Finding my strong on the mountaintop
Can you be strong when your world falls apart?
As I awoke to the morning sunlight streaming across the ocean and into the bedroom window, I was reminded that Hurricane Irma had just hit my life. Sadness set in before the sleep was out of my eyes. How can you be strong when it feels as if your whole world has just fallen apart? I’ve survived some tough stuff, but I’m not sure I know how to do so while being strong.
I got out of bed and made my way outside to the wrap-around porch to drink my morning coffee and watch the tide slowly roll out, exposing the sea life on the ocean floor. Will those critters survive this tidal change, I wondered? What do they do when they become exposed and are gasping for air?
As I sit rather zombie-like starring out at the sea, I feel sad, mad, worried, empty, scared, tired, overly emotional, and…more. Feelings too exhausting to think about. And yet I find myself preoccupied with one question — what does it look like to be strong when the world as you know it is changing forever and not by choice? When bad things and challenging times pummel you with gale-force speed like an unforgiving Hurricane batters the shore, and you can’t fix it or change it.
This is not the first time I’ve been pummeled, of course, but this feels like the worst pummeling ever. (Most of the details don’t matter to the story — we all have times we experience this). What strikes me today is that I don’t think I’ve ever pondered this question in the midst of a pummeling.
Rather, I’ve wallowed, cried, complained, and suffered alone in my hurt and pain — drowning it with work, food, alcohol — and hiding from the outside world. And when other people experienced pain and suffering — I was the first one to show up. I gave, and gave and gave at the expense of myself, trying to fix it.
None of this feels right to me now. None of it fits my new Lori-in-the-equation life. And yet the pull to go back to bed and bury my head in the covers is strong. The pull to eat everything in sight — even stronger! I have a lot of experience with that.
But perhaps this is the next evolution of transformation for me. An opportunity to find my strongest and best self and learn to cope with “hard,” while loving and giving to her. So, I get curious again.
Can you be strong when your world falls apart?
Fortunately for me, I was pondering this question while vacationing in my happiest place on earth — Downeast Maine. I had just arrived on vacation when I learned that — on top of other significant family challenges — my Dad has been diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease (an awful form of dementia with characteristics of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Characteristics that rob a person of their mind, their memories, their basic bodily functions, and ultimately their dignity).
Just over two months ago, my Dad seemed strong. Then he got Meningitis, ended up in ICU for over a week where he almost died, and now has been in and out of the hospital and nursing home for more than 10 weeks battling what we had deemed “the mysterious illness.” He’s declined rapidly — and I mean rapidly. For awhile, he seemed to have stumped even the best medical teams at Mayo Hospital. Until they said those three words last week – Lewy Body Disease. I had to Google it and get guidance from an RN friend to understand. I had no idea what Lewy Body Dementia was and wish I still didn’t. It’s a devastating diagnosis.
So, how do you find your strong when things feel like they are spinning out of control and falling apart? How do you keep it together (or do you?) when too many of the people closest to you are in crisis, and you just want to lie on the floor and cry? Or eat?
I thought of Brene Brown, my favorite author and wholehearted living counselor, what would she say? I read her book Rising Strong in 2015 when I had a broken heart and felt like I was getting pummeled in my own way. But, somehow that pummeling seems minor compared to this. I’m a student of all things @brenebrown and yet in this moment I cannot remember the details about how you rise strong after a series of sucker punches that knock you to the ground — especially when you really don’t feel like it?
Taking It To The Mountain
There was only one answer for me — I had to take it to the mountain. Hiking is my thing. I love it! It makes me feel strong. And hiking in Acadia National Park in Maine is one of my all-time favorite things to do in my happiest place on earth. It’s where I go to get grounded and find my center. To challenge myself physically. To just “be.” To discover. To process. To create. To connect. Yep, I will get myself to the mountains and climb and climb and climb. I will trust my mountains and go from there.
Before I headed out for my first day of climbing in Acadia, I read my daily quote from the Universe (courtesy of tut.com). It read:
“Hey Lori… It’s OK. Everything is fine. You’ve always been guided. Even now you are watched, and held, and adored. You’ve made great stuff happen, and you will make more great stuff happen. You’ve changed lives. You’ve changed your own. You’ve moved mountains and done the impossible. You’ve been scared and you overcame. You’ve been knocked down and you rose back up. And you’ve been lost, or so you thought, only to discover it was jut the calm before another storm of creativity, love and fun.
