There were all of the good things, lined up neatly in rows: There was my husband, Italian and creative and endlessly compassionate—when I think of him, I often think, “he is a beautiful human being”—and our delicious, healthy, fresh baby girl. There was my self-made business that had, some months, grossed more in a month than I had made in an entire year. There were the friends, the invitations, the exciting things on the horizon. And what tipped everything was this: the half-million dollar home in California that we bought, our dream home right out of the gate, in the town where we wanted to live and with the groovy original 1975 architecture that matched all of our midcentury modern furniture.
I had sat down and—this is the only correct and true word—curated my life. I had asked myself what it was that I truly wanted, and it had all come to fruition. Marriage, motherhood, mortgage. And with it, came a low-grade, gritchety, nagging sense of unfulfillment that began shortly after signing the papers on the house and moving.
I’d start crying. Or complaining. Or both, within the same hour.
Not prone to pathologizing emotions, I didn’t think too much of this, at first. I think that crying is normal. I think that complaining comes up when we want to be heard or when we’ve got too much pent-up emotional stuff and we’re trying to vent it out, in some way. I think that no one is perfect and that living an authentic life means feeling the authentic emotions—so I cried, I complained.
For months, it would be better. For months, it would be worse. I upped the ante on all of my personal tools and practices. I read more self-help books than I read fiction, and then switched back to more fiction (and then back to self-help). I took digital sabbaticals. I worked less, I worked more. I distanced myself from friendships in an effort to go internal and just be with myself. I reached out to all of my friends in an effort to stretch into more social support.
And I cried. And I complained.
In some ways, neither of these things were problems. I’d be writing, and tears would come up, so I’d cry. Then I’d be over it, and I’d move on with the rest of my day. Or I’d complain to someone and that little venting of the complaints would ease my mind a bit—I was being heard, witnessed—and then I’d be okay.
I drew cards, consulted oracles and energy workers, reworked my diet, considered a new coach or therapist, volunteered more so that I could get out of my own head and into using some of my privilege for something other than my own (narcissistic! selfish! I told myself in my difficult moments) crying and complaining.
For months at a time, it got better. I’d prematurely celebrate—I made it through!
For months at a time, it got worse. Some annoyance and judgement of myself crept in. I began crying and complaining about the fact that I had such difficulty with crying and complaining.
I’d sit, access the body, meditate, pray to my spirit guides, listen without attachment to the fears of my critic, reframe limiting stories, reach out and create community, read about habit-formation, go solitary. I’d reign myself in, I’d let myself all hang out.
And then? This amazing thing happened. I got a book deal! For days after the news, I was on cloud nine, maybe on cloud nine million. I was so happy that I couldn’t imagine crying-and-complaining ever coming again for another visit.
Nope. Back it came. I worked on my book, and when I talked to people in my inner circle, I cried or complained. Then I stopped, then I started, then I stopped, then I started.
Hiding Out From Your Life
Until finally, the knot unspooled itself, and I came to understand: Kate, you are hiding out from your life .
Everything about the pattern was suddenly clear: Whenever life got good, I started crying and complaining.
I did that because I had spent so long in the trenches of crying and complaining and wishing that life would get good, that these crying-complaining trenches had become familiar and safe.
If it has occurred to you that I just sound inordinately privileged and that you would never, ever squander such blessings–well, you’d only be pointing out something I was acutely aware of. I didn’t grow up with this kind of access. I grew up with holes in my shoes, food insecure, always acutely aware of how dire finances could get. Things could be emotionally unstable at home, as well. The child in me that had lived through that had spent so long scanning her environment for What Was Wrong and Wishing It Could Be Better that she didn’t know how to just be when life was good and all the wishing (and work) had become reality.
She didn’t know how to be when she grossed more in a month than she’d earned in a year at a salaried job.
She didn’t know how to be when she was crying and complaining so much, and yet her husband looked at her with total love and faith and belief and said, “I think you’re on the cusp of a breakthrough.”
She didn’t know how to be when she was walking the halls of the beautiful house, finding a new little nook or scratch or thing to love.
She didn’t know how to be when she cried in front of a friend and the friend looked at her with total love and faith and belief and said, “You’re going to find your way through.”
She didn’t know how to be when she watched her child grow.
She didn’t know how to be when she watched women going after their own dreams and finding true connection and celebrating themselves.
That child in me, that still lived in the adult in me, just didn’t know how to be.
So, she defaulted to the way that she did know to be: crying (because life is sad) and complaining (because life is hard).
She expressed the two emotions that were never, ever allowed when she was growing up.
The Upper Limit Problem
Danielle LaPorte said, “I’ve bought my own house, with money that came from my own ideas,” and that statement sent a shiver through me—because that, too, is me. I, too, have built a business with my own ideas and those ideas have funded a pretty incredible life. To hit that level of success kicked off more crying and complaining than I’d ever seen from myself.
In the Big Leap, what I’m describing here would be called an “Upper Limit” problem. When you’ve reached the upper limit of what you can imagine for yourself, you sabotage it and take a few steps back or you get really complacent and stagnant, because it’s too much to imagine more. You’ve reached an “upper limit.” Fear is in the driver’s seat.
I’d thought that my crying and complaining were legitimate. After all, wasn’t I such an empath? And didn’t someone need to speak up about the issues the world faces? I intentionally and actively practice allowing difficult emotions, rather than avoiding them, placating them, or attacking them. It makes sense that I would have allowed so much crying and complaining to take place, even as I sometimes judged myself for the experience.
From the perspective of my soul’s evolution, of course, crying and complaining were absolutely legitimate, and even necessary. They were part of the process.
Also from the perspective of my soul’s evolution: after walking through those years of crying and complaining, I have seen something deeper and more real, and I can’t go back to seeing things in the old way, anymore.
Crying and complaining was a way of processing old pain that also became a way of hiding out from my life and the joy that is available.
And now, I see—which is not to say that I’ll never cry or complain, again, but rather, that when those things come up for me, I’m going to be aware of why they’re coming up. I’ll be equipped to ask, “Where are you hiding out from your life , Kate? Where are you hiding out from your life’s joy, and defaulting to crying and complaining because they are familiar?”
Everything in life requires nuance. If you recognize yourself in these words—these words that I write because in the midst of my own process, I never saw anyone else writing so nakedly about this—maybe you need the time to cry and complain (or whatever your version of hiding out from your life happens to be). Hiding out is part of the process of “coming out of hiding.” You don’t just leap straight to “coming out of hiding” without spending some time hiding out from your life .
I think the only reason my own knot unspooled is because I stayed with what I was feeling when I was hiding out, over and over, while reminding myself that I am not what I feel.
People talk about “authenticity” and wanting to “live authentic lives” but what they are usually referring to is (a fantasy of) infinite happiness.
I have lived a different kind of “authentic life.” I have lived a relentlessly authentic life because I was willing to be with the crying and complaining. To be honest, it took a shit-ton of courage to continue to explore it with presence. I was frequently frustrated with myself, and particularly with how long I felt it was taking for me to get anywhere. I was sometimes exhausted by just how aware I was of my internal landscape.
So if you recognize yourself: Carry on, warrior, with presence.
Check in and see: is turning over the pain, so well-worn by now, a form of hiding out?
Notice where it’s a necessary process on your path.
Notice where it’s time to let go.
When something is ready to transform, it transforms. Once you see clearly, you won’t be able to un-see. It will be painful. It will be beautiful.
It will be both, and it will be clean and good.