Living Vicariously Through an Oft-Repeated Story
I love a story with a moral. I adore a story with an uplifting or inspiring message. Where I didn’t expect to find either was in the boiler plate, “boy meets girl in an unlikely place, or hates her on sight, only to find common ground and love by the end of the movie” theme used in most Hallmark and Lifetime romance movies. Yet the more I watch and re-watch them, the more I see the messages hiding beneath the fluff, and skillfully embedded in oft-repeated and re-woven story lines.
I’ve found a lot of things in unlikely places, not the least of which were the ideas for my three novels-in-progress, as well as my children’s book, which also awaits another edit and rewrite. The only thing that came to me as a somewhat dubious gift was the topic for my memoir, though even that has produced a lot of surprises along the way.
No one’s life runs as smoothly as a Hallmark movie, even with the predictable and repetitive dramatic moments they add to give the story a smidgen of relatabilty. There are always twists, turns, and lessons learned along the way. Quite often the most important ones involve something painful, and thereby, memorable. My life has certainly been no exception, though everlasting love is a story line I seem to have missed, unless you count the long line of cats who’ve owned me over the years.
Every Chapter Has Value
It isn’t that I don’t believe in true love, else why would I binge watch so many sappy, romantic movies. As I look back, it was more a matter of having a barge-load of baggage to slog through in this lifetime; all of it necessary and important. Letting go of it has always been my albatross, but one I finally started cutting loose over the last couple of decades. Old habits die hard, and for awhile, I tried to replace what I’d given up with more baggage, until I finally realized I was sick and tired of carrying around what amounted to a bag of dead, stinking fish heads.
The wiser among you might ask how I could have dragged a load like that around for so long before realizing the pointlessness of it all. In the first place, you’re probably more enlightened than I. In the second, I come from a long line of martyrs, and honestly believed I deserved to not only wear what amounted to a hair shirt, but to repel people so I could live out my life as a pariah. It took some doing, and a whole lot of pain when I emerged from my self-imposed cocoon to realize most of my beliefs were pure crap, as were my assumptions they’d come from reliable sources.
In truth, they came from people who were as brainwashed and self-deprecating as I was for my first 40 years or so. Hindsight opened my eyes to the fact they’d allowed those beliefs to ultimately destroy them, and to make me realize I no longer wanted to tread the same path that took them down their own rabbit holes of loneliness and misery. They may have succumbed to the tradition of binding themselves in marriage ’til death did them part, but I don’t believe they ever found their happily ever after.
Defining “Happily-Ever-After” On Your Own Terms
One thing I have learned is “happily ever after” doesn’t have to mean you found the love of your life, settled down, had babies who grew up, and gave you grandchildren to dote on you in your twilight years. Sometimes it means finding your true self, reveling in the person you found, forming true and lasting friendships, building a community, and above all, following your passion.
For many of us, finding our own passion and joy means living a less-than-extraordinary life for years; even decades before realizing massive demolition had to occur before rebuilding on both a firmer foundation, and in an entirely different style.
My walls began to crack when I was 36, in a miserable marriage where the only shining spot was my beautiful, 4-year-old daughters. I woke up one day, said to myself: Life is too short to be this unhappy, and filed for divorce a shortly thereafter. I had no idea what the road ahead meant, but knew somehow it would be better than what I had. At least I had a career that, while iffy at times, paid enough to keep my daughters and me fed, clothed, and housed.
The first few years were indescribably hard mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was always stressed out, in need of sleep, and desperately lacking a proper diet. The last was on me as I simply didn’t care enough to put any energy into maintaining a healthy diet while trying to keep the rest of my life from tipping me into a swirling pit of despair. All too often, I found solace in a pint of Haagen Dazs in the wee hours after I danced until the bar closed.
Making the Most of Life’s Twists and Turns
My mom’s suicide when the girls were 6 widened some of the cracks in my protective walls, and gave me another reason to keep going, if only to avoid losing the same battle that had led to her ultimate and irrevocable surrender. At times, my only motivation was sheer stubbornness and a raging desire to be more than my mom. For a long time, I told myself a little white lie: I didn’t want to leave my daughters with the same legacy. In time, that lie became my ultimate truth.
By the time my dad followed my mom for reasons of his own, my walls were getting flimsy, and I was holding them and myself together with chewing gum and baling wire. The only way I saved face for the next 6 years was by continuing to keep everyone except my daughters at arm’s length. As long as no one got close enough to see the cracks, the lies I perpetuated continued to survive, if increasingly unstable as time went on.
It was my eldest daughter who gave my walls the final, fatal shove that sent them toppling. She did me the biggest favor of my life by forcing me to start writing about my experiences. Though I’m still working on clearing the rubble and strengthening the new, improved structure of my life, the experience continues to teach me a lot about myself, as well as the rest of humanity.
Learning to Be a Participant Instead of an Observer
No one is meant to walk through life alone. We all need opportunities to help other people, but also to allow others to help us. The lies I’d been told about hard work and self-sufficiency had kept me from letting people see my true, imperfect self for too long. I’d cheated a lot of people of the opportunity to get to know me, to be there for me, and to form bonds. But then, I didn’t know how.
It scares me to look back and realize I almost passed that legacy on to my daughter Heather. She truly is the stronger of the two of us because she resisted building the walls our family history dictated, and threw herself out into the world in all her vulnerable, real glory. I ached every time she got kicked, bruised, or battered. I tried hard to protect her and fight her battles. Thankfully, she resisted my efforts and we’re both better for it.
I’m no longer depressed, downtrodden, or angry. I find the positive in the world I encounter more often than not. In fact, there have been some who deemed me “too positive”. I can live with that a whole lot better than I could the person I’d become until a couple of decades ago. I’ve found at least one of my purposes in life, and am open and willing to find more in whatever time I may have left.
Most of all, I enjoy every minute of my journey now; of the new chapters I’m adding to my story. In the past, I slogged through far more days than I now care to admit , but even those seemingly miserable steps led me right to where I needed to be. The difference now is I’ve learned to appreciate the tough roads, and even the times I wasn’t the most likeable person on earth. They were necessary. But more importantly, they’re part of my past.
Enjoying the Blessings Life Gives Me For the Asking
My gratitudes today are:
- I’m grateful for all the roads I’ve traveled that brought me to where I am now.
- I’m grateful for my daughter Heather without whom I may never have gotten here.
- I’m grateful for my parents’ choices. While difficult at the time, and even for decades afterwards, they were necessary for my own personal growth.
- I’m grateful for the stories I’ve told, and the ones I’ve yet to tell.
- I’m grateful for abundance; love, joy, friendship, happy endings, community, connection, vulnerability, peace, health, harmony, balance, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a Holistic Ghostwriter, and an advocate for cats and mental health. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward