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❤️❌⭕️!!
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
– Maya Angelou
I’m happy to report that over the last 6 months my health has improved considerably. I’ve enjoyed more dinner dates and adventures with my husband, strengthened my core muscles, attended weddings of family and friends, golfed, kayaked, walked in the ocean, hiked in the Blue Ridge Mountains to a waterfall, continued painting, heard mountain climbers, deep sea divers and Olympic athletes tell of their adventures, and spent some time with friends. Crazy good!
It’s been wonderful, scary, challenging, surreal, and at times downright strange. There are times when I feel like I’ve taken a deep, 4-year transforming sleep, and upon awakening find the world looks very different from the one I knew before. I wonder if butterflies ever have the same feelings. They “go to sleep” a caterpillar, and wake up a butterfly. Can you even image what it takes to accomplish that? Or how amazingly unsettling it could be?
For both the butterfly and me,
the world really didn’t change that much.
I feel as different on the inside, as the caterpillar turned butterfly looks on the outside. I wish my transformation had given me actual wings (because how cool would that be), but the truth is I got inside wings instead. It’s taking some time to get used to them. Some days I feel like I know how to use them, and on other days I’m flopping around on the floor, or helplessly caught in some invisible net.
I didn’t think that this “getting better” phase would look like this. I expected I would slide right back into my life as it was, going at the pace I was used to. It turns out, things don’t really work that way. And it’s actually a really good thing. I’ve worked long and hard for this new internal me, and it would be criminal to kick her to the curb, or keep her locked in a cage, crumpling her wings and spirit.
My new internal wings symbolize some very real and external qualities and gifts for me. They’ve given me several new guideposts along my path. Actually, there are only four. Which makes each one of them very important.
- Stay connected to yourself first. Yes. First.
- Keep meditating. Yes. Everyday. This will help you immensely with steps 1 and 3. Oh, and with step 4, as well.
- Own it. Own your wants, needs, likes, dislikes, feelings, emotions and reactions. Own what is important to you. Even if you are the only one who finds it important. Own your spirit, and your life, too. This step is very important and very empowering. Don’t skip it.
- Make your choice. Yes. Your choice. For you. Not for anyone else. And then own that, too.
This whole “getting well” transition will continue for a while I’m sure. It’s exciting and scary, but it’s essential to me to value every insight, lesson, challenge, and gift my illness has brought me. I do believe this unplanned “cocoon time” was exactly what my life needed. I promise I will not waste it. My health and happiness depend on it.
Honor and listen to the transitions, transformations, and the calling of your life, dear friends. I have found life gets pretty insistent if you don’t.
Thank you Honey for hanging in there with me!!
As my 88-year-old mother tries to recover from from two major surgeries, two extended stays in rehab, and many confusing hours trying to understand what is happening to her, I am doing my own version of soul searching and recovery.
Life is short. And sometimes healing is long. Today, I experienced a miracle. Grace knocked today, and I chose to let “her” in. This letter to my Mother has been years in the making. And today it arrived.
Trust the process. Trust the healing. Believe in your own beautiful heart.
With these words in my head, I am choosing to trust my voice, and pray that this healing swiftly arrives at my Mother’s door, too.
Thank yOu for giving me life. Without yOu, I would not be living and loving my beautiful, amazing and miracle-filled life.
Thank yOu for receiving me into your body and giving me the cells needed for me to come into being. Thank yOu for giving me time and room to grow. You gave me everything I needed.
My body and mind grew because of yOu. I got nourishment because of yOu. I was taken care of because of yOu.
I learned to feed myself, clothe myself, tie my shoes and read because of yOu. My brain developed with a zest for learning because of yOu. I have an artist’s view of the world because of yOu. Thank yOu for helping me become who I am.
As much as I have strived for it, I have finally learned that there is no such thing as perfect. The truth is, being authentically human is so much better than being perfect. Who knew?
Thank yOu, Mom, for being brave enough to bring me into this world. Thank yOu for being brave enough to love me, hope for me and carry me. Thank yOu for your patience with me. And thank yOu for setting me free.
