lesson #4: Letting go means actually letting go. I’d read so much about letting go in all the self help books, it made me want to smack myself. I mean seriously, what more was there to let go of? Well there is a big difference between losing something and letting go of your tight emotional grip. And, so here am I. Heading to LA, at least for the next month. And I’m going to leave the place (temporarily) that I have always thought I had to be to prove I was “making it.” And I am leaving behind my apartment, my dog, my friends, my network, and my life of more than 20 years. Because I think letting go of an outcome mentally requires at least some momentary physical release, temporary or not, to jolt yourself into a different head and heart space. And the scary and uncomfortable part probably means you’re on the right path.
So, I decided to start this blog to share my #smackit journey, as a bit of catharsis for myself, entertainment for my friends, and possibly inspiration for others whose circumstances may look different, but share the feeling of being stuck, and that your life isn’t all you hope at the mid stage. Oh and PS also while I am on this quest for happiness, I am also on a quest for a great butt. Along with other things I have lost this year, my butt seems to be one of them! And what better place to find it again then LA?!
#Smackit Lesson #2 — You can fool yourself but you can’t fool the Universe.
For those of you who read my inaugural blog post, you’ll know I picked up and headed to sunny LA last week. For those of you who didn’t, now you know ;)
Once you decide to take a leap — physical, spiritual and/or emotional, you think you will feel “different” somehow. Maybe relieved, maybe happy, maybe nervous in a good way, but some immediate feeling or sign to confirm the Universe approves, right? But what I was finding on the day of my departure was making me nervous that the Universe was still testing me.
Which brings me to today’s lesson: If you think it’s a test. It is. So, when I arrive at Newark, my airport of choice, only due to proximity to my apartment, I see I don’t have pre check on my boarding pass. Figuring it was just an oversight, I went to the Virgin America counter to have them print me a new pass. They inform me that having Global Entry doesn’t guarantee pre-check and that on this flight I had been randomly selected NOT to have it. WTF?! I watched as fellow passengers ,who were allowed to use their pre-check flew through security, and I stood at a standstill in the standard security line.
The next hiccup came when this germ-a-phobe sat down on the plane only to hear the woman in the seat next to hear coughing loudly and sneeze several times in succession. All without even a pretense of covering her mouth.
As someone who enjoys getting to a destination, but despises the actual travel to get there, these two inconveniences felt pretty major. I was already stressed and out of my element, about to have a few weeks, possibly even months of couch surfing in front of me. I definitely could not afford to be sick!
As I sat trapped in this tin can in the sky for the next almost 6 hours, I alternately tried to cover my face in a desperate attempt to not breathe in the constant uncovered hacking next to me, and to understand what the Universe was trying to tell me. Should I not be heading to California? Or actually, was NYC giving me a last kick in the butt to reassure me that leaving right now was exactly the right thing?
As the minutes and then hours passed, the answer was no clearer to me. But I eventually stopped thinking and started to just sit, be and feel. And the feeling that washed over me was total and complete anxiety. I was stressed and fearful. If I am going to be honest I had hoped that fate would magically intervene once I finally “pronounced” myself a reformed control freak ready to receive what the Universe was wanting to provide. I wanted that provision to be a reason to stay in NYC.
And so even though I said I was leaving, I had been scrambling to generate some stickiness for myself in my city, including spending a whole lot of time talking to, and even seeing my ex boyfriend. This is not insignificant as I’d spent the bulk of the last two 18 months trying to move forward from that relationship unsuccessfully, and had just finally succeeded in actually started to do so. And, for the longest period to date — more than 3 months.
Since September 2015 we had had bitter feuds in which awful things were said, and worse things done to each other. I’d been the most unflattering version of myself with this man. So much so, I was actually unrecognizable to myself — insecure, needy, spiteful and self-loathing. And every time we’d had another rendezvous, the inevitable end was more painful and hard to recover from.
It had been so bad for so long, I could barely be honest with my therapist, let alone my family and friends. And I know it was the same for him. Worse still, while I had kept myself emotional walled off from anyone new, he’d been in at least 3 relationships since we were a legitimate couple, and I’d come into each and every “restart” demanding he break up with these women, all the while resenting he was even involved with someone. And he came in resenting me for coming in hot making demands and “blowing up” his life. And worse, neither of us truly believing each other’s intentions.
