You’ve likely heard the famous quote by Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
I have learned that that journey can change your life forever; and it takes tremendous courage.
My journey of a thousand miles began on January 3, 2013, when I took a big step and walked into a counseling office in search of myself. I was lost and alone. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted from life. I was a wife, a mother to three little boys, had a successful career and had just completed a master’s degree program.
I should have been happy. Right?
I wasn’t! I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had once known, but the memory of the young girl with so many hopes and dreams was buried.
Hobbies? I didn’t have any.
Friends? I had many, but I kept them at surface level.
I had spent the first 37 years of my life trying to make other people happy; and somewhere along the line I had decided that if I just said, and did, what other people wanted, I’d avoid shame, criticism and judgment.
But instead, I found the opposite. It was never-ending, heartbreaking and lonely. Like a pile of Play-Doh that had been used and not put back into the container, I became overused and worn. I continued to conform as well as I could, and when I thought about stopping, my deeper fear of being tossed out would surface.
So when I began my journey, I slowly, with time and support from the counselor, quit being what others wanted me to be. The first steps were the hardest because they were met by resistance from both myself and from others.
But I knew that once I started, I couldn’t go back. I was afraid. But these are the steps that kept me moving:
Remind myself daily that it is OK to be in charge of my day
The guilt and the shame were overpowering. Not only did I feel guilty for meeting my own needs, but I felt that I was being selfish and unreasonable. Others that had benefitted from my old self were resistant to the changes, and made what was already a struggle more so. As they pushed to change me back, I had to stand firm.
Never undervalue the importance of self-care
As I started doing things several times a week that were just for me, I started to discover who I was again. It led to an increase in my self-esteem. As I discovered myself again, I became more authentic, which allowed me to form healthy connections with those around me.
Set boundaries with others
As I learned better, I did better. I was a better mother, I started to develop healthier relationships with friends and continued taking care of myself.
But this would be one of the most heart-wrenching parts of my journey; my husband of 18 years didn’t like the new woman who took care of herself, and he left me.
I am still on my journey of a thousand miles. I am trying to help three little boys navigate through divorce, and I am remarried and learning to blend a family. It is a struggle with unknowns around every corner.
When I look back, however, and remember that scary first step, I realize I had been missing out on a very special person back then — myself. And I am worth every step. So are you! Take a deep breath, get the help you need, and then have courage; it is worth it.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Roots to Hold Me. It has been republished here with permission.