Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Best Gifts I've Given Myself (in Chronological Order)

“You're taking up a valuable seat for someone who needs it more,” Dr. D teased. At the end of this evening's counseling session, we agreed that I'd worked my way out of this season of needing her perspective.

“Just think, four years ago I returned thinking I was coming in for a tuneup,” I reminisced.

As I pulled into her office parking lot, I thought about how far I've come in the intermittent appointments I've had with her over the past ten years. Therapy is the first of five gifts I've given to myself as an adult.

Before I met Dr. D, I cried in the shower a lot over things new and old that I couldn't work through myself. I felt confused and isolated and generally sad. I didn't understand why I couldn't get over my hurts and why I felt vulnerable and needy most of the time.

“You aren't the same woman you were ten years ago,” Dr. D complimented me. “You've done the hard work, and your life is better for it.”

I understand myself and how I fit into my family, my work, and the world better than ever before. This knowledge guides me smoothly through life's sticky moments by setting and reinforcing boundaries, trusting my gut, re-teaching people how to treat me, and being gentle with myself.

At today's appointment, I listed the ways I've implemented those tools in just the past three days. I actually clapped my hands with the excitement of it all. I like the sound of Dr. D's “atta girls,” but I like the sound of my own even better.

The second gift I am grateful for is yoga. Five summers ago, I stood at the counter of a store my sister likes to shop at when she visits. Her birthday was approaching, and I was buying a gift card so that she could shop next time she was in town. As I waited, I noticed a flyer for a yoga studio that replaced another store attached to the building I was standing in. I made my purchase and took the flyer with me.

A few days later I took a class on a day off. It was hard, really hard, but something clicked inside me and I knew I had to try it again. My company had a wellness program that would pay a portion of the yearly membership, so I bought it planning to be reimbursed. One month later I was downsized. Yoga taught me how to breathe through difficult situations and in uncomfortable poses. It taught me to love my body and to trust its strength and power. It taught me how to love my arms in tank tops and my long legs in short shorts.

Five years later, I do a short routine nearly every day on my mat in my bedroom—something I never imagined I would be able to accomplish. I started small and now I can't imagine my life without at least some yoga in my life every day.

In therapy, I learned the difficult truth that we teach people how to treat us, and that I was no exception. In being polite, non-confrontational, and people-pleasing, I had taught people that it was okay to take advantage of my good graces, to be takers because I would always be a giver, and to operate in double standards without mutual respect.

I wondered how this could have happened. I learned that I routinely did not set boundaries in my relationships. This was one grand weakness I set out to conquer. Now I'm a boundary boss. My life is so different because I've set boundaries.

I was afraid of what would happen when I took a stand for myself, but there wasn't much to be frightened of. It truly is scarier to navigate life without boundaries. They make things less complicated and provide clarity and structure. Taking the risk to set boundaries in my life is a gift that will not stop giving to me over time.

As I write about these gifts, it is apparent how connected they are. They have built on each other. Their power expands when combined. The first three gifts I gave myself set the stage for the fourth gift, which was my divorce. I had contemplated this dissolution for years before I moved forward. I shed many tears, prayed many prayers, and tried everything in my personal tool box to preserve the relationship. I was heartbroken. Divorce was not what I wanted. I was worried about how it would affect my daughter now and in the future. And then there came a day when I realized more harm would be done by staying than leaving, and I moved in that direction.

I created a mission statement for proceeding through my divorce: to choose to dissolve the marriage as peaceably, amicably, and with as much kindness as possible. Each time I hit a difficult moment, this brief phrase guided me to the next best way to proceed. It was an invaluable tool through a stressful time. Therapy, yoga breathing, and setting boundaries also helped to shape the multitude of decisions that occur during a divorce.

Today, I feel light, free, confident, and capable of so much. I am grateful that my daughter has two engaged, happy, healthy parents to co-parent her through the rest of her childhood and into her teenage years and beyond. This difficult decision created new opportunities for health and happiness.

My fifth gift is the Haven Retreat I took last June just days after the divorce was final. It was a vulnerable time for me to leave home—personally and financially—and yet, my gut told me it was the time to go. I asked for help through crowd funding, which helped to offset the cost. In the midst of pine trees and a mountain range, a body of water and cloud-puffed blue skies, I peeled back the next layer of understanding myself as a writer. I made friends who will remain in my life forevermore, and I received world-class instruction and encouragement to keep writing.

Nearly one year later, my memory flashes moments from that retreat on a daily basis. I am reminded that I “have what cannot be taught,” that dialogue is a strength, and that people are interested in my voice, what I have to say and the way I happen to say it.

In the case of each gift, I took a risk. I stepped outside of what was familiar or what I thought I knew about myself. I chanced that therapy, yoga, setting boundaries, getting a divorce, and going on a writing retreat each could offer me lessons, depth, change, and freedom that would invite transformation. I was right on every count. I am generally risk-averse,. I am a creature of habit in the extreme—even when the habits aren't good or healthy. I am so grateful that I was willing to thrust myself into the uncomfortable unknown. It is there in all of these gifts that I found new life. 


  1. This is beautifully written. I feel privileged to have been a part of one of your gifts.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you are one of those "friends forevermore." xo

  2. What a great post! We really need to learn to invest in ourselves more. Have you read the boundaries book?

    1. I read Children of the Self-Absorbed, which introduced me to my once-weak boundaries. Thank you for your kind comments.

  3. Such a great post. And, healthy too to write all of this down. Julie, I hear peace in your voice and for that I'm glad!

    1. Thanks Susan. I feel peace, too. I appreciate the feedback that you hear it through my words!

  4. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing. Your writing is a gift to each of us.

  5. I love that you took a risk in each situation and it really paid off. The worst thing to do after a divorce is sit in reaction and allow thing to happen. You took huge steps to break free from habits that created who you are and today you are so much different than just one year ago as a result.