The Irrational Fear of Starting Over

I get it. You’re here. You’ve invested yourself, and your time, your precious energy into this thing. Insert person/relationship/endeavor here. You’ve spent countless hours, or days, or even years caring for this thing, this person, this relationship. The emotional side of you says the right thing to do is to stick it out. You’re already here. You’ve already spent all this energy and developed all this love for this thing. This fruitless idea that you believe if you love enough/try enough/change enough, you can have. You try to tell yourself that you shouldn’t give up, that this magical breakthrough to happiness or equanimity is just around the corner. Just hold on a little longer… 

I am the first one to admit that I am an uber emotional person, and I couldn’t imagine governing my life without the use of my emotions. But this is one of those instances where it’s best to logic our way the fuck out of this kind of thinking. We get hung up on this idea that we need to stay in places or relationships that don’t serve us because we think somehow that all that energy or time we’ve put into this thing is “supposed” to pay off. We think we can love someone enough to heal them or that, if we leave now, we’ll miss that opportunity when everything magically turns around and is suddenly perfect. We try to reason that there’s no way that we aren’t going to get that happy relationship/proposal/promotion/whatever soon, or that it has eluded us so far because we haven’t given enough of ourselves somehow.

So what’s behind all that emotion-based “reasoning”? The irrational fear of starting over. 

Why are we afraid to start over? Because we tell ourselves that starting over equals failure. Starting over might mean living in our parents’ basement, or relocating, or working a sub-par job until we can find our new career “home”. We equate starting over with “losing everything”, and we internalize it. We blame ourselves for starting over, or for needing to. Starting over, in our overly self-critical minds, means we must have royally fucked up. We question if we should start over, or even after we have started over, if we should have actually done so. There are no right answers it seems, and all roads lead to blaming ourselves. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t, right? 

I think we already know we’re damned if we don’t. So the only option is to “do”. Do start over. 

Starting over gets a bad wrap. It is not the terrible thing we make it out to be in our heads. Starting over is a new beginning. Stop even calling it starting over. What are you starting over? You’re not starting over; you’re moving on. Starting over is giving yourself the beautiful gift of a new beginning, a blank canvas where you can create anything and truly find yourself. 

There should be no shame attached to this gift. You are not obligated to keep things in your life which do not serve you. Breaking up, in whatever form, is the ultimate manifestation of trust in yourself. Trust that there is something better out there for you. Trust that if you feel that things shouldn’t be the way that they are, they can change. Ok, maybe “they” (the other person) can’t change, but you can. 

You can change who you give your energy to, your time to. You can change who you allow to mingle their energy with yours. You can change location, or who or what you allow to be in your proximity. You can change your boundaries, or actually have boundaries. You can change your expectations of yourself and others, and what you will “allow” others to expect from you. This is fucking starting over.

Starting over means that you get to reevaluate who or what you spend your energy and time on. But in another sense, it can mean (or feel) like you “lose everything”. 

So how do you get through “starting over” and “losing everything”? Well, we all get through it in our own ways. But I can tell you from personal experience, these are three things that I have learned from starting over and losing everything myself. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to lose everything because that’s what you’ll get back in return: everything.
  2. Change is destructive, and while we might anticipate the earthquake, we often forget about the tsunami that can follow. 
  3. Tell the universe what you want. In fact, make it a list.

We all deserve happiness. Not happiness adjacent. We might have what looks like happiness on a surface level. We might live in a nice home, or have a good paying job. But it might be killing us inside to stay in those places because of the ways we are treated. Despite our best efforts, we cannot self-sacrifice our way to real happiness. In fact, real happiness should require very little (if any) self-sacrifice at all. 

So let’s break down how I learned those three principles of change. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to lose everything because that’s what you’ll get back in return: everything. 

For 11 years, I was in an unhappy marriage. I was the victim of narcissistic abuse by my then-husband, who was also an alcoholic. Now, it takes a lot for someone to get help when they have an issue with drinking, and there are many who don’t ever get that far. But if that person is also a narcissist, chances are they will never recognize that there is anything that needs changing. It was like a double whammy of stagnation had been dealt upon this person, and ultimately our relationship. 

That wasn’t all. He also had three children by two different women. We were also in a band together, and I won’t get side-tracked into the details of how my creativity suffered as a result. I was 21 when I met him and became an instant stepmom. 

During those first few years, I was like the poster-child for self-sacrifice. As my partner navigated the ins and outs of raising three children by two different women, I was there by his side through it all. I was there as both of these women, one after the other in a seemingly cyclical pattern, fell off the radar over and over again, victims of their own addictions and trauma. I thought staying by my partner’s side was the “right” thing to do, and of course I loved my step children immensely, and despite how chaotic our lives were at times, I really enjoyed being a stepmom. I thought maybe it even made me a bit noble, or was it humble? Who knows. All I know is, ultimately, it never paid off to sacrifice myself. 

