I just finished up a week of a desperately needed vacation.
We didn’t have anything remarkable planned. Both kids cleared their schedules for the week and we had planned to reunite as our family of four…spending most of the week at my brother and sister-in-law’s beach home in Bethany Beach, Delaware then ending the week at my parent’s mountain home in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. I was vibrating with excitement just to have the four of us together as my kids, now 25 and 23, are busy with their own lives and we don’t often have all four of us together at the same time. I also looked forward to spending time with my bro and sis-in-law as well as my parents.
A relaxing week of beach, mountains, the lake, the woods, and family…..the best kind of vacation to me!
But as the famous saying goes, “when we make plans, God laughs.”
My daughter Riley had come down with a virus the day before she was supposed to come home here to New Jersey from her apartment in New York City in order for us to all travel to Delaware together the following day. Luckily she’d had a negative Covid test already, but this virus was kicking her butt with a fever, nausea, and headaches. She wasn’t in a place to travel home and she wasn’t even up to us coming in to pick her up initially.
We were all disappointed, to say the least. My son’s virtual summer classes had just ended the day prior and after a grueling summer of studying (he’s an electrical engineering major), he was so appreciative to have a week to unwind prior to heading back to Penn State where he’s a senior. My husband Rob works so hard at his engineering firm and had spent weeks preparing to let go of work for the week. He desperately needed the break as well.
And I was no different. I love the work that I do with my Facebook group, “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” so much that it never even feels like work to me. It is my life’s work and passion in fostering and growing this special community and I love all of the extra stuff that comes along with it like my weekly live broadcast, making graphics to use in the group, and writing several posts each day. My days also consist of working on my website, tackling my latest book project, and contacting and meeting with new guest prospects for the broadcast as well as attending many seminars to enhance and feed my knowledge of living our best lives with GRATITUDE and positivity. My days are full from morning until night and I often wish there were more hours in the day for me to work on new ideas. I am an extremely happy camper with the way life has taken me in finding my life’s purpose through my work.
But I haven’t taken any time off in several years. The last time I stepped away from the group and left it in the hands of my senior moderator and the rest of the team, I did so to work on my book. So it was hardly a vacation of any kind.
To be completely honest, even prior to embarking on this week’s vacation, I had told my team that even though I would be away, I would still be available to do work in the group, make decisions, and deal with problems. I figured I’d be sitting on a beach doing so….so how hard could that be? I diligently worked for weeks to get all of my regular posts prescheduled for the week so all I would need to worry about was accepting new members every few days and deal with problems. I could most certainly handle that!
But as I already eluded to, our vacation took a blind turn.
Initially, we just took a wait-and-see attitude and waited for Riley’s virus to break. We figured we would just do fun things at home and would be flexible with when we left for the beach. But as each day came and went, Riley really wasn’t improving all that much. After a few days (and thanks to some anti-nausea meds!) she was at least able to have my husband go pick her up and bring her home where I was able to keep an eye on her and at least have her here. She spent most of her time in bed and would come down for brief moments to get some Gatorade and try to get some food in her.
By day 3, it was clear that although Riley was improving, it wasn’t significant enough where she felt up to traveling to Delaware, so we made a family decision to forget the beach, have a “staycation” here at home for at least the first part of the week, and when she got better we would revisit going to the mountain home.
I am very GRATEFUL for my family for so many reasons, and one of them is that they are all so laid back, for the most part.
In particular, Rob and my son Jake are cool as cucumbers and are very adept at going with the flow. Historically, this has NOT been one of my strong suits. Years ago prior to hitting my rock bottom and rebooting and rebuilding my life into “Lauren 2.0”, I spent a lot of time being resentful and pouting that my life wasn’t going according to what I’d planned. I got sick in my early 30’s and have spent each day since dealing with chronic pain along with a host of other unpleasant symptoms that go along in tandem with my conditions. I wasn’t able to control my pain and it affected my life and my abilities in enormous ways. I became a very sad person who eventually morphed into an all-star alcoholic who drowned away her sorrows as well as her pain. My mindset was one of inflexibility and being unable to deal with life on life’s terms. If things couldn’t be done MY way, I wouldn’t do them at all! It was a very sad way of life that ended with a literal crash that nearly took my life (and possibly other’s lives as well.)
