My Life as An Escape Artist
When things get uncomfortable, my first impulse is to leave. When I feel the weight of the world closing in on me I start planning my next escape, I lean into the call of far off places and ache to take flight, into my next great adventure.
I'm pretty sure I was born this way. I started practicing my escapes as a babe, climbing out of my crib every chance I got. Apparently, I would climb over the railing and beeline it down the hallway to the fire escape, my mother always waking just in time to find me on the precipice of the second story ledge.
I still tend to leave things – conversations, parties, relationships, jobs, cities, towns, I'll even leave this blog one day.
We ALL leave eventually.
For me, leaving is the fun part. It's being left behind that sucks.
I left my mom behind at 18 when I hit the road, eager to spread my wings and see how far my nomadic heart would take me. I'd already left plenty of schools and boys and friends. Leaving home was easy.
I'd been eagerly jumping into the unknown for as long as I could remember, often without so much as an over the shoulder glance.
My mom interpreted that as running away. I thought she just didn't understand my desperate need for freedom or my insatiable curiosity. My mom prefers to stay, the result of being raised with a father in the Navy. Her family was always on the move, always leaving places behind. So she found comfort in staying. My restless spirit preferred to go, anywhere.
Amidst all my leaving, I'd also been left. Abandoned by the closest thing I had to a father. After he left my mom, when I was 11, he made a slow escape from anything that reminded him of her, including my brother and I. Eventually, my step–father disappeared completely. My first great loss. Which branded me with a deep desire to never be left again.
Instead, I became a master escape artist. Following in my step–father's footsteps, slow escapes became my forte.
Until my first born son turned 3 (I was 23), and my overwhelming love for him forced me to stay. I'd been a single mom from the get–go and lived all the way on the other side of the continent from my family, which meant I didn't have anyone to lean on for a break. Three years of solo 24/7 parenting combined with the usual growing pains of a 23 year old, and I hit a wall. I was ready to give up, to walk away, to leave.
Thankfully, my love for my son far outweighed my discomfort. Now, to be clear, I had never felt so completely trapped before in my life. The frustration, suffocation, and exhaustion I felt was beyond anything I had ever experienced. But I loved that kid more than I loved myself. And he needed me. So we had a little talk.
I told him point blank that if any of my friends treated me the way he had been treating me – hitting me and slinging profanities at me (his best friend, another 3 year old, had an outrageously obscene vocabulary that he was experimenting with), I would leave that friendship behind. In short, I would not tolerate that behaviour with anyone else and I wasn't going to tolerate it with him anymore. To my complete shock, that little 3 year old boy heard every word I said and he shaped right up. He stopped fighting me every step of the way and instead did his best to help out. He never hit me again and I didn't hear him swear for years.
That wasn't the first time my son taught me how to better navigate relationships but it sure stood out as a significant lesson – sometimes communication is all that is needed to alleviate discomfort.
How had I managed to live 23 years without learning that simple lesson?!
Easy. I was an escape artist, a master at leaving. You have to stick around a little to figure out those kind of lessons.
There are all kinds of escape artist. Addicts being the most common; drug addicts, shopping addicts, gaming and gambling addicts, food addicts, sex addicts, you name it. Addiction is an incredibly effective way to avoid confronting your shit – your pain, your suffering, your trauma, your anger, your resentment, your grief... etc.
The sweet relief of leaving reality for a while is quite alluring.
Some people choose movies or TV or a good book. Others prefer a holiday, or a trip to the cottage, or a meditation retreat. These are all delicious forms of escape.
Travel is my preference. Stepping into another culture, experiencing a different way of living, leaving all my responsibilities behind while I float along the current of a new adventure – that's my favourite kind of bliss.
A little escape on occasion can be quite nourishing, it can inspire, educate, and expand your experience of life. It can be therapeutic. There's nothing wrong with escaping.
But too much can suspend your growth. We're here to experience the reality of living, which comes with some discomfort.
Sitting in the discomfort of an experience, no matter how big or small, provides you with the opportunity to transform it – to grow.
Some of my greatest self-discoveries have come from sitting in the discomfort of an experience and figuring out how to navigate my way through it, rather than trying to escape.
Staying, that's when the really big transformations have happened for me. The good shit. The deep inner work. Which inevitably brings me closer to joy.
It's been almost 20 years since my son showed me how easy it can be to move through an uncomfortable situation and yet I still find myself wanting to leave rather than confront some of my more challenging issues.
Fortunately, I have developed enough self-awareness to catch myself before I jump ship. I have sat in the discomfort enough to know that it's worth it, that the only way to the good stuff is through... but it doesn't make it any easier.
Emotions can be persistent, no amount of rational thought can overpower an uncomfortable feeling. As Pema Chodron says, "Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know." Sometimes you've just got to sit with the shitty feeling and allow it to work itself out.
That said, sometimes leaving is exactly the right thing to do. Especially if leaving feels scary, your fear is often a sign that there's something waiting to be transformed.
If you're leaving because you're in an unhealthy situation then by all means, do it! Jump ship, into the unfamiliar waters of self–improvement.
If you're leaving because it's easy, there's a good chance you're just escaping an opportunity for growth.
Rather than choosing to escape your fears, explore them, step into them, transform them.
Turns out my mother knew me better than I realized. I was running away, running away from myself, from the discomfort of feelings I didn't know how to look at. Talk about futility. But all that running gave me the tools I needed to finally transform some of those uncomfortable feelings, to find myself, and the freedom I was so desperate for. Which was always inside me.
So there is no right way, you can stay or go, escape or dive right in, we are all just doing the best we can with the tools we have. And there are a million different way to get to the same place.
I recommend heeding Paul Coelho's advice, and just listen to your heart. Pause, and look inward, everything you need to know is already within you.