I have referred to myself jokingly and not-so-jokingly as “Post-Paris Kristine” dozens of times in the last few months. Twice I’ve tried to explain what the term meant and both times the result was dissatisfying. I was only able to scratch the surface, not fully explain. I realize that I don’t fully understand it myself.
Before I went to Paris, I was living a very nice life. After the initial logistical and emotional upheaval of the adoption, our family had found our routine. The kids were going to school, learning, growing, and happy. Russell and I had found our groove too. It took us 15 years of sometimes tumultuous marriage but we finally realized we could not be everything to each other. The relief was immense and immediate and our relationship improved by leaps and bounds. It was the first time in years that I considered myself “happily married.”
I was finally working in the field I had coveted for 10 years. It was far from what I expected, but there was a certain pride at having achieved this goal, despite the sacrifices I had to make.
The shell of my life, what surrounded me and supported me was functioning, humming right along. Inside of me though, not much was going on.
I started working out and taking better care of myself. There was pride in this, but also guilt. Just like many other 40-year old woman — rattled by the signs of aging that confronted me daily, I started spending money on treatments and creams and anti-aging promises. I started wearing make-up for the first time at 40 years old. I no longer believed that the untouched-up me was good enough to present to the world. I longed to be attractive to people other than Russell. (This would prove my worth, as his opinion seemed to matter less for some reason.) I was unable to extract myself from the sticky muck of nostalgia, even though I knew deep down that it was unhealthy. I was terrified of getting old.
So I took up jogging.
My future wasn’t bleak, it was just there. I didn’t expect there to be joy in my life. My happiness would come from professional accomplishments, pride in my children, experiencing new people and places through travel. I didn’t expect to learn or grow. Happiness certainly would not come from within me. There was nothing to draw on.
I no longer believed in God. When I died, I would disappear.
In a way, I already had.
As Pre-Paris Kristine I was grateful that my life had reached a stability and level of comfort that it had not had until then. But if pressed, I would have uneasily acknowledged that I believed this to be a bitter trade-off. Stability but no magic. Contentedness but no joy. Expectations but no hope.
I was existing, but not living. I diligently executed my responsibilities in my roles as mother, wife, and professional. There was no fulfillment in being me. There was no me.
Then came Paris. Ten days of being responsible to no one but myself. Ten days during which the biggest decision I had to make was what I would drink with dinner: red wine or white wine? Those ten days of “freedom” allowed me to be open and relaxed enough to set aside my cynicism for a little while. I allowed myself to consider ideas that I had previously and whole-heartedly rejected.
Those ideas came from a friend to whom I’ll be forever grateful. They came at the precise moment, and possibly only moment in years, when I was able to listen.
I had fascinating conversations while in Paris. At home, I didn’t have the time or the patience to discuss anything at length. I didn’t have the courage or the confidence to even attempt introspection.
My life had become so muted, that I didn’t even know that I needed these things until they were happening. I didn’t fully realize that I had given up until I had stopped giving up. In Paris, I had the time. I had the courage.
While I explored the city outside my apartment, I also explored my spirit. I learned that there were exciting “places” that I could take myself, my mind, and that the world was full of possibilities. Without fully comprehending what I was doing, I began a journey.
Of course, eventually, I had to return home. I wanted to go home. I missed my family. But I didn’t want to leave my fascinating life in France. My life at home had become muted, neutral. In Paris, my life had colors. I was afraid to “go back.” What if it all went away? What if Paris wasn’t magic at all, but simply a dream?
For a while after I returned, I found comfort in the belief that I had “learned” a lot in Paris. But in retrospect I realize that I wasn’t really learning as in “incorporating”, I was just opening myself up to the possibility of accepting new ideas (or old ideas I had previously rejected). This was still important, but it made things slightly more difficult when regular life resumed.
The best example of an idea I thought I had learned: I have everything inside of me that I need for happiness and fulfillment and love.
Before Paris, if someone said to me, “Kristine, you have all the tools you need inside of yourself to be everything you could ever want to be,” I would have replied (if I had the courage to be perfectly honest), “I want to agree with you, but I just can’t. Other people may have that, but I do not. It’s simply not in me. I am too afraid.”
Immediately after Paris, if someone had said the same exact thing to me, I would have replied, “Yes! I just learned this. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Of course, that response would have been a good example of my Post-Paris high. I didn’t learn really learn that. I heard it. Remembered it. But was I living it?
As the Post-Paris glow faded, I struggled. If someone said to me a couple of months later, “Kristine, you have all the tools you need inside of yourself to love yourself and be a complete, content human being,” I would say, “Yes, I believe that too. But I am not there yet. I am trying. It’s more difficult than I expected, but I hope to reach that place someday.”
And that’s why I have committed to doing a “big thing” each month of 2012. I’m being proactive in changing my life. I’m not sitting around waiting for it to happen. And I’m finding, slowly, that as a result, I really like me.
My time in Paris transformed me. It was slight but it was significant. As the same dear friend likes to remind me: a small degree of change can make a huge difference.
Things I that did learn in Paris:
- Possibilities do exist. This is probably the most important thing I have learned. I don’t always believe it 100% of the time. But since Paris, I have always and continuously returned to it.
- I do have in me what I need to make changes in my life. Real changes. I used to think that life ruled me for the most part, and that any changes in the direction I wanted to go were coincidental. I don’t think that any more.
- People can manage fear by letting in light.
Things I have learned Post-Paris:
- I believe I have in me what I need to be happy and feel love without the constant yearning for validation.
- I cherish myself.
- Forgiving myself is okay. I don’t always have to be so hard on myself.
When I look at this list, it’s not small stuff at all.
The new me is Post-Paris Kristine. It’s not future me. In referring to my old ways of thinking I sometimes say the “real me” but that is not accurate. The real me is the me of today. I am Post-Paris Kristine. It’s not just a moniker.
Before Paris, I had expectations but not hope. Today I have both.
I hope that I can teach my girls what I’m learning. I’m embarrassed that it has taken me this long to be clued in. I don’t want that to happen to them. When I walked over fire the first time, I did it for me. I told the people around me. “I’m doing this because this is the year that I’m learning to love myself.” Then I walked over 12 feet of burning coals. When I had the opportunity to do it again, I didn’t hesitate. I did it for my girls. I said, “I’m a mom and I don’t want my girls to be 41-years old before they walk on fire.” What I meant was, I don’t want them to be struggling like I have been when they are my age. I want them to be confident and self-fulfilled women well before they reach the age of 41.
I am a firewalker. I am Post-Paris Kristine.
I want to earn a new moniker. I want to earn several. Paris was a wonderful gift and my moniker reminds me every day how blessed I am. Imagine how magical my life will be if I collect monikers like badges on a Girl Scout’s sash.