Somehow we find ourselves here, propelled to the end of a year that still feels in so many ways to be just beginning. It is December; a month of celebration, gratitude, and reflection. It is a little special this year because not only is it the ending of a year, but the ending of another decade — a decade in which so many things have changed.
How do I cover so much in such a short span? 10 years ago was December of 2009. I was newly single, divorced in February of 2009 (divorce finalized in April). In November I began a new job in banking, at which I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary on November 16th of this year. 2009 was a major life-shifting year for me, and I began the new decade on January 1, 2010 with nothing but the unknown ahead of me.
Over these last 10 years I have done so much that I never dreamed I would do. When I was growing up I always thought that I would get married, have kids, live the traditional life with the bread-winning husband and fill a role as mother, wife and care-taker. I never really knew there was another option for me as a woman. It was not until this last decade that I navigated the realities of life and shifted my perspective. I am a mom, but I learned that “mom” is not my identity. It is something I do; the most important thing that I do. But it is only one piece of who I am. My identity does not come from being a mom, or from being a wife/girlfriend, etc. It comes from being true to who I am and living for myself just as much as for those I love.
I learned that I should have stuck to my original dream of becoming a writer, as I am now, finally, nearing the end of my degree in journalism. I have become a freelance writer and had pieces published in a local newspaper and local magazine, I’ve built this blog to both fulfill my longing to write and share my passion for diet and health, and even started writing a book. But the journey to get here was long.
I got an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education because I got pregnant right as I was starting college and was completely lost on the direction I wanted my life to go. So I chose Early Childhood Education because I thought it would help me become a better mother, and because I greatly value education and literacy. But a teacher I am not; after teaching at the preschool level for a couple of years I knew that it was not the career for me. As a single mother, spending all of my days surrounded always by small children left me feeling stressed rather than fulfilled.
So I left teaching and went into banking. It was supposed to be a temporary move until I figured out what I wanted to do. And it turned out — I really liked my new job! I enjoy (nerd alert) economics, especially macro economics, and my new job related very much to that. So I decided to seek a business degree for my bachelor’s. What I learned in the process is that the only part of business I actually like is economics! The rest of my classes I hated, and as soon as I started business stats, I knew it wasn’t for me. I am not a mathematical person, I am a linguistic and artistic person. It was like trying to force my right foot into a left shoe; it just didn’t fit.
In my job, I work processing SBA (Small Business Administration) loans, which means I get to help small business owners make their dreams come true — without having to spread financials. A lender has to do that, and I get to do the work of preparing documents for closing, booking and maintenancing loans, submitting reports to SBA, and constantly keeping up-to-date on new and changing SBA mandates and government regulations. And I love it!
I also worked my way into this position, which requires either a 4-year-degree or the equivalent experience in banking, with my only completed degree being in Early Childhood Education. I am here, in a job that requires a bachelor’s degree in some sort of business or finance, without the degree in business or finance. Which means I am free to get my degree in whatever I want. And a couple of years ago that is exactly what I decided to do. Right before I started this blog I was accepted at UMass Amherst University Without Walls, and have been studying there part-time ever since. As of the end of this semester, I have four classes left to complete my degree!
It took about eight years to get from being lost about my future, to knowing exactly what I wanted for myself and taking the steps to make it happen. And I didn’t get there by accident.
What I mean by that is, in order to reach the point of focusing on my writing and studying journalism, I first had to find myself. Yeah, I know, “find myself”. What a cliché. But oh, how real that is. I married my high school sweetheart and had my first child at 19, and my second at 21. I grew up in a family where not one single person in my immediate family, on either my dad’s or mom’s side, had been college educated. Plenty of them were smart enough to — my dad and my maternal grandfather both are incredibly intelligent and talented in so many ways, they could have moved mountains had they lived through different times, grown up in a different family, or lived in a different place.
