So there I was casually scrolling through social media when I came across the accompanying image, and it hit me right in the feels. For the caged bird was I, and I stress the past tense use of the word was.
As my childhood and young adult life had been so turbulent (and often traumatic), what I needed most at the age of 18 when I met Steve was the exact opposite. I craved peace, harmony and a little smooth sailing, for a while at least.
Then I met Steve and he was beautiful, (both inside and out), calm, easy going, kind, thoughtful and steady. It felt at the time like Steve was a big strong branch overhanging the river wild I was being swept along on, and available to cling to. Just by being there, giving me his calm, practical and rational perspective was enough to keep me falling back into the river wild. He felt like a saviour to me, because in many respects he was. Not that he pranced around proclaiming such a thing, no. My Steve was modest and unassuming, never really seeing what all the fuss was about, or what it was that I saw in him; he just was.
Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, I can see how and why I made the decisions and mistakes I did. Oh, and I'm not self-flagellating because of them either. Instead, I'm marveling at how all of those decisions and mistakes have gradually moved me into position; like the slowest motion chess game in the world. I've ended up exactly where I needed to be, but let's examine those decisions and mistakes, because they may resonate with you and yours.
I think there's a fair chance that I was so profoundly grateful to Steve (on a conscious and subconscious level) that I swore some kind of (definitely subconscious) oath of allegiance to him, that I corrupted the Life Saver's pledge. It's said that if you save someone's life, then you are responsible for that life going forwards. Well in my case, I appear to have adopted responsibility for Steve's life. Again, not that he asked me to, expected such a thing, or even knew this was all playing out in my head. Hell, even I didn't know this was all playing out in my head until more recently.
For all of my young adult life I wanted safety, security and strictly no surprises. I had experienced more than my fair share of unexpected events, and was entirely sick of my life imploding around my ears without notice. So I built a cage. I built a cage around my world, in which Steve was my centre, because we was safe and dependable. We then built a business, which centred around Steve's immense talents and abilities. Then we had two children and they, Steve and the business became the centre of my universe, and all was as it should be. But at no point in my life had I ever flown in my own right... but I was prepared to sacrifice this. To my mind, a calm, safe, quiet and dependable comfort zone was worth the cost of my personal ambition. Until it wasn't.
Then I met Helen who quickly became my chosen sister. Helen was the catalyst for the single largest period of growth and personal development in my life, up until that point. She was amazing quite frankly, and believed in me more than I did, more often than not. It was during my friendship with Helen, and as a direct result of her unequivocal belief in me, that I began to see how caged I was. The feelings of being cooped and stifled quickly followed as I awakened into my reality. Not that Steve ever 'caged' me, I caged me. These were my decisions and choices. I chose to sacrifice my ambition and wider freedom for the security and comfort of facilitating his life goals. You see, by busying myself building his world, I spared myself the risks and rewards of daring greatly in mine. Safe. Safe at all costs.
But then I grew and safe became stifling. Safe became suffocating. It's said that birds born in cages view flying as an illness, and I had shared this view until my awakening. Then, when I knew better I did better and made better choices, moving myself closer to the centre of my universe, rather than just sweeping up around the edges. At no time did I want Steve, the kids or the business to vacate this space, I simply wanted to inhabit it too. However this appears to have rocked Steve's world, because the moment my goals, dreams and ambitions became a priority, after 24 years together, he bolted. He bolted into the promised centre of Helen's universe, where she caretakes and raises him now. And quite frankly, all is as it should be again.
You see Helen made her comfort choices too. She spent more than two decades supporting her ambitious and entrepreneurial husband, before he committed adultery and left her. Talented, intelligent and accomplished, but hobbled by life events, Helen never sought to fly in her own right either. Instead, she chose to keep Steve buoyant where her ex used to be, rather than fly with the freedoms her ex had afforded her. Of course she's entitled to make these decisions for herself, but I can't help feeling she's now standing below and watching me fly. If it wasn't for Helen I'd still be where she is now, so I have much to thank her for, as she has essentially moved from her marital cage and into mine. Perhaps she should have been more careful in what she wished for, or taken the reviews of Steve she was eliciting from me with a pinch of salt. Well, whatever; what's done is done.
As for me, I have finally gotten out of the whole cage building gig. With age and experience I have accepted the impermanence of everything, and have adopted an entirely new philosophy, along the lines of, e.g.: I am happy being self-employed, until I'm not, and then I will do something else. I am happy living where I'm living, until I'm not, and then I will move house. I am really enjoying this movie/box set/book, until I'm not, and then I will seek an alternative. Cages are rigid by definition and only allow minimal flexibility within their confines. Bugger that - been there and bought the T-shirt! Life is too short to be accepting anything other than the best you can get, otherwise you're just circling the drain of the sunk cost fallacy, where the degree by which you have invested in something/someone makes it harder to abandon it/them. In other words, don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a long time making it.
I hope that helps, and I also hope you enjoy the other life coaching tips, hacks and lessons I've dolloped liberally throughout Too Relieved To Grieve. Your life may have upended unexpectedly and unpleasantly, but you definitely don't have to go through it alone. I've been there, bought that T-shirt too and then I wrote a book about it, specifically to help you through times like this. Please let me help you.
Until we do this again, be strong and be great!