November 3, 2016

What to Do when it’s Sink or Swim.

Shan Sheehan/Flickr

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
~ Anais Nin

Sometimes we have to accept that some people will never change in order to heal those relationships or let them go.

From there, we finally come to a place of truth: we can only change and heal ourselves.

True change comes from within. We all know it, and no amount of helping or hoping will cause someone else to change their lives without that intrinsic motivation. We make them if they’re not ready.

A couple of years ago, I was looking divorce in the face. I had never factored divorce into my existence; I didn’t judge other people who chose it, but simply didn’t consider myself a person whose marriage would end.

But it ended.

For a while I was the only one trying to keep that sinking ship afloat. I began to wonder why I was doing that. I could see that it wasn’t a healthy environment for my kids or for me. Why I was trying so hard to make something continue that had ended long before?

It wasn’t in my life plan, and it sure as hell wasn’t easy. I had to re-imagine my entire life. A new town, a new home, a new career, life as a single mother.

It was a sink or swim moment, and I’ve never thought of myself as a strong swimmer.

So, I learned.

I started out treading water, but I made myself a mermaid; that’s how strong my change game was. I faced every fear I had, and I began to challenge myself to face more. I knew I would have to stop allowing things to just happen to me. I’d have to take back my life by creating true change. And true change means digging deep into our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, looking hard at how we’ve lived up to this point.

We’re responsible for the lives we’re living.

Our parents aren’t responsible. Our teachers didn’t do this. We can’t blame anyone else for the lives we have.

Sure, sh*t happens, but we build these lives, and at a certain point we have to own up to our role in how things have turned out. We don’t have to crucify ourselves for our mistakes, but sometimes we have to make amends and put in the hard work to stop repeating history.

I’m not smarter than anyone else, or more resilient. I turned my spine to steel and found my grit. I took a hard look at my own life, and I started making my outer life match my inner one. I chose the path of vulnerability and authenticity, and I began to follow the dreams that I thought I had left behind long ago.

When we come to a point where it’s sink or swim, we decide if we want to put in the work to change. We decide if we’re willing to hurt like hell if that’s what it takes to rebuild a new life. And then we begin to accept our total and complete lack of control over the rest of the world. We can’t make people love us or support us or show up when we need them. We can’t make people stop hurting us or start acknowledging our struggle. We can’t control anything but our own thoughts and actions.

When we finally accept that–deep in our souls—we begin to practice non-attachment. We don’t set our hearts and our hopes on what others may or may not do. We begin to let go of this idea that the people we love will change—and we begin to figure out how to live with that.

Once we put the hard work into ourselves, it’s easy to want others to see that they, too, can change their lives. They can leave those bad marriages or dead-end jobs. They can be free of the burdens they’re carrying. We want to share this joy with the ones we love.

But we cannot carry their burdens for them, and we can not show them a light they’re not willing to see.

We’re not here to save the world. We need to release our desire to control others; it’s their lives, to live the way they choose. In fact, I think the only way to help is to live our own lives the best that we can. If our very essence emanates that hope and freedom, those with open eyes and hearts will see it.

I remember how scary it was to face a whole world outside of my all-encompassing marriage. I didn’t know how to be a single mom, particularly one who had only recently quit her job to stay home with children. I couldn’t even consider a new relationship, because I didn’t even have one with myself.

I couldn’t have an okay life. I had to build a wonderful life for my children.

And it was deeply terrifying to look out into the unknown and decide that it was time to swim to a new shore. I couldn’t afford to sink. I had to thrive, and I was determined to figure it out.

Because I remember the fear, I try not to sit in a place of judgment when others are staring into that same void, trying to figure out how to make it work. I try to exercise a little compassion, but at the same time, there’s a voice inside that gets impatient. I want to say, make the leap.

But instead, I unburden myself from trying to save everyone else from their sinking ships. I stand ready to be here for them when they need me. Letting go of the outcome of their journey, I focus on my own.


Author: Crystal Jackson

Image: Shan Sheehan/Flickr

Editor: Toby Israel


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