Luckily after that day, I very willingly accepted the gift of desperation, and I was determined to turn my life around and to live it my best way possible. I found that the only way to do this was by accepting the way things are, and by being flexible and adaptable to the blind turns that come our way. Life NEVER goes as we plan, so becoming skilled at surfing the waves that come at us is necessary if we are to live a joyful and GRATEFUL life. I have spent the past many years working on it and have become an expert “surfer” in my life today.
But I wasn’t finding myself “surfing” at the beach this week, and I now found myself unexpectedly at home.
For the first few days, I resumed working as normal. I figured I might as well since I was home anyway! As I said, I love my work, so it is hardly a chore to me. But after two days of this, it became clear to me how much I needed time to step away….ESPECIALLY since I wasn’t now working from the beach! I came to see that in order for me to be the best leader possible and to actually practice what I preach to my members and followers, I need to make self-care paramount. And that’s exactly what I decided to do!
After clearing it with my senior moderator (thank you, Linda Edwards!), I made the decision to completely step away and disengage for the week (pending any group emergency, of course.) Linda has been with me for a very long time and is more than capable of holding down the fort and making group decisions in my absence. I am so GRATEFUL to have someone like her who I can trust with my life’s work and who knows the pulse of our group like no other. She holds our community in the palm of her hands and right next to her heart, just as I do, so I have absolutely no worries about leaving things with her and the rest of our team.
So here I was….with NOTHING on my plate for the first time in many, many years! No, we weren’t at the beach or in the mountains yet, but I wanted to make the most of this week so I could return come Monday morning and feel refreshed and rejuvenated as if we were. It was an incredibly freeing feeling and although I very much wanted Riley to get better so SHE could enjoy the week, I felt a weight lifted and a feeling deep in my marrow of infinite possibility and excitement!
What to do?
The first thing I did was a biggie…..I unplugged.
I muted all of my Messenger chats that chirp at me all day long, every single day. I let the multitude of messages pile up and, with the exception of checking on occasion to see if Linda needed my assistance at all, I resisted the temptation to go on it. I did not check my email even once. I very rarely checked my text messages. And I basically stayed out of my beloved Facebook group as I knew it would be way too easy for me to find myself back in the flow of things.
Let me tell you, this decision was a game-changer! It was so incredibly invigorating and it was the same feeling I remember having at age 17 when I first got my driver’s license and was able to drive somewhere on my own for the very first time. FREEDOM! I was free to make the world my oyster!
How did I make the world my oyster?
A few weeks ago I brought out my watercolor supplies which had been tucked away in my crafting closet. I’ve always wanted to be able to paint but am artistically challenged (to say the least!), so it does not come naturally to me whatsoever. Years ago, my late best friend and I would dabble in watercolor and we’d just play with mixing colors and making splotches on paper. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we had fun doing it and would stay up all night talking and painting! When she passed away in March of 2020 due to her beautiful heart failing, I put my supplies away and hadn’t taken them out since. But a few weeks ago, out of nowhere something inside of me was aching to paint! So I brought my stuff out and began dabbling again….still having no clue what I was doing and with no direction.
I decided to take a watercolor class on Udemy during this staycation! I signed up and learned everything I could. I watched video after video on YouTube (there are so many watercolor tutorials…it’s mind-boggling), I referenced the books I’d already had on my shelf, and I painted….and painted….and painted. I had fun mixing and experimenting with color, different brushes and paper, and techniques. I actually began to know what I was doing and started liking the art I was creating! It was so much fun! I broke down the barriers of fear that I had in doing something “wrong” and I just tackled it with reckless abandon and no inhibitions whatsoever.
Ironically, the week prior to this vacation, I interviewed a famous art therapist and author on my live broadcast, “Gratefully Living the Chronic Life.” Lacy Mucklow is a New York Times bestselling author and has put out numerous adult coloring books, one of them entitled, “Be Grateful and Color.” She was an incredible guest who shared with us for the hour about how we can use art for healing. Her underlying message was that art is personal, there is no right or wrong way to do it, and it is an incredibly mindful and healing tool we can all use in our lives. She talked about overcoming our fear of doing something “wrong” and not holding back. Her message really resonated with me and made me want to paint even more.
