What Happens Next (and an update of sorts to My Hard Truth)

San Diego Sunset

A picture I took of a San Diego sunset.

I’ve spent the last year learning what it means to trust myself in dark places. I don’t mean darkness in the sense of depression or danger. More like learning to feel my way through the dark without automatically reaching over to turn on a light and asking myself what I need to learn in this place before moving on. Part of that has been separating from outside influences so that I could practice thinking for myself. I haven’t abandoned my support network but I’ve definitely taken a different approach to weighing those influences.

As many of you know, I stopped identifying as an alcoholic over a year ago and wrote about it here last August. I don’t want to talk about moderation or even specifically about drinking. All I’ve ever really wanted to talk about is my journey in learning how to take care of myself.

In hindsight, I can see that much of my life was dedicated to searching for the answer to “Why?” Why do I feel the way I do? Why did this or that happen? Why am I the way I am? At various times in my life I abused relationships, money and substances because the answers to ‘why’ were temporary and fleeting, never satisfying my deepest needs to feel safe and loved.

I’ve always been eager to embrace anything that I thought could be my ‘answer’. I’m the person who goes out and buys all new workout clothes when I rededicate myself to exercise. It was suggested to me at one time that I was intolerant of wheat, dairy, corn and coffee so I gave it all up cold turkey. I spent years in sales positions and suffered from constant anxiety attacks because I thought that making myself do something I hated was the way to overcome my fear of it. 4 years ago I reached a point where anxiety took over my life and medicating with alcohol wasn’t working so I embraced the label of alcoholic and stopped drinking for nearly 3 years. Some of my choices weren’t everlasting. And you know what? That’s ok. Every time I’ve taken a step to take care of myself, a truth has been revealed that I can take forward with me.

If each of us can embrace what is needed at this very moment to take care of ourselves and not worry about the label, making a lifelong commitment or what people will think of us, we will build upon the truths that create lasting change in our lives.

I’ve come to understand that seeking the answer to ‘why’ is a good start but it doesn’t even begin to encompass all I want to know. A better question is, “What happens next?”

For me, what happens next is that I’m embarking on an adventure where both my kids will be in elementary school and I will have uninterrupted time to focus on a business I love. It means that I’m diving back into finding God in all places after a season of needing some distance from noticing those details. It means a commitment to cherishing my body in its current state so that I can learn to love it in all its states. It means finding where I can serve and how I can offer grace. Most importantly, it means not being afraid of what might be asked of me because that fear has had a habit of keeping me from taking risks.

At least that’s the plan. The beauty of life lies not in the plan fulfilled but in the surprise of the plan interrupted. Just keep asking, “What happens next?”

 

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that — but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Letters to a Young Poet”

24 Comments on “What Happens Next (and an update of sorts to My Hard Truth)

  1. My chameleon friend (in the most loving way said) – your ever changing world keeps you moving forward. Both of us could do with a little less thinking but in reality, that is who we are so we might as well embrace that part of ourselves and see the beauty. But again, maybe there is sometimes nothing to learn. No – I don’t actually believe that – learning is constant… maybe what we learn is not in anyway related to what we think it should be…maybe taking it in/absorbing it is enough for the moment and at a later date it will become relevant.
    I never ascribed you with “fear to paralyze” – you rush forward, lights blazing into fear. For good or for ill? Who knows – it just is. Of all the things that happen – this is what happened. Still my most favorite quote that gives me some context of meaning in a world of endless and often incomprehensible outcomes. But is there really an outcome? All things lead to something else – so where is the start and the end? or do we give it those kinds of labels b/c we can’t understand otherwise? I know not.

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    • I think labels do help us understand but most of us fear losing the label if we’ve wrapped our identity around it. I like that quote too. I’ve missed your thought provoking comments!!! ❤

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  2. I like the sound of this journey for you. On reflection I came through this point in some aspects a while back. I can so identify with the “Why?” questions. For much of my life my problem was that I asked that question like a computer with a boolean register ready to receive the answer. It had to be 1 or 0, on of off, yes or no. I accepted no shades of grey, let alone a pallet of rainbow colours to be in the answer. It drove me nuts! I certainly was one of the reasons I sought solace at the bottom of many many glasses.

    “Why am I an alcoholic?” – there was the last question I had to accept a broad range of answers for, allow ambiguity and allow for an incomplete answer. For me simply I found like hard to cope with and I drank to boost confidence, ignore it, numb out emotions… etc. etc. Finally stopping black and white thinking actually allowed me to move on from the why questions. I’m now less focused on the why and more on … “so what we going to do about it?”

    Great post – great journey.

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    • Thank you! Yes, those rainbow colors…Black and white thinking gave me a false sense of control in a terrifying world. Embracing God helped me allow shades of gray. Even the simplest thing is incredibly complex and knowing that there is a power greater than me made it possible for me to let go of trying to control those tiny details. Surrender became freedom.

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  3. I have read that Rilke book so many times I lost count. It is something special for a stranger to give words to what is on your heart.

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  4. Seriously….we could be sisters! I totally empathize with your words around being a salesperson for 4 years because you thought it would be a way to curb that fear. I did the same in sales and in many other situations.
    It has been a true pleasure to walk alongside you as you share your journey and grow with each new path and fork you take. I love how introspective you are, and yet find a way for the us to apply it to our own lives.
    I say it all of the time, but truly mean it…I’m glad our paths crossed….and that we aren’t salespeople any more 😉
    Love you!!

