A Life Unexpected by Alison M. Newcomb

Thursday morning, August 31st @ 5:45am

I’ve been the only one in the office for hours. I’ve been on this streak all week, where I wake up ready to go at 2:45am. After trying to force myself to stay asleep, I just give in and start getting up for the day. Every day this week, I’ve gotten in my full yoga practice and made it to work before 6am. It is peaceful and quiet, except for the hum of all the printers. And the sunrise over Denver, which I watch from Lakewood through my office's 8th-floor window, is especially brilliant today. And in just two weeks, this view, this office, the building keycard that gets me inside outside of normal business hours, will no longer be mine.

Today I am just a few years shy of forty and, last week, I did something I never expected to do. I resigned from my full-time job to spend more time with my family. Not for a new/better/higher-paying opportunity to spread my wings and soar up even higher in my career, trying to maybe catch a glimpse of that glass ceiling people have always told me about.

Nope. Today I quit my career-track job, in exchange for part-time consulting work and pay, so that I can focus on supporting the people waiting for me each night to finally make it back home from work. I made a deliberate decision to merge off the "fast track" in favor of being available for my family. Which currently consists of myself, my husband, his two young sons, a love-bug of a Great Dane (my contribution to the family headcount), and a soon-to-be adopted baby boy or girl, whose name the boys are convinced is theirs to choose.

We are what you would call a blended family. And though that term can take on all kinds of different shapes, tones, sizes, and skin color, my family’s blend today is better than it was six months ago. And nearly unrecognizable, when compared to the dramatic, roller-coaster blend we lived through together three years earlier.

I would not have believed it if someone told me I would be where I am today—with a full-time family, chaotic yet somehow still running like a (mostly) well-oiled machine, in its very own manifestation of disorderly tribal order. And that I, the girl who has always only been good at one thing (working), would find so much excitement and meaning in taking care of my family is probably the biggest revelation of my adulthood.

And, though not one single part of my transformation that has been easy, what I have learned is that “we” do hard—really damn well. What I have finally come to realize is that my solitary self, the one wearing that  independent, had-it-all-together (but awfully heavy) suit of armor, simply ran from the hard things, the ugly, shameful—even despicable parts of myself that I wanted to disown. I was safe if I kept me to myself. As long as I was the one in control of the "self" I projected to the world.

If you never say your name out loud to to anyone, they can never ever call you by it.

-Regina Spektor (Better)

Life had its own plan for me and I have been an eyewitness for how skilled it can be at breaking a person into all their pieces, both the ugly and the good. It took the repetitive shattering of that persona I’d worked so many years to cultivate being laid bare in unavoidably public ways, to finally force me to a point—of exhaustion, well before acceptance—where I had no other choice but to let go of control.

And what I saw, the shadow I could no longer hide or disown, did not look like me. Or at least the version whose skin I’d been living in, and whose mythology I’d woven most of my life.

If it weren’t for the circumstances that brought me to this place of reckoning, where there was no place left to hide, and if not for the man who, during the most acutely humbling times, somehow chose to stand by my side (or, more accurately, take steady hold of my arm to prevent me from falling), I cannot say with any confidence that I would have held steady in my commitment to accepting this new me.


But, thankfully, that choice is not on the table. I still can’t say I like her all that much yet, but I recognize her—almost like a childhood friend whose name you may forget but whose face visits you, decades later, in a dream.

I believe the state I am supposed to be striving for is called “integrated.” But today I know the road there will not be one I will walk alone. And that whatever future state of integration I reach will be plural instead of singular. I am returning to myself, by way of a family that has, and will continue, to recreate “me,” as we work persistently together to rejoice in, refine, and recreate “us.”

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