The act of painting with watercolors is incredibly mindful and healing for me. When I am doing it, I am completely present in the moment. Nothing else is on my mind but the color, the water, the brush, the paper, and the strokes. I have developed a real love of it. It is meditative, relaxing, fun, and keeps me awake and aware. It helps me to keep things in perspective and slows down my active monkey mind. Very healing for me, for sure.
There is a bit of an extra fear factor with watercolor because it is unpredictable. The water gives the pigment different properties and abilities each time you dip that brush in the paint and water then put it to paper. Put a wet brush loaded up with water and paint at the top of a piece of paper and watch what happens. You don’t really know what it’s going to do, where it’s going to go, or how it’s going to behave.
It is just like life! It is unpredictable and requires a flexible mindset and letting go of the need to control the outcome…..something that this self-proclaimed control freak works at each day of her life.! The water takes on a life of its own and it can run anywhere, create new colors with what it mixes with on the paper, and can bring about a very different piece of art than the one you’d originally envisioned. The more I experimented with creating I began to notice that the more I tried to control and contain the watercolor, the messier it became. I needed to let it do its thing and appreciate the beauty that came of it….then work with it.
Just like with life, when we can let go and allow life to happen without trying to interfere too much, we can fully appreciate the beauty of each moment and its outcome. Before turning my life around, just like with the watercolors, the more I tried to control the outcome, the messier my life became! We need to remain pliable and adaptable to the direction it takes us in and be willing to work with it no matter what curveballs we are thrown…or the direction the paint flows. There are tools we can use to help things along, but in the end, the only control we have is over how we react to what happens. Do we want to sulk and complain over the cards we’ve been dealt? Or do we want to come to a place of acceptance in order to appreciate this precious time we’ve been given here on earth?
I choose the latter. This is why I practice GRATITUDE as it is the single most powerful tool that I’ve found in over 20 years of living with a chronic condition that vastly improves my life. It is one of the few things I actually have control over, and my happiness factor is dependent upon it.
Besides painting, I went about my week very much living moment-to-moment and staying present. I had no plans, no worries (other than Riley getting better…which she eventually was), and nothing monopolizing my mind. I cooked a lot (I LOVE to cook!) and as I cooked I gave thanks for each ingredient, recognizing all the while that possessing each one was a luxury and a privilege. I worked on hand lettering which is something else I’ve always wanted to learn, we played board games and even learned two new ones, and I introduced Riley to one of my all-time favorite shows from the UK, “Call the Midwife.”
I spent a lot of time outside in my garden with our beloved heirloom tomatoes, snow peas, beans, and herbs. I practiced “grounding” by walking our property in my bare feet each day. I ate a whole lot of tomato sandwiches and a ton of sweet corn on the cob from our favorite local farm stand. I bought several dozen extra ears and cut the kernels off the cob to freeze to enjoy throughout the year.
I used the stovetop espresso maker that normally sits on my stove more as a pretty decoration rather than something we actually use (Keurig is just so much more convenient!) I frothed the oat milk I put in it and sprinkled it with cinnamon.
I ate a lot of ice cream and savored each bite slowly…being thankful for each spoonful and being able to indulge in such a treat.
I sat. I observed. I met each moment as it came with an undistracted, open, and welcoming mind. I honed my sense of wonder and took the time to view things as if for the very first time. My GRATITUDE became immense and I was filled with such a feeling of comfort and well-being. I was reminded how the best things in life are not things at all, but the love we have in our hearts for ourselves and others as well as the love we are given.
One night I went into my backyard, stood in the damp grass, and hugged one of our trees. I looked up and studied the stars and saw the Big Dipper. As I stared up at the beautiful night sky, I realized just how incredible stars are and how little I ever even think of them. These beautiful fireballs are there every single night providing a remarkable backdrop, yet I take them for granted. As I studied them wholeheartedly, I became curious as to just how far away they were, so I took to Google later on which informed me that it would take the Apollo 11 43,000 years to get to the closest star. Isn’t that AMAZING? Do YOU ever stop to really look at them?
