When I was in my twenties, I stayed in a bad relationship too long. He was a sweet guy and he loved me the best he knew how. But he was an addict, and I was codependent, and so our life together was all drama, all the time. For four long years I surrendered what I really wanted and needed, hoping I could save him and that we would find happiness together.
I had a thousand excuses for why I didn’t want to leave. First of all, these things happen in a frog-in-hot-water kind of way. It starts off good in the beginning and slowly deteriorates over time, so that you almost don’t even realize it’s happening. Also there was this powerful force between us, this magnetic pull, this ability I had to get through to him in a way no one else could. And he had a certain “way” with me, too.
Our relationship was one of the only places in my life where I felt powerful.
Meanwhile, my life around me was crumbling. The career I had always dreamed of having was replaced with a bartending job, which wasn’t bad necessarily, but I was bored. To combat my boredom, I shopped, and drank, and watched the Food Network, and let so many of my passions and dreams fade into the distance.
I stood by as friendships I had worked years to build fell apart. I was busy tending to “emergencies” we had created out of our own dysfunction (trips at 2am to pick him up from a bar fight; long drives around the city looking for him after not hearing from him for four, five, six days at a time). Also, I was embarrassed at how many times my friends had urged me to leave him when I didn’t feel like I could.
Maybe you’ve been in a position like this before, where you knew you were supposed to do something—like send that email or make that move or call that person or go see the therapist or end that relationship—but you keep putting it off.
I will never forget the morning I finally made that decision.
I had reached my breaking point. For years I had been praying, in a silent sort of way, that someone would come “rescue” me from this relationship and that morning I realized: the only one who could rescue me was myself. So I gathered my things, kissed him on the forehead and, with mascara streaked down my face, I walked out of the house, never to turn back.
I give myself some credit for leaving that day. It took guts—all the guts I had to give right then. It’s comforting to realize that, when we’re facing a problem, we don’t have to have all the answers. All we need to know is the next right step, and all we need to do is muster the courage to do that ONE thing. The rest will reveal itself later.
But it wasn’t until a few years down the road I learned a lesson that would transform the way I saw that whole relationship, not to mention all of the relationships in my life.
It goes like this: it wasn’t him, it was me.
By that I don’t mean that he played no role in the destructive force we were. He did. What I mean is that, after years of blaming him and thinking things would just be different if I could just meet someone new; and after years of watching that same dynamic repeat in my life, again and again, I came to a heart-wrenching and beautiful realization:
Wherever you go, there you are.
We cannot escape ourselves. We cannot outrun ourselves. But we also don’t need to. Because the power we need to influence our marriages, our friendships, our family relationships, our careers, our physical health and even our world doesn’t live “out there” with circumstances or things or people. It lives inside of us.
What does it mean to be powerful?
If you would have asked me five years ago what it meant to be powerful, the picture in my mind would have been of a man, sitting on a hill, probably on a throne of some sort, perhaps with a scepter in hand. This person could, in my mind, command armies or make money rain from the sky and people listened to him.
I didn’t much envy this kind of power. I thought of it as people in power, rather than people of power and I saw people in power to be domineering and cruel, self-centered and volatile, unpredictable and hogging all the resources.
Today, my picture of power is so much different.
The picture is of a person standing firmly on two feet, hand to heart. Powerful people stay true to their word. Powerful people don’t get sucked into the frenzy of life, of fame, of money. Powerful people are at peace with themselves—their strengths and weaknesses. Powerful people speak up when they have something to say. We listen to powerful people, not because the demand our attention, but because they draw us in.
Powerful people do not fight to get noticed. They notice themselves.
Powerful people have integrity—but not in the way we normally think about that word. Integrity actually started as an architectural term. For a building to have “integrity” it had to be unbending. Unmovable. So when an earthquake came, or a tornado, or a flood, or high winds, the building would stay structurally sound. It wouldn’t move with the weather. Its internal elements would stay in tact.
I have learned over the years that integrity, in this sense, is one of the most important things we can have, and also one of the most difficult to obtain.
Integrity is not about following a list of unbending rules. It’s about following our unbending inner-wisdom. It’s about staying centered even in the midst of great chaos and conflict. Think about this for a minute. We have to be so in tune with our internal lives, that even in the midst of great conflict and chaos and noise, we can still hear ourselves.
When the shaking comes in your life, how do you hold up?
What happens to you when there are high winds?
My 23-year-old sister-in-law was recently diagnosed with cancer. I can’t imagine the amount of fear and confusion that must be passing through her as her world turns from peaceful to chaotic overnight. She and her husband had just begun a total remodel on their house they day they received the diagnosis. Now, as her house sits in shambles, and she loses her hair, as she suffers hospital stays and complications, it would be so easy for her to wonder, “why me?”.
