Running makes one promise, and that is the promise I so desperately needed. If you put in the effort, the time, the heart, you will make it. Running never promises it will be pretty getting there, and I desperately needed that, too.
When life got rough, I had this immediate need to make it pretty, to dress it up and smooth it out. That worked well for me over the years. There was no reason to change it, much less even contemplate that I was doing it.
I’m a supporter by nature (or nurture, or possibly a mix of both). Anyway, I just did what worked, like most of us do. Then, suddenly, I found my way of supporting wasn’t working anymore. My way of smoothing things out was actually creating upheaval in its wake. And, when I started to look a little more deeply at my behavior, if I really wanted to get truthful with myself, I edging on the side of enabling.
My previous path, before I found myself bewilderingly staring at a new one, was nicely laid out for the most part. Go to school, get decent grades, go to college, get decent grades again, get a job, buy a house, meet a man, get married, have kids, encourage them to get decent grades, send them off to college, retire with husband to a warm place with visits from grandkids. Nothing is quite that straightforward and uncomplicated, there are lots of in-betweens, but pretty much, that’s how it went and was looking like it would continue to go.
That is, until, I find myself unexpectedly raising a child with special needs, sitting at a dinner table, where friends are all talking about retirement with their spouses in tropical places, or travel to exotic countries, or settling into a quiet condo on a lake up north, their eyes glazed over with faraway thoughts swirling in their minds while my current reality comes flying at me in full speed. All of those questions that sit quietly in the back of my mind come dashing to the forefront, fighting to be first in line. What will life look like when my son is an adult? What will his skills be? Will we need to move to find him a job? Will he live with us or in a group home? Will we need to move to find him a suitable group home? Will I need to start my own group home? What will happen when we die? Where will his sisters be? Will they live close enough to care for him? How would he feel to be uprooted and have to move so late in life if his sisters do not live nearby?
These questions were never even part of my previous landscape, but they are now. Those rough edges of life aren’t so easily smoothed over and dressed up as they once were. The questions are too many and too unanswerable. Oh, there are plenty of people who have lots of answers for me, but frankly, that pisses me off. And, you know why? Because not one of them is on this same path. They watch, and from the snapshot of time they observe, have all sorts of ideas and solutions. And, funny how they are the same people who say accusatorily, “You have changed!”
How can I not have? How can I walk this path and not have been changed by my new surroundings? I’ll tell you what the old me did at the start of this path. The old me tried to make everything smooth and perfect. The old me searched out therapies and support groups and did everything “right” when I first landed unexpectedly on this path. The old me did everything so right that my husband was still left standing looking around bewildered at the starting line wondering what the hell had just happened. The old me tried so hard to make this unexpected new turn in our lives as easy as possible for her husband that was struggling mightily with this. The old me cleared the dust and took care of everything that had to do with Wil. The old me was doing what she thought was supportive, when in reality, was enabling. The old me made it as comfortable for him as possible at the starting line so he could walk forward at his own pace while I forced myself forward. The old me thought that was the right thing to do. And, like all of us, we only do the best we know how.
What woke me up, what shook me up into change, was finding myself in a completely different place than my husband. I wanted to share so many of my experiences with Wil. The advances he made after so much trial and error. Of how it felt to be stuck for so long on one little detail, and the thrill when he mastered that one little but huge piece. But, I didn’t let him in on that when it was happening because it hurt too much. It hurt to have this child struggle so much on a milestone typical kids breeze right on by that we parents barely take notice. A milestone that held, for Wil, so many unanswered questions. How do we get there? Will we get there? What will work for him? If it doesn’t, what does that mean? I had spent months on this one little piece with his therapists, and when one day the light bulb went off inside of Wil, I felt like the most spectacular fireworks had just been released. Yet, because I dressed up and smoothed over the hurt of achieving this milestone for my husband, we could not rejoice fully in the joy of it together.
Having taken the messy, difficult steps, I was finally seeing the bright scenery that had once seemed so closed off to us. It wasn’t the scenery we had anticipated, there were still so many unanswered questions around us, yet the landscape still held so much beauty. I didn’t have to dress it up, smooth it out. The colors were actually more vivid for the trials. But, only I could see them because I had taken the messy steps. He couldn’t share that with me. Yes, he needed to take his very own steps of his own will, but I had rushed so far forward trying to make things right for Wil, and easy on my husband, always conscious to give him space, that we simply couldn’t relate in all things “Wil.”
We still related deeply with our twin daughters, with our work, with our extended families. Yet, those were all familiar pieces from our old familiar path we knew so well. The Path to Acceptance, well, we were still traversing very unfamiliar territory at very different paces.
When I finally allowed life to get messy right before both of our eyes is when the real changes started to happen between us. It got messy, yes very messy, but we were finally in it together, walking through it, together.
There are no judgements on this road; there are no shoulds or woulds or coulds. There are no accusations of having “changed” or questions why. There is only FAITH. FAITH in the process, FAITH in knowing that you will make it to that end without ever knowing how the hell you are going to get there.
In this FAITH, there are lots of stumbles and missteps. I have learned to trust those on the same path of the hurts and pains in those missteps. To ask for their help when I need it. To find comfort in their knowing laughs and their experienced tears. To live in those unanswered questions together. I also have learned to allow those who judge to pass on by and carry on. I don’t have to be perfect in this journey. I don’t have to be the ultimate supporter. I am allowed to make mistakes, to not know the answers, to fail forward, and to shake off judgements at me that I have changed and their preconceived thoughts or why that is. I can do that because it was not so long ago that I, too, was very unfamiliar with this path, and have made many judgements of my own by not knowing. Yet, I know better now, so I do better.
If I have been put on this earth for anything, it would be to share my FAITH. FAITH is found in the process, in all the messy, imperfect bits and pieces of it. FAITH in our circumstances, FAITH in the path you are on, FAITH in getting through the really messy places amidst the judging eyes of others, FAITH that there are those out there to help you if you have the courage to ask for their help, FAITH in the multitude of unanswered questions, and FAITH in your own ability to make it through triumphant at the end, dirt caked under your feet.