Please, also know, that yOu have done enough.
You have worked enough.
You have strived enough.
You have given enough.
But most importantly, I want yOu to know that yOu’re enough. Without a doubt, I know now, that yOu ARE enough – and yOu have always been enough. I’m sorry it has taken me this long to realize that.
I wish for yOu peace, and healing and comfort.
You can relax and smile, Sweet Mother.
You are enough.
Your loving, growing, sometimes stubborn, always learning daughter, Vicki
For most of April and May, as my energy permitted, I was slowly packing up our home, one drawer, one closet, one cabinet at a time. During the last week of May, my husband moved every box, bag and piece of furniture into either our garage or to a generous neighbors garage. We then moved ourselves and our essentials into our close friends house, just a block away, to stay for the next 2 months.
Major 8-week remodel here we come!!
We have lived in our beautiful condo full time for 2 1/2 years – the same amount of time that I have been dealing with Valley Fever. It has been a place of cOmfOrt, lOve and recOvery, and I’ve been grateful every day that we live in such a beautiful place.
Even though we would like a little bit more space (especially for my ever growing art studio needs : ) we love our location, so we decided to stay and do a few upgrades. Seriously, could we really leave our birds eye view of our beautiful fountain? I don’t think so❤️‼️
This major type of remodel (taking down walls, building showers, building a new kitchen, replacing all flooring, and painting almost every surface) is new to me. The closest I have come to this size of a job is watching the Property Brothers on the HGTV channel, and it’s easy to say – I am nO expert! Luckily my husband and our contractor, Tony, are!
The planning and decision making has been fun, challenging and eye-opening. It helped to have Tom Olson, a renowned architect who studied and worked directly with Frank Lloyd Wright, and a highly gifted designer and textile artist, Merle Sykora, walking us through the process. (They are the team that designed and built the house we lived in for 24 years in Minnesota!)
Needless to say, packing and moving was just downright stressful. John had to “pull me off the ledge” a few times, and as my therapist said, “You get 10 extra crazy points during a remodel.” Talk about having to practice letting go of the outcome!
I thought the stress level would just continue to increase as the work began. My mind was working overtime scaring me with thoughts like – “What horrible things are we going to find? What if the existing structure isn’t sound? What if we find bugs and rats and rot, Oh my!?” (Yes, I have earned every one of those extra crazy points!)
Surprisingly, instead of feeling more anxious and stressed out, I am actually enjoying the demolition process. I’m loving seeing our space “stripped down to the studs.” There is something refreshing and comforting to see what is underneath – to see what the foundation is made of – to see the possibilities. I even got to briefly swing a hammer and knock a towel bar off the wall! Thank you, Tony!
After one week of demOlitiOn, the place looks like this:
There is something very familiar and inspiring about this process. It reminds me why I have been dedicated to uncovering, recovering, and healing old beliefs and wounds for most of my adult life. Why would I want to try and build a healthier, stronger “sOul hOuse” on top of a structure that is rotting, infested or outdated? The answer is, I wouldn’t! As hard as it is to see the truth sometimes, it is the only way to a healthier, happier and more creative life.
So, it is refreshing to see the places where our home is strong, and where it is weak. Once it is seen it can fixed, enhanced and made new! This has brought me a level of comfort I wasn’t even aware that I was needing, and encourages me to continue doing my work of healing and recovery. It may not be pretty, but it is worth it!
Is this a man who looks like he knows what he’s doing? Absolutely! If you are in need of a great contractor, Tony Timonte can be found HERE!
I am excited to see the outcome of our remodeling project, but no longer want to hurry through the demOlitiOn process. I’m continuing to learn the value of each small step and the importance of trusting myself to make good decisions with the help from a hand-picked team of experts – for home remodeling and my health!
More updates next month! Until then,
Be gentle. Be brave. Be true.
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!
