“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” ~ Alexander Den Heijer
I was habitually raised to put myself last. To “turn the other cheek,” (loathsome saying, by the way). While I think it is healthy to think of others and be aware of others in your orbit, quite often that all-considering habit can easily become unhealthy. Signs that things are getting sick in the social and self-care arena might be lack of boundaries with others; you “being there” for others but finding yourself hanging off the cliff (solo) when you are in need, and a constant gnawing over what others might think of you if you acted authentically.
My little family and I lived over twenty years in an area where we didn’t fit in. Yes, we had a few friends and loved ones, for sure. Plus, we made our way in work and recreation. But we weren’t a match to the environment. So, why stay twenty years, right? Because we didn’t understand that it was the environment. We thought it was us. We thought we were at fault. We thought we had to work harder at fitting in. We just lived a repeat trauma-response to a damaging cycle of life not quite working out or flowing like it should. Over time, our light dimmed and we both found ourselves hiding our authenticity; we concealed our opinions, and we dulled our flavor.
We became vanilla.
Which doesn’t work when you are unique, flavorful, and spicy.
I will always remember the night we came to the realization that we had to move, and that this was something we were really going to do. It was a profoundly liberating evening of happy tears, hugs, and relief. The immediate energizing effect was jolting in the best possible way. The thought of moving brought out an instant level of hope, creativity, and forward-thinking neither of us had experienced in over fifteen years — and we hadn’t even begun the venture.
After coming to the firm conclusion we were really going to make a dramatic life-changing move, we each went away and did our own soul-searching and practical research over exactly where we wanted to go. Seriously – we didn’t even know where we wanted to go — we just knew we had to go. After a few days we came back to the conversation and simultaneously declared that Washington D.C. was the clear winner for us to relocate to professionally, socially, and economically. We stared at each other in wonder. Was this real? Did we both seriously come to the same conclusion? Were we really gonna do this??
Yes, we were.
We moved. We planned for an entire year during Covid, and we made the actual move as America began to reopen.
There were times of doubt, of course. The whole range of emotions waved through our year of planning. But each time any waves of doubt or anxiety crept in, it only took a moment of imagining staying where we were for us to feel the tightness in our hearts telling us to run-go-fly as affirmation of what was totally necessary for us to do in order to grow and step into our individual and married authenticity.
Now, we’re here.
We’re in D.C. and we are loving it! New life has been breathed into me (both of us, actually). I’m being challenged again — (I am challenged by The Metro, but I have begun to successfully bounce off the train and across the gap in one spine-compressing, brain-rattling piece). Regardless, I am inspired by the vibe of the city. I am at ease being able to roll where I need to go. I do not miss driving. I do not miss wide open spaces, which I probably didn’t realize bothered me so much until I felt the compact packaging of our condo and neighborhood. I don’t miss having to load in and out of the car four or five times a day to make errands work; here, virtually everything is rollable.
Culturally speaking, I love the diversity and I find myself baffled how the rest of the world doesn’t coexist this way. It is nonsensical. I haven’t forgotten how things are elsewhere, but I have embraced people letting others be who they are so quickly (probably because I was so ready for it, having craved this sense of belonging for two decades), that being here, it hasn’t taken a full month of testing out the waters and gaining my footing to be more authentic in my interactions, rather than intensely guarded.
I am also getting involved in adaptive sports (adaptive rowing), and I am meeting like-minded people.
The evolution of my life is curious to even me. I grew up on the most beautiful dairy farm in the hills of Pennsylvania. Snow was real snow. Fall was beautiful. Spring was a reward for making it through winter. Summer was bliss. It was green…the kind of green I don’t think I could find anywhere else, outside of Ireland. And the water springs and the mud…scented to please…exactly the thing that brought the Scandinavians to the area for farming. All of that is in my bones, down to the marrow.
But the metropolitan life is in my spirit and my intellect.
I don’t feel wrong here. I have felt wrong, misplaced, off-my-game, and out-of-my-realm for nearly twenty years, as strange as that sounds. For awhile, I stopped laughing. I actually stopped laughing for several years — me! — I became so serious, my mother-in-law sent me a miniature book with a bee on a glittery cover called, Bee Happy. It was full of happiness quotes. Still, over time my light dimmed. My writing waned. My creativity melted away, and I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin and we all sensed it. That had an impact on me, socially. It is said that within three seconds of meeting you, people pick up on your vibes, and mine were off because I felt so awkward and out of place. The harder I tried, the worse it seemed to become. The more I made concessions and left the driver’s seat of my life to others, the more sidelined I felt in every area of my own life.
The same thing was happening with my husband. But, us being who we are, we just kept hammering away beyond routine, exerting so much energy to “make it work” where we were. I forced myself into “happy domesticity” and he limited himself to what he called “the work horse.” We would often check in with one another to ensure it wasn’t a marital issue. It never was. It was environmental. We would both find ourselves sharing the same concerns, voicing one another’s feelings without prompt. Inevitably we would circle around to the relocation conversation, and the horrible defense mechanisms would kick in for both of us, and we’d each build the case against any such move, justifying it right out of possibility. It seemed the painful familiar was more secure than the liberating unpredictable. So went the cycle. At one point — believe it or not — we were in agreement that we couldn’t relocate if it meant we were running from something. We made ourselves stay even longer just to make sure we weren’t running from problems that would just re-occur where-ever we went. We ensured we were slaying the ethereal dragon first.
How’s that for sacrificial cheek-turning?
It took Covid19 to grand slam it home that this wasn’t a game, it wasn’t funny, we weren’t winning at anything, and time is too precious to be in a constant state of wishing vs. survival…and seriously, did we really want to be doing exactly what we’d been [trying] to do a year from now? Five years from now? Did we want raise our Sonshine in an environment that didn’t work for us? How would that shape his reality? Would he be getting the best from his parents?
The truth was, a pandemic was happening. Everything was shutting down. People were dying. Loved ones were lost. Graduations were cancelled. Freshman year of college was obliterated for millions of young people. School was completely disrupted. Nothing was the same, and frankly nothing was ever going to be the same again…were we really going to ignore all the signs that it was time for a shake up? It was time to either accept what was and agree with our souls to be dimmed down versions of ourselves from now to the end….Or, we could wake up, do things differently, forego the familiar addiction to this type of pain, and burst out of the chrysalis and fly!
I am thankful to the core of my soul that I listened to myself once again, and that my best friend, husband, and partner did the same. I am thankful that I took notice that too many things were fading into bland vanilla to ignore. I am thankful that I finally became too exhausted from working on changing myself to fit the environment – which clearly wasn’t working. I am thankful that I redirected my precious energy into changing the environment, instead of me.
Welcome to my Rolling Diva Lifestyle: Washington, DC!