They are said to be turning points, moments or experiences that looked back upon are remembered not for the incidents themselves but what was accomplished through them. For some people it’s just a single event, the understanding behind a failed relationship or the newfound insight into why we act a certain way. Yet aren’t always so precise or pointed for others, often it becomes a season of time yet the affect is no less dramatic or impactful.
My turning point wasn’t a late night epiphany or a counseling session break-through; instead it was nine months of mental anguish. After the hangover had wore off from my New Year’s celebration I woke up to ‘08 looking down the business end of a new job that paid 50% of the former I’d just been laid off from, mounting legal bills after being forced to take the Jap back to court from reneging on a verbal agreement, the panic upon receiving an audit notice from the IRS, and the hole left from a long term relationship freshly ended. I don’t care if you’re John Wayne; anyone facing that would be justified in taking a long walk off a short pier.
I can still remember lying in bed as cold sweats overtook me wondering what might happen in the morning? What was the next shoe to drop? My greatest fear was the apprehension around losing everything including my house, car, but ultimately my pride. How was I going to make it through all of this and how much more must I endure? It was a balancing act with ego in one hand and reality in the other and trying to keep it centered was about to take me over the edge.
I’ve heard it said and I have come to strongly believe that everyone you meet is struggling with something in his or her life. Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship or health issues. Maybe their financial life is in turmoil or there’s family chaos. Often we’ll let life’s challenges overtake our lives as it did for me. I lived every day with it all hanging over my head, I was constantly turning it over in my mind desperately trying to work out any solution that would make it all go away, but this time there was no quick antidote to the illness. So instead of facing my demons head on with fierce determination I distracted myself with frivolity, irresponsibility and behaviors outside of my natural character. I was willing to do whatever necessary to make it disappear even if that meant becoming someone else.
After the landslide of seemingly insurmountable obstacles hit I began acting differently. In an effort to silence the chaos and hide the fear that would hopefully distract me from reality I began drinking more and praying less, I started looking outwards for validation instead of inward and upward. I started seeking out relationships that would selfishly benefit me first but they only ended up adding injury to the insult. No matter which smoke or mirrors we may chose reality, it seems, is very determined.
Struggles are a part of this life; even if I make the wisest choices and take the fewest risks conflict will likely be just around the corner. And while quite often we become our own worse enemy making careless choices where the outcome may not be felt for years there are many instances where we simply have no control. The economy that decides to go sideways, the ex spouse who thinks only of her interests, or the significant other who sees the grass as greener on the other side are all events where the only thing that we can directly control is our own selves and our reaction.
Some define emotional intelligence as the way in which we handle life’s obstacles while others may call it maturity or attitude. Regardless of the label, the way we react differs for everyone. Some look at life’s trails with the steely resolve of a gunfighter while others cower and hide under the nearest rock. I know several people whose entire world might be falling down around them and they remain the definition of calm. You may know them; I am amazed and inspired by these people while harboring resentment because I’m not always the same.
The immediate comeback is that they are just born that way. While some may very well be, I believe most are so because of their own battles fought. There are countless books dedicated to helping us overcome obstacles, but in a world of quick tips and tricks the only legitimate way is to go through our own rings of fire. Yes it will usually burn going down and as Johnny Cash sang the flames do often get higher but I can be rest assured that no PhD could have enlightened me more than the nine months of 2008 that I endured.
In the end I stood strong and came out the other side a much different individual than when I went in. I learned that money and financial security is not the warm blanket everyone believes, that divorce is a business contract just like any other enterprise and should be treated as such, the IRS isn’t as scary as people seem to think, and that the end of one relationship helps to prepare for the next.
With the wounds of 2008 completely healed I look back on that emotional winter with the admiration of a well-respected mentor. Were I given the choice of doing it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. The lessons learned during that season have gone on to serve me well in obstacles since, and anytime I lift my eyes to find the devil at my door I always remind him, and myself, of past battles fought and won and in doing so seek to make sure that I’m the guy he really wants to mess with.
You may also enjoy this (remains one of my personal favorites) Dreaming in Black and White
Photo credit by Bud Green