On Starting Over

Starting over isn’t just about moving to another state, neighborhood, or house, changing careers, getting rid of fake friends or terrible spouses, or about running away. Starting over is a state of mind. It means that when something has finished, something new must and will inevitably begin, and you are making the choice to start over as a person that directs the journey for what that new beginning will look like.

I’ve had to start over several times. The first time I had to start over was when I was younger. Too young perhaps. I blogged already about this in a previous post titled “Regarding Sex.”  There I discuss about experiencing sex at too early an age when I really did not have any way of knowing what was going on to protect myself, to refuse or consent to what was happening to my body, or to what I was made to do.

When a person is damaged—in any way—every day feels like starting over. To start over keeps them from wanting to check out early. Starting over isn’t just about moving to another state, neighborhood, or house, changing careers, getting rid of fake friends or terrible spouses, or about running away. Starting over is a state of mind. It means that when something has finished, something new must and will inevitably begin, and you are making the choice to start over as a person that directs the journey for what that new beginning will look like. There are many things that can make a person feel as if they need to start over, from the extremely large and important life events, to the mundane and every day minutiae of events.

The Minutiae

Every day I had to start over because I was biracial. It was not easy for me or my sisters growing up. There was constant bullying, racism, strange looks, and the feeling of never belonging to any one group which can truly ruin a person’s self-esteem, worth, and identity. I did what any normal person does when they come out looking as light as I do, but when their mother is Black—I changed my personality every day to distract myself and others so I wouldn’t get hurt. Every day I approached going to school or to work as if it was a personal project. How much do you let people in today? What person will I pretend to be today? I would ask myself these questions and then I would get to work. Just when you’d think you know me, I’d change up. I would make it impossible for any person to pinpoint what was going on in my head. Which is a great skill when you want to keep people at a distance. I became nerve rackingly good at reading people and played different roles to different people all the time. I’ve been the damsel, the bully, the victim, the preacher, the whore, the Queen B, or the crazy-fun-friend that everyone loves.

I became really good at knowing just how much emotion to show and how much to hide, to be able to stare at an entire room of people without them even noticing unless I wanted them to notice. This power trip could sustain me, for a while, but eventually I would slip up. Too much was said, too much emotion was let out of the bag, I had exploded or imploded, I cried or I screamed—it all depended on the situation at hand. Later in life I just gave up trying to be something I wasn’t, to hide my emotions, but I still resort to old habits in the face of rejection, pain, trauma, or simply when I’m afraid.

But every day offers a chance to change, to start over, to be a different or better person, to become the person you were born to become or the one you always fantasized that you could be. Starting over in the mundane and every day form is as easy as making a choice and sticking to it, guns blazing and on full throttle, being brave. This form of starting over, however, is easy to write about. What is hard is describing what you feel you go through when you have to decide to start over in the first place.

When Life Forces You to Start Over

Life sometimes has its way with you and forces you to start over. Whether you and your spouse are getting a divorce, or your life partner cheated, or you lost your job, you’re bankrupt, you’re about to be homeless, etc… Too many times does life just hit you and you’re forced to start over. In those moments that’s when starting over isn’t some feel-good mantra about being a better person or finding your better you. Starting over feels like survival. If you don’t leave that job or spouse, or figure out your finances, you will not be able to function. You will physically lose wealth or sanity, your health, or whatever—that is crucial for your survival. If we were to follow Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, something in that pyramid is about to be eliminated. If you don’t know who or what that is, let’s recap.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist interested in understanding what motivated people to make decisions (McLeod, 2018). He theorized that first we need basic physiological needs like food, water, and shelter (McLeod, 2018). Once those needs are met, we can pursue other needs like safety, wealth, and personal security, followed by a sense of belonging or love, then esteem or respect, and finally–the last stage–total self-fulfillment (McLeod, 2018). Therefore, starting over is a necessity because something important to your survival as a human being is threatened—you are threatened—and something needs to be addressed or fixed.

Survival Mode

There have been five major shifts in my life that forced me to make life-changing decisions or to start over, so far. These don’t include the minor ones where I had to change jobs for personal reasons either. These “re-starts,” or starting over points, were hard because in the moment I did not feel I had a choice, and they were usually painful and enlightening all at the same time.

In my blog “Regarding Relationships” I wrote about my relationship with Shawn* briefly and that definitely played a large role in my life and caused several “shifts.” After he and I broke up, since he lived on the same street as my parents and where I grew up, I felt I had to move out of the house as soon as possible to truly heal, especially since we still were contact with each other for a brief period of time after the breakup. Following the theory of Maslow’s pyramid, I couldn’t be self-fulfilled since I had no esteem or sense of accomplishment, and no sense of belonging or love from the situation. I needed to move on. My best friend and I got an apartment across town and that was my first real major starting over point.

