I got a tattoo. Yes, me. Finally. When people notice, I get one of two responses:
1. YOU got a tattoo?!?! And 2. Oh that’s cute, what does it mean?
I never do anything permanent without major overthinking and contemplation.
The three tiny trees on my wrist are the story of 2020 – just as 2020 is the story of three tiny trees. Those trees are the symbol of how I got to where I am today. Those trees gave me permission, finally, to become.
2019 was a snow globe year – the year my beautiful little world got turned upside down and shaken violently. I have written and rewritten this part so many times. There is no nice polite way to say that my father was unfaithful to my mother – a lot – for a long, long time. No one knew, until we did. And so the snow globe was shaken, the village set on fire, and then carefully placed right side up so the pieces of ash could settle. I’m not being dramatic. Within a few months, the centerstone that I built my life on was gone… one betrayal, one dismissal at a time. Just like that, I was alone. Brene Brown brought me back to life with her book, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” In it, I found that I wasn’t alone. I was just in the wilderness, among the trees, searching for that place that I belonged, knowing that I couldn’t go back and hoping one day I wouldn’t want to. I inhaled that book like air, taking deep breaths of it over and over. I read that book again and again – holding on with both hands to this quote that Brene shares from Maya Angelou:
“You can only be free when you realize
you belong no place, you belong every place, no place at all.
The price is high.
The reward is great.”
January. 1.8 Million.
On January 3, 2020, I wrote a blog post. Within 48 hours, nearly two million people all over the world had read it. It blew me away and for about a week made me really believe there was something more to be discovered and unpacked. But life. I went back to work after having the flu and took a full time position with a company I had been with for several years for one reason: money. My boss wanted me to take the job and said “what do you want” and I named what was, to me at the time, an astronomical salary, and she said “done.”
February. Right after the epiphany of a 2 million views blogpost that set my soul on fire, I started that full time job that had nothing to do with that fire, and I lost a little piece of myself to the wind. During this time, I was nearing the end of a long training cycle and planning a weekend trip to Columbus, Ohio to compete as an Olympic Weightlifter at The Arnold Fitness Expo – an opportunity I sort of qualified for by accident. No one qualifies for the Arnold and doesn’t go. NO. ONE. And so I trained from October-March in my garage with my husband Rob for hours every day. In February, with my full time job, full time kids, full time life, and this blog post that haunted me with possibilities, I continued to lift 2-3 hours a day, preparing for The Arnold. (Seriously though, it’s a big thing.)
March. The Arnold was scheduled for March 6-8. We had hotels booked, two other coaches/friends from my local gym were going, my nutrition coach was planning to fly in for it, my best friend was driving up, and, most importantly, Rob was going to be right there when I stepped on and then off of the platform for the ‘good game double tap’ (if you know, you know). Two weeks out, new regulations were released due to the Coronavirus about health checks, limiting contact and space. A week out, Arnold himself (that’s Schwarzenegger) cancelled the Expo “out of an abundance of caution.” Six days out, we were told we could still lift, there just wouldn’t be a crowd. Four days out, I made weight. 3 days out they said only lifters would be allowed in the expo center which meant Rob couldn’t go. 2 days out I said I didn’t think I wanted to do it anymore. 1 day out, I pulled on my singlet (aka sweet spandex onesie), walked out into MY garage onto MY platform, weighed in at 75.8 kg (just under the 76kg requirement), and went 4/6, nailing my heaviest snatch and clean and jerk with personal bests. With that total, I would have stood on a podium at the Arnold. Instead, I changed my clothes and ran away to the mountains with Rob. It was the best weekend of 2020.