As I slowly improved over the summer months, my husband and I set our sights on a 2 1/2 week driving trip to Minnesota in September. We even had a few “practice” trips to make sure I could handle the car ride, and still be able to function when we arrived at our destination. Our generous friends offered up their cabins in Northern Arizona to us, so with three short trips under our belts, we were ready. Or so we thought…
On September 1st, we packed up the car, which included John’s golf clubs, 4 of my clubs and a pair of golf shoes (ever the optimist), a cooler, some magazines, canvases, art supplies and many cute outfits for all the fun things we were going to do when we got there. Oh, I also had a Tempurpedic pillow and a full-size body pillow because my naps are still a must. It was like having a third person in the car, but it sure helped me get comfy enough to sleep. John would just shake his head every time I lugged the body pillow from the back seat to the front, but he knew a rested wife, was a happy wife.
From Fountain Hills to Albuquerque, and on to Colorado Springs and Lincoln, NE, we drove. Well, John drove, and I rested. We chatted, took in the beautiful landscape, listened to great music and late in the afternoon would look for the next Hampton Inn to rest our heads. One of the highlights was coming across the incredible Russell’s Travel Center in the middle of Northern New Mexico. Our gas tank was on empty and they had everything one might need on a trip across America. Seriously!
We arrived in Woodbury, MN on September 4th, and moved into our dear friend Sharon’s beautiful and comfortable lower level. I was feeling tired, but after one of John’s delicious homemade dinners and a great nights sleep, I was ready to enjoy our friends and family on some beautiful Fall days in Minnesota.
The next morning, Sharon and I headed out for our long awaited walk. It was longer and hotter than either of us had planned, but we are tough, right?! After a quick hello from my dear friend Karla, and a nice lunch, I headed down for a nap. Upon rising, my energy had fallen and my body, for WHATEVER reason, decided it needed 11 more days of rest! Day after day, I would awaken optimistic, and day after day, found myself with almost no energy.
ARGH! No gatherings, no lunches, no nice dinners out. No trips to the golf course, no Project Runway with Karla and the kids, no dinners with friends and family, and no more long walks. And all my cute outfits that had travelled 1,700 miles were left sadly hanging in the closet.
I became so shocked and numb that the whole time feels quite surreal. How embarrassing to be able to drive all the way from Arizona to Minnesota and not have enough energy to drive 30 minutes to Minneapolis or Hastings. How and why did this happen?
It has taken me this long to publish this post because I was really hoping to find the answers to the how and why. Not that I didn’t try, but those are the ever unanswerable questions when it comes to recovering from Valley Fever. And those are the questions that truly drive me crazy.
So, once again, I am forced to practice letting go. (Can you say slow learner?)
And, once again, I am forced to listen to my body ever so carefully.
And, once again, I am forced to slow down and look inward.
And, once again, I am encouraged to look for what is right in my life. And there is SO much right!
And, once again, I am strongly encouraged to listen to that still, small, wise voice within.
And it all helps me to, once again, gently settle into and accept how life is. (Let gO Or be dragged, Sweetie!)
So on day 11, John packed up the car and we headed back to Arizona. No stop in the Colorado mountains, the Utah canyon lands, or Kansas City. Just the quickest way home – Wichita to Albuquerque to Fountain Hills.
> Moving back to the Midwest will not cure my Valley Fever (sorry Mom).
> Planning ahead is for the birds (just so you know, the Canadian geese have safely arrived in Arizona for the winter).
> And, as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t travel well.
Upon arriving home, we cancelled our trip to Oregon for John’s nieces wedding (so sad), enjoyed being greeted by the first ever bloom on our San Pedro cactus, and settled back into our beautiful Arizona home. I’m once again slowly rebuilding my physical body, resetting my expectations and learning new ways to care for myself. I even committed to a 10-day Sugar Detox with Lacy Young which began October 1st. The experience so far has been enlightening, empowering and freeing.
I will continue to embrace life the best way I know how, and trust myself to make the healthiest and most fulfilling choices for myself. I am worth it, and so are yOu!
enjOy this wOnderful change Of seasOn, treat yOurself kindly, and celebrate all the lOve in yOur life!
thank yOu sO much fOr listening : )