Picture me in 2015. I’m a happy solo mom, living in Portland, and after years of struggle, I finally feel like I have MADE it.
My little girl is blooming and thriving. My shaky little business, which I started with a foolhardy amount of risk and moxie, has grown up to be a steady and sustaining friend. After living in a tiny gem of an apartment for four years– with only ONE bedroom for my daughter and I to share– I have triumphantly moved us into half of a hundred-year old magical mansion, with antique paneling and cathedral windows and a fireplace. I’m working steadily on the memoir that has been eating me alive from the inside for over five years. And after years of financial drama, I have paid off every bit of my debts, have a little nest egg, and have even begun saving for retirement. I have an assistant, a trusted babysitter, a great bookkeeper and accountant, we started learning to ride horses, and I get a massage or a facial every two weeks.
I WAS DOING KIND OF BEAUTIFULLY.
I fell in love! With the love of my life! Actually the love of ALL my lifetimes, if you can believe such things. It was like something out of a magical fairytale where the cynical happy independent pirate who doesn’t even believe in true love is swept off her feet by nothing less than True Love Itself, and she thinks she’s fallen in love with a princess, who actually turns out to be a prince, and they ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.
It was exactly like that.
Actually, it was a little more complicated.
What happened next was a series of wholehearted choices that I would make a million times again that threw my perfect life into total chaos. An international move, navigating my beloved’s divorce and then our marriage, custody agreements that spanned multiple countries, airports and visas and taxes and boxes and a gender transition and everyone moving to a different house than they were in before.
Overnight I went from a single city mom of one kiddo to a suburban married mom of five. I now had a dog and a minivan. And I had other things, too, like immigration restrictions on how and where I could work with my clients. And triple the expenses plus double the taxes plus an expensive immigration attorney and exorbitant new cross-border accountants and so many therapists to help us and our kids manage all the upheaval.
Also love, did I mention the love? So much love.
But I felt like I was back at the beginning. Suddenly our family finances were shaky– frighteningly so. My support system, my village of mamas, had been based on daily check-ins as we picked up our kids at the park, and somehow I didn’t know how to pick up the phone and say, “I’m so lonely and scared I feel like I might die.” I had two babies in diapers and a new husband and a sad, angry preteen and brand new kids I was trying to build trust with and a pile of bureaucracy to plough through and I couldn’t figure out how to breathe.
I would drive around in my minivan and cry. I would get in the shower so no one would hear me and cry.
I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know how to fix it and since my whole JOB is helping people with their lives my loneliness grew into panic because now I also felt like a fraud. And the more I felt like a fraud and panicked, the more my business faltered and the more scary and tight everything got. And there I was, back at the beginning again, worried about everything, only instead of being responsible for two people, I was now responsible for seven. I was fucking terrified.
From here, I can look back on this time with such compassion.
(And I can think of about 47 things I could have done differently that would have eased my distress.)
I can see that I was just going up the spiral.
We humans don’t learn things in straight lines, we learn them in spirals.
We all seem to have a few key questions that our souls are puzzling out, and so we gravitate to similar situations and challenges over and over again. But along the way we learn some things, get a little savvier, a little wiser, have a few more tools in our toolbelt. So the questions as well as the way we interact with them get more advanced and more interesting as we move up the spiral in our growth.
In other words, we don’t really ‘get over’ our issues so much as find ourselves coming around and around to the same themes, just from a more elevated plane each time.
Let me be honest. My first reaction to a new turn around the spiral is usually quite wise and enlightened, like this:
I can’t believe I’m dealing with this same issue AGAIN! But I’ve already learned this lesson! No no no no noooooo not this again I thought I’d handled it forever!!! Why is this HAPPENING to me???
Maybe it’s boundaries with people you love. Maybe it’s overworking. Maybe it’s dating the same person in different disguises. Maybe it’s a pattern that you’d thought you’d graduated from. Or an existential question or choice that you didn’t think you had to answer any more.
It’s easy to feel like you’re a failure when you find yourself confronting an old familiar theme again, especially when it’s something you thought you’d already figured out.
But you aren’t a failure at all– you’re actually on a path of growth and ascension.
You’re simply moving up the spiral.
It’s sort of like when you’re playing a video game, and you finally beat “The Big Boss” after hours and hours of dedicated strategy, persistence, practice, and sheer determination. Yes! You did it!!! Huzzah!
And then what happens?
Why then the game pops you up to the next level, and you’re on the path to figuring out this new more challenging level and ultimately facing… An Even Bigger Boss.
When it’s a video game, people seem to find this fun and exhilarating and exciting.
But when it happens in our real lives, it’s slightly less fun.
I’m back here again? Seriously??? I swore I’d never make that same mistake; how did this happen?
