By Jennifer Howd
We all have those moments in life when we realize, on some level, that it’s time to start getting “real” with ourselves.
When, for one reason or another, we know deep down inside that it’s time to start seeing things as they are—not how we wished they would be. Sometimes we just ignore the signs and continue plodding along, hoping things will naturally change for the better on their own.
And sometimes something so drastic happens that it jolts us out of our daze, forcing us to pause and take a closer look at ourselves—even if we’re afraid of what we might see.
I had one of those moments back in 2009.
I was 36 years old, four years into a mostly-toxic relationship, and feeling stuck in a career I found unfulfilling—but was far too disconnected from myself (and anyone else) to do anything to change any of it. Never-ending strings of screaming matches with my then-girlfriend, daily panic attacks, crippling anxiety and consistent bouts of debilitating depression were my “normal.”
I honestly didn’t believe things could get much worse.
But then, of course, they did.
Everything came to a head one afternoon when my girlfriend crossed a physical line during an otherwise inane argument. I’d made a passive aggressive remark that sent her over the edge—and she lunged at me in a rage. Grabbed my neck and clamped down tight. We’d been in similar situations before, but I’d always refused to see things as they were—hoping things would just get better over time.
But, of course, they never did.
Standing there in the middle of our front yard, tears streaming down my face—blue and red lights flashing as the cop car pulled up to our Hollywood bungalow—I felt like I was in the middle of a Lifetime movie of the week. As surreal as the moment seemed, the reality of my situation was impossible to ignore.
How the hell did I end up here?
I woke up the next morning, and the answer was crystal clear: I hadn’t been paying attention to my life.
Ever since my mom passed away (in 2001), I’d been too dazed and confused by the endless slew of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, additional self-medication and self-denial to truly be aware of the choices I’d been making and how they were effecting me (and those around me).
And despite feeling terrified, I knew it was time I took an honest look at my life or I might not end up having one for much longer
With the loving support of my family and a few close friends, I embarked on the process of observing, examining, and then attempting to clean up my life. I left my relationship, got myself into a domestic violence support group, started attending secular mindfulness classes at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and committed myself to a regular mindfulness practice.
For the next few months I lived like a virtual hermit, holed up in my tiny bungalow with little to no distractions from myself. My days consisted of long bouts of intentional solitude, heavy doses of crying, yoga, journaling, self-help books and meditation and zero alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs.
Of course, none of this was easy (I couldn’t even meditate for three minutes when I first started). But, as much as I wanted to give up—to continue checking out of reality and numbing myself to my pain—I also just knew that I owed it to myself to remain present with my experiences (and to start learning how to be as loving and compassionate with myself as possible during the process).
It didn’t happen overnight, but I managed to stick with it. And, sure enough, something deep inside of me started to shift.
I started facing the things I didn’t want to see.
I started letting myself feel the feelings I didn’t want to feel.
I started learning how to be more compassionate with myself (and others).
I stopped trying to play victim to the circumstances of my life.
I started taking responsibility for my actions.
I started listening to my intuition.
And I started learning how to love myself.
It might seem hard to believe, but looking back at that “Lifetime movie of the week moment” in 2009, I’m grateful it happened.
Because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t.
It’s now five years later, and mindfulness is a way of life for me now. I feel more connected to myself (and others) than I’ve ever felt before.
I’m prescription and recreational drug free. I’ve refocused my career path to follow my heart. I’m in a happy, healthy, loving relationship.
I couldn’t be more grateful for the journey that lead me to this moment. And, I’m here because I chose it.
I’m here because I chose mindfulness.
And I wouldn’t choose any other way.