And yet I’ve watched her, in spite of the high winds of her life right now, maintain an attitude of faith and grace. She hopes for healing. Of course. We all do.
But she also recognizes that healing is not her hope. Hope is her healing.
She wrote a magazine article recently where she talked about what it was like to receive that dreaded call and what life has been like since. She says:
After the diagnosis, the procedures, the hospital stays, and complications just six weeks in, I see that suffering has so many secrets to share. Secrets that are sought after by most of humanity. There are no shortcuts to these secrets. They are whispered in your hear and if you are listening, stick to your mind and heart for good.
Do you believe that? That your suffering will whisper secrets?
She is a light in the dark spaces. One powerful woman.
When a woman realizes how powerful she is, she grows in her integrity, unbending to the winds of change happening all around her. She walks away from that bad relationship. She faces that tragedy or crisis with peace and hope. Instead of complaining, or playing the victim—which would be so easy—she admits that every circumstance in her life is an opportunity to learn and to grow and she accepts the challenge with grace.
Oh, and she fights her ass off. She kicks cancer in the throat and fights to recover her spirit and her strength becomes the healing force for herself and the world around her.
I met a Jewish woman recently who taught me about power.
Her name is Rabi and Rabi is the type of woman who grabs your attention even before she opens her mouth. She is stunning. And no, I don’t mean stunning like Miss America stunning, or A-list Hollywood Celebrity stunning, although I’m not knocking that either. Rabi stands probably five foot seven inches tall and is in her late 50’s or early 60’s. She wears long, sweeping clothing that cover her figure in the most elegant way you can imagine.
And when Rabi walks into a room, people listen.
That was one of the very first things I noticed about her: how powerful she was. Not CEO powerful or rule-with-an-iron-fist powerful. But powerful like a woman who has been there, who has weathered the storm and learned to stand strong in spite of it. Strong because the worst thing that could have possibly happened to her already has.
Rabi is an Israeli Jew and a few years ago, her son was killed by a Palestinian sniper. Since then, Rabi has dedicated her life to bringing peace to one of the most conflict-ridden regions of the world. But not in the way you might imagine. Peace begins, she insists, inside of us. So she has made it her life’s work to befriend others who have lost loved ones in the conflict—Israelis and Palestinians both. She told me:
Pain does not discriminate.
Pain is pain, no matter how you’ve suffered it.
And even though what you see on the news is that violence is ramping up in that part of the world (it is) what you will never see on the news is that Rabi’s love is ramping up, too. She is doing it—bringing peace one friend at a time. Rabi may not be the top news story tonight but she is immovable, unbending in the waves of one of the most chaotic wars of our time. She is fighting this battle in the only way she knows how—with love.
Who is more powerful—a man with a gun; or Rabi, a woman with a love so fierce she refuses to hate anyone, even the man who killed her son? Some might argue the man with the gun because he can take a person’s life. I would argue Rabi. Because while those guns may be destroying bodies, Rabi is restoring spirits.
What I learned from Rabi is that there is an unstoppable force in this world that has not yet been fully realized and it is this: a woman who knows how powerful she is.
Love is the most powerful force on this planet.
It took a lot of love for me to walk away from that toxic relationship that day. It took love for myself, for the guy who I would never be able to save, and a love for the future version of myself, who would need space and time to grow into he powerful woman she wanted to be and always knew she was.
It takes love, even now, to continue fighting this tendency in myself—my tendency to think I can “save” people, the tendency to give up what I want for the sake of what other people want from me.
Wherever we go, there we are.
And yet everything we face in our lives—whatever that looks like for you—is an opportunity to grow into your power, your force, your integrity. Every challenge you face, every obstacle is another step in the process of discovering the woman inside of you who knows what she wants, who isn’t afraid to fight for it, and who knows that the most powerful force of change comes from the inside out.
It’s taken me way too long to get this, but I’m letting grace wash over all the old versions of myself, the version who could never seem to be at peace with my circumstances—with being single, or with being married, or with wanting a baby and not being able to get pregnant. I’m having grace for the girl who thought that changing what was happening around me would change how I felt about myself.
I’m having grace for all those versions of myself and also not wasting another minute focusing on what’s “out there” when I know the real power lies in what’s “in here”. I’m working to plant that seed, to water it, to grow it and to find the peace and clarity and calm I’ve known were inside of me all along.
I’m learning to be still.
I’m learning to listen to my intuition.
I’m learning to do the one next right thing.
I’m not fighting cancer. It’s not world peace. But it’s my journey, my path, and I’m learning to stand in my power, and that is more than enough.