No matter how many years went by, or how much of myself I gave, I was never treated as an equal, or really even treated as a parent, even though I was often the only parent that had my act together enough to actually look after children. Having two baby’s mamas that were homeless or semi-homeless and struggling with addiction made it hard to see the problems my partner had. He hid behind this fact as there was always someone else that was “worse” than him by comparison. There’s a huge mind-fuck that goes on in narcissistic abusive relationships, and it took years of planning and mustering courage to be able to actually leave (as leaving my step children was the hardest part). 

Facing the thought of losing my marriage, my kids, and my band was like standing in front of a wall of fire that I knew I would have to run through. I feel like this is the part where people get overwhelmed and stop this process of change. But if you go through the fire, and accept the fact that yes, you will “lose everything”, that is exactly what the universe will bring you in return. If you can also try to be conscious of the fact that you are creating reality with your thoughts, feelings, and choices, you could be very pleasantly surprised at what things you create to fill that blank canvas you now have in your life. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. The space between me getting divorced and feeling like I had truly landed on my feet took some time. It took several years, in fact. But what I can tell you now, standing on the other side of that immense wall of fiery change and loss that I went through years ago, is that it was all worth it. Deciding to go through that fire was the best decision I have ever made for myself, and I continue to be amazed at just how good life can actually be after you commit to having to “lose everything” and “start over”.

If you decide to go through the fire and feel like you’re still actually on fire, just keep going. You’re not done yet. Don’t stop now.

  1. Change is destructive. While we might anticipate the earthquake, we often forget about the tsunami that can follow.

While it was hard to leave my entire life behind and essentially “lose everything”, there was a part of me that was also excited to be able to create my new life. And one thing I was very excited about was that I would have more time to spend with some of my closest friends. I had a tight-knit group of girlfriends that I counted as being in my corner as I went through the difficult process of divorce, and (naively) I thought that we would only grow closer now that I was out of that relationship. 

Friendships are hard, and they change over time. I look back on some of my years with that group of friends, and I am grateful for them and do think we taught each other a lot. I also think that there were likely a lot of times that I was probably a bit much to deal with, or times when I required a lot of energy because of my circumstances in my relationship. Granted, I also gave a lot of myself. Regardless, there were issues within this group of friends that were beyond my control, and bad blood between some of them which changed the dynamic of the group. I became the baby that was thrown out with the bathwater essentially, or at least that’s how it felt at the time, and it was truly mind-bending for me to realize that this group of friends that I so thought I could count on had kind of turned their backs on me when I needed them most. Needless to say, it fucking sucked.  

That was, I think, the period when I truly felt like I had lost “everything.” I had lost my marriage, my kids, my home, my band, and now my closest friends. I cried. A lot. The boyfriend I had after my 11 long year relationship treated me better than my ex, but he had his own demons and he wasn’t equipped to help me deal with the tremendous losses I was suffering from. I went to counseling. I did EMDR. I played a lot of music. And I cried. 

Losing my marriage and kids was the earthquake, and I knew I was going to lose those things. But losing my friends was the tsunami that followed, and I never could have imagined that that would happen. But that’s change for ya. It’s as destructive as a tsunami, but if we embrace it, we can return to our own true nature again. 

What I learned eventually, after a lot of processing and healing, is that, although I loved my friends, our time of learning from each other had likely ended for the time being. I had a whole healing journey to go on, and maybe part of that meant going it alone. I tried to examine each of my friendships individually. In some cases I felt like I had taken too much, in others I felt like I had given too much. In one case I even felt like the friendship was maybe even somewhat co-dependent, and maybe that was part of the reason it didn’t work anymore: because I was trying to retire all of my codependent relationships, marriages and otherwise. Whatever the cases, this was part of the universe’s plan, and this was part of the change. If not for this change (which trust me, I hated and loathed at the time), other changes may not have happened afterward- changes that I am now very grateful for. 

All of this brings me to #3: Tell the universe what you want. In fact, make it a list.

In the years that I wanted to leave my ex but didn’t feel I could leave yet (or safely leave anyway), I had to find a way to look ahead to the future and start planning my new life. I had made a pact with myself that in three years, when my youngest step-child graduated grade school and I knew all of my kids would at least have their own cell phones by then, I would leave. For all of the dragging of my feet that I did for the years leading up to making that decision, I actually did follow this plan to a T and moved out the very weekend after my youngest step son graduated grade school. But I had to get through three long years before it was time to leave, and let me tell you: they were grueling.

I would say things in my household went from bad to worse in those three years. I had given up on making the relationship work by that point obviously, so now there were two people in the relationship who completely didn’t give a fuck about being nice to each other. The trickle down effect to those around us, including our kids, was painful for all involved. If I have any regrets about this time of my life, it’s not leaving sooner because for all the good I was hoping to do by staying, I’m sure it was also damaging, for them and myself.

