Journal Entry: Melinda Bixler-01/18/2024-Letting Go

Journal Entry

After five months of being confined, away from ‘normal’ life, I’m used to having epiphanies, ‘Aha’ moments. I continue learning every single day. Learning to Let Go is one of the powerful lessons I’ve been taught throughout this process.

It’s been reassuring to know that my loved ones are doing okay in my absence. I don’t mean that negatively. Quite the opposite. For as long as I remember, I’ve felt responsible for how most people feel. I’ve carried a sense of unspoken pressure for solving other people’s problems (or at least trying to) and preventing hardship, suffering, physical & emotional pain, and financial struggles. Although I felt overwhelmed, those feelings were ‘normal’.

I was consumed with anxiety, always anticipating challenges to minimize negative future consequences or challenges. Bullies on my kid’s school bus? I need to fix it. Someone doesn’t have money to buy food? Here, take mine. You need clothes? Here, have mine or I’ll buy you some. Poverty, homelessness, hardtimes? I can make it better. I’ve been depressed, poor and struggled a lot. I remember those feelings well and I never want anyone to feel that way. I had blessings during those times, people who helped me. On some level, they saved me, and I want to pay it forward. I believed that not trying to solve problems and create better circumstances for people meant I was failing.

Don’t misunderstand, giving, helping, supporting, advocating, sacrificing are all positive things we should be doing for others. Empathy and compassion are critical for experiencing a meaningful life. However, not at the cost of self or those we love. As such, it’s necessary to establish priorities, maintain balance and set boundaries all of which should align with my core values. Previously, I failed to set boundaries, and it was detrimental. I overlooked important aspects of what helping others in a healthy way meant. First, helping doesn’t mean eliviating someone’s personal responsibility for themselves or their circumstances. It means empowering them, giving them the knowledge and resources to help themselves. Ultimately, that builds their confidence. Two, sometimes helping too much leads to enabling. Not only does it absolve others of taking responsibility for their circumstances, it inhibits them from learning the lessons needed for their individual growth. With all that in mind, when I thought I was helping, sometimes, I was hindering.

For nearly 20 years, I advised people who were struggling with crisis. My common words of advice were borrowed from flight attendants who remind us that we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before putting one on those around us. I routinely educated people on the importance of caring for self. It’s not possible to be a caregiver for others if you’re a mess, hospitalized or worse. Like many people, I was great at giving advice, yet I was immune from living by those same principles. Recognizing my core values, accepting my personal limitations, and respecting the natural laws of growth through positive and negative consequences were some of my areas of weakness. Although my compulsion to always say ‘Yes’ and help came from a place of love and honorable intentions, my areas of weakness led to a series of poor choices. I operate from a place of compassion and empathy, and failing to help those in need felt like I was weak and a disappointment. Because I learned to tread water with this mentality, I continued for decades without challenging the validity of my beliefs, or rationally accepting that I’m human and as such I’m incapable of certain things. My true failure was in not facing reality and being honest with myself.

Some of you may understand what I’m talking about. If so, do yourself a favor and cut yourself some slack. Pause and regain balance then proceed with your values and principles at the forefront. Trust me, it’s worth the time and effort. Others may be reading this and can’t relate. They may be thinking – ‘Melinda, that’s crazy. Just stop thinking about it. There’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t change. Why would you do that?’ In fact, many people have said that to me. My response to them is: you’re not wrong. We all have some degree of psychological weeds in our rooted garden. It would be amazing if I could’ve just stopped feeling or thinking that way. Speaking for everyone with chronic anxiety, if there was an OFF button, most of us press it. Even now, with the self-awareness and knowledge I have, I still consciously resist the urge to help the women here. I’ve developed a mantra and repeat it to myself when I’m feeling compelled to help, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” I see the need to worry about myself, mind my own business, stay in my lane. I accept that can’t fix the circus or the craziness that exists within it. My attitude and behavior can influence others, but I certainly can’t change other’s behavior or circumstances.