Humbled like the rest of ’em,
Wow! Just wow! And thank you, God and the Universe. That was exactly what I needed, just when I needed it. I trusted it as a sign and off I went for my first six-hour trip of glorious hiking and climbing. “Okay, we’ve got this,” I thought after meeting new friends on Beech mountain, breathing in the fresh mountain and sea air, and challenging my physical limits for hours. Suddenly, “this” seemed doable.
You Raise Me Up…So I Can Stand On Mountains!
Four days of aggressive hiking in Acadia. Four different mountaintops and countless new trails blazed. YES! After more than 30 hours in nature, hiking my butt off and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I found my inner strong. I know what to do!
The first epiphany came on that first day. As I hurled myself up boulders, stretching my physical capabilities, it hit me that it is my Dad who gave me this gift. The gift of strength. The gift of stubbornness. The gift of determination and the ability to tough it out and never, ever give up. He gave me the courage to fight on by putting one foot in front of the other, even and especially when the going gets really, really, really tough. My Dad gave me the gift of STRONG! I simply would NOT be hiking, climbing or standing on mountaintops without that gift from my Dad — perhaps in genes but also as a role model. He was/is not perfect — far from it. He’s had a tough life, a painful life. Be he never, ever gives up and taught me the same. I transformed my body and my life five years ago largely because of that gift. So, wow. And thank you, Dad.
And here I am! Not only – 200 lbs lighter, but internally so much stronger and healthier. I am standing on the mountaintop — a place I truly never thought I could or would be because of “my strong.” Now, it’s clear — it is simply NOT an option to stay lying on the ground after getting pummeled with hard stuff. It’s not an option to sit in front of the TV and binge eat, or work myself into the ground out of self-pity or ever quit on myself. Nope. Not my DNA.
So yes, this is hard as hell. And, it is out of my control. And, YES, I AM STRONG!
I thought about my transformation celebration party in May 2012 (five years ago) where I played a video to thank those who had encouraged, supported and loved me along the way. The video link is here — it’s long but powerful. The thank you part of the video is accompanied by the song, You Raise Me Up.
“You raise me up so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be.”
Epiphany #2 from the mountaintop: Of course, my God/Higher Power is the force that raises me up. But my Dad is right at the top of the list of others! It took a village for me to get here, and it takes a village to maintain a healthy, happy and whole life. That village has changed during the last five years — but my Dad has stood by me in his way. He has not just raised me, but he continues to raise me up in the example of his strength, stubbornness and determination. Even today as he is battling the most awful disease and losing his ability to make sense of the world, even today and especially today, as I stand on this mountaintop — my message for my Dad is: You Raise Me Up! Thank you. I am grateful.
My Dad doesn’t know this but soon will, I play the Celtic Woman’s version of “Amazing Grace” and “You Raise Me Up” every day as part of my morning mindfulness practice and daily ritual. It grounds me and gives me strength. Today, as I write and it plays, I sob. And I mean sob. I cry because I know I will be okay. We will be okay. I have faith. And I trust this faith will become even more important in the days and months to come.
Epiphany #3 from the mountaintop: I need to be strong now — for me, for Dad, for my siblings and my entire family. I can do this. I am STRONG! And while I don’t know the details of exactly what that looks like, I know this: Through my strength, I will guide my Dad and myself in a loving way through this journey. With loving kindness and presence, I will be strong — for me and for him. He will know — even when his mind appears to no longer allow it — love, generosity, courage, strength, gratitude, kindness and compassion. He will know the depths of healing love. He will know that he raised me up so that I could stand on mountains, and now, I will help him to do the same.
[Okay, too much, tear break]
My Strong = Moving Forward With Courage
As I climbed in my beloved Acadia, I asked the Universe for the courage to find and keep “my strong” through what will inevitably be a long and emotional battle. I prayed for guidance about how to love my Dad through this long goodbye. I prayed for the strength and compassion to be a loving support to my sister who is going through one of the toughest battles of her life at the same time. And, I prayed for the wisdom and resolve to keep myself in the center of the equation, practicing self-care so that I have the necessary love and support to give others. Finally, I prayed for faith, courage and love to guide me always. These three core values are my foundation.
