It wasn’t a lightning bolt, but it might as well have been. Sweating it out, alone, in the “family” workout room. I was watching my watch, struggling to reintroduce my body to the bike after TOO many months away. And then it came to me, It. Was. Me.
I know, it sounds a little cheesy, but you can’t change how moments of clarity hit you over the head. So, what was me?
I was struggling with who I was because I wasn’t me anymore. Maybe it was this military lifestyle. Maybe it was the harshness of the choices and the sacrifices. Maybe it was influences I couldn’t even name. But I had changed. My husband had told my parents, when he had asked for their blessing, that he wanted to marry me because of my heart. He loved how I saw the world, that I was kind, patient, thoughtful, strong, and confident. And yet in that quiet, sweaty space, I realized I was less of those things now than I’d ever been. And I realized that perhaps this was why I struggled to love myself, because deep down I didn’t really like myself anymore.
I’d struggled for years to be comfortable in my own skin. I was unable to put words to the feeling, constantly blaming the next major life crisis. It was the deployment, the move, the miscarriage, the parenting challenges. It was being an introvert in a world that necessitated initiative. Those were the reasons I wasn’t content. Military life was the reason I wasn’t happy. But that morning, I realized it wasn’t any of those things, it was me.
While I was willing to accept that, perhaps, life’s challenges impacted who I was, ultimately, I’d made the choice to stray from a better version of myself. I’d become less kind, less forgiving, less hopeful, less confident. I’d evolved or devolved (as I now see it) to someone with a short fuse, a solution for everything, and a belief that everyone else is f’ed up, but not me. I had all the answers. I’d become someone who cursed often, yelled easily, and judged willingly. It’s not that I was a horrible person, though it does sound that way, doesn’t it? It was just that for the first time I could name the shift. Simply put, over time, I’d become a harsher version of my younger self. And I was struggling to find happiness. What if those two things were connected? Duh, of course, they were connected!
I knew how to be a kind friend. I knew how to be a patient mom. I knew how to be a thoughtful partner. I knew how to be a confident employee. I knew how to be a strong leader. I knew how to be an engaged mentor. And yet knowing those skills and embodying those skills had become two very different paths.
I felt like I’d hit the golden buzzer. I needed to adjust my path, and it was going to start with this bike ride. I’ll always be thankful that I was alone in the room that day, so the emotions that came could just come. I forced myself to a steeper and steeper climb, as if to punish myself for my reality. Heart racing, sweat dripping, tears falling. It was all quite simple, and yet I’d literally spent years trying to “figure it out.”
That was my moment, just me and the bikes. That was the moment I realized that I had strayed too far. That was the moment I could admit that I alone had to do the HARD work to regain my outlook on life and live it. If I was happy, none of this would matter. But I wasn’t. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy. But if it’s possible to exist in a space between happy and unhappy, that’s where I was. I was enjoying life’s moments, but positive self-talk was definitely not a driving force. I was surviving. Barely. But I could (almost) remember a time when I was thriving.
Yes, it was before kids, marriage, the Army, and a stalled career. But that morning, I was no longer willing to resign myself to the idea that somehow kids, marriage, Army life, and employment challenges couldn’t co-exist with me thriving. It had become so easy to listen to the noise, the noise that says it’s hard, the noise that says single parenting sucks, the noise that excuses self-medicating and binge-watching instead of investing in my dreams. No, the noise didn’t stop that morning, but I stopped listening to it.
I feel like happiness is one of those things you don’t realize is truly missing until you regain it. And then you look around and say, “Wow, THIS is what I was missing!” The presence of it is far more telling following its absence. And who I’d become played a larger and larger role in how I viewed others and the world around me. Happiness was a was a choice. And I’d made the wrong one for far too long.
So I ended my workout knowing that it was time to bust out the Windex and clean things up. The changes I longed for in my child, my husband, my friends had to begin with me. And it was going to be hard, but I could see the path. I just had to take the first step. Cue the self-improvement podcasts.
Tell us! What was your last “light bulb” moment when you gained clarity on something important? What resources did you use to help you make the changes you wanted to make?
Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, story-worthy socks, cream cheese icing, lilies, and morning snuggles with her kiddos.
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