In fact, my father never even finished high school. And yet he is himself now a small business owner and has done very well for himself in life, and I am proud of him for that. I am also extraordinarily proud of my grandfather for managing to build a future for himself and his family on a high school diploma and a career in a coal mine, where he dedicated countless hours and worked his way through to a financial security that I hope and pray to repeat after him in my own life endeavors.
Now here I am, the first on either side of the family to have a college degree, and soon to be the first to have a bachelor’s degree. This journey has taught me so much more than I ever knew possible, and has given me deep respect for education. It is about so much more than just learning math, science and literature. It is about exposure to the unknown, and embracing the unexpected. It is about gaining knowledge in areas that are not our expertise, and allowing that knowledge and that experience to shape and change us.
I have discovered countless things that I never received from my upbringing, diet and a healthy lifestyle being only a part of it. All of those things have changed my views and perspectives, and have allowed me to learn on a much deeper level, who I really am. Not all of that discovery, however, came from education. A great deal of it came from facing my demons.
My parents separated when I was 11 and divorced when I was 12; right as I was hitting adolescence and learning the skills that would carry me into adulthood. Neither of my parents knew the “right” way to handle things, and for that I most definitely forgive them. But it took a very long time to reach that point. I spent the remainder of my childhood essentially raising myself. My mom moved away, and I was left with my dad who was never much of a touchy-feely type and became focused on new girlfriends and finding his way in a new life he hadn’t expected to be living.
I had my maternal grandparents, who I had always been close to but had quickly become my rock and still hold that role to this day. They will always be my guideposts for everything that I do, and as I round out this decade they remain one of the things for which I will always be most grateful.
Due to a disagreement with my father’s relationship choices, I left my hometown to live with my mom when I was a sophomore in high school. I was back with my mom, stepdad, and brand new sister who had just turned a year old. I had fallen off the educational wagon during junior high, but by the time I made the move to my mom’s, I had gotten myself back to being an honor student and remained there for the rest of high school. It is something that I can proudly take credit for myself, and also give credit to my grandparents for since they drilled the value of education into my head constantly from the moment I was old enough to speak.
In spite of improving my grades and giving myself a chance for a future, I still carried a great deal of anger, hurt, and animosity toward my parents and the way they handled things with me following their divorce. I felt that after they divorced, they forgot about me. They each turned to their new lives and left me to fend for myself. I carried that with me for many years, until 2015.
In 2015, I finally faced those demons. I had been very lost, and also had become very good at hiding what was going on inside, for a long time. I always thought “I know what is wrong with me, I can fix this by myself”. But I was wrong. I finally reached a point where I was tired of feeling lost, broken, insecure, undeserving of love, and like I wasn’t enough. I was exhausted from trying to win the battle on my own, and I finally sought out someone to help me navigate it all. Her name is Brenda, and she is a licensed counselor in my hometown. It might have been my choice to seek her out, but it is she who deserves the credit for where I am today.
Working with her changed me. Just 10 minutes into my first session she pinpointed the reason for everything that I felt, everything I had done in my life up until that point, even the reason I ended up repeatedly in the same type of unhealthy romantic relationships. We spent the remaining few sessions working through that reason, which was a combination of my parents divorce and my relationship with my mom.
I am happy to report that my mom and I have a good relationship. I have no more anger or resentment towards her or my dad, and all of us are now in places in our lives where we are happy and thriving. The three of us made missteps in the aftermath of their divorce that we have healed from. And my healing came solely because I chose to cast aside the stigma of “needing therapy”, and I got that damn therapy! I needed it, and I am a die-hard believer in it because I’ve seen the power behind it. So if you are still reading this far in — please, I urge you to remove any stigma you might see in this. If you are struggling, please reach out for help. It will be the best thing you ever do for yourself.
As a quick side-note before moving on, I made another transformation in 2015, about a week after my first counseling session at the end of October. My whole life I always wanted to be a redhead, but I was afraid to make the change because it would be hard to undo if it didn’t turn out right. But I took the plunge and have never regretted it!