I have no idea why I persisted after something so searingly painful for almost two years. Perhaps I thought that’s all I deserved? Perhaps I felt if I could fix this, I could fix my whole life? I honestly don’t know the answer but certainly re-opening that wound days before I need to be my most open and forward looking was self sabatoging.
Before you judge me too harshly, I do need to explain that after more than a year of wishing to hear two little words from him, he said exactly those words — I’m sorry. And more, for the first time, admitted his contribution to our fucked up dynamic, and said he needed to do some work and even asked if I might ask my therapist for a recommendation. I have to tell you, I thought the Universe was sending me a ver strong message that all this love and longing was not in vain. And even though it came on the heels of him spending a day breaking up with two woman he was involved with, I thought holy shit! I haven’t been wrong to hang in there. We are meant to be!
Still I made it here — to California that is. I arrived and spent my first full day having meetings with an agency I’d long admired, and agreeing to move forward with a role there, that would start with the summer. So here it was — sunny skies and all the promise that I’d hoped for in 24 hours. And what did I do? I called my ex and cried to him, telling him I didn’t want to be apart. I mean how were we going to work on us? i.e. how can I leave you alone 3000 away and believe you wont be sleeping with other women?
You see, even though I grabbed at his words and wanted to believe we were finally ready to be together, my gut told me I couldn’t trust that he was really different, i.e. could be faithful and honest. He said all the right things on that call though, and was soothing and sweet. But after I hung up the phone, it dawned on me that he said he was willing to prove his love to me by being a hermit and discarding friendships. It sounded like torture not love. And those friendships? They were with ex girlfriends who still very much had feelings for him.
Despite this, I was convinced this was all my insecurity, and something I had to fix in me. I wouldn’t acknowledge the possibility that my gut and heart were telling me the truth. And I just happened to be spending the weekend with a friend, who Ihad met through said ex.
So I decided I would share with her the news that we were talking again this weekend about making a real “go” of it. Well no sooner had I told her about his apology when she said his other recent ex had been in town weeks before and told her that he’d reached out to her in a similar fashion. My heart sunk and a lump formed in my throat. My friend was tortured about telling me, but had seen me suffer so much in the last few years, she felt it was her responsibility.
And I was so grateful! Because it was only then that I realized what it was I was searching for on the flight to California. I was searching for recognition from the Universe that I was ready for all the abundance she had to offer. Only you cannot fool the Universe. Whatever you say is irrelevant. It is what you actually do and how you actually feel. And I was doing anything but acting or feeling ready for the next step, as I desperately clung to my past.
I spent a restless night and I awoke knowing what I had to do. I had to say goodbye to my ex. Like for real this time. And so I did. Horribly — with multiple texts and phone calls saying lots of the wrong things and still hoping for some words from him to make “us” ok. But I actually did it. end it that is. And this time it will stick.
I am finally ready to be here now. Not just California but in the NOW. Open to receiving all the interesting, challenging and wondrous things that lie ahead. Oh and the search for my butt is ON! As I have spent the last 3 days in fitness gear biking, walking, soul-cycling and Tracey Anderson’ing.
#Smackit Lesson#3: When people show you who they are. Believe them.
In my second post, I came clean about re-engaging with my ex, and how as usual, it ended as quickly as it started in a flaming pile of lies and tears. For the umpteenth time, I had been swept up in his promises and sweet words of love, even though my gut told me nothing was as it seemed. Yet, I wanted so badly to believe that it could be different, that I pushed down my doubts and jumped back in head first.
Which bring me to lesson #1 in today’s post: Wherever you go. There you are. Even though my head was telling me to believe him this time, I couldn’t quell my insecurities, no matter what he said, especially being 3000 miles away. And so, when my friend confirmed that he had been having similar conversations with another ex, I had to try and preserve some dignity and walk away. But boy is this man good. He says all the right things and knows just what buttons to push. Especially the one that make you feel you are making an epic mistake to “give up now.” Will he forever be “the one” that got away. And worse, despite knowing it’s not the case, left feeling that this not working out (again) is somehow your fault alone. Just total and complete crazy making.
