For so many years of my adult life, I felt like a fake—a phony. I was one person when I stood at the front of the class in my yoga studio, guiding others toward their fullest expression, and a completely different person at home—stressed out, frustrated, and resentful toward myself for not living up to some arbitrary definition of "a good mom," as well as at my children and husband for "keeping me" from the freedom and fulfillment I craved.
I felt like I was not living an authentic life. I was a mommy zombie most days, just going through the motions. And I did everything to numb the pain—I shopped, I drank, I smoked pot, I planned exotic vacations, I fantasized about running away, and I spent an inordinate amount of money on all kinds of healers, therapists, and retreats, hoping they'd actually make me feel better.
My avoidance techniques took away the pain for a short time, but it always returned. The truth was, I pretty much hated my life because deep down, I hated myself.
When the shit finally hit the fan (as it inevitably does in midlife when we are not living our truth) and my husband of a decade asked for a divorce, I was faced with overwhelming fear about my future as a single, 40-year-old mother of three. How would I support myself? Would I ever find love again? How was I going to survive as a single mom?
I fell apart. And eventually, I found enough clarity to see that I had two choices: to live as a victim of my circumstances, spend my life running from pain, and put my energy into finding another "secure" situation that would deprive me of oxygen, or to truly step into the messiness that I had made of my life and embrace the most important—and terrifying—journey. That journey was moving from a fear-based mindset to a love-based mindset and becoming responsible for my own happiness and well-being.
I knew that I was capable of peace, happiness, contentedness. We all are. I felt those things after taking a yoga class or spending time in nature. I felt those things emanating from my students as they left my yoga or meditation classes. It's expressed as a transcendent aura of clarity and strength.
My impending divorce became a revelatory experience for me. It showed me that the freedom I'd craved—and blamed my family for keeping from me—wasn't something I would find if I abandoned my life, my responsibilities, and traveled the world. The potential for that freedom had existed within me all the while. It was, in fact, my unwillingness to relinquish control that kept me in a prison of fear.
How I embraced uncertainty and imperfection and found freedom:
I committed to a program of unconditional self-love and radical gratitude—spending time on the things that nourished me and acknowledging the dark, messy parts of myself rather than trying to smother them. I learned to love the anger, the pain, the jealousy, the sadness, and the self-doubt by seeing them as teachers. These unpleasant feelings were showing me what I was afraid of and inviting me to grow.
I learned to be grateful for the most challenging situations I've ever faced—moments that literally brought me to my knees. When I started to recognize unpleasant feelings as teachers, the realization naturally followed that painful moments, difficult experiences, are lessons. I finally internalized the truth that life is working for me, not against me.
The clouds slowly began to clear. Over time, I became my own partner, best friend, and healer. I clawed my way back from the darkness and onto my intended path. And I found that once I was living in alignment with my purpose, I attracted supportive, loving relationships, and life-affirming experiences.
The only way out is...in.
Here's the thing: Surviving a midlife crisis—or any crisis—is not about running away, about medicating your discomfort, or about sticking your head in the sand. Our darkest moments are meant to bring awareness to the parts of us imprisoned by fear and out of alignment with our true purpose. It's like physical pain. You can take a painkiller, but the pain will keep coming back until you address the cause. The same thing happens with emotional pain. Until you address the cause (living out of alignment with our purpose), the pain will keep coming back.
If you're in a moment of crisis, start by making gratitude your mantra. Try to find gratitude for the struggles you're facing. It's easy once you accept that they exist to bring about your highest and best.
Next, build a consistent practice of self-love rituals—yoga, breathwork, meditation, journaling, dancing, crying, and laughing—anything and everything that affirms you. When you notice that fear roiling up within you, say, "I love you. What do you need?" to your sweet inner child. And then give yourself that. Whatever it is, allow yourself to have it.
Yes, it is a process. It can be long and painful. But I believe it is truly the most important transformation you will ever undertake. As you begin to act out of love rather than out of fear, so will those around you. By healing yourself, you can contribute to the healing of those around you, too.