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The Midlife Warrior

February 20, 2013

Women of Aging Abundantly

Wisdom Seekers of Aging Abundantly

In the first half of life, most of us forge ahead, carrying with us a collection of ideas and ideals, bequeathed to us by our family of origin. We have an inkling of a self apart from the external influences of our circle of influence and the culture at large, but it has not yet solidified. We need a life time of experiences, to separate the wheat from the chafe, to become winnowed women and learn to make our own bold and daring choices, and ultimately, to merge with our soul directed destiny.     

I think it’s fair to say that most of us in this time and culture live much of our first four or more decades in a place that is less than authentic. Sooner or later, however, if we are lucky, our life experiences wake us up at the deepest level to our mortality. A sense of urgency besets us and we truly understand that it is now or never for us to be and do whatever it is we were meant to be and do in this life. No more playing around. No more second, third, fourth and fifth chances. What we decide to do with this awareness is our task as midlife warriors, and it is indeed a battle to be waged and won.The midlife battle for authenticity can be seen on a variety of fronts. The increasing number of divorces that are taking place after twenty and thirty years of marriage is a perfect example. More and more couples are making the choice to shake up their lives and move away from the happily ever after dream of their youth. They are in search of “something more”. Are they clear about what that is? In most cases I doubt it, but the drive is a positive one as it is a drive away from something that feels destructive and stifling toward something that feels more real and authentic.

I’m not condoning divorce as a means of deriving authenticity, there are too many variables to make such a blanket statement and it can just as easily be a way to run away from our authenticity as it is toward it. The prevalence of divorce, however, does point to the extreme discomfort many couples feel as the internal push for authenticity intensifies. The resultant outcome of that discomfort and the choices made are as unique as the individuals involved.

What is important, is the recognition that at midlife we reach our limit with the status quo on multiple fronts. Things have to change and we know it.  As those of us who have experienced a dark night of the soul have learned, emotional and spiritual angst can provide a powerful turning point in one’s life and give us the emotional and spiritual energy to take the leap of faith that may be required to take a giant leap toward authenticity. We cope and adapt, and adapt and cope, until we can’t anymore and then we make significant and profound changes.

Continuing to use marriage as an example, the progression goes something like this:

  • We fall in love. We believe we will live happily ever after.
  • We have kids and/or careers and our happily ever after morphs into a focus on motherhood and/or success/purposeful living, etc.
  • On a wing and a prayer we plow forward making the best decisions we know how to make.
  • Midlife arrives on our doorstep (suddenly and quite without warning).
  • Our kids leave home, and in spite of our best intentions they are far from perfect!
  • The goals and dreams we knew we would obtain have evaporated before our eyes.
  • Our happily-ever-after-spouse is the man from mars.
  • Our parents morph into “old people” who no longer seem to have the answer for everything and become the children in our relationship with them.
  •  Our bodies begin to show signs of age and the wear and tear of our less than perfect choices. We no longer recognize ourselves when we look in the mirror and the chances of obtaining our “perfect body” are quickly evaporating before our very eyes. We may have had our first “serious” illness and we can no longer deny that we are immune to debilitating, life threatening disease.

These things are the catalyst for change. They are the thorn in our flesh that will not allow us to remain complacent any longer. They force us to take stock of ourselves and our choices and the drive for authenticity begins in earnest. The first question will likely be: What the hell is going on and what the hell happened?  Then we follow a path not dissimilar to that of those who grieve.

Denial: I’m not old. After all, fifty is the new forty. I have lots of time left. All these things will just go away and everything will be fine.

Anger: When we can no longer deny that something is wrong, we lash out. We blame our spouse, our children, our job, our world, our culture, and mostly ourselves. We rage against what is.

 Bargaining: We try to negotiate with the universe: If I exercise and diet, I will get my young body back, right? If I do all the right things, like reduce stress,  and realign my priorities I will feel young again and I’ll have plenty of time to get in touch with my soul self. I’ll get a face lift and a body tuck and start a new career.

Depression: When the reality of age does not go away, we may fall into despair. We feel hopeless to change things, powerless to get our lives “right” and wondering why we even bother or care.

Acceptance: As we allow ourselves to navigate and fully experience this process, and it is a process, we will come to a place of healing and acceptance. We will begin to understand and accept that growing old is just a part of life that may even hold life’s richest blessings yet. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Just as we grieve the loss of a loved one, so too we must grieve the loss of our notion of our ideal life. Then, we can begin to really live and live authentically.

