04/21/2015 04:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bully For Ancestry: The Upswing to the Mood Swing of Personal Growth


We are never handed a "Growth Manual" when we enter this life. We often learn by observation and tend to integrate things from there--or try to. Often, we're left spending a good portion of our adult lives attempting to decipher what happened to us before we arrived at the intersections of What The Hell Is Happening To Me? and Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!

I have often found myself there on that wonderful fork in the road--typically by a tree, mood swinging with reckless abandon, and feverishly attempting to Not Feel the very thing the Universe is asking me to feel.

Feelings. Have they become the new F word?

I digress.

Where was I? Ah yes. Mood swinging further, faster.

I have often joked with people that, at times, my mantra is: I mood swing, therefore I am.

A Lexapro I can go, but I have yet to pop a pill. I seem destined to feel it all. Even after all my resistance.

So, about that "Growth Manual." You know, the one they never passed out to us, a long long time ago, in a mental state far far away? If we had been provided such a manual, we could possibly sit more comfortably knowing, even just for a bit, that in the midst of great uncertainty, when it comes to growth--real growth and personal development--comfort rarely factors into the mix. That comes later--on the chaise lounge Rest and Rumination. And even then, there are more lessons to learn; more opportunities for growth.

Why do I bring all this up?

Well, I find myself sitting on the other side of a curious journey I began more than a decade ago. I wouldn't say I'm on that chaise lounge yet--I may be crawling toward it however.

Things That Happened: Ten years ago ... I asked my Polish uncle--naively, foolishly?-- to document some of the experiences he and my family had gone through during the 1940s, when Hitler and Stalin had taken their individual political knives and forks to Poland and gobbled up the country. My family had lived in Eastern Poland at the time--near Tarnopol, which is now in Ukraine. Eight of them, including my mother, who was 3 years old at the time, had been rounded up like cattle, sent to the boxcars and right into the bitter depths of a Siberian labor camp, where slave labor awaited several of them. They were imprisoned in Siberia for 18 months, along with nearly one million other Polish citizens. An amnesty was granted for these people in the summer of 1941--this, only after Hitler attacked Russia.

I imagine Stalin, whom I always call "an equal-opportunity deporter," being miffed in the aftermath of Hitler's attack. "I guess I'll join the Allied Forces now," Stalin must have mused.

In any case, my Polish uncle had documented the family tale, which I had known about, but upon receipt of the Full Blown Version via regular mail, I resisted looking at it for months. As the years went on, I felt led to write a book about it--actually, I asked for a Sign From The Universe on what to do with my life--and in a yoga class (please don't judge, I was living in Northern California at the time) and when I got the green light (via a broken picture frame of my clan on my desk one morning) to look at my family's past, I was somewhat irked. Let's face it: You can't take your Sign From The Universe back to Wal-Mart and exchange it for, say, a better sign.

But why was I irked?

I must have intuitively known that if I was to go there--to really explore my ancestry--a part of me would be reliving the entire tale. And the fact that I would be uncovering my Polish family's nearly forgotten odyssey--and the odyssey of nearly one million people that history nearly swept under the rug during Stalin's mass deportations of Polish people--would only thrust me deeply into a tale of survival that was both mesmerizing and haunting. Still, there was this great push from within to bring justice to the story of the Polish people who were sent to the Gulags, and who later became refugees traveling throughout Southern Russia, Uzbekistan, Tehran and even later, Karachi, India, before finding refuge in Eastern Africa, and other portals around the world during that time.

Now that my book, "Grace Revealed," has been released, I noticed something remarkable at recent book events. Namely, that there are a great many individuals who are more deeply interested in their heritage than ever before. The desire to know where we came from--and from whom--and what happened before us, is undeniably strong. Often fierce. Perhaps you have noticed this, too?

I tell people to "go there; explore, ask questions" from their family members; that they may learn so much more about them--and themselves--than they ever imagined.

Encountering a great many souls who have such a deep desire to understand The Past so that they can make more sense of their Present was illuminating for me to experience and offered some beautiful levity in the Here and Now. In some ways, these encounters became unexpected validation for the many events that preceded my book talks, namely, writing the book and stepping into the unknown to explore my lineage, and a forgotten part of history that needed to be brought to light. And truthfully, there's nothing like spending several years feeling emotionally lost in the 1940s with the ghosts of Polish refugees to make you really crave thawing out in The Present.

Which brings us full circle.

Growth. That manual. All that. On some level, it makes sense that we are often never told that when it comes to real growth, real transformation, it is often not comfortable. Who would sign up for such a thing? (Although, with experience, it becomes smoother ...?) And yet, at some point during our lives, we will be given significant opportunities--as I had been given to step deeply into my family's past--to shed the armor we wear, forget what we think we know about ourselves and free fall into a kind of abyss, trusting that on the other side, we'll find our footing again on softer pastures ... where the scenery looks entirely different.

My lessons? Well, I'm still integrating them. (I've Caroline Myss'd and Deepak'd myself enough but after walking just for a little bit in the shoes of my Polish ancestors, there's this huge chunk of inter-generational family trauma passed down through the grapevine that stands out--but really, you may have to wait for a one-man show for that.)

However, one thing has emerged from the nether regions of my psyche and it is this: There is an upswing to the mood swing. Whenever I am willing to notice my resistance to step fully (or even just a bit) into that feeling that I think I simply cannot feel--and not numb it by huge doses of alcohol, sex television, Facebook, whatever!--I am taking a remarkable leap forward. Even if it doesn't feel that way.

Moving toward the very thing we are running from offers an opportunity to walk right out of our own self-imposed labor camp--and into the open arms of freedom.