I watched planes as entered my view and recognized what a miracle it was that we live in a day and age where we have the ability to fly to various places. As I watched these blinking dots go by in the sky, I realized that way up high in the air, each one of these planes held hundreds of people, each of them with their own story, and each one going somewhere. What an incredible realization and reminder this was! I recognized that this was something else that I take for granted every single day. I was reminded of just how enormous the universe is, how small I am in relation, and how insignificant many of my “problems” are in the grand scheme of life. I need to put things into perspective.
I listened to the symphony of sounds in my backyard at night. The bugs were buzzing and blinking, and the birds were chirping. I have no doubt that they were all gossiping about me standing in the yard in my bare feet, hugging this tree at night, but I didn’t care. I soaked up the sounds and deeply inhaled the smells and the sights. The feel of the damp grass on my feet and this mindful moment had me immediately appreciating this life I’ve been given and this amazing moment that I was completely present in.
I came to recognize in this exquisite moment how precious time is. Time is something that we are never promised and is something we can never retrieve once it’s gone. We need to use each moment we are given in ways that bring us joy and fulfillment.
This is why I want to use my time as wisely as possible. I don’t want to spend it complaining and I don’t want to spend it angry and resentful. I want to be happy, joyful, and GRATEFUL…..even though I live with chronic and persistent pain. I want to soak up everything with all of my senses and I want to learn as much as I can while I can. I want to enjoy life to its fullest and love with all my heart. I want to meet interesting people and I want to do interesting things. I want to help others who struggle so they can find GRATITUDE in their lives the way that I have.
During this week, my GRATITUDE-factor was through the roof! I feel as though the lens of GRATEFULNESS that I normally look at my life through each day was given a good cleaning for the first time in quite a while and the haze was removed so I could see things even more clearly. The colors of nature looked more vibrant, and my food tasted better. The glow around my beautiful husband and kids shined even brighter, reminding me of how GRATEFUL I am to be loved by these amazing people.
The vital importance of downtime was magnified and amplified in a major way. I was able to sit with myself and just “be” all week long, and it was a gift of massive proportions. During these incredible days of curating my GRATITUDE, I found myself in an immersion program and masterclass of simply being. I got to know myself again and each breath and step was done with intention and without judgment. I had zero expectations or responsibilities. It was simply glorious.
We never did get to the mountains, but that’s ok. Our week at home was a treasure.
Today I am back at work as usual, but I cannot help but try to think of ways I can incorporate some of these things that I treated my soul to on this “staycation” into my daily life. Some of these things do not need to be reserved only as a special treat. I can make that frothy coffee on occasion, I will take the time to paint a little bit each day, and I will continue to go outside in my bare feet during the months that the weather allows and just walk around, soaking in the beauty of the outdoors. I will look at the night sky in all its glory and remind myself that my time here on earth is not guaranteed….so I should make the most of the now.
But MOST importantly, I am going to be strict about practicing the art of the unplug MUCH more often. I will turn off chat after a certain point every day. I now recognize how being “available” to everyone 24/7 is not healthy for me and I need ample time to just BE and not DO. This is advice that I give my followers and members of AoG every single day, but it hasn’t been one I have been great at truly following myself until now.
Not everyone is able to go on relaxing vacations away where they are truly able to unwind and reboot. Financial restrictions, physical disabilities, logistics, the pandemic, responsibilities, and many other factors can prevent us from taking advantage of this helpful and lovely luxury. But my message to you all is to find ways to give yourself a “staycation.” It doesn’t have to be for a week….it can even just be for a single day!
Do those things that are at the end of YOUR sentence that starts with, “One of these days I’d like to try…(fill in the blank).” We never know when our time will run out and “one of these days” may as well be TODAY! Today is all we are promised.
Take things off of your ‘to do’ list. Put new and fun things on it! Color outside of the lines. Do something you love. Hold space for those you love and love them with everything you have. Feed your soul with what nourishes you. Spend some time unplugged.
I promise you, your level of GRATITUDE will multiply by leaps and bounds and you will be more joyful, more fulfilled, and reminded of how beautiful life really is.
Peace and love.