Cheryl's Blog

How I got out of jail.

This morning I woke from an insightful dream.  I was driving somewhere in the country through a beautiful pastoral setting filled with green fields, sheep grazing in the distance, and birds sailing overhead.

As I gazed out the window at the peaceful scene, I suddenly heard a voice telling me how to drive.  “Keep your eyes on the road,” it grumbled, “watch where you’re going and slow down!”

I looked around to see where the voice was coming from and when I glanced in the rearview mirror, I discovered I was sitting in the backseat!

Then I woke up.

I opened my eyes and groaned.

It’s you, I thought to myself.  Don’t you ever take a break?

I live with a watchdog in my head – a prison guard who works hard to keep me behind bars.  She pretends to be helpful, but she’s not.  She’s critical and annoying and she often interrupts my best attempts at expanding my life.

For the last few years I’ve been working hard to befriend this part of me in the hopes that she’ll soften up and I gotta tell you, it’s a fulltime job.

There’s something that happens at midlife that changes everything.  If you let it.  The personality that’s been well crafted over the first half of life gets rigid and wearisome and other parts of us clamor to be heard.

And oftentimes those parts are diametrically opposed to the old you.

If you’ve been a good girl all your life, I promise you there’s a bad girl waiting in the wings.

If you’ve been highly responsible and buttoned up, there’s a wild woman anxious to be let loose.

If you’ve become masterful at your job or business, successful at what you do, there’s another you who’s probably desperate to try something new.

When I look back at the journal I published in Waking Up in Winter, I see a woman being co-opted by these new parts.  I was starting to recognize that the roles I’d taken on during the first half of my life weren’t serving me anymore.

Nearly everyone I talk to about midlife tells me they long to feel more alive.  I know I do.  And the key to feeling more alive lies in our willingness to meet and express the parts of ourselves that have been suppressed by our well-formed, present identity.

The challenge is that these unexpressed parts are often hidden and they can show up in disruptive and unsettling ways – the purchase of a sports car you can’t afford, for instance, or a midlife affair that might just destroy a good marriage.

Fortunately expressing the bad girl, the carefree guy, or the woman who wants to finally put her own needs first can be done without harming others.  It starts with being open to discovering these unrealized parts.

I’m uncovering these new selves by paying close attention to my dreams, by trying new things, by noticing what gives me energy, and by letting go of some of the old roles that no longer fuel me.

Which is why, this morning, when my conventional self told me to forget the dream and go about my day, I chose to ignore her.

I want out of prison.

So I lay back down, reentered the dream, and pulled my car over.  Get out or be quiet, I said to the warden.

She started to protest.

So I left her on the side of the road and kept driving.

I’ll go back to get her.  It just may take a while .

xo Cheryl

PS – Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife is now available in paperback.  You can learn more here.

PPS – There will be no Facebook Live this week. You can watch past sessions on my YouTube channel at CherylRichardsonTV here.

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