This is where the spiral metaphor can be enormously helpful, because I guarantee that while you may be dealing with the same issue, you’re playing at a different level.
Take me for example. I’ve always struggled with the physical world. Clutter, checkbooks, groceries, closets, cars and their keys, paperwork, cords, hangers, saran wrap– these are the things that can reduce me to a puddle faster than any heartbreak.
I had to learn to be a grownup in the physical world by starting at the very beginning, like a toddler. (Which is why, incidentally, I can teach it so well to other brilliant, soulful, deep, creative absentminded professors in my Queen Sweep program, because none of it comes naturally to them either.) But I did it! I learned to create systems and routines and habits to make a beautiful home, manage paperwork and finances, and make a living and still have joy.
So in my case, I had struggled mightily for several years to make a good life as a single parent, creating work that aligned with my soul, getting bigger and braver, all the while wrangling the cantankerous poky tangly stickiness of the physical world.
And I got there! So I think this is what happened next.
I graduated that turn of the spiral.
The universe was like, “Ok amazing! Single parenting– check!!! Creating a business out of thin air and heart– check!!! Making art even though you’re not qualified– check!!! Creating community and finding beauty and learning to hum along on this earthly plane with love and joy– check!!! Congratulations, you graduated! Welcome to the next level! We’re adding a beloved partner with his own magic and challenges, four more kids, two in diapers, a major life change for your eldest, and quadrupling your financial, physical, and emotional responsibilities. Meanwhile we’re also taking away all your support systems, drying up all the energetic wells where you fill yourself up, and we’re going to make you think that your sojourn in the desert of the stripmall prairie suburbia is going to last for decades. Also you’re never going to get that book deal you’ve been hanging all your hopes on. Okay GO!”
The universe is such an asshole like that.
But also– the universe is very invested in us growing bigger and stronger and more capable than we ever thought we could be. More than we ever wanted to be. So it keeps sending us up the spiral because as much as the human part of us finds the whole experience wildly distressing, our souls just absolutely LOVE this growth business.
So around the spiral I went. My life got bigger– emotionally, spiritually, but especially physically.
Even though each turn of the spiral is different, at some point I realized that even though my life as a suburban mom looked so different on the outside, actually I was confronting similar questions as I had when I was that single mom figuring things out. Learning to set boundaries. Telling the truth and being brave. Stepping up as the boss of my earthly goods– money, home, laundry, groceries, time, animals, taxes. Trying to make art even when there are so many other things that require my attention, energy, and focus.
And I didn’t do it gracefully, my friends. I did it stupidly, pigheadedly, poorly, making mistakes and making it harder and not asking for help and getting mired in shame and despair and loneliness and basically wallowing in the shit up to my eyelashes.
But then I grew new muscles. And I picked myself up. And I just fucking decided that I was going to find beauty– or make beauty– in a place I did not find beautiful. And I was going to love my people and make our little home a haven of safety and art and beauty and green growing things no matter how desolate and barren it was outside.
And I slowly, slowly started to love my life as fiercely as I knew how. (For those of you in RichJuicyStarryBeauty, this is when I bought those paintings and set some magic in motion.)
And then just when it all started to flow again– oh yes you guessed, right?– the universe was like, “Ok cool! You graduated. Next level!”
And I started a new turn around the spiral.
I mean I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.
Because I don’t live on the prairie any more. Now I’m on the greenest growingest island living in a literal rain forest with a vegetable garden and chickens and I’m five minutes away from the ocean. On foot.
I could fall down and kiss the ground in gratitude.
I’m still on the spiral, of course, even in this green beautiful place. In fact, this new turn brought a whole host of new bosses…plus chickens. But I notice that many of the themes are the same: boundaries, and stepping up the physical world game (let’s add a falling-down house!) and taking big risks and making art and stubbornly sticking at things longer than anyone thinks is reasonable, and trusting, and feeling my way into my own truth and magic while also managing the BIG chaos of our family and life.
Same issues: different place on the spiral.
And when I consider the alternative– staying stuck in the same place your whole life– really, the whole spiral starts to feel almost… benevolent. Purposeful. Like maybe it’s trying to take us exactly where we long to go. Like we might be shaping our own spiritual DNA (or destiny, or galaxies; who knows?) with every choice we make. No pressure, dearheart. But also maybe worth doing.
Maybe so worth doing that it’s worth doing badly. And doing well. And when we can, doing it gorgeous.
Here’s me waving from my spiral to yours–
P.S. want to hear more of the story about how Nick and I fell in love and everything that happened afterward? That’s COMING! Want it sooner??? Come join my RichJuicyStarryBeauty Patreon community, which helps fund my creative work!!! I’m currently working on a volume of poems, and after that, the next installment of my memoir (the Nick chapter!) is next in the pipeline.