Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finding your path... an answer to Anonymous

I just received this comment on my blog:

"So, this might seem a little out of the blue, and possibly totally inappropriate, but what happened to the Kate of all your other old blogs? You are without doubt driven and successful and amazing at remaking yourself and at inspiring others, but I miss the Kate that posted about books and art and recipes for pie, plus those little stories about you and your family. So entertaining and well written. You almost seem like a completely different person these days."

And it was interesting to read, because I have been thinking about writing a post on just this topic.

The short answer is, I'm glad you liked my old blogs, about my family and my life at home. If other readers are curious, you can check here, these are the blogs I was writing before I began skiing:

A Good Book and a Piece of Pie

Unsuspected Depth
Bodice Buster
Adventures in Sculpture Building

And the long answer, what happened to the old Kate? Well, I'm right here. But over time, I've grown. I've been searching for a long time for the thing that makes me happy in my life, for "my path".

I have, in the past, put my head down and pushed through a couple of things I thought were interesting and might lead to some form of success. The problem was my definition of success. I was a competitive figure skater, a relatively successful actress, an artist, a writer, I was interested in being a caterer and writing cookbooks, I love being a mom, I enjoyed making and keeping house. I owned a rock climbing gym, and a cloth diaper making business. To all of these endeavors, I applied myself as wholly as I could, believing that to "make it" one must fully commit and push through whatever obstacle stands in your way.

Interestingly enough, in the pursuit of "success", even as a mom, I lost myself. The truth is, I do miss making art, its in me, its a huge part of what I love. But I couldn't support myself doing it, the creation and installation of my pieces was hugely taxing on my family's finances, and on my marriage. I know that Art will still be there in six, or ten, or twenty years, and I'm glad to be able to make the occasional painting or sculpture along my current journey.

Almost six years ago, I began a long journey which has landed me here, where I am today. Today, I feel that I am on "my path", finally. I feel at home, comfortable, confident, and valued. I see my path unfolding before me, and I'm grateful to have found it.

The thing that sparked the change was my pregnancy with Bodhi. I came to realize during my pregnancy that I needed to keep my children safe from a person who had been in my life for 26 years, and who was very, very poisonous. This person was abusive to me and other people that I love, daily. Emotionally, physically, sexually. And I came to a place where I could not let that happen to my kids.

The day I was brave enough, I cut that person, my step father, out of my life forever. The process of removing him completely and beginning down the path of healing took four years. During that time, Tom and I were struggling to be successfully with our climbing company, I was in school, and we had two kids. I was trying to stick with a life long love of art, and force my path through on that front, no matter the difficulties or consequences.

Also during this time, we had four or five people at a time living with us, all of whom were going through similar issues. I was happy to have people around me, I was beginning to feel like I could create a family that felt right to me. But I was still suffering from a lot of emotional trauma from my past experiences, including being diagnosed with PTSD from the abuse I had suffered since I was 6. I was still a victim, and had yet to turn the corner to survivor.

Also during that time, I was fortunate enough to read a book called The Courage to Heal 4e: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse 20th Anniversary Edition
, an incredible book that took me through the first steps toward freedom for myself and safety for my kids, which was paramount.

When we lost our business to our landlord, and my studio burnt to the ground in the same year, just weeks before my first solo show at the Metro Gallery in Los Angeles, I left school. Tom and I were shell shocked at what had happened, and our terrific friends Jen and Steve were living in Montana. We fled to their home and found solace and family with them. From terrible adversity, we found some peace, and moved here, to what seemed like paradise.

For the first year, we lived a bit like emotional refugees from the traumatic experiences we'd been through, and I was grateful for the time to bond together as an insular family. I was in therapy, learning how to draw boundaries, how to protect myself, how to be a good role model for my kids, and trying to figure out what it meant to suddenly be a stay at home mom in Montana with no career, having shot my art career in the foot when Tom and I made the choice that moving to a beautiful, small, rural place like Bozeman was more important for our family than me making it as an artist in LA.

But over time, I felt lost. I wrote about what I was doing, which was reading a lot of books and cooking and keeping house and raising my kids, all of which I enjoy doing, but I didn't feel like I was on my path. I felt lonely a lot of the time, and I was constantly asking myself if this was the rest of my life, could I live like this?

The period of time in which I was writing about books and recipes, and trying to make contemporary public art in Bozeman (which is a very artistic and supportive community), I felt lost. I have always been a competitive athlete, and I missed the things that had been important to me in my life before kids: hiking, trekking, adventuring, climbing, being outside and moving around in the mountains.

I felt that I had given up on an essential part of me. I was fortunate enough to meet Dave Evans at Bridger Bowl when I was taking Ethan up for ski lessons when he was five. I was given an opportunity to ski, and to teach.

Over the course of the next very confusing year, I came to see that I had been denying myself something that is fundamentally important to me. While I was spending a lot of time at home, and doing the best job I could keeping house and making food, I was sad. And lonely. And very lost. I had given up on living a life that felt like it had purpose, and had resigned myself to a life as "mom" only.

Don't get me wrong, I think that being a mother is a huge and important job. And it is certainly a job that leaves an impact. But I was not honoring myself by having that be my defining role. Wife and Mother to the exclusion of all else was not fulfilling me. And I felt guilt about that. I felt like it aught to be enough.

