Breakdown to Breakthrough
How the hardest year of my life revealed my greatest gift.
I don’t talk about it much. It was the hardest year of my life. The year that almost broke me.
I haven’t talked about this time in my life much because, for so long I felt imprisoned by the shame, guilt, and embarrassment of going from having it all together to my whole world around me fall apart. The emotions of our life’s story can often create vice-like grips over us forcing us into silence. However, I also believe two things: It is our greatest pain and struggle that often give way to beautiful breakthroughs. And giving a voice to our pain is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and most importantly to others.
Today, I share my truth about my hardest year and how it helped me reclaim my life, learn how to fly on my own, and ultimately become the woman I’ve always known I could be. For those who may be going through a tough period right now, know that you are not alone and this time in your life is only temporary. May my story be a source of inspiration and courage in seeing your way through.
It was late Fall of 2014 and I was just prepping to leave my apartment in Queens, NY to catch up with a friend I had not seen in years. I grabbed my pocket book threw my phone in it and corralled my small dog into the kitchen where he usually stays whenever I leave the house. My furry little guy and I quickly became best friends earlier that year when my then boyfriend and I adopted him as a rescue dog. As I opened my front door to head out, I heard slow drips of water coming from the kitchen. It was a familiar sound as the apartment I lived in for the last seven years had sprung a leak many times before. Sighing heavily, I closed the door in front of me, turned around and made my way into the kitchen to see where the leak was coming from. I looked up to find water coming in from the top corner of my cabinets and heavily dripping down on the microwave and counter below. Worried that the water would cause a short circuit, I quickly unplugged the microwave and moved it away from the leak. My dog who was now nestled in the far corner of the kitchen now looked worried as he probably picked up on what I was feeling. I reached down and picked him up in my arms and brought him into the living room where it was dry. I rushed back into the kitchen to find a container to capture the water coming down and noticed the leak seemed to have gotten bigger. The water was no longer a drip but a small stream was forming. The problem had gotten worse in just a matter of minutes.
Before I knew it, I had several pots and buckets laid out on the floors and counters as water was now pouring in from all areas of the ceiling splashing onto the counters, stove, and table saturating everything in its path. Suddenly, it was Niagara Falls in my kitchen. I became frantic. I texted my friend to tell her my apartment sprung a leak and I would not be making our appointment. I was home alone, my boyfriend who lived with me at the time was away at work so I texted him as well to let him know what was going on. By now the leak had been going on for about 30 minutes and did not look like it would be slowing down any time soon. I ran back to the kitchen to change the buckets as they were filling up to the brim quickly with water. I paused at the entrance, it was dark except for the sunlight coming in from the windows. I flipped the switch to turn on the lights but it was shorted out from the water. My stomach tightened as I looked around the darkness of the kitchen. I felt alone to figure this all out. I then looked up at the ceiling and noticed it started to bulge downward as if it would give way. But the buckets were about to overflow as the water continued pouring in, so I cautiously entered the kitchen anyway to dump the water out. The next moment, I felt something fall down onto my head scraping the side of my face. I looked up and saw that pieces of the ceiling were breaking apart and falling onto the floor. I quickly ran out as bigger chunks of the ceiling came crashing down barely missing me. Putting my finger to the area where the fallen piece of the ceiling hit my face, I looked down at my hand to see blood. I walked over to a nearby mirror and saw a drip of blood coming down the side of my face. The wound was minor but still, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe all of this was happening. Although I had faced leaks in that apartment before, this one left me feeling defeated. I watched from the foyer helplessly as the water continued to pour down from the ceilings until the leak slowly came to an end. In that moment, everything around me felt like slow motion as I turned to reach for my phone and make a series of phone calls. First the plumber, then the landlord, and then the boyfriend. It was going to be a long day. Little did I know, it was only the beginning of what was to come.