So even after I wrote the post and pronounced myself done, I continued to obsess about what I could have done differently and wonder if he was right -that I shouldn’t believe the source. Because her source (the other ex) was crazy. Well so I did what every woman in the social media age does — I went forensic on Instagram. And opened up a whole other can of lies. Why I was emotionally cutting myself at this juncture, is beyond me. But, I took my old bad habits to California with me unlike all the clothes and stuff I really need, which are back in NYC!
Which brings me to lesson #2: You DO have all the answers inside. It’s called instinct. I knew that during our “breaks” my ex had been seeing other women, and one in particular for many months. He had told me he had ended that relationship back in February when we’d had a different and similar brief rendezvous. But, I had ended things quickly that time when Instagram told me that he was lying and things weren’t over between he and this other person. And this time was exactly the same. Again, he swore it was only a friendship and that they didn’t have the passion or love we had and blah blah blah. Further he said, he now understood my lack of trust and to demonstrate he was a changed man, he would cut off the friendship and all contact.
Well the same night I was made aware of his parallel conversation with another ex, he was at a concert with said woman — the woman he wasn’t attracted to and didn’t have anything more than a friendship with at this point, and further had supposedly been cut off communication after telling her we were together. I felt like I was hallucinating. Did he not think I would find out? Why was he bothering to make these promises to me if he had no intention of actually following through. And the more I tried to make sense of it, the less sense any of it made.
Even when I had proof in black and white, and we’d already ended things, this man could not come clean with me. And as he was desperately trying to talk me into circles, I was having an out of body experience. It was like I was watching myself crying on the phone with him outside Soulcycle and thinking why is this woman such an idiot? And then I thought — wow, everything he has said to me, he probably says to this other non girlfriend/girlfriend. And here I am thinking she is the enemy or my competitor, but in truth she’s a victim just like me. I sort of wish we could commiserate…
Which brings me to lesson #3 for today: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The truth is I can’t hate my ex. He showed his true colors to me early in our relationship. There were so many times when things just didn’t add up and when I’d question him, he’d tell me I was crazy and bent on destroying us. We’d fight and scream horrible things at each other. He’d leave. I’d beg him to stay. And then I’d have to beg him back, over a period of time, all the while resentful. Because I suspected I had nothing to apologize for, and he did, and wasn’t. Super healthy, My point is — the dynamic and the guy? Pretty much the same from day one. And all those doubts I had? They were always right on.
Which brings me to lesson #4: Nothing will change in your life until you change, i.e. letting go is really really really hard. And may require burning your current life (or at least all the things that aren’t serving you) down to the ground, so you can be reborn anew. If you are certain you have hit rock bottom, you probably haven’t. I can tell you that from experience. But it’s not about that. It’s about letting go so authentically that you have to grieve and mourn the loss like it’s a death. Because it is. It is the death of a dream, a wish, a hope that you have held tightly and dearly. And then you have to be patient and know it’s going to take as long as it needs to fully release, which is not necessarily on your timeframe. You cannot rush the grieving or decide when it’s over. Only when it’s over is it over. When you have done that, have truly forgiven yourself, you can you be free to change your patterns.
And so here is today’s final lesson: You have to forgive yourself. I have been wanting to be done with this drama for two years. And I have been so frustrated and full of shame that I wasn’t. But the truth is I’ve always been focused on the wrong stuff — how I could make this work, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t. Bottom line was I fell in love with the wrong guy. And I let myself be drawn back in far too many times. It happens and moreover, it doesn’t make me a bad person. And the more I beat myself up the more I held myself in this place of anger and sadness and frankly crazy-town.
It wasn’t until last night that I realized it’s time to be done. To grieve, forgive and move into the new life, of which I am currently sitting at the precipice. Because truthfully all this time looking for answers I’ll never find, and solving unsolvable problems, is time I need to be spending on finding my ass! Which is why I suffered through my second Tracy Anderson class today immediately upon finishing this post!