Transformation and change are one of the most terrifying experiences a human being can pass through. I know this all too well, having walked through four long years of it not so very long ago. It was just after I dived off the cliff of a secure, long-term marriage into an abyss of uncertainty and all things unknown. I ached to reclaim the self I felt I’d lost in union with another, at all costs. The price, as it turned out, was exceedingly high and well beyond what I felt I could afford on any given day. But I’d made the purchase and had to pay the price. There was no reverse.
The progression of unfolding events in our country feels similar. We’ve jumped off the secure cliff of democracy to test its strength, dismantling and disintegrating all we once knew and loved. None of us knows quite what to make of the daily deluge, or what democracy will look like in the end. Ugly displays of confusion, fear, and anger are acted out daily for the world to see. Greed and ignorance are reigning supreme, shouting loudly that this is their country now, and they’re here to stay.
Was it letting the votes go by, that we all got here? What it Russian interference? Whatever the explanation, we’re in it for real. No reverse.
Fear can be all consuming, never-ending and persistent. As I walked the trails in my mountain valley years ago in the company of my sole Longhorn Heifer, the last one standing in what was once an abundant herd of joyful horses, goats and cows, I worried for my future. How would I take care of myself, buy hay that winter? Could I run out of money before I found a job, in an economy of recession, because my unplanned and impulsive decision thought it’d be a fabulous idea to divorce a millionaire just then? Did I throw away the last good man on earth, forever relegating myself to work by day and cuddle with dogs by night? Would this pain, longing, confusion and relentless suffering ever end?
As I wondered for my future then, I see us all wondering now: How are we going to care for ourselves, when they rip away our health care or change the makeup of the nation’s highest court? What’s going to happen to all those people in the detention centers down south, the families ripped apart? How many more national monuments are going to be stolen for the benefit of privileged oil and gas men? Are they really going to trophy hunt twenty-three Grizzly Bears in Wyoming this autumn? Will Captain Cuckoobananas and his Republican Goon Squad continue to destroy our democracy, or will enough people vote in November to save us all? Will the drama and outrage, pain and anger, the moronic, 3 a.m. delusional tweets from the now-desecrated White House, ever end? Will we ever friend our Trump-voting cousins again, after November’s over?
For four years (the term of any one-term president) that I lived outside my own comfort zone. The stress, confusion and daily feeling that I was waking to find myself in a literal nightmare feels eerily similar to how I now feel when a New York Times notification pops up in my iPad.
My life back then was filled with a sense of unshakeable internal terror. Will this next budding romance rolling into my now-single existence undo me forever, catapulting me off the cliff of psychological or emotional sanity to a point of no return if it ends in another breakup? Will one more loss turn me into Michael the Bench Guy, the homeless man in our community, who broke after losing his wife and best friend, and spends his remaining days whittling sticks in a cabin in the woods, walking down the dusty road with his middle finger erected high in the air for us all to see? Will this new — job interview, Meet-up group, friendship, volunteer opportunity – shatter my sense of self-confidence and trust, like a windshield in a car crash, for being a good judge of character? When will I wake up and feel normal again, whatever I once thusly defined? Each step forward into my new life brought rising waves of fear until they rose into full-on panic attacks. I was sure I was a relationship away from becoming a blithering, homeless bag lady, rescue mutts in tow.
I thought that time would never end.
But eventually, by grace of the Universe or fulfillment of the karmic lessons I clearly had coming to me, they did. And I learned. To slow. Everything. Down. I learned to view my life (invoking Dr. Jung here) as a house to be occupied, with the basement of my naked, vulnerable subconscious most exposed. Humility replaced aggressive arrogance. I had no choice but to face every possible aspect of myself I’d tried a lifetime to ignore. Each emotion became a room I visited: Insecurity, the Master Bedroom; Fear, the Living Room; Self-Abandonment, the Kitchen; Hopelessness, well, that’s the entire House!
After I accepted my new situation as an opportunity for growth instead of dread, I could feel a shift. I turned back towards myself, and realized I’d been given an opportunity for growth, to become more of myself. It didn’t happen on a particularly bright sunshiny day or high on any mountaintop with fairies dancing overhead or under the hooves of that Longhorn Heifer standing looking over me, it was gradual – but progressive.
I understood I was being given the chance to learn self-love and self-acceptance, much the same way we’re learning just how much we love democracy and value it as the system of fairness and equality for all individuals, not just the monied or the privileged few. I matured to become a better version of myself, much the same way I believe we will emerge with a stronger democracy for having tested it out with the challenges we are facing. Some (present company excluded here) may not have taken advantage of the opportunity to vote for the bother they believed it was, but won’t be making that mistake again this November. And we’re all getting to see the shadow side of humanity in much the same way I got the opportunity to see my own shadow side or exposed weaknesses – so I could learn and heal them – as we all can now, too.
The process of transformation is just that – a process. I took the time to grieve all I was losing or had lost, often under the harsh needles of the Ponderosa Pines on the mountaintops, in the company of my similarly rejected Shepherd mutt, until I cried myself out. I cultivated resilience when I strapped on my skis, trekked up through the snowy forests at the base of the Continental Divide with my similarly resilient Shepherd mutt by my side. When I was feeling really overwhelmed and ungrounded I climbed on my motorcycle for the Zen meditation of rolling along river-lined canyon roads until I felt grounded, centered and clear. I wrote daily, to let the heartache out and the wisdom in. Each day I wasn’t certain if I would ever feel okay enough with myself to feel life was worth living ever again. But I got through it because each day was all I learned to look at. In all those meaningful, dark and transformational days, I rebuilt my life with a foundation of one, from the ground floor of my burgeoning soul.
Through all the transformation America is undergoing, I believe we will emerge with a better understanding of not only our personal selves, but the moral character and integrity of our country, not to mention strength of our democracy. I believe our democracy will be stronger for our having tested it out and having gone through it. Transformation and facing our fears, traveling through pain, is not something we human beings readily embrace. But here it all is. And for now at least we’re all in this, for better or worse, together…