Have you ever had one of those moments in life when you realize, on some level, that it’s time to start getting “real” with yourself? When, for one reason or another, you just know deep down inside that it’s time to start seeing things as they are—not how you 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 toxic relationship and feeling stuck in a career I found unfulfilling—but 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. We’d been in similar situations before. I’d made some passive aggressive remark that sent her over the edge, and she lunged at me in a rage. Grabbed my neck and clamped down tight.
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. But 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 affecting 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 yoga, crying, screaming, journaling, spiritual reading and meditation—and no alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs.
Of course, none of this was easy. But, as much as I wanted to continue checking out of reality and numbing myself to my pain, I also knew that I owed it to myself to remain as present as possible with my experiences, to pay careful, compassionate attention to my pain—and to somehow find the strength to keep going.
However challenging and arduous the process felt, I managed to stick with it. And then, sure enough, something inside of me started to shift.
I started letting myself feel the feelings I didn’t want to feel.
I started facing the things I didn’t want to see.
I started learning how to be more compassionate with myself (and with others).
I started taking responsibility for my actions.
I started listening to my intuition.
I stopped trying to play victim to the circumstances of my life.
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.
Mindfulness is a way of life for me now. I feel more connected to myself and others than I’ve ever felt before. I’ve refocused my career path to follow my heart. And I’m five years into a happy, healthy, loving relationship.
It doesn’t matter why we end up choosing mindfulness. What matters is that if it calls to us—we listen. Because it might just end up saving our lives.
I’m pretty sure it saved mine.
A version of this blog post first appeared on Elephant Journal.
Jennifer Howd is an author, editor, and a Certified Mindfulness Facilitator through UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. Her debut memoir, Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk: How I Survived a Silent Meditation Retreat, was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and is published by Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh’s publishing company, Parallax Press. She regularly posts about mindful living to The Huffington Post, as well as on her blog and social media channels. For more information, visit www.JenniferHowd.com and catch her NPR interview here.
Image courtesy of Can Anh Khai.