What came next after that fateful day in the kitchen was a series of events that felt like I was in the twilight zone. It was one surreal episode after another coming in from all angles such that it started to feel like I was watching someone else’s life falling apart and not my own. It’s important to note that the months leading up to the ceiling incident were nothing less than trying. I had been experiencing a lot of stress in my life and the free spirited, joyful person with big dreams I had once known myself to be was slowly fading and I began to lose sight of who I was. Just three years prior, I started a coaching and consulting firm where I made my living helping and advising women in their careers. To me, having a career or business that gave you passion and fulfillment was paramount. I made a commitment in teaching others that life is too short to settle for a job you hate. Something I had learned several years back while working in corporate America straight out of college. However, in the beginning stages of doing this work my business struggled to get off the ground. While I did good work for my clients and helped them achieve incredible results in their lives, still something was missing and it deeply affected the bottom line. Money came in and even more money went out each time becoming more devastating. At the time it felt like an airplane stumbling to get ahead on the tarmac but was quickly running out of gas. Of course, my confidence took a hit making it difficult to sell myself let alone believe in the work I was doing. To top it off, my relationship began to suffer. With me as a business woman and him as a lawyer building his own solo practice, we often times found ourselves working fifteen hour days to get our businesses going. At times, we were more committed to our business than to each other. Becoming an entrepreneur changes you as a person and if you and your partner are not on the same page within the relationship and working towards common goals, it can pull you both apart. Also as a thirty some odd year old woman, I struggled with not being married and having kids. I thought I wasn’t where I “should” be in life. When women choose their career before starting a family, it can often cause confusion and doubt on whether we’re doing the right thing. Especially when our peers are all married and having kids, we can at times feel like we’re missing out. After awhile together, this became a point of contention and our relationship became stagnant. Day in and day out, we were merely existing but not truly living. I was settling for a love that had run its course. Additionally, my finances were strained and money was tight for awhile. My nerves were beginning to fray. I was moody almost all the time, mentally tired and feeling drained. Everyday was a day of going through the motions as my mind fell comfortably into autopilot and constantly preoccupied with my ever growing to do list yet not really getting anywhere. I felt as if I had eight arms in the air juggling eight different balls. It was my duty to keep all eight balls in the air and if I dared drop just one, all of them would come crashing down on me. The kitchen ceiling was the ball I dropped and as if the crumble of the ceiling crashing down on top of me was a metaphor for my life that year, so too did it come crashing down around me.
A month after the ceiling collapsed on me, my boyfriend of seven years broke up with me. What started out as two crazy kids in love turned into him saying, “ I got to figure this out on my own.” I didn’t realize it at the time but his words that he was leaving me ignited my greatest fear: being alone. My life was already so stressful, the last thing I wanted to do was live it alone. Though I intensely feared my life without him, I let go and came to the hard truth that that was exactly what I had to do.
Shortly after the breakup, I decided to leave my apartment. Leaving the home I had built for the last seven years was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I didn’t know where I would go but I knew that I couldn’t stay there any longer. I was conflicted about staying in a place filled with so many memories that would remind me of my ex and I. The apartment I called my home for so long now felt like it was no longer mine and it was time to move on. Plus, I wasn’t entirely sure that I could afford to continue paying for it on my own. So I did what I felt I needed to do and left. I sold off and gave away just about everything I owned; furniture, clothing, things that I had accumulated over the years, gone or put away in storage. On my last day in the apartment, I took one final look around at the emptiness surrounding me. Although I felt sad leaving under those circumstances, I also got the sense that I was doing the right thing and that this chapter of my life had come to an end. I placed the keys on the shelf and walked away for good. All I had left was two large suitcases filled with clothes, my favorite books, a few pictures, my journals, and my dog. He never left my side and was my source of joy when I couldn’t make sense out of my own life. Having my dog with me was my saving grace and kept me sane as I went through the difficult times ahead.
