The Power of an Instead Life

A year ago today, I was out like a light.  That’s what happens when a doctor puts Propofol into your vein.  When I woke up from my procedure, my husband was there grasping my hand and saying “you did so great, baby.  I’m proud of you.”  It was all a lie, but I didn’t know it then. Exactly three weeks later, I grasped my beloved dad’s hand and watched him take his last breath.

I was committed to an idea of what my life would look like.  I squeezed that idea close to me, never letting it breathe.  But, if you hold on to your dreams too tightly, they will squirm out of your arms. Dreams want their freedom to grow and shift and change, like a child. Let them. They may mature into something greater than you could have ever imagined. I’m not saying that I was wrong to have dreams.  What would life be if we didn’t have any?  I’m saying that my dreams had four walls, and the walls were made of steel.

I learned my lesson the hard way.  Is any good lesson learned any other way?  Anxiety feeds on rigidity.  It savors it like a juicy filet and a nice glass of red. The tighter I grasped my dreams, the more anxious I felt.  The more trapped I became inside the steel walls.  It wasn’t until I lost everything that I realized the walls were actually made of clouds on a windy day, ever shifting and changing.

My dad had big dreams, too.  He was planning to retire and devote the rest of his life to helping people.  Instead, he died.  My dream was to build a life, a family, with my husband.  Instead, he left.  Life is full of instead, and when you finally embrace the instead rather than fight it, you realize the secret: an “instead life” can be the greatest gift.

I’ve been living my instead life for many months now.  It’s tough sometimes because it feels like I’m living between two worlds.  The life I used to have—the one where I relied on my dad and my husband to be there, and my instead life—the one where I rely on myself to be there.  My instead life has been empowering.  Let me save you $20.00 on a self-help book: when you are walking through hell, grab your fire extinguisher and stop to smell the charred roses.  When you are feeling out of control about your life, the state of the country, or anything else that makes your heart pound and your stomach knot, try to embrace that feeling and know that you will learn something from it.  Let it empower you to do something, teach someone or change something.  Don’t let it immobilize you.  You might need tools to help you, like medication or meditation, but the more you embrace your instead life the more alive you will feel.

I have bad days where I want to kick my instead life in the face.  When I have those days, my wisest friends tell me something along the lines of “this too shall pass.”  It’s hard to believe that adage when you are in it.  But, it always does.  Sometimes I feel great and dance around my place to my favorite music, and sometimes I curl into a ball and cry.  But, at the end, I always embrace my instead life and face the things about it that make me most uncomfortable.  I hate traveling, but I just returned from a week-long work trip to New York.  I had an incredible time and I also got food poisoning.  While I was donating the contents of my stomach to the New York sewer system, I was also feeling extremely present in the moment.  That’s what my instead life has taught me.  There is a brilliant duality about life.  You have to ride the waves (of nausea sometimes) until the waters calm.

Maybe you haven’t glimpsed your instead life yet.  You will.  We all do at some point.  We lose someone we love, or get sick.  We change careers or we fall in love.  Your instead life will find you, like it or not.  Instead of pushing it away, grasp it by the hand and jump.

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