April. Home Healthcare worker: Leaving for work before the sun came up and getting home after it went down. Buying toilet paper from gas station bathrooms to distribute to my patients who had no way of getting any if there was any to buy… April took more than it gave to most.. for me it was the final slide down a slippery slope, a final departure into the trees of the wilderness. I sat in my car one day between patients and thought, “How long will this last?” and I didn’t just mean quarantines and COVID. How long was I going to play a role for the sake of making sense to everyone else if I didn’t make sense to myself? I also knew that I couldn’t afford to keep falling apart…
May. “Rob, I think I quit my job today.”
June. Stay at home mom. July. Stay at home mom. August. Stay at home mom.
The summer of 2020 was a slow awakening. Let’s leave it at that.
September. Fitful, anxious, frustrated. My whole life I have been convinced that you have to have a plan and that plan should always be moving you forward to the next thing. ‘Living in the moment’ was a cute fake Instagram filtered concept that looks good, sounds better, but for me was actually a load of shit. There has always been too much to DO to actually enjoy it. Yet there have always been people around me that seem impossibly busy, absorbed by their work, balanced in their families, and blissfully happy. I turned 38 and realized that I wasn’t busy, absorbed by work, or consumed by any specific goal – but I was blissfully happy.
October. Social Media hiatus. This always teaches me how little people are paying attention to you. Insert ironic laughter here. I took inventory once again of the people and places in my life where I was pouring my time and energy and realized that, actually there weren’t very many, and those places and people that used to get my time and energy hadn’t noticed my absence. If ever I was a tree hugger, this moment of realization was it. Having truly embraced the wilderness in my search for true belonging, I finally began to feel an itch at the back of my mind that I was about to walk right off the precipice where I had been camped out for months – years. But the view was still foggy.
November. “Show Yourself.”
I watched zero coverage of the election. ZERO. And I didn’t go back to social media either. I watched Disney Princess movies. On repeat. My daughter and I sang the songs and revisited the stories. I thought about how much criticism of the Disney Princesses I had heard when she was younger, because we “shouldn’t teach our daughters to aspire to meet a man” and call it complete. Clearly, the people saying those things have never met my Izzy nor have they REALLY watched these movies. Frozen, Mulan, Moana, The Little Mermaid… make all the jokes you want, those chicks are REBELS. They are real deal wilderness girls stepping out of all of life’s “shoulds” and following that still small voice that calls to them. In November, my daughter showed me that I knew how to be a ‘rebel’ – because I was raising one. Then one day, I watched Frozen 2 and just felt SEEN. Elsa, a girl who spent her life questioning who she was meant to be, always feeling like an outsider, trying to just be a ‘good girl’ – against all expectations and resistance follows a voice that keeps calling to her, a voice she can’t seem to shake – a voice that will show her who she is – a voice that she finally demands: “SHOW YOURSELF!”
“Show yourself / Step into your power.
Grow yourself / Into something new.
YOU ARE THE ONE YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
ALL OF (YOUR) LIFE.”
I stopped making anyone else responsible for my healing at some point this year. I didn’t realize it until I said it out loud in December, but I did, and something broke free. The veil lifted in that moment and I was able to see so clearly who I really was. Nearly two years of wilderness walking and I was finally free. Everywhere. Nowhere.
It was tattoo time.
Three tiny trees for the three who loved me, needed me, accepted me, and carried my heart with them when I couldn’t bear it alone… three tiny trees for the three that I would always belong to. Rob. Samuel. Izzy. Always.
I cried for all 3 minutes it took to tattoo it. Grateful, happy, endlessly content tears. Every drop of ink so deeply symbolic I was too wrapped up to think myself ridiculous. I watched him carve those trees into my arm and thought, “There she is.” In those 3 minutes I let go of everything that had ever held me back, all the “shoulds,” and I gave away my pain, my regret, and my past with gratitude for its lessons. It was a period at the end of a very long sentence. And now, I get to write the next one without exception, without judgment, without fear – but with truth and love and peace. I get to come alive. I get to become.
If you find yourself in the wilderness of your soul, remember Maya’s words:
“The price is high. The reward is great.”
And stay in the trees…