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Unravelling, and Raveling Again… and how risk can help

In her post, called “The Midlife Unraveling” the words of social worker-storyteller Brené Brown really resonate for me. I loved this part:

 

Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

 

I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.

 

In short, at midlife we need to stand up and really take notice of how our typical coping mechanisms, what she calls our “armour,” get in the way of us being able to live fully, joyfully, in fact.

 

And I take her point that from midlife on, we begin to unravel – by which she means we begin to give up the armour, step into our courage, and lead with our true selves – bit by bit, day by day. And she says that this process will take us the rest of our lives.

 

Risk, in action.

 

I like the unraveling idea, the uncoupling from our armour, and I love where she says: “Like it or not, at some point during midlife, you’re going down, and after that there are only two choices: staying down or enduring rebirth.”

 

I see this not as a permanent unraveling, but rather as a process of raveling, then unraveling, then raveling again. Now in my mid-50s, I feel this movement in my bones. Life has knocked me down, and around, more than a few times, and each time I was faced with a choice – what’s next?

 

And I think this is where the concept of risk comes up… risk being the centre of the fifth chapter in Martha Beck’s book “The Joy Diet: 10 daily practices for a happier life.”

 

When my first husband asked for a divorce, I didn’t want to accept that this happening to me and our sons. I was in my early 30s and they were 6 and 7 at the time. We’d been struggling in our marriage for many years, but this was it, we were coming part. Fear, in many different forms, gripped me until I took two trips – first with my kids to Disney in Orlando, Florida and later on my own to Charlottetown, PEI.

 

I hadn’t travelled on my own in many years, and certainly not alone with our two kids. But with help from my older brother who bought us the flights, the kids and I flew to Orlando, rented a car, made our way to a motel for two days, and then to the house we’d rented together with my brother and sister and a friend and her family. And in this way, we proved to ourselves we could do this.

 

This was a big risk for me. I didn’t know how to navigate solo – this was before GPS when paper maps were our tools. I remember one day, we got lost in the Florida countryside looking for NASA and The Kennedy Space Center. I’d pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road, crying that I couldn’t do this. The kids were wide-eyed in the back seat and I was crazed with the enormity of what we were facing, not just then, but in the tomorrows to come. In that moment, my spirit was broken, and I was unmoored. My eldest son then picked up the map, and holding it upside down, tried to make sense of things for us, reassuring me as he “read” the map that he could help us find our way back and we’d be “ok.”

 

The memory makes me smile now, but at the time, it shook me out of my malaise and freeze, and got me back on track. I am so grateful for the courage my sons both showed through this whole trip, it must have been a weird time for them too.

 

By its nature risk is, well, risky. That’s how we know it’s a risk – its scary to do something out of the ordinary. But when we step out into the unknown, we stretch ourselves and grow in ways we didn’t know were possible.

 

The kids and I were able to move forward on our own, with the help and support of my parents and siblings, ultimately into a new community and life. This was our first, collective, step into that new place.

 

The PEI trip I will leave for another time, but it too stretched me and helped me find a new way forward. Risk taking is a practice though, and developing a healthy habit of it through life, and what that looked like for me, is part of what I talk about in this podcast episode. The practices that will help you are outlined in Beck’s fifth chapter. I trust you are reading along so give them a try, and let me know how it goes.




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