A YEAR BY THE SEA….THOUGHTS OF AN UNFINISHED WOMAN By Joan Anderson
I read this book in my early forties, and rereading it in my sixties gave me a whole new perspective about how life experiences offer us a glimpse into the continuous struggles we have to find meaning in our personal relationships. Joan speaks to ALL of us…
Our lives are always changing just like the sandy shoreline along the beach; especially during these tumultuous past few years which have affected so many! Joan’s book inspired me to take the time to rediscover my second half of life potential and hope her unique story will give you the courage to reveal and release the untapped resources inside of you!
The Story of Joan Anderson:
Joan was a loving wife and a supportive mother, but she slowly and unconsciously replaced her own dreams with the needs of her family. After her two sons were married, she finally acknowledged how she neglected to nurture herself along the way or even envisioned what life would be like after her family was grown.
The relationship with her husband had become stagnant, and it seemed that the best part of her life was finished. She makes a shocking decision NOT to move with her husband out of state for his new job and instead, she retreats to their family cottage on Cape Cod.
This becomes Joan’s year of self-discovery, which brought about extraordinary changes in the author’s life. The courageous steps she took to unearth her potential offer hope for other women to give themselves the permission to do it too!
Joan’s marriage, like many, had moved into a place of just existing with each other. She felt his emotional unavailability was simply rejection so when she tried to explain that what she needed was connection and attention her husband would trivialize her outbursts, which made her feel like a fool for asking.
Discovering she felt more oppressed by the role she knew she had been given finally rose to the surface.
Her twisted sense of LOVING was about GIVING, GIVING, GIVING until she saw the pleasure of her efforts on other people’s faces and making them feel good at the expense of her own happiness, leaving her emotionally drained.
Her husband seemed to reinforce the times she would neglect her own needs because her needs sounded like a demand he did not choose to meet.
She noticed when she did try and change things up, he would retreat even more and would say, “When will you ever be satisfied with what is?” All she was craving was intimacy and relatedness so when he refused the relationship with her, she decided to seek a relationship with herself. The question she now posed in her mind was, “HOW?”
So many of us enter into marriage expecting to be completed by the other. There is a fantasy that the other one would have the answers we were seeking, and we were trained to keep any of our doubts to ourselves. We become obsessed with “relationship” and we hold our high illusions of what marriage should be.
Is that what you believed?
Do you think it is okay to grieve the person we have married and understand they are not the same person now? What efforts have we made along the way to adjust ourselves in our relationships?
A friend of Joan’s once told her that anyone who claims to be in love “all the time” is a liar.
We need to appreciate that being authentic means you can’t fake what you don’t feel and there is too much to give away by trying. The problem is we look back and yearn for the way things used to be instead of honestly assessing how the relationship is really going right now.
All of us at times are simply tired souls who don’t have the energy for anything but getting through the day so shutting down and keeping feelings to ourselves becomes the norm. Sometimes separating can be the best thing for two confused people to do; maybe we need silence and time so we can listen to our hearts.
I have struggled with silence; at times I still get nervous or anxious to fill an awkward void in a conversation so I keep the nice-girl persona; it is what we were taught. I often wonder what would take the place of “nice” … well I am trying not to “tap dance” for people anymore, it is okay to just BE.
I am still trying to learn to have an experience instead of having to prepare for one! I need to learn to surrender to the moment, but the very word “surrender” evokes giving up and giving in, not an easy task in today’s world! So many of us have spent our lives “stage-managing” everyone else’s show while waiting for your time to come. Joan learned this lesson the hard way, like most of us do! Her need to control out of fear that if she didn’t do it all would be that the whole family would fall apart!
Joan was labeled strong, even resilient, the two traits she and many other women have grown to despise, yet it was so difficult for her to learn to just BE… She began to wonder why she became more cautious as she got older instead of the other way around?
There was ONE common denominator: FAILURE!
WHY? We only tend to FORGET our successes and only remember our losses! Failure wreaks havoc with our confidence and we become too afraid to take any chances!! THIS IS WHERE WE NEED TO CHANGE!! TAKE A CHANCE!!
Joan took her first chance of MANY and decided to visit an island occupied by the native seals. She observed their behavior and decided to jump right in and swim with these amazing creatures! She admired how they were the masters of play with their lack of constraint, just going with the flow and accepting her as one of their own. This allowed her to reflect on her own life experiences.
She wrote about growing up in the sixties and seventies when domestication seemed to force women into an unnatural state. Admittedly, she went along to playing house, creating the role of a wife and mother with a virtuous endeavor. Seeking to be the perfect nurturer; making sure to be readily available to greet her husband when he came home from work.
How many of us were raised in a household like this?
I personally remember my mother being exactly like this, but wondering as a young girl why she was never happy?
The primary lesson here is to retrieve the buried parts of who you are, like the qualities of playfulness, vulnerability, and trusting your own instincts which become the pathway to having healthy relationships with ourselves and others.
