Episode 143 -- August 26, 2021

Time Brings Change: How to Write Your Life's Next Chapter

The Grief Club: The Secret to Getting Through All Kinds of Change, by Melody Beattie, offers powerful healing wisdom to help us through life's most difficult events and experiences.

We all know that the only constant is change. This has been exemplified in these past few years. In her book, Beattie explains how the experience of grief—usually associated with death—can accompany any kind of loss or tremendous change. Grief has much to do with recovery. People lose a lot to substance use disorders; we have lost opportunities, relationships, and even certain beliefs.

In this excerpt, Beattie shows us how we can acknowledge and work through the grief that comes with change; the example here is about the transition out of full-time parenting. It is normal to feel lost. Any transition can be uncomfortable, and we are always dealing with multiple changes simultaneously. Those of us in early recovery are facing transitions all the time. We can use this excerpt to help us discover the next chapter in our life while still honoring our current passage. Instead of feeling fearful of what's next, we can make plans to move forward and find our new normal.

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

Some people say Boomers are so selfish we don't experience empty-nest syndrome. They say we're so happy to have our lives back to our selfish selves again that we don't care when our children leave home.

While buying into that belief would have given me an out from writing this chapter, I don't buy it. I know too many parents, and whether they're Boomers, Generation X, or Generation Y, the mere thought of having their children leave home makes their hearts ache and some of them have children just starting kindergarten now. I used to tell myself that the empty-nest blues were a crock. It's something people make up to have another problem to write about, I thought. One more thing our mothers use to instill guilt.

If you don't have children, aren't interested, or if it doesn't fit whatsoever, you might want to stick around anyway. This story is about more than children growing up and leaving home. It's about honoring the sacred passages that come with the changes time brings to us all.

I had Nichole three years after I got sober. Shane came along two years later. There wasn't that much of me when I first got sober and clean. The children became my reason to live, work, and make a good life. When the house burned down or my husband got drunk or we were dirt poor, I had those babies to keep me going. They depended on me and I gladly stepped up to the plate. From the day my children were born, I was happy to love and take care of them. To be their mom was a privilege and an honor. Sure, we had problems with David's drinking, then a painful divorce. It took a few months to regroup after the divorce, but we did. We became a real family again. Then Shane died. It got dark with some iffy moments, but now when I finally come out of my darkness and can make our family work, family time is done? I didn't want to let Nichole and this part of my life go.

Recognizing I was going through the empty-nest blues helped. When I surrendered to my sadness and let myself feel lost, the Loose Cannon stopped firing shots.

In time, my daughter got married and had two children. She became a mom. Our relationship is better than ever. I see how important that apart time was. It let us each grow into our new selves. When I stopped clinging to Nichole, she enjoyed coming around me. Then she started begging me to move in with her. The thought was sweet, but that would be chasing our losses—something that rarely works. Nichole will always be my daughter. But I'm not a full-time mom anymore. I started living life for me. Once I started, I didn't want to stop. My center is where it belongs—in myself.

I began doing things I couldn't do when I had young children. I traveled around the United States, then the world—Paris, Algeria, Bali, Pakistan, the Sinai Peninsula, Israel, China, Tibet, the pyramids of Egypt. I studied martial arts, began hiking and skydiving. I learned to fly a plane. One thing I'd never done was live with roommates, so I bought a cabin by the drop zone in Lake Elsinore—the Blue Sky Lodge—and filled it with roommate skydivers. We'd sit around campfires and have parties with parachutists training there from all over the world. It was one of the most fun times in my life. Just because a time in our lives that we loved ends doesn't mean all the fun is over.

That time eventually came to pass too. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. Everything has its season. We can try to hang on, but when times change, it's not the same. When things fulfill their purpose, it's better to let them go. One day it was time to sell the Blue Sky Lodge. I cried when I packed up the last boxes. My roommate Andy wouldn't admit it, but I saw tears in his eyes too. When we consciously grieve and honor these passages, we stop racing around trying to fill the empty spaces. We make better decisions. Replacing what we've lost before we face our feelings about the loss may not work out the way we planned. We may wake up one day and be horrified about something we've done.

Time brings changes to things, life, us. The first time we let go of Mom's hand and stay by ourselves at school. Graduation. Getting married or divorced. The one thing we have in common with everyone is we're all getting older. It comforts me to watch all the entertainers and musicians from my time aging. It feels like we're all in it together. We see some people desperately trying to hold on to youth; their smiles are pulled to their ears. Others handle it with grace.

On the other end, I see some people give up and completely stop taking care of themselves. Deep down, I think everyone in the I'm Getting Older Club feels about the same. Although people talked openly about other losses for this book, people didn't want to talk about getting old. Maybe there's not that much to say. When we're young, we want to be older. Then we hit a peak, and from that day on, we want to be young. I used to envy the gorgeousness of youth. Now I see the beauty of age. There is a richness and depth that comes with maturity, and not just in the men—women have it too. It's like the difference between a bud and a fully opened rose. They're both beautiful in their own time. I was in my chiropractor's office one day when the receptionist asked us each if we wanted to draw a thought-for-the-day card. We did. The card she drew read: ¿I am exactly the age I'm meant to be.¿

Each decade has its own feel. Just when we feel like we've got things dialed in, times change again. In her book New Passages, Gail Sheehy talks about a second adulthood. When we were young, we thought about what we wanted to do when we grew up. Now with extended life expectancy, we face what we want to do when we grow up the second time. Many people need to have not one, but two careers. We might stop working in our fifties or sixties, but some people aren't fulfilled by retiring. Many need to continue earning money. Some people decide to start another family. We can fill our nest and lives any way we want.


1. Celebrate your rites of passage. Are you going through a passage now? Take the time to recognize and honor it. Throw a party for yourself. Your normal is changing. It's common to feel lost for a while. Give yourself some slack, some room to wander about in the mystery and let your new life take shape and form. Have a private celebration. Go out to dinner with a friend and tell your friend the purpose of the dinner—that you want to honor this change in your life. Buy new clothes. Rearrange your home. Make a photograph album of pictures and remembrances from the time in your life that's passing. Or do some writing about that part of your life. Write a story. It doesn't have to be for publication—it can be just for you. But tell the story about the chapter in your life that's coming to a close. Telling our story is a secret to getting through any change. We need to find a way to say good-bye to what we're leaving and hello to what's ahead. If you get stuck or find yourself having a difficult time going through a change, ask for help. Talk to other people; find out how they're handling this time in their lives. It'll help validate how you feel, and you may be able to help someone else.

2. Help create the next part of your life. Although many things are out of our control, we can help create our lives by intention, desire, goals, and honoring the dreams in our heart. Life has an adventure in store for us. So you're in a passage. The old is passing away. What are some things you can do now that you couldn't before? Maybe there were limitations in the last part of your life that no longer apply. Make a list of all the things you can do. Also, with every new circumstance come challenges and limitations. What are the limitations you have now, the things you need to work around? It's important to add our input into these times of transition. Living in the mystery—that time when the next part hasn't formed—is an important time to focus on what we want. Make a list of what you'd like to happen next.

About the Author:
Melody Beattie is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Codependent No More and The Language of Letting Go. Readers may visit her website at melodybeattie.com. She lives in Malibu, California.

© 2006 by Melody Beattie.
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