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    • I’m so glad our paths crossed too! We just got chased from the swimming pool by a monsoon and when I saw this comment it put a huge smile on my face. Time to make some popcorn and enjoy the show (which I guess is just a giant metaphor for life)! xxoo

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  5. You write so beautifully, Karen, and I envy your ability of introspection. I’m excited for you and the fact that you’re going to focus on a business you love.

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    • Thank you Katia. I’m excited too! I feel very fortunate to have been able to work from home when they were little but it feels really good to be able to contribute to our business in a more direct way. 🙂

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  6. Excellent Karen. To answer those who may be detractors – the “why” crew – when you surrender yourself to Christ, the why becomes self-evident. Curiosity as to how God is expressed in this physical world causes believers to sort of “flow” into the answers – which really aren’t seen as answers so much as light. For instance, Socrates defines “Love” as “the desire to be one with” – a good first crack at it. And yet Gravity is defined as “all mass attracts” – precisely the same concept as Love. How can it be that the emotion that most defines our existence shares a concept with the force that is most responsible for the formation of the physical universe? To me the answer is obvious – they share a common root – God. There really isn’t a why – God is the why.

    So, as you say Karen, “absorbing” grace will set a direction to follow much as asking “why” sets a direction for non-believers. I actually find myself as curious or more curious when following grace as I would if following “why”. As a metaphor – an observer looking at a laptop would see the external case and keys and the screen and how the programs react to input. They would ask why. A believer is looking at the inside of the computer including the flow of electrons and the code that is controlling the programs. The believer does not need to ask why – it is self-evident.

    Anyway – I don’t usually use this language as it turns off all but believers. As I’m sure you have realized, there are assumptions in a lot of our language and to use words that that do not express those assumptions is generally a turn off to most readers.

    I wish you strength in your search for grace. 😀

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    • Paul, I love your comments so much because they’re so thoughtful and intriguing. I absolutely love the connection you make between love and gravity and God. I recently came to an understanding about what it means to be blessed – to be divinely supported and given sanctuary. I don’t need to know ‘why’ when I am blessed. You’ve given me so much to contemplate. Thank you. 🙂

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  7. You sound like my sister from another mother. I have been consumed with “why,”, with learning the lessons, going 100% into everything, and having to get it right less someone find out how inadequate I think I am.
    This article was like a breath of fresh air for me. Thank you for sharing. I have taken your words to heart.

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  8. Beautiful thoughts.
    I’m here. I’m me. I’m okay. Whatever happens I am strong. Strength has already been built into me. I get to learn how to access it. All the “whys” only solve yesterday’s troubles, but “why nots” let me step into today. Free today to be amazing me: mom, wife, coach, friend, whatever.
    I just love reading your words.
    xox Lisa

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    • “All the “whys” only solve yesterday’s troubles.” I love that. And usually they only offer small glimpses into those troubles. I love the idea of stepping into today too. I love it all Lisa! xxoo

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  9. Why resonates with me because I,too, see issues as problems to solve . Knowledge is my sword. Setting my mind to something blocks out all other options.

    But I’ve had to concede it also blocks out the beauty of life. Willpower, intellect and strict rules build walls. Dark, lonely walls.
    I’m still tearing them down so I can love (I meant live, but love works too) in the light.
    Enjoy the journey. Wherever it goes!

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    • That’s so true about building walls. What’s funny to me is that the more I ask why, the less answers I find. Knowledge is my sword too and I wonder if we find more knowledge in asking questions than we do in finding answers! 🙂

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  10. This post was powerful for me in so many ways that I cannot even write them all out here. I have to live with this for awhile.

    One thing I will say, though, is that I also always loved (maybe still love) to ask why. I figure that if I can get to the reason, I can fix the problem. Then I did a workshop with Caroline Myss and she discussed this topic of asking why. “Why do you need an answer?” she said to the group. (Kind of yelled it at us, in my memory.) “The sky is blue. THERE! There is your answer. Now move on.”

    This angered me to my core, so I knew there was something in there for me, even if I couldn’t buy into her words. And you are saying the same thing…whatever it is, move on. (Though I do not feel angry when I read your words. Only peace, which is wild.)

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I think that all you have done has brought you here, and you are amazing, today, the way you are, on the way to whatever you are becoming.

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    • I relate to that anger because I’ve too felt anger when it’s been suggested to me that asking why is pointless. It’s only been in my struggle with surrender that I’ve seen that asking why isn’t exactly pointless but it’s limiting in so many ways. I’m not as interested in reaching final conclusions as I used to be and I’m much more comfortable with the idea that each question should be asked and answered many times. The control freak in me is softened by that. I like the openness of ‘what happens next’ because of the endless possibilities. Of course, it’s much harder to let go of control when those possibilities are frightening. You are one of the most beautiful spirits I’ve ever encountered and I’m so grateful we can be a part of each others journeys. ❤

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  11. “Fear has had a habit of keeping me from taking risks.” So true. But the same way I find that fear can paralyze, I find that fear at times can also mobilize. Keep up the good work, Karen; you are in a good place.

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