Here’s what my “strong” will look like in the difficult days and months to come. I know I won’t be perfect, but this will serve as my playbook:
- Keep my health and well-being a top priority. This means paying attention to healthy eating, exercise, water, my daily mindfulness practice, and setting healthy boundaries that allow me to take care of myself FIRST so I have energy, love and compassion to give others. It means NOT turning to food or work for comfort. And, if/when I do return to old patterns, it means forgiving myself and restarting.
- Be present. This will take focus and consistent work. I will strive to stay in the present moment, especially when it is really hard. I will spend less time worrying about the future or getting stuck in the past.
- Stay grounded in gratitude — especially during the tough times. There are bound to be many, many rough times ahead. I will feel my feelings, but resist the temptation to wallow, feel sorry for myself, or become the victim. And when I do, I will forgive myself and get right back to gratitude. Restart. This will take practice, and I won’t expect perfection. But I know that gratitude is the key to ending pain and suffering. And it’s impossible to be fully grateful and suffering at the same time.
- Know my limits. I won’t be able to do and be all things to all people during this time of great need in my inner circle. I will practice knowing my limits and setting boundaries so that I remain strong for the long haul. Unlike my past, I will NOT give up myself for others. Rather, I will practice caring “for” them, not taking care “of” them. Ultimately this will allow me to be there in powerful and loving ways, while keeping Lori in the equation.
- Ask for help and support. I will continue to practice asking for help when I need it and not try to “go it alone.” I say practice, because this is training ground for me. I want to get better about asking for help and accepting it freely. I understand I cannot do this alone and will need to lean in. And I’ll try to do so without expectation or judgement.
- Be patient and gentle with myself…and others. There is no question that I will slip and fall. I will not be perfect in executing and living strong every day. When I slip or screw up, I will be kind and gentle with myself and not beat myself up. This practice also applies to others when they screw up. Tragedy and pain are hard for everyone. I will try to remember always that everyone is doing their best.
- Remember to laugh and play. Don’t give up social, fun and play time. This is what creates balance and helps re-energize my spirit. It’s also particularly hard to do when you’re in a crisis. So I remind myself: Lori, don’t forget that!
- Pay it forward. I live by the philosophy that when we pay it forward by giving away our gifts — it not only makes the world a better place, but it also helps us. Most recently, my pay it forward work has been through In the Equation. But now, I am open to new ways and opportunities to pay it forward. And, of course, I start with meeting my Dad where he is and sharing my gifts with him.
I can’t cure my Dad. That totally and completely sucks. I can’t take away his pain and suffering away. That sucks more. And it’s possible I won’t get a chance to say goodbye the way I want to with him fully present. In fact, there is almost nothing I can do to control the situation, or any of the other difficult situations pummeling my inner circle right now. Did I say that totally bites?
What I can do, is remain STRONG, by my definition, taking care of ME so that I have the time and energy, love and support to give to those I love. To try this a new way, and to bring my inner transformation and my life to a whole new level.
Today, I am grateful for the strength and courage that I found on the mountaintop this past week. I am grateful for the gifts of faith, courage and love that continue to guide me in my life. I am especially grateful to my Dad for “Raising Me Up So I Can Stand on Mountains.” And, now that I have centered myself around MY STRONG, I’ll try to take it one moment, one day at a time. Thank you for reading this. And thank you for your positive energy and prayers.
#bepresent #risingstrong #faithcouragelove #Ivegottchadad
P.S. I don’t know if this blog will help anyone who is struggling to make sense of the world or find their strong when the going gets really tough, but I hope so. My strong is not the same as your strong. What works for me, is not necessarily what works for you. I think the key is to be honest with yourself, to care for yourself, and to try to find the gratitude in the toughest of circumstances. I’d love to hear from anyone who has a personal story to share about rising strong. #gratitude
My hiking gallery from Acadia National Park, Oct. 2017