I've lost count on how many weeks it has been since my torn Achilles accident. Possibly 8 weeks now? It's all a blur. I'm writing this post in the context of having 6 more weeks to go in my airwalk boot. I've been going to physical therapy several times a week and doing my daily exercises, but I've a long way yet to go. All of this has me thinking about change. Good old change.
The hardest change for me is losing people in my life. People I love and have learned to trust. For me, that's the most difficult change to accept. When my grandparents passed away within a few months of each other, that was a difficult time for me. Logically, I knew that they were older and would eventually die, but emotionally there's a moment that you look back on and realize that that particular moment in time is the last you had an opportunity to be with them.
I grew up in my grandparents' home so losing them was like losing my parents. Though many years have passed, I still carry around a lot that they taught me. I didn't have my father around in my life and my grandfather was the person who taught me how to ride a bike, throw a ball and (for better or worse) be the man I am today. Learning to let go, accept the change of someone's death, grieving through that time, and moving on takes me a long time.
Similarly, I also have had a difficult time after breakups or when trusted friends choose to move onward and the friendship falls apart. I have taken those moments badly because I internalize their leaving and think they are abandoning and betraying me. There's nothing like opening up your life to another person, letting them in to learn the real you and then that person walks away.
Again, logically, change happens. People grow apart, move, decide to pursue other interests, but being left behind still hurts. What has always been a challenge for me is that much of this grief comes from how I was treated as a kid. For those of you who have had a happy childhood and had two parents present in your life, I envy you. Much of what I have worked out in my life is wondering why my father acted as he did, why he never wrote me or tried to contact me after my parents' divorce and what was "wrong" with me.
Pretty messed up, right? But this is the truth and sometimes the truth is not easy to write or to hear. Now that I'm older and have lived a few years, I've learned a thing or two.
Naming the Steps
When faced with change, there are ways that I've learned how to better accept the situation. It's all really about acceptance and letting go. It's the simplest thing to do (in theory), but the hardest to do in practice. I guess it all depends on one's frame of mind. My emotional attachments mean a lot to me and change can be extremely difficult to embrace. What I've learned is to go through a series of steps to help me:
- Admit how I feel. Typically, I'll talk it out with friends or write it down (journal writing!) or do a combination of both.
- Let it go. Get out of the drama. It's not the end of the world. I don't mean that in a smartass type of way, but we cannot control certain parts of our lives. We can't make people stay or people live. It's not possible. Let it go.
- I struggled with that second step and the third typically means me going back to step one, expressing anger, frustration, grief, sadness and wavering back and forth between acceptance, being hurt and moving on. It's a gradual process. I don't just wake up and go: "Hey, I'm through this now!"
- Do stuff. I remember a really bad breakup when I was in my early 20s. I was depressed, sad and felt lost. What helped me was going out with my friends, meeting new people and working on myself (more on that in a bit).
- Don't do stuff. There are times when I need to lick my wounds. A good book, a movie, some cool music, are all things that help me heal and recharge my batteries. Sometimes it's important to pamper one's self.
- Leave the nest and move on. I believe in visualizing one's fears, admitting to them and to own up to how I feel so that I can accept and move on.
None of this is revolutionary, but depending on the change, there might be different types of help needed. For the loss of a spouse from divorce or due to their death, counseling can be of great support. When I went through my bad breakup many years ago, I did go to counseling. I also attended Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings so that I could unlearn the patterns that I grew up with in my family. That process has been and will be a lifelong one for me.
I can't undo what happened to me as a child, but I can practice and learn healthier behaviors. On one hand, my past has given me the creative spark for the books that I write, but it's also scarred me emotionally. So I have a choice: I can either hide my scar from the world or admit to it, embrace it and let it go. Change is hard. Change may take decades. In my particular case, I'm writing this post thinking about what it means to be a partner/husband/father with the verbal and emotional abuse that I grew up.
I wanted to use this drastic example to show that life can go on and there is a way to be happy and to change. The problem is that alcoholism/addiction is a disease and I've seen how it's affected and mutated my family. The challenge is that I was wired to reproduce those behaviors in my relationships (sucks, doesn't it?). What I've learned is that life is a scale: There are times in which I'm doing great and there are times that I relapse.
For those who don't deal with these struggles, you might not understand what I mean by relapse. It's not that I am abusing alcohol or drugs. Instead how I react to a problem or change can trigger unhealthy behaviors in me. I might overreact or lash out at a loved one when I'm in an argument. What's important is that I accept my behavior, learn healthier techniques and options in dealing with problems and change.
None of this is easy to write or to deal with, but it's also important that I be truthful. Being vulnerable is hard for me. What has brought up this topic and why I'm sharing it with you is extremely simple.
The Seasons Are Changing
It's nearly September and soon Fall will be here. My son is afraid of going into middle school and is upset. I can identify with what he is going through. When I was young, my mother moved us to several different places so that in the course of grades 1 through 8 I went to four different schools. I had to make new friends, meet new teachers and learn all sorts of things. Change was hard for me especially since my family life was so dysfunctional and disruptive.
There were times in my life in which I would go outside in late August, look up at the clouds in the night sky and see them moving by quickly. I'd do this right before the start of each school year when I was in college. I'd watch the clouds go by, feel the change in the air as Fall approached and prepared myself for the change. Change is hard for me. Now I'm a father of two children. My son is afraid of changing schools and going through a difficult time. He doesn't know what to expect. I've talked with him, given him techniques that have helped me deal with change, but the most important thing I can do is to simply listen to him.
I want him to know (and have told him this) that I am here for him. I will listen and not pass judgment on his fears. I will be the parent for him that I never had. It's taken many, many long years to realize and learn that I've needed to parent myself before I could be a good husband or father. That's not an easy thing to do and I've tripped, screwed up and made all sorts of mistakes along the way.
I'm pretty certain I shared one of my recent relapses with you. I was on my knee crutch trying to paint my son's room and paint spilled all over and into my shoe. I cursed and my wife tried to help me and I snapped at her. I then asked her to leave me alone and I regrouped, realized that I was being an ass, apologized later and accepted that I can't do everything in a cast. I needed help and had to accept the change I was being put through with my injury.
I've many long weeks to go and more time for recovery after I'm out of this boot before my Achilles injury is fully healed. Change is coming. My son and daughter will be back to school soon and each of them will deal with their own changes and that change will affect my wife and I. My job, my wife's and all around us is constantly changing and moving and there are pieces flying all around. It can be overwhelming. It can.
But I'm not alone. Neither are you. Having my helpful resources to get me through times of change is critical for me. I hope that this honest post might be of help to some people out there. It's a topic that's difficult to write about, but it also gets to the core of my books. If I look at Cinderella in my Cinderella's Secret Diaries series, much of what she goes through is because she isn't good at accepting change. She refuses to let go (I wonder where I got that inspiration from?) and her inability to do so has consequences.
It's all about one day at a time. I will never be perfect, but I have changed and grown. And that's a good thing. It's not impossible. It takes lots of hard work and it's important to ease up on myself at times. And that's what I'm going to do now. I'm going to let this go. Thanks for reading.
Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.