I had $2500 to my name and no clue what was going to happen next. I had never been so scared in my entire life. It felt like a bad dream that I couldn’t wake up from. How did I get here? How was this my life? As I look back though, I see that all of the distressing events that happened seemingly all of a sudden, had been slowly brewing over time. Life had given me signs that things were not going right — the constant stress, struggling to get out of bed every morning, the lack of solidarity in my relationship, losing my self-worth and confidence, and tolerating the fact that I was not happy and sorely deprived of creativity and inspiration. I knew something needed to change. But I did not want to see it. I knew the relationship wasn’t good for me but I was too afraid to walk away. I knew I needed to better manage my finances but I was too afraid to look at the numbers. I knew I was neglecting my health and wellbeing but I lied to myself that it wasn’t important. I went years without seeing a doctor for checkups and stopped practicing yoga which up to that point was not only my source of exercise but also connected me with my spirituality. I was no longer meditating either. Back then, I just needed to make it through the day so everything that served my soul went on the back burner. Underneath I was dying but on the outside, I put on a smiling face and held it all together for others. It’s what I felt I had to do. I think as women sometimes we bear an incredibly heavy weight to take care of everyone and everything even if it means putting ourselves last. What happens is we lose ourselves in the process and we forget about what we love, our passions, our dreams, and who we truly are. I still cringe when I look back at the person I was because it’s not who I thought I would become. That person feels like a stranger to me now but back then she was all I knew.
The next several months of that year brought me to my knees. I experienced homelessness as I took refuge on the couches of friends and family. I gave away my dog because my gypsy life was no good for him. My business just about stopped although preserving it gave me just enough energy to get out of bed in the morning. My work was based on a personal mission and core belief I have in living a life of purpose and fulfillment. I believe the journey will not always be easy but it is our duty to persevere even when life throws us curve balls. Despite believing this, it was hard not to feel despair. For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to be broke and broken. But it’s been said that sometimes we have to be broken open in order for the light to get in.
I knew that if I was ever going to turn things around for myself, I would have to accept two things: that despite having loving friends and family to support me, I had to learn that no one else was going to do the work for me. And number two: instead of waiting for things to happen to change my situation, I needed to be the one to take charge in making them happen, which included taking a risk.
I had had enough and became determined to take back my life. I wanted the unhappiness to stop. I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted to move forward instead of standing still waiting for the rescue crew. I decided I was the only one that could save me and it was a task I dove into with both feet in. One day I went to Starbucks with my journal and I wrote out what I wanted. I listed my top five dreams in the present tense as if I already had them. Writing them out gave me clarity and the process of putting them to paper gave me a sense of power that I was taking true ownership of my dreams. After I had written them out, I went to a nearby waterfront and repeated what I wrote out loud to myself. Somehow I believed that proclaiming my deepest desires to the Universe, my words would be heard and answered. Even if this thought was just hocus pocus, what did I have to lose? I walked away from the waterfront that day feeling inspired and renewed. The next day and for weeks after, I set a plan that worked for me. It included taking daily walks through nature, saying yes to any business and work opportunities that came my way, and I even started looking for apartments way before I thought I was ready. Everyday I did something to bring me forward and served as a reminder that I was committed to turning my life around. In the year that followed, I moved into a new apartment in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in New York City; a dream that I always had. My business skyrocketed and I made more in profits than I ever had. I even grew a closer relationship with my dad, which healed so many emotional wounds for me, most of which I didn’t even realize I had. I got to travel for work and took personal vacations several times, something which I had not done in years. I also felt a more personal, stronger connection to my spirituality. It was as if I had discovered a newfound relationship with God that grounded me. I noticed profound synchronicities in my day to day in the form of right time/right place occurrences, unexpected opportunities seemingly falling into my lap, and a flow of energy that brought all the pieces together effortlessly. My pain had lifted. My confidence and sense of power over my life was restored.
There were a million personal lessons I learned during that year of hardship. It was one of the greatest assignments of my life. Sometimes we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us and the life we cling to unrelentingly is ripped from our hands. It can be scary. You will be afraid. But when this happens, you can be assured there are some things in your life that need to be removed in order for you to break free. Pain often brings clarity, teaching moments, a slap in the face, and sometimes a much needed chance to start again. If we are willing to see it this way, pain can be a gift and our greatest teacher. While the storm that tore through my life brought chaos and nearly crushed me, I believe it shows that sometimes we need a breakdown in order for us to breakthrough. For me, it was a gift that I would never trade for the world.