On January 26, 2012, my husband and I left our Minnesota home for the last time and permanently moved to Fountain Hills, Arizona. This was our dream. Some 20 years prior, the Sonoran desert had stolen our hearts, and now we were stepping into the life we had envisioned for ourselves!
“If I had my life to live over again, I would ask that not a thing be changed, but that my eyes be opened wider.”
On February 10th of the same year, I came down with Valley Fever. Yup. Eight years ago. Beginning the year I was strong and healthy, golfing, hiking, socializing, and going to Jazzercise 5 mornings a week. Life was full and busy! By mid-February, I was confined to my bed with severe fatigue, headaches, nausea and body aches, and struggled for most of the next 4-5 years to have any sort of a normal life.
In this 3rd and final part of nO Regrets Living, I’m taking a stroll back through the last 8 years to revisit some of the more important lessons I’ve learned, and to pan for any gold nuggets I might have missed along the way. I’m grateful for every lesson, each challenge, and all the ups and downs there have been. Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Somewhere in the last 6 months I can honestly say I’ve reached my new normal. I no longer think of myself as “sick”. I will no longer use my experience with Valley Fever as a way to mark time. I will consider myself recovered. The dictionary defines recovery as “a return to a normal state of health, mind, strength” and/or “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost”. I also looked up the definition of transformation, which means “make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.”
There are definitely parts of myself that have recovered, but I would say, as a whole, my entire being has been transformed. I may look the same on the outside, but my insides seem to have been totally rearranged. It was time. Actually, it was over due. During the last 8 years I have said many times that if I had gotten “well” in less time, I would have gone right back to all my old patterns and coping mechanisms. And that is the last thing I wanted. Change takes time. Transformation takes time. And, I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my life.
I’m grateful beyond words for the role ART has played in my recovery. It is the safe place I’ve returned to again and again, to play, and begin once again to hear that still, small (very wise) voice inside me. Growing up in an alcoholic and overly religious home, feeling “the crazies” comes pretty natural to me. Words and feelings of doubt, being less than, shame and unworthiness abound in this mind of mine. And like my friend, Karla, says, “Our minds are dangerous neighborhoods to travel in by ourselves.” Luckily, my artist self has become my traveling partner, and it has made all the difference. It makes this whole process worth every step. Truly.
As odd as this might sound, taking risks in my art, my writing, and my life were easier when I was sick. Life was simpler, more basic, and safer. As I’ve gotten better, the judgements and expectations I have of myself, and others have of me, have crept in and shut me down quite often. I had to dig deep when I was ill, and now, as I’ve become well, I’m having to dig deep in a completely different way. I’ve been digging deep my whole life, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting I’d have to now. Yes, Sweetie, grab the shovel again. There are more things to be cleared out, and there is more freedom to be had!!
Chronic and long-term illness changes a person, in a lot of positive ways if you let it, but also in some very challenging ways, too. Our brains change and create new pathways to help manage our lack of energy and pain. Those of us who are lucky enough to “get well”, and reach a new normal, can find those coping pathways actually hinder our healing. Again, not what I expected. I’ve recently become conscious of how I immediately begin checking myself (body, energy, mental and spiritual state) every time I consider saying yes to anything. Do I have the energy? Will it take too much out of me? Do I need a nap? These aren’t bad questions, but I no longer need to keep traveling this pathway in the same way. I am well enough. I am strong enough. I’m transformed enough to move forward.
In my new life, I’ve had to admit it’s not good for my health and well-being to handle and have answers for everything in my life, and everyone else’s, too. It may seem obvious how unattainable that is, but for this self-prescribed savior, it is a huge step to let all that go! Staying healthy, grounded, happy and lit up has now become my focus. I have realized that some things (quite a few things, actually) are not worth my energy. For this recovering co-dependent and alcoholic, admitting that is another huge step. Staying focused on nO Regrets Living, meditation, creating art, experiencing Nature, down-time, intimate connections and conversations, good movies, and adventures that expand and enlighten me, get first priority now. There. I said it. In black & white. And, no, “saving the world” didn’t make the list. I may be a slow learner, but sooner or later, I do get the lesson!
