Dear Sugar Shells,
This week I'm telling you a very personal story. It's technically about my thirtieth birthday disaster but really this is the story of how I found my way into owning my little life coaching practice / business. So; thank you for being here. And away we go!
When I was 29, I lived in Hayward, California, in a 530-square foot condo on the edge of the Hayward Hills and little else. Emma the Brave was my trusty roommate.
For my thirtieth birthday celebration, my family reserved a table at a fancy French restaurant. My boyfriend of 1.5 years was invited, too - his first time meeting my dad, in fact. I remember feeling the happy butterflies of excitement and getting dressed with pleasure.
My phone dinged while I was fastening my earrings - and it was the boyfriend. He had texted to say he couldn't attend.
My heart dropped onto the floor as I stared at that message. I don’t remember whether or not I cried, or if perhaps I wrote him back (or maybe called?). I do remember my stomach flip-flopping around badly, the butterflies replaced by a twisting knot of wires.
I went to dinner anyway. Alone, I walked into the restaurant, greeted my family, and informed them that he wouldn’t be attending. I did excuses and they did pleasantries. I spent that dinner forcing myself to be light and lively to disguise how much I wanted to slide down the slick wooden chair into a sobbing pile under the table.
Afterwards, I went home alone and laid down on the sofa in the dark. I cried. I cried big loud tears and little leaky tears, suffused with the shame of relationship failure and the physical pain of misery. I cried from exhaustion. And I cried the choked, wracking sobs of pure loss.
His last-minute absence illuminated how much I’d been wrangling that relationship into the shape I wanted - something that would win me my family’s approval and something I could count as a life achievement. That possibility flew out the window before dinner and I knew it wasn’t coming back.
What also disappeared that night was my willingness to win.
Until then, I had followed all the rules. I had earned excellent grades in school as well as two college degrees and two teaching credentials. I worked in an enviable job that blended education and social justice. I spent time with my family. I had several close friends. I went to yoga, ate relatively well, and endeavored to get enough sleep. And I’d even bought that tiny condo - all by myself! - to secure my own financial independence.
So, I had Done All The Right Things, and yet here I was, alone (Emma the Brave notwithstanding) and perfectly miserable. I wept disconsolately in the dark, on my special birthday, mourning all the illusions I had just lost and feeling completely wretched.
Strangely, though, something about it felt clean and right.
And when the boyfriend arrived that night to apologize in person, I turned on the lights and broke up with him. I told him to leave.
As he gathered his things, I seriously considered throwing his beloved computer over the stairwell. (So, not my wisest moment.) I wanted to wound him and I felt very angry, true, but more important, I wanted to physically destroy something. I wanted an explosion! I wanted actual 3-D evidence of the overwhelming collapse that I felt happening in my internal world.
Confession: I did not break the computer. (Thank goodness. That would've been expensive.) I resisted that impulse, BUT fortunately I didn’t resist the destruction. That night, without wording the experience, I unconsciously decided to stop following the rules for the sake of winning.
I wanted a different way of doing things. I wanted to feel different. It suddenly wasn’t enough to look successful and together: to win in the external world. I wanted to FEEL successful and together...and confident and peaceful and cherished and true. And, somehow, I could sense that this meant playing a new game.
More soon, and much, much love,
P.S. This is probably Part 1 of 2...maybe 3. We shall see. Thank you for reading!!