2016 was a new year, and a new start, for me. I had reached a place where I finally felt like I could stop dreaming of who I wanted to be, and start actually being that person. I stopped looking ahead to the future, hoping and waiting for things to be better sometime down the road, and started really living. I began a journey of self-discovery, trying new things, travelling to new places, taking on every new experience I could find. In the process I learned who I am, I learned what I love, I gained confidence and lost my depression and uncertainty. I finally knew that I was enough, and for the first time in my life, I loved myself.
Since that time my life has blossomed so much. I took the boys on a trip to a favorite place of mine, Wilmington NC, in October 2016 and came home ready for a change. I had the opportunity to relocate to a larger town 30 miles south and work with the rest of my SBA team from the Southeast Market, and it was a welcome move. I had always wanted to get out of my small hometown and get somewhere that had more to offer. I thought this would be on hold until my boys graduated from high school, but the chance came sooner than expected.
Much to my surprise, both boys were excited for the change as well. I was thrilled to know I was raising children who are not afraid of change, but actually embrace it and look forward to it…because like it or not change is a guarantee in life and it’s so much easier when we flow with it rather than resisting it. With the three of us all on board, I listed my house and started shopping for homes in Cape Girardeau. It took just a couple of short months to get my house under contract, and get an offer in on our new home in Cape.
During the few weeks between going under contract and closing on the new home, a fluke winter tornado struck my hometown on February 28, 2017. It ripped right through the heart of my grandparents neighborhood and what I had come to know as my childhood home since I spent as much time there as my own house growing up, and left my grandparents homeless, but alive. The place of our family’s roots and foundation was gone, taken away in a mere 20 seconds and left scattered for miles across field, forest and river.
Two weeks later I closed on the sale of my Perryville home and then on the purchase of my new house in Cape. It was the second home I had bought all on my own in my adult life (the first was in 2014), and it was the home that I knew was more than just a starter home. It was a home I could stay in for a lifetime. It’s the home I knew could become for my boys what my grandparents’ home had been for me.
We moved in, painted, redid the kitchen cabinets and counter tops, and made the place our own. The boys left St. Vincent, the private Catholic school where they’d spent their elementary years after I was confirmed into the Catholic church and joined the choir in 2012, and started school at Cape Central. They loved their new school, we loved our new home, and I loved my new working location. As time went on I developed and strengthened friendships, so even though I was 30+ miles from my nearest family I still had a tribe. I had a new family all of my own making, and I am still so incredibly blessed to be a part of that circle.
Perhaps my biggest struggle in the last decade has been dating. So much of this was due to my unwillingness to really deal with the underlying things that kept me from finding a healthy relationship. Once I reached out for help and tackled my demons in 2015, things changed dramatically in that arena as well. I finally knew my worth, and I knew to stop settling. When I saw red flags, I stopped ignoring them. When I knew that something wasn’t going to work, or knew that my needs from a romantic partner were not going to be met, regardless of how interested I may be or how I may have felt about that person, I cut it off. Time had become valuable to me and I didn’t want to waste anymore.
In fact, when I made the decision to move to Cape, I was a couple of months off the end of a brief dating experience, and I made the decision to stop dating altogether. I had so many changes going on in my life that dating was not a priority. I was also admittedly fed up — very fed up — with the disappointments and feeling that no single men out there shared my same values: commitment, closeness, connection, family; something deeper than just a fling. I was tired of the disappointment and the back-and-forth, so I stopped dating. And I didn’t start again until the summer of 2018.
What I got out of that dating experience was more disappointment, more aggravation, and the realization that no matter how kind and sincere someone seems, they can most definitely be dishonest and deceitful. He and I were never meant to be, because his heart was elsewhere. My only wish is that he had been honest with me about it and not pursued me, rather than pursuing me anyway while secretly carrying on with his ex behind my back. Finding out that truth was a bitter pill to swallow.
