The Leveled Life
Sue Patton Thoele


People who are emotionally dependent often carry an unspoken feeling that life is passing them by, that they have missed their personal boat somewhere along the way.  Life, which had promised to be so exciting, full of joy and surprises, has turned out to be as level and barren as the salt flats.  The truth is, if life feels flat, it probably means we're letting others define what our life should be and haven't taken the risk to find out who we are and what we want.

Children are natural-born risk takers.  They move out into the world and toward others with their arms wide open.  For children, life is full of mountains and valleys waiting to be explored.  There's nothing level about the life of a healthy, spontaneous child.  One moment she'll be rolling around in a fit of glee, and the next moment she's grabbing aggressively for her doll and sobbing.

When we see a child acting level and flat, we take her temperature.  Why, then, do we feel it's okay for us to ooze through life on a boring, uniform plane?  What, after all, is enthralling about a life that's safe but lacks wonder, enthusiasm, passion, and joy?  What's normal about living from an apathetic place within ourselves that knows no spontaneous gratitude, sense of rightness, and harmony with the scheme of things?

Often we fall into the habit of living blah lives so gradually that we aren't aware of how flat and bland our lives have become.  When my first husband left me, I realized how level my life was.  

When the shock wore off, I experienced an explosion of emotions.  I'd be low, then I'd skyrocket into a frenzy of rage and desire for revenge.  I'd be thinking of suicide, then I'd be giddy with fantasies about the possibilities that lay open before me.

During the years it took me to heal those wounds, I experienced the widest range of feelings that I'd had since I was a teenager.  Becoming aware of how painful my life was because of its flatness, I decided to do something about it.  One of my first, fleeting reactions was, "I'm never going to let myself be hurt like this again.  Never, never, never!"  To protect myself, I locked myself up in an emotional bubble-dome, out of reach and invulnerable.  But that didn't last long because I gradually began to understand my own role in the breakup:  how my emotional dependence and low self-esteem had helped level my life.

During my first marriage, I was unwilling to be aware of what was going on inside of me or in the relationship, for that matter.  It was simply too scary.  As a defense mechanism, I became funny on the outside, covertly and ineffectually venting my anger by telling funny but barbed stories.  Later, when I was able to see my actions with love and forgiveness instead of flinching, I chose to act differently.  I changed my promise never to be hurt again to two affirmations that I still live by.

The first was I choose to live my life fully.  For me, that meant a commitment to risk taking and to experiencing all of my feelings, whether joyous, painful, or indifferent.  It also meant a commitment to honor dreams long shelved.  I had tried to avoid risk and pain for years.  Now I was learning that in order to live my life I had to embrace life's whole package:  the pain as well as the joy, the risks as well as the certainties--the entire gamut of emotions and possibilities.  It wasn't a decision I made lightly or easily.

I was helped immensely by this passage from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
     was often filled with your tears
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.

My second affirmation was I will never give myself away again.  Giving myself away had depleted me so much I no longer felt there was a "me."  To counteract that void, I decided to explore my boundaries, beliefs, and desires.  What did I want to do with my life?  Whom did I want to do it with?  What behavior was acceptable to me?  What could I do to increase my independence and my ability to love others?  How could I be a supportive yet firm parent?  What dreams longed to be fulfilled?  What did I need to heal in order to resist the temptation to give myself away again?

As a result of my inner exploration, I finalized the divorce, went to graduate school, and learned to become a better parent and friend to myself.


Sue Patton Thoele continues her quest to help readers enhance their self-esteem and tap into their core emotional strength. Geared to women who too often find themselves meeting the wants of others at the expense of their own needs, the book provides necessary tools to help readers transform their fears into the courage to express their own authentic selves. By sharing her own journey and the journey of other women, Thoele helps readers learn to set boundaries, change self-defeating behavior patterns, communicate effectively, and become a loving and tolerant friend to themselves.


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