Before I came here, I spent countless hours worrying about how my loved ones would be impacted by my absence. Of all people in the world, I never wanted to hurt my family, most of all my kids. However, through all of this, I believe I hurt them the most, and that self-punishment will far exceed any time I spend in here. My two adult children are independent, self-sufficient and managing their own lives, but we still share a lot of time together. I’m still their mother, able and willing to help. Most worrisome for me was my youngest child who’s in elementary school. What I envisioned for him was too much too bear. We are very close, bonded. He could count on me to always have his back. I recognized that my prison would be the hardest time of his life thus far, and I was terrified of the lifelong impact. Despite my attempts to solve and avoid problems, in this instance, I’d created a problem in which there was no solution, no fix, no way to prevent pain, avoid hardships or eliminate struggles. All I could do was try to prepare my family for my absence and pray. The rest was in God’s hands.

After a recent visit here with my youngest son, I had an ‘Aha’ moment. Although this has been so hard for my kids, particularly my youngest, everyone is doing okay. My youngest is doing well. His grades are good. He’s still playing soccer each week and practicing the violin (when he’s in the mood). He has playdates, sleepovers, family time, outside fun, and plays video games. He smiles. He has fun. Yes, he misses me and our time together. However, he’s not the absolute mess I anticipated. He is okay.

Cut off from the freedoms, resources and access to life, I’ve had no choice but to relinquish control over nearly every aspect of my life, or the illusion that I had direct control to begin with. It’s as though God said, “Melinda, that’s enough. I’ve given you direction and signs for years that you’ve ignored. You’re going to learn this lesson one way or another. You can’t and don’t need to save or fix anyone. You need to work on yourself. Grieve losses, heal, forgive others and yourself, reflect, and move forward in your life with renewed integrity and grace. It’s time to put down the baggage you keep lugging around. Put it down. Walk away. Move forward and LIVE your life with new perspective. Redefine your values, and live each day in alignment with those. Find peace. I’ve got this. — Love, God”

In retrospect, God’s message has been coming my way for decades, but it took until my most recent visit with my son to finally sink in. For the first time in my life, I’ve observed a situation over which I’ve lacked direct control and accepted it for exactly what it is. I didn’t let the worry debilitate me. The guilt of the mess I’d created didn’t refresh at the end of our visit. I gave him big hugs, lots of kisses and watched him leave. He was okay. He is okay.

It turns out that life is supposed to be hard sometimes, and being a good mother doesn’t mean never letting my kids feel pain. In fact, I can’t solve all of his problems or prevent him from every struggle in life. And sadly, sometimes I’m part of the problem, not the problem-solver. In trying to protect him, I now recognize how my behavior may inadvertantly impede his personal growth. The growth necessary for him to live a life designed for him. Learning and experiencing life through natural consequences isn’t possible if I’m always on the sidelines saving him, or anyone else, from every difficulty.

I’ve had no choice, but to sit silently and observe from afar for the past five months. My kids are surviving, and so is the rest of my family. My home is still standing and the earth is still rotating on its axis. NONE of which I’ve had any direct control over. God’s got this. He’s the captain of the ship with all the knowledge and navigation. (Side note: I understand that many people don’t believe in God. I share my beliefs without judgment of others. Believing in a higher power can be comforting and provide hope. From my experience and observations, sometimes, that belief is what keeps us moving forward, and can positively impact our mindset. Just my two cents.)

As I described my feelings during my recent call home, I heard the words, “Melinda, You’ve had to let go.” Aha. Yes! That’s it. Those two words summarized everything. I’ve had to Let Go frequently since 2020 and it’s been extremely uncomfortable. Coming here took Letting Go to a whole new level. It’s been scary, but I’m doing it. This process has forced me to a state of vulnerability I’ve never had to experience. I’ve learned to rely on others and accept that things will be done differently than I might do them, but you know what? That’s okay. We are all okay.

“The way we see the problem is the problem.”

–Stephen Covey