Through these last 8 years, I have slowly learned to let myself be loved and seen in new and deeper ways. I’m also learning how to love in truer, less encumbered, less co-dependent ways. I’m so grateful. It’s been a long time coming. Being vulnerable and gut-wrenchingly honest is scary, but the rewards are great. Miracle level great. Learning to trust myself has finally given me a foundation to begin trusting others. Thank you to the many angels who have shown up, in person and in spirit, to hold my hand and show me the way. Thank you for not giving up on me. We are not meant to do this journey on our own (I tried damn hard, though) and I would not have made it without you.
I started this nO Regrets Living 3-Part Series by writing about the loss of my dear friend, Eric Lunde and his family (read nO regrets living-Part 1-a tribute HERE. In it, I wrote:
”Since Eric’s death, I keep hearing: Don’t wait to wake up. Don’t wait to love. Don’t wait to swim in the ocean. Don’t wait to take that trip. Don’t wait to be with your favorite people. Don’t wait to celebrate. Don’t wait to live your life the way you want to. Don’t wait.”
Only now do I realize how impactful writing those words have been. Without knowing it, they have become a living, breathing energy and power operating in my life – helping me to make choices that fill me with light & love, and truly with nO Regrets. Yup, miracle level changes.
Thank you and goodbye, dear Valley Fever. You have been a mighty teacher, and one I will never forget. I will travel lighter, more consciously, and more honestly than before, creating as much beauty and joy as I can. Thank you for giving me a new set of wings. I will cherish them and use them wisely.
One other radical shift that I’ve become aware of recently, that I finally feel in my bones, is that I am responsible for my own happiness. Me. Only me. Not my husband. Not my friends. Not my family. Not the checkout girl. Not my doctor. Not even my therapist. Me. Only me. (My husband is sighing in relief that he is finally, finally off the hook.) Believing that other people were responsible for my life and state of being, even subconsciously, is one of the core beliefs that has kept me acting out of co-dependency, instead of love. It is a hard way to live. And nobody ever ends up getting what they need and want. In my new life, I get to fly free, and so does everyone else. I promise.
So, here’s to freedom, happiness, fulfillment, peace, pleasure and love. It really is possible to create a future, not from the past, but from your beautiful, vibrant, luscious, light-filled dreams. Thank you, thank you, for listening and supporting my journey to wholeness. Listen to the callings of your own soul, and choose things that light you up. You will never, ever, regret it❤️
If we are lucky, we have them. Those milestone birthdays that kind of take our breath away, and make us wonder what life is really all about. Part 2 of my exploration of nO Regrets Living involves one of those big birthdays.
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.”
On January 17, 2018 I turned 60 years old. My three sisters and I had started a tradition back when we were all turning 50, to begin getting together on each of our “big” birthdays. It was a big step for all of us. Coming out of a family structured on competition, addiction and co-dependency, we would all go through our triggers as we came together. Like my wise Yoga teacher says – “If you are feeling enlightened, go visit your family.”
I missed my two older sisters’ 60th birthday get togethers because I wasn’t well enough to travel. I feel like I not only missed out on the celebrations and adventures, but on some of the relationship healing as well. It’s a very strange feeling to be on the sidelines for so long.
This year my sisters kept asking me what I wanted to do to celebrate my 60th (yikes) birthday. We could have done anything. They would even have all traveled to Arizona if I had wanted them to, and even though I was well enough, I just couldn’t say yes. After losing Eric, and trying to process and grieve the loss of his whole family, and process and grieve turning 60, my system and brain felt like it had short-circuited. I just couldn’t muster the energy and focus it would take to be together and celebrate.
Ten years ago for my 50th, I had fallen into some pretty painful co-dependent behaviors, and put immense pressure on my husband to make my day “super special”. (Translation: Do something so grand that I would feel loved now and forever more.) Needless to say, with unrealistic expectations like that, it didn’t go well, and I sure didn’t want to repeat that! Talk about regrets. So as the date neared, I kept asking myself what did I want to do – if anything. I finally quieted myself long enough to hear my inner voice say, “I want to go to Sedona.”
