Last night, as I drove out of the city, I cried. For about an hour, in rush hour traffic, I was a blubbering mess. It was a release I needed - and one that, when it was finished, allowed me to see the woman I've become, to see all I've survived and all I've been able to accomplish. From being homeless with no job or car to someone with a great job doing what I've always wanted to do, living in a lovely house with roommates I like, doing art, being active, joining groups, and driving a sweet old car that I own.
Here's what I've learned over the past year.
1. You can survive the things you are afraid of. Whatever it is that you think would be the end of your world, you can survive it. You may think it's going to kill you, or damage you, but you'll live through it and realize how capable you really are of making change in your own life.
2. Sometimes, God will step in to help push you over that ledge into the unknown. We can contimplate a decision that will change our lives, and hesitate out of fear. We stand on that cliff and look at the dark blue waters below...and sometimes, God comes up and pushes you over.
3. Trying to control the descent makes for a harder landing. We cling to control as we fall, as the world shifts around us, but that just tenses you up and makes for a hard landing. Relax into the fall and let go of having to be in control.
4. It isn't as easy as getting up and brushing yourself off. This isn't a blockbuster movie; getting back up after you fall is a long process that starts with dusting off the past, but you're going to be sore and walk kinda funny, and that's perfectly normal.
5. Seriously, have faith and stay on the path. The Universe is on your side. Once you've made that big decision, or had a hard fall, stay on the path you've chosen and don't try to go back to the life you had before. As long as you keep facing forward, the Universe will work behind the scenes to make sure you're taken care of.
6. Say yes to opportunities, even if you don't think you're up for it. Somehow, you'll make it work. Things will be put in your path that are there to lead you to your next self, but you may not feel you are capable of doing it. Working two jobs, joining a group...you will find the energy and determination to make it happen. Be proud of yourself when you do!
7. You aren't above a job in retail. Get out there and work hard. When I needed to find a job, I ended up working at Target. Yes, I have a college degree and experience, but I needed something to pay the bills. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Work hard no matter where you work and know it may just be a transitory space.
8. Laugh more. Joke more. You are allowed to smile.
9. Allow yourself to be spontaneous. Close your eyes and go for it. I regularly run away to the mountains whenever I feel the wind pulling me that direction. Just get out of town and into a new space. Go to that event. Start writing a novel.
10. Sometimes, all you can do is survive the day, the hour, the next five minutes - it's okay. It won't be like this forever. I have terrible anxiety that was really bad when I first got up from my fall, and it kept me paralyzed by trying to predict a future where I didn't know where I'd be sleeping the next night. I could only worry about the next 10 minutes. It kept me present and the fears at bay. I love that lesson. Just do the next ten minutes, or hour, or afternoon. Whatever you need to do in order to keep going. This isn't forever.
11. Let yourself cry. It helps. A lot.
12. Not having a home means you get to meet new people and go places. Couch surfing is a daily adventure outside your comfort zone. I slept in guest rooms and also spent some time on an air mattreess in someone's dining room with a curtain for a wall. I met new people, was accepted into families, learned new traditions, ate new foods. I'm thankful for that time, however odd it felt.
13. Trying old patterns/ways when you're rebuilding doesn't work. I went back to doing art the way I used to, but I wasn't the same person. And you aren't, either. It's time to throw out how you used to do things and figure out new patterns to help you grow.
14. People will want to help. Let them. It can be hard to accept help, but people want to help you out. It comes from a place like this: they were once where you are and were helped, and want to pass that kindness and compassion on. It's a magical exchange of faith and love.
15. Give it time. Nothing happens in a day, so you'd better learn patience. Go with the flow, keep on the path, and it'll happen.
16. Take advantage of your situation. Every circumstance has something of value to teach or give. Silver linings exist. There are lessons inside the crappy stuff.
17. Have goals. Don't make them huge, though. Small steps seem to matter more than large ones. Maybe today you're going to make that one phone call you need to. Tomorrow, you're going to organize your space. Little goals add up, and you're not setting yourself up for failure. You need all the positivity you can get!
18. When presented with a cart full of clothes to be sorted, start by grabbing the one on top. You'll find your groove and be finished in no time. This is one of the most important lessons I've learned - and while I was working retail. I'd have these huge carts full of clothes to be sorted and hung up and they're kinda overwhelming. But I'd start with the one on top, and then the next one...and soon I'd be finished! It's the same for a big thing in life - start with one small step and keep going.
19. Share your story. You have no idea how powerful your journey is until it helps someone else. You guys have proven this. I'm so grateful and humbled by comments and emails that come from posts when I share my story thus far.
20. Shit is going to happen. Not for a reason, or to teach a lesson, but just because stuff happens. It's okay to be mad. I'm not going to say it's going to be easy or sunshine. You'll have things happen that suck and there's nothing you can do about it. All the positive mantras in the world won't help - and that's OK! Be mad.
21. You can ask everyone in your life for advice, but ultimately, the decision is yours. Don't be afraid to make a choice just because it might go against someone's advice. It's your life. Take in advice but make your own decision. No one knows your life and your experience of it but you.
22. Go to that party. That meetup. That bonfire in the desert. Dance and laugh and make new friends. I had a cast on a broken foot but still made it out into the desert. I'm so glad I did. Get out there and connect with others. Stay busy. These all lead to new adventures.
23. At some point, the story of your fall and rising will annoy you. You'll get sick of telling it to each new person. This means you're no longer trapped by it. I've had to explain my story so many times...I'm so over it. I've made it through. Let's talk about the NEW amazing story I'm living!
24. Fear is powerful. But so is faith. One of my favorite quotes is this: "Fear and faith cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time." (Elder Andersen) When you are fearful, faith is shoved to the back of your mind. You need to make the conscious decision to grab onto faith and banish fear. Things will work out.
25. You're going to lose yourself at some point. It's okay - that's the scab over the wound. You'll find yourself again after you get through the hard times. It may take a little work, but you'll find yourself again through the lens of you version 2.0.
26. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do. This includes yourself. Go against what society says. I'm chroniclly ill, so society says I can't do certain things. I say I can do whatever I put my mind to.
27. Anxiety sucks. But you can get through it. Focus on now. What can you do right now?
28. Life is full of setbacks. But you've already survived so much - none of the setbacks will kill you. Life's just like that. Hard times are proof you can survive a LOT.
29. It isn't that God never gives you more than you can handle - He gives you more to show you how much you REALLY can handle and how strong you really are. Stuff happens that you don't feel up to. It's too much. You can't tackle it all. God does this to show you what you're really capable of.
30. Adversity changes you in many ways - you are now a guide for others to follow. I'm a different person than I was a year ago, and so are you. Adversity changes us, hones our minds and hearts and allows us to overcome. And now, you can help others.
31. Always say "I love you" before you hang up the phone. You never know when it'll be your last chance to say that. I didn't know the last call I got from my mother would be our last. I'm grateful it was full of love and pride and support. And now, I say it at the end of every call because I never want to miss a chance to shower others with love.
32. One day, you're going to wake up and realize you're no longer just trying to survive - you are now ready to thrive. Last night, as I drove through the mountains in the dark, I realized I wasn't in the vortex of survival anymore - that my life is pretty great and my strong foundation has been finished. I'm not in survival mode anymore - I'm ready to start creating a life I love, with the people who have supported me through it all.