06/23/2015 03:19 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2016

If You Like Where You Are, You Can't Complain About How You Got There

About a decade ago when I was in my early 40s, I was a somewhat of an emotional Neanderthal, totally unaware and unconscious, even though I did have a good heart and good intentions. (Doesn't that count for something?) I'm really not being hard on myself - just honest.

While I wanted and was trying to grow and mature, my mind was still firmly rooted in fear, limitations, and can'ts.

I visually imagine my situation depicted as me having one foot in a boat and one foot on the dock. As stress and the painful events of my life added up the distance between the boat and land got further and further apart. While I'm freakishly limber and tried to straddle the gap for as long as I could, I eventually fell into the water with a big splash in an emotional and mental break down.

Looking back, I now know that I was in one of those uncomfortable transition periods we all go through in life - not to be my last. Emotionally, I was trying to evolve and become more mature and less reactive. Goodness knows, I'd read enough self help books and had an intellectual understanding of it all.

Physically, through neuroplasticity, the ability of our brain to rewire itself based on repeated behavior, thought, and emotion, my brain was in the process of reorganizing itself to help me become the calmer, wiser, and more aware person I wanted to be. However, neuroplastic change takes consistent practice and time and was not happening quickly enough for me. When stress and anxiety hit, the well worn pathways in my brain for my old unhealthy patterns were the still the default.

Since that time, I've learned to practice mindfulness, look for the good, focus on the possibilities, and see opportunities in obstacles. When a challenging situation arises now, I zoom out, tae a broader perspective as if looking through a wide angle lens, and resist labeling the event good or bad. My experience of anything is determined by my thoughts and actions about what happens, not what actually happens. With these, I make something good or bad for me.

With this attitude, nothing seems so large or insurmountable anymore. I can always figure out an alternate route to get to where I need to go with patience and faith in myself. Road blocked? No problem. I'll just go another way, but I will still get there.

It took me a decade to become anywhere near the calmer wiser person I wanted to be, and I'm still learning. Here are some lessons I've learned along the way:

  1. I've learned that you can be in so much pain, so lost, and so broken that you can't eat or sleep.
  2. I've learned that you can be in so much pain, so lost, and so broken that you eat a whole pint of Haagen-Dazs Carmel Sutra and all you want to do is sleep.
  3. I've learned that you can survive on energy drinks, power bars, and coffee, but I don't advise it.
  4. I've learned that taking naps is a successful self-defense strategy. When you're asleep, you don't have to think, feel, or even exist.
  5. I've learned that little boys don't value sleep the same way. If you zonk out on the couch one Friday night, they may stay up until 4AM playing video games.
  6. I've learned that corn dogs, macaroni and cheese, and a few grapes can pass for cooking with your kids, especially if you give them ice cream for dessert.
  7. I've learned that it's not a good use of your time to make whole wheat banana raisin pancakes for your sons on a Sunday morning, although you might enjoy them.
  8. I've learned that you can be married to someone for 18 years and look at them sitting across from you in a fancy lawyer's office and realize that they're just as much a stranger to you as the nice girl who led you to the room and gave you a bottle of water because your mouth was dry.
  9. I've learned that you shouldn't attend a wedding too soon after getting divorced or you'll end up crying until snot pours out of your nose, and it will have nothing to do with the blessed union before you.
  10. I've learned that dogs make good cuddlers, but sloppy kissers, and they leave little hairs all over your sheets.
  11. I've learned that a dog doesn't care about your toxic morning breath, bed head, or the big wrinkle imprint from the pillow on the side of your face.
  12. I've learned that a cat rolling around on her back in a sunny spot on the driveway can make you smile even when you thought you had nothing to smile about.
  13. I've learned that a man who has been married one time in his life for a year can accumulate an impressive collection of coffee cups and Tupperware from his multitude of old girlfriends and will add many of yours to his collection.
  14. I've learned that you can be mad at your brother and best friend who died ten years ago because he isn't there for you when you need him.
  15. I've learned that your dead brother can let you know he's still around one night at the grocery store which leaves you sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of the canned goods on isle five.
  16. I've learned that if the downstairs bathroom is rapidly filling up with raw sewage spilling out of the toilet, it does no good to scream hysterically at your children or the neighbor who came to help.
  17. I've learned that "good-byes" are just as much a part of life as "hellos" and that you better get used to both of them.
  18. I've learned that no one has the right to lie to you, treat you badly and continuously hurt you, no matter how much you think you love them.
  19. I've learned that it's much more important what you think about the woman looking back at you in the mirror than what others think about her.
  20. I've learned that you will heal and emerge stronger and that life goes on and gets better even!