Rinse and Repeat: Colleen’s Path to Healing

Life can be looked at and adjusted by instructions on everyday items. For me, in using hair conditioner and my washing machine regularly, I am reminded to rinse and repeat or asked how many rinse cycles I want: one or an extra? It may be odd to many that I see this, but it is how I often get through many rough times. Do I need one rinse or an extra and should I repeat it, how many times? Life has thrown some big curveballs and learning to cope is an individual process. Each of us has a unique way to get by. What I feel is relevant is that you do what is needed for you personally, only you know what is best. Sharing resources and how we all manage hardships, gives us all new perspectives and opportunities to try. I have also found that with every rough patch in life, I have had to adjust how I cope because my strategies vary based on what experience I am having in that moment. Each moment is so unique, like we are.

I am a firm believer in love but it’s not something that has ‘stuck’ with me, yet. I still feel it will come one day. This not to say I am not surrounded by love, because I am, and I feel it every day. It’s the love of one intimate partner, on another level, that has not yet found its way into my life. I thought I had it, once and then twice, but I was shocked to have it abruptly leave both times. This led to some serious life changes and soul searching.

At 20 years old, I met who I thought was my guy. It was disclosed to me he had Cystic Fibrosis, but it never fazed me. He was still a guy deserving of love just as I was a girl deserving the same. This illness was a definite hardship to have above all the day to day struggles that can come with relationships. We were both committed to the work of being together and so sought help where and when needed. This often came in the form or professional help, relying on friends for support and starting to fundraise for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Searching out groups with similar needs or challenges is a huge benefit to day to day life. As we grew into a family, new struggles arose because juggling so many roles is simply challenging. I eventually became very introverted and a stay-at-home-in-my-cozy-comfortable-space person, because it felt safe to me being there with my two young boys. Paper crafting and writing became an outlet for me, but they are also very individual tasks, so I was alone most of the time but in a good head space.

Just after celebrating 15 years of marriage, and 18 years together, my then husband said he was not happy and pointed out that I was not happy so he wanted a divorce. I felt crushed and could not believe at 40 years old, my whole world and the world of my children was going to completely change. It was also surprising to me he decided to take on my feelings and portray them as what they were not. Within 2 months of this request to divorce, my workplace in the downtown east side of Vancouver closed its doors. I had been there for 15 years.

My career and my marriage both began and ended at the same time. The loss I was feeling was unbearable.

What did I do? I spent many days just wishing to stay in bed, but being raised to be a very ethical and committed person, I would get up and go through the day as if nothing was happening. When I could I would cry, and just as quickly as the tears came, I would wipe them away. I was deep in a lot of self-pity, which is what a friend referred to it as. I called them “moments” – moments for me to just let it be because the crying felt good. Then came a day when I needed to do something else. I found a support group for single mums. This was hard because I never felt like a single mum, because I have a co-parent. Quickly, I learned this resource was just as much for me as anyone and I am grateful for the new friendships I made there.

I took up reading. I was never much on reading books but I found some great relatable research and stories that gave me feel good moments. The more I read the less I needed to cry. Time was also passing and wounds were healing. I had, and still have, scars but they are only a part of my story. In reading I discovered that people share stories for reasons (look at me and what I am doing). These reasons resonate differently for each of us based on our experiences. Being a middle child and a Sagittarius/Capricorn cusp birthdate, I see very relative parts of research for each of these that can be a part of me. I do not let them define me but I know I need to work around them being a part of what may naturally be ingrained from how I was raised and what my signs portray me as. There is a reason so much research is done on these topics of human nature and nurture, parts can be very true. Being a middle child, I often see things as not being fair but really who is it not fair to? It’s a perspective. Stubborn and not one to ask for help are definite parts of me; they are part of my star sign. I see the stubbornness as a positive, though, because I am huge on commitment and it takes lot for me to ever give up. Not asking for help is one I still struggle with, but I am aware and working on it, constantly.

Reading gave me so much more awareness and perspective that I was feeling comfortable but also slowly feeling down again. I needed a new avenue.

Cliché, I know, but I went to speak with a trainer at a gym. This was so outside my comfort zone and I was actually really anxious about it. I never was active or spent much time in sports. I tried several things through high school, but nothing stuck and part of me thinks it was always to do with the team aspect. I was, and still am, a person who never wants to disappoint anyone. I am a people pleaser who feels responsible to make everyone happy or comfortable. The gym became a home to me. I set regular sessions, got into a routine where I developed boundaries, and started to feel strength I never knew before. Several new coping strategies came from me taking this uncomfortable step. I embraced something new and did not let my anxiety over not knowing what to do, win. I set up “me time” which involved me asking for help. Co-parenting two boys, I needed child care and time away from them (the hardest part) to better myself. Overall, I created boundaries for my time and I stayed with it to the point where now I regularly attend the gym myself. People observing the physical change in me was a definite mood booster, but the mental state of calm I was feeling also transpired to my everyday attitude. This was also a welcome change by those around me who had watched me struggle.

So my life to this point had been rinsed and repeated several times, with extra cycles. Feeling good and confident after two years of learning how to be me again, alone, I entered the world of dating. Online dating, specifically. It was daunting to me and again completely out of my comfort zone. I wish there were better opportunities to meet people but everyone appears to be online with so many aspects of life. I had a couple of conversations with potential interests and eventually chose to meet with someone. Life with this new person was a fairy tale to the point where I never felt so good even compared to my marriage which meant I truly was not happy then. I was on cloud nine and revelling in all the potential of this new love. He was, as they like to say, ‘too good to be true’ but I did not want to see it. There were new adventures on hikes and being outside. There was care and attention to details that nobody had ever shown me before. I was living in my dream world and sharing it with someone who I thought was ideal for me, as I was for them. Unfortunately, this partner was so consumed with their own darkness that eventually it ended in a volatile night of verbal abuse, a physical assault, an arrest followed by court appearances and a guilty plea to a lesser charge. I spiralled to my lowest point ever.

It’s hard to describe, but being so high and to have it shattered in a moment, hit me harder than anything I have ever felt. There was so much disbelief, anger, and raw emotion to deal with all over again.

What was going to be my rinse and repeat cycle now? Enter writing, running and a passion for advocacy. I loved writing when I was young and, believe it or not, it was writing a victim impact statement that brought that back. Having your voice heard is such a healing process, or at least it was for me. Telling stories, even bad ones, are a release to me. Sharing them to bring light to others is a benefit; my story may not resonate with you, but you may find another person who needs it. Helping others is a huge part of me, as I mentioned earlier.

Running has cleared my mind and brought me into a new community and strengthened friendships. The freedom on paths and my music pumping while hitting pavement is another level of strength. Achieving a goal in timing runs and seeing progress is a mood booster I had not experienced. Since taking up running, again, I have stepped outside my comfort zone and entered a 5km race to fundraise for a new worthy cause in my life: the Battered Women’s Support Services of Vancouver. This is also where the advocacy and making connections with others, who share experiences, each of them different, has pushed me to still feel okay and take steps to gaining me back. Joining those resource groups in your communities creates a new resource for you. I have again been able to make connections and friendships that offer a new way to rinse and repeat through cycles of life.

Through so much of life, I have come to realize, as many people do, that life is going to be messy. When we get messy, somehow we have to clean ourselves up.

Wash.

Rinse.

Repeat.

Extra cycle?

There is no limit on how many times you may need to follow your steps.