Updated: Jul 8, 2020
| This is the 171st story of Our Life Logs |
Growing up in Maple Shade, New Jersey in the 1960s and 1970s, I looked to my mother as my role model, who had looked to her own mother for what it meant to be a woman. Sadly, she wasn’t taught to make her own needs a priority in life. It was a product of the time, when sexism more avidly kept women in the home as caretakers and mothers. Her role was to make sure she took care of everyone in her family.
From the time I was 10 when my twin brothers were born, I shared my mother’s responsibility of taking care of them. I was never asked; it was simply an expectation I felt pressured to fulfill. My brothers were born with colic, and when they would wail in the middle of the night, my mother wouldn’t dare wake up my father. Instead, I was the one to get up and soothe them.
I wanted to create a future for myself; I didn’t want to be simply a wife, so marriage wasn’t my primary goal. Though I always thought I would get married, it wasn’t something that I fantasized about. In 1984, I began working with people with developmental disabilities in their residences assisting with everyday activities. I did that for a few years until I met my husband in 1987–I guess, after all, I couldn’t run away from the conventional path expected of a woman. I wasn’t totally in love with him, but we clicked enough to make it work. A year later, we got married in our living room by the mayor of Haddon Township, New Jersey.
At the time, I was pursuing a college degree in Health and Physical Education. I wanted more options for myself, I wanted to be something other than a caretaker like my mother and my grandmother. But I was pressured back into the role of caretaker when I decided to have kids.
Truthfully, the experience of taking care of my brothers when I was young made me feel I had already raised kids in life, so I didn’t long for any of my own. But my husband felt differently and wanted to continue his family line, and my mother craved to spoil a granddaughter. So, I gave in. We had two kids—a boy and then a girl. I became a full-time mom, working part time.
My role as a wife and mom evolved into running the household and organizing my family’s life. I made sure everyone had what they needed and kept on top of the calendar, scheduling and driving my kids to and from activities. At this point, the role of caretaker I chose to embody became an expectation from my family, but it all grew to be too much and I was sinking.
Both my parents passed away during my children’s early years, but there was no space for me to process my emotions while working and being a busy mom. I didn’t feel anyone was willing to listen when I most needed to be heard, which often resulted in my screaming at my family. At the time, it was hard to even verbalize what I needed. They told me the house was quieter when I was gone, and I felt that I was causing a disturbance and that my family was better off without me. I felt like I was dying inside.
I decided that I needed a change. It was time to find my sense of self again. If I wasn’t happy, how could I help other people in my life feel happy? I had become so used to the role I was playing that it hadn’t even hit me that I needed time to work through my grief. I felt I failed myself for not taking care of me. I had nothing left to give. I wasn’t going to be a good mother or person if I didn’t get out and go on the spiritual journey to find myself.
so, in January of 2014, I left and moved in with my aunt for 11 months. At the time, my children were newly in college but living at home, and we weren’t communicating well. Once I left, they stopped speaking to me. I was very upset, but I kept going, determined to find myself again. I knew this was best for all of us.
In November, I moved out from my aunt’s place. The father of a client of mine had a second home in Kentucky. I felt a spiritual call to go there, and I went. I stayed for a month by myself on a mountain in Monticello. In that time, I read a lot of spiritual books, wrote, and made art. I was trying to figure out what felt good to me and what I needed. It was an emotionally intense time, the first time I’d really created personal space. I took time to be quiet and learned to see the signs the universe sends when we are looking and listening closely. I finally felt that I had found myself.
I packed up on early morning Christmas Eve, intending to go back home to my family. During the long journey home, there was very heavy fog. I pulled over at a rest stop and it was so foggy I couldn’t even see the building in front of the parking lot. I took out my phone and texted my family, “There’s heavy fog. I love you guys and I don’t know if I’ll make it home.” The fog felt like a sign already, and when no one responded to me, I knew I should not go home. Instead I ended up at a friend’s house where I stayed for another couple of months.
I felt homeless and aimless, and though I had a place to rest my head, it wasn’t home. Once again, I was lost.
During my time at my friend’s house, an opportunity arose in a developmentally disabled community. Some individuals that needed support lived in a group home and were looking for a live-in volunteer to help assist the residents in everyday needs and activities. I accepted the position.
I had my own room on the top floor of a huge, old Victorian house in Merchantville, New Jersey. It was the first space that was only mine in years. This new, blank space made me yearn to live in a simpler way. Fewer possessions, less materialistic goals; just me and some cats I helped care for. This new outlook was invigorating.
I claimed my new independence by delving fully into emotional and spiritual explorations. I enrolled in a local class on herbal medicine and participated in other spiritual healing activities. I chanted with Buddhist groups, participated in Full Moon ceremonies, prayed in Native Medicine Wheel rituals, played in drum circles, meditated while walking labyrinths—I was open to whatever life let me discover. Through these practices, I just knew there was a way I could use my nurturing tendencies while still taking care of myself. It had to be possible, because I found so many other people doing it in their own ways.
My husband and I officially divorced in March of 2016. Unfortunately, my children and I were still estranged at the time. Though it was hard being disconnected from my kids, it was an old wound I let heal on its own. Eventually, my son came around when he found a way to forgive and understand me, and I, him. I hope to find this reconnection with my daughter.
Now I’m living in spiritual abundance. I value my own well-being. I know I need to take care of myself to help support others and I don’t have to do all the work alone. I feel blessed to have found a way to be myself and take care of others. It seems in my work I’ve come to be a teacher of caring for one’s self. In 2018, I fulfilled a dream of mine to own an RV that I call Mona. Mona is a 1995 Travel Master that I plan to turn into my new home in which I can travel, work, and adventure in. “Mona” comes from a word I came across, “Eudaimonia”, which means to have enough, comfortably. That’s what I was looking for and I think I’ve finally found it. The life I am living has everything I need.
This is the story of Joanne Holmes
Growing up in southern New Jersey in the 1960s and 1970s, Joanne fell into a life of caring for everyone in her family but herself. She did what many do–-go to college, get married, have kids, and take care of them. In all the time that she spent giving without receiving, she lost herself. At the pressure of her in-laws to raise her children in the Catholic faith she was raised in, it became clear to Joanne that she needed to embark on her own spiritual journey. Thus, she left home on a mission to learn, grow, connect, and find herself.
Now she is an independent, joyful individual exploring a plethora of spiritual and healing modalities. She has found ways to work in the service of others while still maintaining her own self-care. She plans to travel in her new home, an RV named Mona, helping others in whatever ways they need while spreading love and abundance to those she connects with. She recently found the connection she’d been craving in a local community space called the Center for Conscious Living. It involves a spiritual practice based in the philosophy that we are all connected to the divine but we have choice in our lives; we drive the wheel.
This story first touched our hearts on September 19, 2018.
| Writer: Brit Brennan | Editor: Colleen Walker |