So here we are, the 2019 holiday season is coming to a close. And not to put even more pressure on folks it’s also the end of the decade. And lastly, for many of the Class of ’77 in Anytown USA we are also beginning our seventh decade on this planet. So just like a lot of other folks, I am trying to get my head around it all. I know there are many milestones happening for me this year (see previous) and I want to recognize and honor each one.
Sixty is a big decade. Not everyone who enters 60 gets to stay ’til their 70s. That painful truth was brought home to me this year. We will lose more and more people in the next 10 years. Perhaps I will be one of them. So with that happy little nugget rolling around in my brain what is it that I want to say?
I guess more than anything I am incredibly grateful not to be the same person I was when this decade began.
By November of 2009, I was very emotionally ill and mentally unstable for many reasons. I was in menopause, my loved ones were fighting addiction, I was addicted to their addiction, and my second marriage was falling apart. I am unable to truly articulate the horror of addiction on a family. And ours was no different than all of the others going through that. The years, the money, the oceans of tears and layers upon layers of prayers sent up. Those years were the worst of my life so far. Hands down, nothing even comes close. And I had previously been through hospitalization for severe depression and anxiety and a heartbreaking divorce. I remember when I remarried thinking, “So thankful all of those tough years are behind me.” HA! I had no idea just how tough life could be. But I found out for sure in my 50s.
Another big honkin’ life event was a traumatic brain injury that occurred mid-decade sometime, I think maybe 2013. The lingering physical and cognitive issues, especially when fatigued, are another constant reminder that I am not at all the same woman that I was when the decade began. The TBI also seems to be one of the triggers, along with the PTSD from addiction, of the auto-immune disorder that has completely turned my life upsidedown and cost me a good chunk of my 401K in medical co-pays. So that slam on the sidewalk has completely changed me physically from the person I was at the beginning of this decade.
By now you’re thinking, “Well holy cow thanks for bumming me out!” and if I stopped typing and only let the words I’ve typed so far tell the story, well then, the story isn’t complete.
Because in the recovery and rebuilding process, forever ongoing, I implemented all of the hard-learned lessons I had acquired. Skills I unearthed and refined. First to survive and, ultimately, to thrive. My daily vocabulary is now full of words such as compassion, resilience, strength, patience, persistence, surrender, acceptance, fierceness, gentleness, joy. I learned new concepts such as self-esteem and healthy boundaries. Selfcare is healthcare, releasing with love, and the true meaning of unconditional love.
I was also able to proactively tone down or lose completely those parts of my personality, whether learned or ingrained, that didn’t serve my goal for a better and more joyful life —my judgmental side, quick temper, thin skin, unresolved anger and hurt issues that colored my interactions with others. And the list goes on and on. I am so grateful to have had my eyes, mind, and heart opened to those parts of myself and am proud of the work I continue to do there.
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am not one of those “everything happens for a reason” people. I am one of the people who want to punch those people in the throat. But I do believe in choosing how I approach life, each and every day. And I choose to approach it with unabashed joy. I learned the hard way in my 50s that I really can choose how I want to feel about almost any situation.
Some things take longer to process than others but I do okay most of the time sorting through my feelings. I learned I am not a leaf floating helplessly down a stream. I can steer my course. And I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, with love, with humility and gratitude. I learned to recognize what felt “right” and “healthy” and what didn’t. I learned how deeply I really do love my husband and how much he loves me. And our marriage is now better than we ever dared dream it could be. Not at all perfect, but filled with love and mutual respect, kindness and a deep and abiding friendship.
I could go on and on but you get the idea. I learned so much in my 50s. I learned what hell on earth is like, I learned that a happy marriage and family life is a lot of hard work and daily re-commitment to LOVE. And I became. I became the Irene I am now rocking at 60. And on the whole, I like her. She’s a work in progress but I like her so much better than the Irene of my early 50s.
So you might be thinking “Well dang, Irene, that’s a really healthy attitude!” Once again it was a gift of grace earned and learned through heartache and tragedy. Addiction led me to Smart Recovery which helped me re-train my brain to change my thoughts, which changed my actions which changed my life. How did I learn about SMART? Through my addicted loved one! This program has helped me more than words can say in every facet of my life. I often joke that my brain injury “knocked some sense into me” and in a way, it did. I can’t seem to get as angry nor sustain it for as long as I used to. And I do feel like a gentler person overall.
While I am in no way grateful for the experiences. I am INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL for the lessons I learned, the abundance of love and joy that overwhelm me daily and the grace that got me through these challenges. While I am not unscathed I am also not unchanged and am grateful to be a better human being than I was 10 years ago.
Again, I don’t see me ever saying “I’m grateful I went through that…,” but I have no problem saying ” I am so grateful for the lessons I learned and the skills I developed while going through that.”
To come out the same would have been a tragic waste. I am GRATEFUL for the GRACE that helps me understand that. I wish you good health and abundant happiness in the next decade. PEACE.
About Urban Hippie Irene Martin: I’m a middle-aged tie-dye wearin’, tree-hugging, hippie who is trying to leave the world a little better for having been here.