It was a big step for me. I didn’t worry about my sisters or friends feeling left out, or whether they agreed with what I chose or not. I was in need of healing, and a trip to Sedona for an overnight with my husband sounded heavenly. And it really was. Rocks really do have power, and Mother Nature did her magic. My body felt quite strong, I wasn’t hanging onto any expectations of making it “extra special”, and I had a very healing, loving, expanding 60th birthday experience. Just what I needed. Kind of a miracle if you ask me.
In preparation for my 60th, based on a recommendation from one of my sisters, I downloaded the App, WeCroak. It notifies me 5 times a day with this message – “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” As morbid as it might initially sound, there is something very freeing about the message. It is a great reminder to stay focused on what is really important, and on what lights me up. Because in a flash, it will all be over. And at 60, that feels closer than ever.
It takes courage, bravery and vulnerability to embrace nO Regrets Living. It takes getting quiet in order to hear yourself. It takes being willing to feel the feelings that come with being different, odd, or downright eccentric. Sign me up. I am ready.
The truth is, time marches on. And on. And on. Until it doesn’t. Time does not heal all wounds. Some things we never get over. But if we keep being open to experiencing moments that are in true alignment with who we are, I’m finding that they actually really do happen.
And, if you need to embrace your inner snail, do that, too!!
PS. Watch for Part 3 of nO Regrets Living later in August. And, thanks so much for supporting me, loving me, and being brave enough to keep looking inward❤️❌⭕️!!
Whatever you do, don’t stop moving forward. In art, in love, and in life. Don’t lose the hunger. Long for the next chance to feed that hunger, not to silence it.
– David duChemin, photographer
The end of one year, and the beginning of another, is one of my favorite things. Not for the parties or the drinking. Not for the late night or the crowds. But for the time to review and honor the lessons and gifts of the past year, and for the dreaming and honoring of the possibilities that are waiting for me in the new one. And the kissing. I love the kissing.
I tend to measure the success of a year by the fears I faced, the challenges I said yes to, how gentle I’ve been with myself and others, and by my capacity for love and gratitude. My goal is to not only celebrate my growth (which helps keep me going), but to see where I might want to place my focus in the coming year.
To help me continue on the path of becoming my healthiest self (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually – which, like my therapist says, is a full-time job), 2015 will include:
- Life Book 2015 – An Honoring and Celebration of You! This is an online mixed-media art course, organized by Tamara Laporte at Willowing Arts in the UK. Among many other wonderful possibilities listed in her LifeBook Manifesto, these are the parts that caught my eye: “We look to become our own super heroes and our own best friends. We feel our feelings. We lean into discomfort and see where it takes us. We honour our inner world, we sit down with sadness, we sit in the fire and rise again, like the phoenix.” If you are looking for a way to play, explore and grow this year, check this out by clicking on the link above. You will not be disappointed!
- Meditation – This is something I have dabbled in, struggled with, loved, and hated for many years. I’ve started reading, at the suggestion of my therapist, the book Real Meditation In Minutes A Day by Joseph Arpaia. It talks about the idea that our minds, just like our bodies, need training to be fit and healthy, calm and relaxed, calm and steady. My mind SO needs this training! I’ll let you know how I’m doing with it. Uh, where was I? Oh, right…
- Continue Reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. This book is on the New York Times best seller list and complements my goals of greater trust, knowing and creativity in the new year.
- Continue Practicing Radical Self Care – acupunture, therapy, resting, choosing, saying, and letting my artist-self play til her hearts content.
Thank you 2014, for blessing me with improving health, the best husband in the world, the loveliest of friends, creative inspiration, the most magical road trip, generous and supportive vickiO Art customers, and moments of jOy that will last as long as I live.