As much as I can fault him for his dishonesty, I must also credit him with this: he pulled me out of my place of hiding and contentment, and pushed me forward. He opened my eyes to the one thing I did not yet have, that I hoped I would someday find — a partner. A real partner that I could trust and depend on, who would be there for me through everything and not always have one foot out the door (as most men I’d come across always seemed to). A partner who shared my faith, my values, and my idea of a relationship.
Being lied to sucks. Having someone choose someone else over you sucks even more. But in the aftermath I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let that discourage me, and I would not go back into hiding. I was officially back in the dating world, and that’s where I was going to stay. I may not have been actively searching, but I was open. I knew what I wanted, I knew what I wouldn’t accept, and armed with that knowledge I let myself be present to whatever should come.
And that brings me to 2019; the final chapter of the decade. I entered 2019 with a full life and a happy heart, open to possibility. I didn’t expect to find that partnership I dreamed of anytime soon, and maybe not even at all, but I was equally open to it and satisfied without it. As fate would have it, what I was hoping for came so much sooner and more suddenly than I ever could have guessed. It came on April 4th, 2019, when a tall man with a short beard and a red pullover sat down beside me on a couch at an event at my friends’ workplace. I said, “well hi there,” and a conversation began that would never have an end.
Now, eight months later to the day, that man is my partner. We have the same values, we have the same faith, we have the same idea of what commitment means, and we have the same dedication to the relationship and the future that we are building. We communicate, we share, we compromise, and are kind to each other. It is the type of relationship neither of us has ever had. One thing that he and I agree on is that neither of us, both divorced single parents, knew what we were missing before we found each other. We didn’t even know that a relationship could be like this, and now that we know we never stop being grateful for each other.
While I am blessed to have Michael, and for my grandparents to still be here after a tornado, there has also been loss and hardship over the last 10 years. A cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident. My grandmother was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (which is responsible for my road to discovery in diet and health). My uncle passed away from kidney cancer. My boyfriend was diagnosed with Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma (incurable, but with treatment and monitoring he is expected to have normal life expectancy). And another uncle, brother to the uncle with kidney cancer and father to the cousin who died in a motorcycle accident, just passed away suddenly this past Friday and was laid to rest yesterday.
If you ask people what they want in life, the most common answer is “to be happy”. Reality is, happiness isn’t permanent. Life is filled with ebbs and flows; ups and downs. They say that happiness is a state of mind, and I sincerely believe that is true. It isn’t possible to stop hard things from coming. Everyone will experience tough times; that much is inescapable. I think the greatest mindset I’ve developed over this decade is that it isn’t what happens to us that determines our happiness; it’s how we respond. There will always be a silver lining. There will always be something to be grateful for. In order to achieve the blissful days, we must also endure the difficult moments. Life is a blend of both.
With that, what I’ve learned in this last decade is this:
Time is an illusion. We think we have plenty of it to waste; we don’t.
When we hide from our problems, we only prolong the ability to resolve them and find inner peace.
There is more strength in reaching out for help, than in dealing with things on our own. Most people refuse counseling because of the fear of how they’ll be perceived by others, and this fear unnecessarily prolongs the struggle.
The key to happiness is to disregard the opinions of others, and instead be honest with ourselves about who we are and what brings us joy. Try as we might we can never please everyone. But we always have the ability to please ourselves if we are true to ourselves first.
Being healthy is about so much more than what we put into our mouths. Diet is only the start of health. The rest is a state of mind, and that can be much harder to get in tune with than changing what we eat.
We should never stop learning. No matter how much we know, there is always a lot more that we don’t know, and the opportunities to learn something new are endless.
Open-mindedness is everything.
My original intent for this post was to do both a year and decade recap, and talk about my goals for the next year and decade. But 3500 words later I realize that there was so much to talk about (and to be honest I’ve only hit the bullet points) regarding these last 10 years, that my goals for the next year and decade need their own post. I will have that coming up later this month, including an assessment of how I faired with the goals I set for myself at the end of last year.
I hope this finds you well, and I wish you and yours a very blessed holiday season and year-end. I will see you back here again soon ❤