©Dorothy Sander 2013

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2013 2:37 pm

    Dorothy, when I was growing up, my parents divorced after 21 years of marriage…And I remember thinking that how can you get divorced after all that time together?…just stick it out, for goodness sake…Holy! How my eyes were covered by my youth and inexperience. This is an absolute case of “If I knew then what I know now”. I’m married nearly 24 years and can absolutely understand their struggles. Thankfully, my husband and I have made it through some of those struggles successfully only to face some more approaching. I can’t predict what the future holds so I’ll just count my blessings for now. One thing I know for sure is that I have the awareness of choice, faith, and an acceptance to hold on tight as my world opens into the next phase.

    • February 20, 2013 2:48 pm

      Our parents generation generally didn’t talk about their struggles, even with each other, so it’s not surprising that you responded the way you did. Every marriage and every relationship is unique and no one can decide whether another should stay or go. We are more fortunate than they, in my humble opinion, because we are more likely to talk and to seek help. There is no perfect relationship, only the willingness to keep working at it or the guts to move on when necessary and God-willing the wisdom to know the best choice.

  2. February 20, 2013 2:44 pm

    Another awesome and “you-hit-the-nail-on-the-head” article, Dorothy! Thank you!

    I know I’ve gone through all of these steps but am not yet sure that I have fully come to the “acceptance” mode yet. That may just be the toughest hurdle to get past yet. But I trust that destination and when I arrive there and rest in it, I will be a lot better off for having achieved it.

    • February 20, 2013 2:52 pm

      You know I thought it Diane, but guess I didn’t say it. We move back and forth between the stages as many times as we need to and as imperfect beings may never reach full acceptance, perhaps rather increasing degrees of acceptance, something to reach for. I do hope you are feeling better.

      • February 21, 2013 8:08 pm

        Thank you, Dorothy. I actually was feeling a lot better last week and then I got a relapse of this virus. Oy vey! Can’t wait for Spring to arrive! This winter has been a drag.

      • February 26, 2013 10:46 am

        I’m so ready for Spring!

  3. Sande permalink
    February 21, 2013 9:29 am

    My gosh Dorothy, reading this latest post makes me feel as though you know me intimately. I’ve been going through all that you wrote and more, having lost my son a little over a year ago. I appreciate your sage insight as I move slowly toward acceptance. It’s a difficult journey, but knowing others share the same thoughts and emotions helps propel me forward. I thank you.

    • February 26, 2013 10:42 am

      Thank you for leaving a comment Sande. I feel fortunate to have your company and the company of all who visit here and share a bit of their experience. It makes me feel less alone as well. Come back soon!

  4. February 21, 2013 2:15 pm

    Such a thorough and truth-filled article, Dorothy. What excites me most is that these conversations are spreading throughout the population of midlife women (my definition of midlife these days is 50-70!). A true warrior, to my mind, is a woman who stands in who she is and fearlessly (eventually) sees that midlife is a pivotal change time and such an opportunity to make life larger and more one’s own! All the social training is looked at honestly and the time arrives to start pitching all that “stuff” that just does not work anymore and depletes rather than replenishes energy. The world needs us (even though mainstream thinking sees us as more on the way out)–far from the truth–I say grab this time, become “borderless broads” and define life, not only as a personal event, but also a global affair where we use all the wisdom, education, and richness we have accrued and share it where needed. Fun, outrageous, and bold are key words for me!
    Morgana Morgaine

    • February 26, 2013 10:45 am

      Morgan, So perfectly articulated! I find it humbling to be among a generation of women moving so powerfully and steadfastly toward such a rich and full perspective and lifestyle. It gives me hope for the future for all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Mary Stevens permalink
    February 26, 2013 9:55 am

    Dorothy – I love this post and so many of your posts. Have you read anything by Katrina Kenison? I just started reading her newest book – it is called “Magical Journey – An Apprenticeship in Contentment” She wrote “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” and “Mitten Strings for God”. I have never read anything by her before, but have read her blogs from time to time and I think she touches on many of the same thoughts, feelings etc. that you describe. I find it comforting and affirming to know that I am not at all alone in the paths I seem to be traveling at this stage in my life.

    • February 26, 2013 1:38 pm

      Mary, Thanks. I have not read Katrina Kenison but I will definitely look her up. You and I seem to like the same things!


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