But when I started skiing, I found Kate again. I found the fun side of me, the side I had been denying for years while protecting myself from my abuser, while caring for others who were abused, while trying to make a home that fit the standard I had set.

What I didn't realize was that in trying to meet some fictional ideal of house and home, I had lost who I was.

Turning the corner was hard. I went back to therapy and worked hard on learning how to know what a boundary was, how to care for myself, how to let go of old ideas about myself and "success" that were installed by my past family history.

During that time, I took myself back. I found joy, I became stronger, I began to honor what and who I really am, rather than trying to fit into a mold that makes sense to other people. I struggled to stop worrying about what other people would think, and just be who I naturally was.

During this process, I lost some friends, and that was very difficult. But I also knew that I was a happier, healthier person, and a better wife and mom for making the decision to stay with me, to honor my voice, to be who I am, and not who a committee thinks I aught to be.

An interesting thing happened when I started to honor my inner voice. All the experiences from my past coalesced into a path that easily unfolded in front of me. I have been a coach in one form or another for the last 18 years or so, in skating, tennis, boxing, rock climbing, and now skiing.

I had lived with a variety of people for whom I was friend and counselor, and had educated myself on their conditions, as well as my own, and helped them move in the direction of health and therapy. I worked closely with a therapist who advised me on their conditions and directed me to appropriate reading material.

Pulling from my own experience with performance anxiety in life and on the ice, from my experience in acting, writing, and coaching, HardHead Coaching coalesced in front of me. People were interested in a focused way to achieve their dreams, and all the past experiences I had suddenly gelled into a coaching system that seems flexible enough to meet the individual needs of each client, and to be broadly applied to a ski school or a group.

Because I am coaching skiing, now, and you can't coach skiing from a lawn chair (unless you are Cal Cantrell, I've heard), I had the opportunity to become, once again, at 36, an athlete in training.

With all of these things gelling, my healing and commitment to the safety and security of my family, my own commitment to training my body and mind, and opportunities to coach others, my path suddenly appeared before me.

And mentors, coaches and teachers were everywhere. The resistance here is minimal, the support is enormous. I am hugely indebted to Bridger Bowl, Dave Evans, Mike Hickey and Josh Spuhler. If it wasn't for them, I would not have found this enormously satisfying culmination of past experiences, focused down into a specific goal.

I know a lot of people who are searching for their path, for the thing that makes them feel like there is meaning in their lives, and I have to say that I think it begins with honoring who you are and learning to love and care for yourself, so that you can then love and care for others.

And then comes the scary part, doing what you know is right for you, regardless of what other people wish you would do. Some people in my life wanted me to get an MBA, some had strong feelings about me acting, some about me making sculpture, some about me NOT painting... there always seemed to be a battery of people with very strong opinions about where I should spend my time and energy. But when I began to honor me, I began for the first time to hear these ideas as ideas that belonged to other people, rather than edicts on how not to let other people down. And I began to be able to stick solidly with something that is important to me, and tell people who think otherwise, thank you for your opinion, which I am happy to listen to, but I'll not set aside my dreams or goals for another person's convenience ever again.

I know that to some people, who met me when I was pregnant, and didn't know the person who was a stage manager, actress, figure skater, etc, that this shift from staying at home and cooking to traveling all over the country and coaching may seem abrupt and strange.

But the truth is, in those years, while I was happily caring for my kids, I came to a place when they became a certain age that begged me to pull some focus back to me. I know that not all moms agree with the choices I have made, and that's okay. I think we all have our path, and I know that the path I am on is the right one for me. I feel balance there, that I am bonded to my kids, a good and close parent, and also honoring the things in my life that make me feel alive.

My quest for the Demo Team started out as just that: a physiological experiment: could it be done? Could I train my body, at 36 to become a good enough skier that I could do what I love most, coach at a high level in a new sport?

Now, the Demo Team seems to me like a logical step on a career path that I love. I can't wait to continue developing my coaching system, and watching it change and mutate as I meet more people and learn more. I draw from all my past experiences to do the job I love, and therefore, I am grateful for each of them. I know that I went through the things I went through to prepare me to be here, where I am today, on my path, heading in a direction that feels positive, with purpose. Teaching on the team would be a great job and an honor, and if it seems like the right step in four years when my tryout is, I will be as prepared as I can be to meet that challenge.

So, Anonymous, to answer your question: I'm sorry that you miss the "old" Kate, but she's right here. The only difference is, now I honor my inner voice and follow my intuition, which has led me to friendships, adventures and closeness with my kids that I could only have imagined before.

Thank you for your comment, and for being brave to post it, it is just that kind of honesty that honors you, and its hard to tell a friend that you wish they were different. Thank you for reading, and for commenting!


SPKarenO said...

For what its worth, I still see lots and lots of the old Kate in the new Kate. And I like you just as you are.

a said...

Thanks, Karen. That's pretty awesome to hear. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the totally thorough response. I'll just say I feel lucky to read- you are an amazing woman. Able to live life to its fullest on your own terms. I'm glad you've found your way through all the crappy conditions to be where you are now and I look forward to future updates. Thanks!

a said...

Hey, Anonymous! Thanks for checking back, and for the kind words! Glad to have you as a reader, thanks!