When Shawn* died, I left the state to pursue a career in geography as a master’s student (seeking to accomplish something I suppose).  To be fair, I had already planned on doing this, but Shawn*’s death only encouraged me to run and start over somewhere else that much more. When Shawn* died, I wished I had died along with him—or really—in a way, parts of me, pieces of my soul and personality, already did die with him and are now buried along with him wherever he is. Starting over to me then meant I had to become an entirely new and different person—so I did.  

After years of graduate school work, dealing with the hypocrisy of higher education, bullying, and not feeling fully supported, I left geography as a field and attempted to still become a college professor in a different social science—another starting over point. However, once there in a new department and a new college, I was still miserable and hated everything about what I was doing. I was also really worried about my financial security because it was starting to take away some of my most basic Maslow needs—shelter and food. Being absolutely poor, in debt, and not sure if a job was even possible, started to really scare me away from what I was doing. Plus, I no longer wanted to be that professor that talked about themselves and their research all the time—my current research interests were not enough to keep me going. I wanted to help students, not just help myself, and I was starting to wonder if the education system really helped students or just lined their own pockets, supporting their own closed-system economy. I then quit and decided to work in retail for the time being to figure out what to do next—another starting over point.

Through all these life events, I’ve moved 4 times, changed states, changed jobs, changed careers, changed spouses, life partners, lovers, and ultimately, have changed entirely as a person. I cannot even see or relate to the person I once was and am convinced that if her or I were strangers and ran into each other at a coffee shop or worked together, not only would we not be able to recognize each other, but we wouldn’t like each other.

The old version of myself was too judgmental, a harsh critic, uptight, picky, stubborn, a little full of herself, and could not handle change. The person I have become is all about the change, too much so, even, and embraces every new change as if it is a challenge to be mastered.  I enjoy loneliness sometimes to the point where it scares me, and I will hide from even the closest people in my life. My lovers, my friends, my family, I can hide from just about everybody in plain sight. I can sit next to you and laugh with you or cry with you, and still have half of my brain completely detached and somewhere else. That’s because of several reasons, but mainly because I am human and just like everyone else, I am afraid of failure, intimacy, and change sometimes. Every time I choose to be close to anyone, to rise up to the challenge and embrace change, it is a struggle, which is why I am choosing to write about this now because I still see so many people, including myself, who want change, but are also afraid of it.

Starting Over is a Process: Embrace the Change

Sometimes we fall into our next stages in life with ease and never even have to think about it. But other times, every action has a consequence, every choice is a struggle. I wrestle with myself on the daily and am way too self-aware for my own good. Knowing when to let things go and to start over is part of that struggle, that process, and then having the courage to actually start over, is the biggest struggle of them all.

Change is inevitable. It can happen to you whether you really are ready to embrace it or not. People are so afraid of starting over and being something more than what they know they can be, because people keep thinking they can prevent “change” from happening. However, change is like life or death, you cannot control it. When cells are first formed and divided in the germinal stages of pregnancy, life begins. It just happens. When a person dies, at the moment of death, when air escapes the lungs, the heart slows, the monitor rings, it just happens. We cannot stop it, even when we try to with modern medicine. The very first moment of life and the very last moment of death, is inevitable. That’s why the best way to forgo unwanted pregnancy or death is to make choices prior to those moments to ensure they do not occur when we are given the power, freewill, and choice to do so.

Maybe we should, as a people and a society, stop thinking we can control everything–stop thinking we can prevent changes from happening. Maybe we should start embracing those moments of starting over. When one door closes another one opens, as my father used to remind me. Starting over isn’t something to be ashamed of, afraid of, or even worried about. Starting over is just part of life…and it may be a less painful process if we start to see it for what it really is, a process. It is just another step in a long line of steps on this journey.

So, never be afraid to cut your losses and start over, especially when the life journey requires it. But don’t forget to take time to mourn the path you were originally on either. Starting over is a painful process, one of the most painful, because it usually follows close behind severe loss. You may lose some things very precious to you (i.e. people, pets, places, things, money, wealth, temporal happiness, etc.). Just remember to think of all that could and can be gained when you let go of what you are afraid to lose.

Reader, I don’t know you or what you are going through, and even if these words are a comfort to you. I only wish for you, with these words and in this moment that I write this to you, that when you read this, that you will not be afraid to start over when you need to. That you will have the strength to start over and carry on because I believe in you. Maybe you just have to start believing in yourself too and find that strength that can guide you to where you need to go.

“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ‘tis right to grieve. Tears are only water and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there is sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.”

~Brian Jacques

References

McLeod, S.A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.