Gotta have faith

In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part. I’m pretty sure I edited those lines out of my first wedding vows.

Given that I’d been divorced from a man I didn’t want to marry but was society and family-pressured into doing so to “validate” my “illegitimate” pregnancy, the second time I got married I knew there was no way I’d make that kind of promise. I won’t get into details, but my first marriage could have cost me my life had I not jumped ship soon after my second child was born. My second marriage, minus the vows in question, lasted more than two decades. We made our marriage work as long as we could because we got used to being dysfunctional. Thank God we never agreed to the obligatory vows or we never would have moved on.

It was, and is, hard to unfurl from unhealthy patterns. Whether it’s relationships or food or a destructive habit, it’s painful to change one’s ways and choose health over habit. Healthy people, those who grew up with a positive sense of self, probably don’t get it. But it’s one of those things those of us with unresolved childhood wounds suffer from; we tend to self-harm instead of self-respect.  

Thankfully, I’m happy to report that after six decades and a handful of years trying to figure myself out, I’m finally learning how to be nicer to myself. Which, I’ve discovered, makes me feel physically healthier which is saying A LOT these days since I’ve been living in a cough, cough sick ward with a really cool view of the Redondo Beach Marina. My homies, my sister and cousin, have been hacking away with this nasty cold-thing since we got back from Barbados. No one is sleeping through the night which further exasperates their chronic post-nasal dripping, coughing and eye infection seeping condition. Fortunately, I have yet to come down with the junk that “everyone” seems to have. 

I had a minor cold about four weeks ago, but my homies’ version of “the thing that’s going around” morphed into a monstrous brain-clogging submarine.

Could it be that after all those years working in a stagnant, petri-dish classroom that I built up a resistance?

Was their response to the common cold versus mine ignited by stress? Because these days—hear the trumpets blare—I’m stress-free. Not to be confused with worry because that’s part of my DNA. I worry about friends and family members; I worry about where I’m going to live while we wait for the Lunada Bay remodel to be finished. I worry about overspending. I worry about Monet. 

Worry, however, is different than stress. Worry is a habit. Stress is a condition. 

Cue in the bagpipes: 

But both are treatable.

Pep talks help. I like to listen to podcasts. My favorites are hosted by Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Conan O’Brien. They help me think about life from a new perspective, opening my mind to topics and people I never would have otherwise considered. 

Books, magazines, other blogs also help. Right now, I’m reading “A Line Made by Walking” by Sara Baume. The story takes place in Ireland following the death of a quirky grandma and the unknowing impact she made on her granddaughter. 

Watercolor journaling is also a de-stressor. I play with colors and words, ribboning them across the page without fear of judgment or evaluation. The same is true with writing. I blog to uncover. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, my words connect with another soul which makes me feel understood, which is validating. 

Walking, swimming, being in Nature, listening to music, instantly, and almost magically, abracadabra’s away stress. Every. Single. Time. 

While none of this is new or Earth-shattering, the fact that I’m learning to be good to myself is BIG.

Thank you, retirement. I get to relax, breathe, and no longer stress-out about students. Being a middle school, preschool, and college teacher for more than 20 years was such an honor and joy, but it was also taxing and stressful. Despite routinely logging-in twelve-plus hours each week outside paid classroom duty lesson-planning and grading English essays, I was always looking over my shoulder, fearing an angry parent or student would stab me in the back. Some days I felt like I failed before I started. There was never enough time and way too many students to do the job right.

I look back now and realize how much I shortchanged my family and health, prioritizing my students over a balanced lifestyle. I learned that from my mom, God bless her, who taught me to give onto others before giving unto myself. Mom’s only luxury was smoking which, out of shame, she hid from her family. It ultimately killed her in a most cruel and suffering way.

So, we learn, don’t we? We stand tall, try to do better than those who have come before us. Which means possibly having to re-think what we think. Write a new script that makes more sense. 

George Michael’s dance video “Faith” comes to mind. I know, I know, I know the song is about the complications of a relationship, but the chorus is still relevant, maybe for you too.

“Yes I gotta have faith
Ooh, I gotta have faith
Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I gotta have faith, faith, faith…”

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