Soul Stories: Emily Grace Fieldson
Emily's Bio: Putting that good ‘ole English Lit degree to good use (ha!) in the insurance industry. For the past 7 years Emily has worked with Marsh’s national RFP (Request for Proposal) team, focused on securing new and renewal business revenue through strategic collaboration, effective process management and innovative messaging. Four years after beginning her career with Marsh in Washington, DC, she moved to the New York headquarters to manage the East Coast team, eventually transferring back home to Nashville, TN where the commute is easy and the hills are rolling!
Emily and Me: Emily is one of those people that you are convinced that God brought into your life very deliberately and purposefully. She is rescued and loved my at my worst (literally crying under a desk in my dorm room on Halloween night sophomore year in college), has cheered me on at my best, and alternatively carried me on her shoulders or walked hand-in-hand with me through all the rest. We can go from serious heart-to-heart to fits of laughter in 0.03 seconds. Emily's journey over the past few years has left me in chin-on-the-floor awe. She was dealt a tough hand, but she remained true to herself and battled her way through even when she didn't feel strong. Even when she wasn't sure what she was battling for. That's why I invited Emily to share on Soul Stories. Because her soul runs deep, and her balance of gritty perseverence and raw self-awareness always reminds me that balance is key. That life is a process and all you can do is travel through it in your own way at your own pace. This is Emily's soul story.
There and Back Again
(*I fully realize that this is also the title of ‘The Hobbit’ – and this is not the story of a short-statured, furry-footed adventurer. This is the reflection of a slightly awkward, 30-something divorcee on how she got to be okay with it all. That, and Mandy asked for a title and I didn’t know what else to call it. Also you should really read ‘The Hobbit’ - it’s a pretty good story.)
I turned 31 this year and it was the first birthday since I was THREE that I didn’t want to bury my face in a pint of ice cream screaming “not another onnnneeee!” As a kid I didn’t want to grow up at all, as a pre-teen/teenager I was infuriated to not be a grownup already, and every year after 21 I was terrified to find that – whoops – here I am, an actual grownup.
But I’ve done it – every year - and I’ve been adult-ing successfully now (I think) for some time. And you know what? I like being a grownup! I may be several pounds overweight and a few dollars short on my savings account goal (thanks NYC), but I’m comfortable in my life and with the people in it.
I have a degree. I have an apartment. I’ve built a successful business career as a woman working in Washington, DC, New York City, and now Nashville. I have a dog and a cat – both of which I’ve managed to keep alive for an extended amount of time. I have a driver’s license. I have great parents. I have someone in my life who loves me very much and who thinks I’m pretty great. I think he’s pretty great too. [Editor's note: she has some pretty awesome friends too!]
I am also divorced. I take medication for anxiety. I have dealt with crippling self-esteem issues. I still do. I can’t keep house plants alive – not even a cactus. I can’t cook. I know what it’s like to drink yourself to sleep as it’s the only way you can get through the night. I know what my rock bottom is and it still haunts me.
Someone told me once that “a vessel of any kind can only handle so much pressure being poured into it before it starts to crack.” Wise words - and the “vessel” he was referring to was me. Well, I didn’t just crack – I exploded – or maybe imploded is the better word.
I have faced many challenges in life, but the main catalyst and certainly the greatest mountain I’ve ever had to climb, was the abrupt ending of my marriage. That rocked me to my core and opened a flood gate of pain and despair that put me on the fastest and the slipperiest slope down into oblivion.
Never mind the details of how and why I got to that point – there is a lot to cover there, I can assure you. But I think the more important thing is that I am here now, on the other side of it all, able to look down into the hole I crawled out of and not flinch at the past. I am here – by the grace of God and the help of so many others – and I still can’t cook or keep plants alive.
So, with some perspective gained, I sifted through my memories and journal entries to find a few nuggets of advice to pass on.
These were hard lessons for me. These are things that, to be fair, are almost impossible to digest if you’re in the midst of a crisis. I know they were for me. Yet now I can see that these were the significant milestones I crossed on my journey back - whether I knew it at the time or not (and I probably didn’t).
Own Your Truth
Whatever it is. Don’t excuse it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pretend it’s something different. Don’t hide it from others and don’t, whatever you do, lie to yourself. You deserve better.
I told friends and family that the divorce was ‘amicable’ and ‘mutual’ and that ‘we wished each other well’ – it was bullshit. Pretending that I was ‘fine’ and ‘will be fine’ was also bullshit. Ironically, my sister-in-law at the time (who to this day is one of the most incredible women I’ve ever known) saw it and called me on it - and I will be forever grateful to her for doing so. So what was my truth? I had no idea – and it took some serious self-reflection to figure it out. And the truth was ugly and it was embarrassing and it was scary. The truth was that I was miserable, and had been for some time. The truth was that I was severely damaged and hurt by someone who I loved very much – the truth was that I wasn’t ready to give up on the marriage, but he was – the truth was that I was protecting that very fact from family members while he allowed me to do so.