To those of you suffering with Valley Fever, please know you are not forgotten. Each day, when I feel grateful for my improving health, I send healing and heart energy to everyone of you. There is so much physical and emotional pain that comes with this illness, and the road is often very lonely. More light needs to be shed on the acute and long-term effects of Valley Fever. Our voices need to be heard. I’m thinking of some creative ways to bring more light, attention, understanding and education to our cause, so we are all not so alone. More to come on this in 2015.
Another on-going goal of mine is -how should I say- to become “co-dependent no more”. Or at least “co-dependent a hell of a lot less”. Much of the time, it feels like I’m fighting a ghost, an aberration, or an unseen marauder, that sabotages my self-esteem and confidence at every turn. It causes me to question even the smallest decisions, and, I’m realizing, is taking up way too much of my precious energy.
I have come a long way in my recovery, and will continue to do what ever it takes to defeat this most sinister foe. It is my work to do, and I’m sure not going to stop now! Best book on this work – Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody.
Life isn’t about being harmonious with other people, it’s about being harmonious with ourselves. -Panache Desai
Be at peace.
One of my biggest fears in life is to be thought of as selfish. Where I come from, it is one of the most serious of “sins”. And sins are those terrible black marks on your soul that stop you from getting into heaven. Pretty heavy stuff for a child to deal with and make sense of. (Not that this is even possible, mind you.)
Over the years, as I’ve slowly recovered from a childhood filled with fear, unrealistic expectations, alcoholism and neglect, the issue of self-care has repeatedly been the focus. But how do I truly take care of myself without being a sinner? How do I take responsibility for myself first, without adding more of those ugly marks on my soul?
The truth is, my wounded child self and my soul have been dying for my attention for many years. The more recovery I have, the more I’m finding that codependency and addiction are driven by the deep pain of despair that we feel when we stop listening to the needs, wants and desires of our beautiful and authentic hearts. So how do I reconcile the message of “total self-sacrifice is of highest importance” with my knowing that “self-care and self-responsibility” is the healthier, more balanced way to live? Is it time to give up the promise of heaven?
Addiction and codependency run rampant in my family tree. It’s like Dutch elm disease, but worse. These two demons are a very toxic and powerful tag team. They truly suck the life out of everyone and everything. One demon speaks of self-importance, manipulation and an indulgent ego, while the other speaks of total self-sacrifice and “bleeding out” for others. I bounced back and forth between those two places many times in my life, until I realized there was no peace (for myself or the people I love) in either place.
Over the past 2 1/2 years, as I had more time to go inward and listen, I began to hear some profound (and sometimes scary) truths:
- I am solely responsible for my happiness. (Not my husband, not my sisters, not my parents, not my friends, and no, not even Jesus.) Good riddance codependency! (I will be practicing this for the rest of my life.)
- It is my job to choose myself. It’s nice to be chosen by others, but the real healing happens when I choose myself. (Who knew?)
- Help is available, but it is up to me to ask for it. (Still working on this ; )
- There is no such thing as perfection. (Excuse me!?) Now, after many, many lessons, given the choice between perfection and love, I chose lOve, hands down, every time! (Perfection is a very painful standard to hold yourself, and love ones, to. And there is truly nO peace in it. Trust me, I tried. My dear husband has been my greatest and most patient teacher on this one. Thank you, Honey!)
- The Reader’s Digest was right – laughter is the best medicine:
So, to answer my own question – yes, it is time for me to give up the promise of heaven. I know this choice is not for everyone, and I’m really ok with that. Coming to this conclusion, I am feeling relief and a deep sense of happiness and peace. The unbearable pressure has been lifted. I will continue to do my best by showing up, loving deeply and letting go. Because another of my truths is:
I am grateful beyond words for my art – the process, the lessons, my teachers and the outcome. My creative artist self is so darn happy, and I am so grateful that I have had this time to explore my own heart and my own truths. I highly recommend it! Thanks so much for all your lOve and encouragement. Want to be an artist?
SO, as Batman says…
Be gentle. Be brave. Be true.
check Out mOre new vickiO art HERE!