When Chaos Strikes and Life Strips You of Your Identity
Believe in your ability to rebound from life’s surprises.
“Change can happen at any time, but transition comes along when one chapter of your life is over, and another is waiting in the wings to make its entrance.” – William Bridges, author The Way of Transition
I never thought it could happen to me. But it did.
And I’m not alone. A major life change, expected or unexpected, can wreak havoc with your self-esteem and strip you of an identity you spent a lifetime creating.
Until I divorced, it never occurred to me to have a backup plan. For 26 years I’d worked with my husband, a writer, and producer for television, on developing scripts, but I never wrote anything on my own, nor claimed credit for the work I did.
I was proud and comfortable in the role I played as David’s wife, writing partner, creative muse, financial manager, and mother of our four children.
Who are we without our labels?
But who are we without our labels? I certainly struggled with it. I never expected anything bad could happen. I’d built a “perfect” life.
But then you never expect a child to die, either. And with it, a shattered marriage where two people struggle to find any comfort in each other at all.
It doesn’t have to be anything as devastating as losing a child. It can be the shock of losing a job or business, loss of a home, the death of a parent, divorce, or a health challenge.
These changes can also come from transitions like a new marriage, moving to a new city, weight loss, returning from war, (re-entry into family life), retirement, or starting a new business.
Any major changes can leave you feeling confused. You no longer feel the same way about yourself…
You are in transition
William Bridges, in his book, The Way of Transition, talked about the experience of transition is in stages:
- “disengagement -the separation from whatever it is you have lost;
- disidentification -the way that the loss destroys the old identity you had;
- disenchantment -the way that the loss tears you out of the old reality […];
- disorientation -how, as a result of losing the object of your feeling and the identity you had together and the reality you shared, you feel bewildered and lost.” You can’t fight it
I had suffered all of these stages and damn, I can tell you transition feels like chaos, exactly as Bridges describes in his book.
I was terrified.
I stopped resisting the inevitable and began to look at my options. It’s hard to see options when you’re grieving the loss of a child, and then a divorce, but my only option was to survive. I had to. My three living children depended on it.
I had many dreams when I was younger. I remember saying…
- Someday I want to be an actress.
- Someday I want to write my own screenplays.
- Someday I want to host a television show.
- Someday I want to be on the radio.
- Someday I want to write another book (I’d written and published two before my son died)
I had to figure out whether any of those old dreams fit the “new me.” Was I meant to revive old dreams or weave them into new ones? These new thoughts went to the head of the line:
- I wanted a career that could support my three living children and me.
- I wanted to move where could I afford to live comfortably and give my children a beautiful life.
- I wanted to be married again… someday.
- I wanted to feel confident on my own, without the labels.
“Transition doesn’t simply disenchant; it breaks up your old identity too.” –William Bridges, The Way of Transition
I had to find a job. Grieving sent my husband’s career into chaos. I knew I couldn’t count on his support. I combed the local newspaper and began to look at “Help Wanted” signs in the stores where I used to shop.
As happy accidents happen, a friend off-handedly said, “You should come to work where I do! You’d be a great designer!” I was hired the next day at the furniture and design store.
It was an awkward shift in my identity. Friends and acquaintances came into the store and were quite surprised. Wasn’t I the producer’s wife? Those shoes didn’t fit anymore, but I only had to think for a moment why I was doing it… my kids.
And, I found out the real friends thought highly of me for it.
I reluctantly listed my dream home for sale. When an offer came in, my heart sank. I didn’t even know where I’d move! My realtor met me in the furniture store on my break. As we signed contracts, he said, “You know Sandy, you’re very good with people, and the furniture business has taught you about sales. It takes just as much effort to sell a home as designing a living room… and the commission is a whole lot better.”
I began studying to get my real estate license and moved my family to Murrieta, a lovely affordable little town an hour south of LA.
Failure was not an option
I dove into my new career as a real estate agent. My business grew quickly, and I loved it!
As a family, my children and I experienced such happiness and peace in a small town. I could see the kids settle in so perfectly after the prior years of upheaval following my son’s death and the divorce.
As I said earlier, one thing is certain; change can happen at any time. Find peace in knowing there’s always another transition waiting in the wings. Once I took the next step, it allowed me to see the magic of how it all fits together.
“Life’s magic reaches us through serendipities, coincidences, and happy accidents.” — Mike Dooley, author, Infinite Possibilities
Is real estate my passion? Not entirely, but within our jobs are pieces of something we can find to feed our souls. I love meeting new people. I love sharing my stories with my clients. I love providing a living for my family.
That peace of mind allowed me to resurrect my love of writing. Didn’t I always say… Someday I want to write another book? And I did in 2014.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” –Ecclesiastes 3 and… The Byrds
Once I finally shed the skin of my old label, I recognized I never want to be labeled anything, again. I want to be me.
There are things I do… I sell real estate, I write books, I coach women, but none of those are who I am.
We don’t have to be prisoners of our labels. Like Khaleesi said in Game of Thrones “people learn to love their chains.” But when the chains fall away releasing us from the life we thought we had, we have the opportunity to make a critical decision… to transform or not.
Not everything disappears when you’ve made your transformation. Especially love.
Losing our beautiful son broke a marriage that I thought was indestructible. Together we created a beautiful family, a beautiful career, and a beautiful life. I wasn’t done loving him. I always believed we could put our family back together… until the day my husband died of a heart attack at 54.
Another ending, another transition, another beginning.
Life doesn’t always happen as you plan, nor are you guaranteed another day of life… for yourself or those you love.
Believe in your strength to rebound from life’s surprises and tragedies. Strengthen your inner spirit, trust in your ability to transform. There is happiness waiting through the chaos.
I discovered I’m not a label or a specific identity, and I am not what I do for a living. I have a story, a pretty damn tumultuous one; that’s my past. It shaped me whether I wanted it to, or not.
Bridges says there is one more step we can’t deny… a discovery of a new life, a new outlook.
And I have. I finally know who I am…a woman who knows how to love and survive.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve got creativity on your mind… I have a complimentary sample for you. A short ebook on how to establish some simple habits to set your creativity on fire: How to Develop the Creative Mindset.
**Previously published on Thrive Global**