I had strength, and I had a plan. I had a point A, and a point B, but getting there was going to take an excruciatingly long time. And in that long, dark night that lasted years, I often talked to the universe. Goddess knows I wasn’t talking to my husband and that he wouldn’t have listened anyway! So it was lots of “me time” with the universe. I took up running, as it felt like it was my “escape practice” and like I could move through the fabric of physical space and get far, far away from the person I didn’t want to be around. Sometimes I really was escaping the house for long walks and runs, working off anger and sadness, burning it out with every step. I didn’t know it at the time, but I started creating my new reality then. “Universe,” I would say in my head, “my next boyfriend needs to be fucking funny. Cuz I’m fucking funny, and I need to be with someone who is at LEAST as funny as I am. And they need to understand and respect MY funny!” Or other times I would remind the universe “The next person I’m with needs to be a musician, because I love music and I want to share music with them”, which was a big one for me especially considering that a musical connection was the main reason why my ex and I had gotten together in the first place, and a main component in my staying also. As the months and years wore on, I just kept adding to the list, or repeating things that I had listed before. Funny. Musician. Kind. Liberal. Secure. Organized. Spiritual. Foodie. And I kept going, adding to my list, going off on rants to the universe. Sometimes, in particularly challenging moments of unhappiness, I would talk in a scolding kind of tone to the universe, like “OKAY! Let me tell you what’s gonna happen here buddy (universe): when I fucking leave this hell hole of a marriage, you are gonna find me the hottest, raddest, most amazing, hilarious human being who is a musician and an awesome partner, the likes of which I have never fucking had before!” I beat it into my head and into the universe’s head. I beat it into the pavement as I ran. It became my ritual, telling my “ideal partner” list to the universe, like a mantra. 

They say good things come to those who wait, and they aren’t lying. 

The next partner I had was not the dream partner I had been trying to manifest. I sure thought he was at the time, but it’s really not hard to raise the bar on relationships when compared to the toxic marriage I was coming out of at the time. I did settle in this relationship. Hard. When it crumbled three years later and I was faced with the prospect of having to move back home with my parents for the second time in my thirties, let me tell ya: I was pretty fucking mad at the universe that day. I definitely did not believe in my powers of manifestation that day, nor for a long time afterwards. Once again, it completely fucking sucked.

And so I moved back home. Again. I was about ready to give up on love completely, and was fully prepared to slip back into habits I had tried to let go of, such as settling, and allowing fear to run my conscious mind too often. But I had never given up on my dream partner, the person I knew I was supposed to be with. I never let go of the idea that love was supposed to be this amazing thing that I believed it was, or that there was a person out there that was tailor made just for me. And then it happened: Russ.

I had met him about a year before this “moving-back-to-my-parents-house: the sequel” took place. We were both musicians (#2 on my list if you will recall). We met when we both played the same show together, and I knew from being friends with him on Facebook since then that he was also fucking hilarious (#1 on my ideal partner list). Feeling like a complete and total loser for living in my parents house again for the second time in three years, it really never crossed my mind that I would be on Russ’ radar. And, up until now, I had been in yet another terrible relationship. But one flirtatious Facebook comment at just the right time now that I was single, and holy shit: we started texting. And texting. And texting. And texting. He could spell (#13 on my list). He was clever and witty (#72 on my list). He was very organized and a fantastic cuddler (list, list). We had weird stuff in common like both liking Nissans, or having psoriasis- and no, I did not put liking Nissans or having psoriasis on my list, but the point is: I could have. I could have put a hundred more overly specific descriptions and details on that list because they all manifested in this amazing person that I was now getting to call my partner. I had no clue that the universe would find me a custom-fit partner to this extent! 

We have now been together for four years and got married last October during the pandemic. We make each other laugh every single day, and we get to make music together. We have so much in common that everything is shockingly easy together, but different enough from one another to always be able to learn from each other. There is no power struggle, or even a need for compromise because we’re so in sync. We have never once had a fight. I don’t have so much as a negative sounding text message to or from him in our entire text history. Together, we have come so far in such a short amount of time, and I finally feel like I am living the “relationship goals” that I used to admire in other couples. This is real love, and true happiness. This is happily ever after on fucking steroids. 

And I couldn’t have done it if not for losing everything. A few times, mind you. I wouldn’t have what I have now if I had read all those losses in my life incorrectly and internalized them, or if I was too afraid to let go of the things that I needed to “lose”. I couldn’t stop these changes anymore than I could a tsunami, but as I stopped trying to fight the change and instead worked to embrace it, I was pleasantly surprised at how the universe filled in those blank spaces in my life. This wasn’t a death, it was a rebirth. I was given the opportunity to grow beyond my wildest dreams, and whatever I thought my dream relationship was, was seriously not even half of how good as this actually is. 

So please, if you aren’t happy, the answer isn’t necessarily to sacrifice more of yourself. The answer may be to figuratively burn it all down and start over. There is beauty and strength in that process, and you just might be forced to reckon with what you actually deserve and honor your needs. Starting over isn’t irrational. Staying unhappy is.

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