So once I gave up protecting him, and ignoring the truth, reality seemed a bit more manageable. It became a bit less exhausting to trudge onwards. I was no longer expending extra energy to distract myself. I could see the situation for what it really was and, while extremely painful to look at, it was oddly freeing to know that it was real.
You Control the Stop Watch – You Can Cut the String.
Take back your power. He broke me. Without knowing it, I had actually started to believe that I was not enough, that I needed to change for this person, that I was worthless, unattractive and unlovable UNLESS I changed. Putting aside the emotional abuse of that scenario, my entire identity had evaporated. The hopelessness of that realization was the most overwhelmingly dark moment I think I have ever experienced.
It took a while to re-program my brain but once I gave myself permission to stand up for myself I found the empowerment and strength to push back. I had to start taking steps forward – even if that meant doing it alone. I started asking the questions that needed answered – of myself and of him – and I defined my own boundaries. When those lines were crossed and my questions left unanswered, I stopped the clock and did what needed to be done. But guess what? I got to control when and how that happened. But guess what else? It took time – a long time.
So take your time.
Time is on your side. Time is to your advantage. Time – is the gift you should give to yourself.
Be Afraid. It’s Okay.
Change is fucking scary – it can be paralyzing. It can seem so much easier to just ‘ride it out’ rather than risk it all to jump into an unknown. Well it IS easier to do that. But the best way to defeat fear, or anything for that matter, is to accept it and acknowledge it as a real thing. By saying – This is scary. I am terrified - you have taken the authority away from dread. You know what it looks like, so it’s not a big scary monster under the bed anymore. It can’t surprise you because you have acknowledged that it is there and that is affecting you.
So be afraid – let yourself feel that terror – it is important to let yourself process those emotions. But find ways to move forward WITH it. Before you know it, the fear with become less and less prominent and other emotions will start to take its place.
Embrace the fear! Except spiders and bees. I will never be that brave. Ever.
You Are Not Alone
The obvious read on this is, of course, that you are loved and you don’t have to face anything alone. This is true, and meant a lot to me, but in hindsight that statement took on a much different meaning and has impacted my journey in a powerful way. So let’s read it instead as follows:
Don’t Flatter Yourself
You are not the first one to face this challenge. Whatever it is. Of course YOU are unique. The specific details of your situation are yours and yours alone. How you react to things, how you process emotions, and what works for you in the end are all unique to YOU - but I promise that there have been those who have climbed similar mountains. Find them, learn from their pain, their mistakes and their successes. Once I was able to freely admit to the reality of my situation, I was amazed at how many similar stories came out of the woodwork and at how encouraging it is to realize that your pain is shared. You have a tribe. Find them. Find them through friends or online, find them by immersing yourself in books or blogs or doctors’ offices. There are those who can empathize with you – who actually do know what you’re feeling – because they have been there too. That’s a beautiful thing, but remember not to dwell on the shared hurt - seek the solution. A successful support group, true friends, will encourage each other to move onwards and upwards.
Let Those Who Love You Protect You.
Listen, I would like to think of myself as a strong, independent woman. I think I am – but the truth is that I am also emotional, often lazy, and frequently way over my head. I had to learn to allow myself to ask for and to accept help. I have learned to lean on those who love me – a lesson in pride to be sure – and have several dear friends and family members to thank for picking me up off the floor and carrying me when I had almost expired completely. I had been stumbling forward for so long, alone and too prideful to ask for help, that I didn’t realize I needed support until I had already collapsed. Ask for help before that moment comes. No matter how capable and amazing and strong and bad-ass you are (and you are), there will be moments where you must, or have to, throw up a white flag. Ask for help. But remember, in order to embrace that support you must first let them in. Make them aware – throw up your hands and say – hey folks, here’s the deal – I’m a complete wreck . If you are afraid of judgement, let it go. If you are embarrassed, get over yourself. If you are trying desperately to stay in control, trust me when I say you are already spinning out. Trust those who embrace you at your lowest. They truly understand the meaning of love. And if you need professional help, that’s okay too. I did – and I believe to this day that it saved my life.
So there it is. Well, some of it, anyway.
I wish I could say that I followed my own advice. I didn’t.
I wish I could say that I was self-aware enough to recognize that I needed help. I wasn’t.
I don’t wish to ever see rock bottom again, but I believe my experience has made me more defined, more resilient, more humble and, perhaps most importantly, more grateful to those who stood beside, behind and before me through it all.