In 2009, as my first son neared his 2nd birthday, I came out of the fog of early motherhood to ask, “what now?”
Up to this point in my life, I’d been really hard on myself.
I had a very strong inner critic and so I always went the extra mile to please anyone and everyone.
I felt guilty when I said no, and I always had FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
I knew lots of people and yet felt very alone in the world and wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do to find deeper or more meaningful connections.
I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.
Depression crossed my mind, but I also thought perhaps I just needed a different community and to do more.
And so I tossed myself into a period of DOING.
I became politically active, campaigning for Obama and then working with a friend to write, influence, and pass an ordinance allowing backyard chickens. I joined a babysitting cooperative. I baked, I canned, I gardened, I volunteered with Meals-on-Wheels and I laughed at the antics of my amazing son.
I blogged about all of these things on a site called GreenMe.vg, and yet, I couldn’t shake this feeling of lethargy or limbo, and I couldn’t see my future.
My inner critic told me that nothing I did was of real importance or value.
And so, I thought if I could just figure out what I needed to do differently, I could be happy.
I convinced my husband we should to move closer to his office into a thriving little walkable community. We left our “perfect” house and my dear strawberry patch for a “pretty nice” place and a big yard.
Our new neighborhood burst with life, and like-minded neighbors, young kids, and even my babysitting co-op moved and grew. We had Friday afternoon cocktails on sunny backyard porches, and for the most part, it was divine, except I just couldn’t shake the “meh.”
I still couldn’t envision my future.
No one knew my inner turmoil, because I didn’t know how to talk about it and I don’t think I really let myself feel anything. As far as my friends and extended family could see, we were a happy, thriving little family unit and I was a happy, active young mother.
And then, the boy who’d struck my heart with a bolt of lightning at age 20, when I studied abroad in Madagascar, came to visit. In the numb state that I’d learned to live, it never crossed my mind that feelings from over 12-years before could be so strong, but they were.
My world cracked open, and I realized where I’d gone wrong. I’d forgotten how to live, to set goals, and dream. In fact, I’d taken all the dreams of my youth and packed them in a suitcase, and stashed them in the darkest corners of my soul. No wonder I was languishing.
I’d always been a value-driven visionary fascinated by what makes humans tick. I’d been a collector of information and knowledge, and I had a view about the way the “world could be.” I’d spent hours as a younger person philosophizing and discussing the meaning of life, altruism, and just about anything you tossed my way.
And yet, somewhere along the way, I’d decided that I wasn’t worthy to dream, or if that I chased my dreams I might fail and the world would laugh. I decided that stories of inspiration and purpose were for a lucky few, and fictional characters, but not for boring old me. Other people did cool things, but not me.
I took Yves, our house guest on a hike up the Fourth of July Trail, one of my favorite places, and all my forgotten hopes and dreams of my late teens and early twenties started rushing back.
On our drive back into Boulder, I sobbed. Hit with waves of emotion that I think had been building for a good decade — perhaps since 9/11. Embarrassingly, I also felt intense passion towards this man, and I was ashamed to have brought him into our lives.
It was frankly shocking that I suddenly felt a passion that I’d forgotten could exist. He too was surpised.
And so he left.
He went away, and my husband and I went to marriage counseling.
We talked a lot. We tried to realign our vision, and I pushed him to dream big. To ask him “what if?” I asked him to commit to traveling and living overseas, taking some risks, and trying new things.
He said no. I’m good right here with what I have.
Of course, it was a bit more complicated than that, but we both realized that we had a completely different idea of “life.”
And so, I moved out. It was an odd feeling to be both free, and lost, at the same time. I still had a sinking suspicion that something was wrong with me.
Divorce is hard and terrifying. And oh so filled with judgment.
My community shamed me, several of my relatives told me straight to my face that I was going to Hell and requested that I not dirty their lives with my presence.
And then I had a beautifully metaphorical dream. I washed away in a Tsunami. Twice. It was a terrifying dream until I found myself safe — standing in a wooden house face-to-face with the man who had cracked me open and let the light in.
We were both dressed in white cotton clothes, like Indian gurus. I put my hand on his chest, and I could feel his heart, his warmth. My own heart skipped a beat, and he said, “I am right here, waiting for you.’
I let the dream settle, but it kept coming back. And so I found Yves (we’d previously cut all ties) with periodic access to Facebook Messenger staked out on a cold and lonely military post in the mountains of Afghanistan.
He confirmed that he was waiting for me. And he invited me to join him and his daughter that summer at his sister’s house in Seychelles.
And so, that July, my son (now 4) and I left on the first of many worldly adventures together. We spent 5 weeks with the man who is now my husband and the young girl who is now my step-daughter.
I was scared out of my wits. And at the same time, I felt alive. I felt certain. And I could suddenly start to envision a future — a life worth living.
At this moment, I started to learn that to be alive, I must be as willing to feel and acknowledge my fears, as I am to embrace what I love.
Courage and inspiration come from that which we most fear.
When I got back from this trip, the first thing I had to do was find a job that exchanged money for energy (my work for the last few years had all been voluntary).
I knew that I wanted to be more than a mom — I wanted to find my calling. I enjoyed taking care of my son, but I was desperate to connect my work to something bigger.
I started a master’s program in International Non-profit Management, and I got my dream job as Executive Director (ED) of an International Nonprofit. I got to fly to Haiti and do things that scared me, that filled me with passion and purpose.
I started to live.
Along the way, I was very scared.
As ED I had constant imposter syndrome, and I learned to experience a different kind of mom guilt — the kind moms have when they spend more time at work than with their kids — but I also started to take close accounting of my values.
I began to realign my goals and my life with what I wanted to be and create. And I found in my Malagasy host-brother (now my long-distance boyfriend) a similar vision for the world.
In 2000 he had joined the French Military and had spent the last decade-plus in hot spots around the Middle East and Africa. I’d always considered soldiers to be fearless.
One day he said to me, of course, I am scared Alison, fear is normal. It’s more worrisome to NOT feel fear than to feel it, it’s what you do next, what you do with the fear that matters.
And so, by the time I turned 33 I’d committed to doing things that I feared and to stepping into my fear to find my courage.
And at that moment, I suppose you could say, I set down the path to be my own wise woman — slowly transitioning from someone who denies her fears, but rather embraces them, explores them, gets’ curious about them and then convert them into something useful.
In owning my fears, I learned to live.