Remember, everyone drifts off course, but we have NO choice but to find our way back with the inner strength we all possess.
Doesn’t change occur when we STOP living the expected life? How could one partner, no matter HOW remarkable, be everything to the other? It is impossible!
We need to understand that it is our responsibility to change, to strive toward the life we want, and it is our job to make it happen! NO ONE BUT YOU!
Most of us have been told what YOU should want, but it a far cry from what you really desire. There are some things I have learned I NO longer want which are:
- Making life pleasant for others while forgoing my happiness;
- Dealing with others’ bad moods, stony silences;
- Stop wondering if the mood of someone else has anything to do with me while my own spontaneity is questioned?
What do I want?
More authentic conversations and less pointless chitchat, laughter over being fake, and a mindset of being able to wait instead of manipulate or direct. I want to keep my dignity without having a motive.
We need to look at human beings we are closest to as holy and treat them with the same sense of respect.
We can try to look deeper into their hearts, as the human being behind the roles they play, seeing them apart from their mortal agendas and permit a sort of genuineness seeing their spirit being present instead.
These things don’t take money or power, just a little attitude change.
A good example of this was when Joan and her husband were discussing their marriage, and he commented on it being “bad.” She reminded him it was their relationship that “soured”, but their marriage was a success.
Joan thought they accomplished great things as a team; raising two wonderful sons, touching the lives of others, and how good they were together while taking care of their aging parents.
She also reflected back as a young bride who sent letters to her parents filled with lies wanting to convince them and herself that she was happy. She came to the realization that she needed to be more honest with herself and her children by allowing them to be who they are not the perfect image she had wanted them to be!
A good question to ask yourself: “Does role-playing and trying to be perfect get you what you want, or does it just cause a sense of loneliness?”
One snowy day Joan decided to look at old pictures and as she was gazing at her life on her living room floor, she saw a little girl who changed from being secure and full of wonder to being tense and fearful trying to keep herself together.
She noticed through the pictures how she fit in and survived by being what those around her wanted her to be, leaving the real Joan by the wayside with permanent scars of her self-confidence. She wanted to grab this girl by the hand and make up for lost time, or at least honor her determination and stubbornness—attributes that she was displaying in the pictures.
“Surely I am lost enough to find myself,” became her mantra from a Robert Frost poem!
Carl Jung, the famous psychotherapist said, “Many of us would just as soon have our choices made for us, but the heroine decides her destiny.”
Ironically during her time on Cape Cod, she met Joan Erickson the wife of the late famed psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who became a very dear friend. Joan mentors her through some difficult realizations about what it is like to be a woman. She told Joan she left Cambridge behind to deal with her husband’s illness without interference from others and even though she was criticized she knew it is exactly where she needed to be.
She encouraged Joan by telling her she made a good choice—not hiding under the covers like so many wives do, sniveling, afraid of losing their security.
So many women believe that love is a feeling of being dependent.
She told her people develop in aloneness and are only led to the truth after being disillusioned.
Every woman should have a mentor—not her mother but someone who doesn’t have a stake in how she turns out, who encourages her to risk, and who picks her up when she falls flat on her face. A mentor who prods, pokes, and coaxes her each time they are together, to get out and gather life experiences!
On one of their adventures on the beach, Joan notices a cluster of shells wilting on the drying sand, clinging to one another. She was struck by the stench that comes from clinging and holding on when it might be better to let go.
How many people have you clung to or let cling to you after it ceased to be a healthy thing to do?
“Vital lives are about action,” Joan Erikson said, and “You can’t feel warmth unless you create it, can’t feel delighted unless you play, can’t know serendipity unless you risk.”
We need to spend time alone to unlearn all the rules, conditions, and goals that were set by someone else. Be mature enough to recover yourself and the person you were born to be. How we are all changing is irrelevant, the fact that we are all striving toward unknown ends is what is so amazing!
Ralph Emerson wrote: “Successful people live well, laugh often, and love much. They’ve filled a niche and accomplished tasks so as to leave the world better than they found it while looking for the best in others and giving the best they have.”
Joan’s journey and her tenaciousness to overcome fear, anxiety, and judgment to rediscover herself were life-changing.
By reflecting on simple things like trying to be soft, not hard; fluid, not rigid; tender, not cold; find rather than seek, we all can change!
There is no substitute for experience—we all need to just get out there and do it! I think real growing begins after we’ve done the adult things we’re supposed to do; like working, raising a family, and doing community activities; all this keeps us from our real selves, the person we leave behind.
We are never finished; remember we are as unfinished as the shoreline on the beach; it is now your turn to continue to transcend yourself until you take your last breath.
I LOVE going to the beach, and one of my favorite things is to collect rocks! I joined a “Rock Group” and plan on purchasing my first rock tumbler to show off my collection!
I have decided to DO something that brings me joy!
What is one thing you could try today to do something that would bring a smile across your face?
Maria Bucci, M.Ed LPC DWC-F. Daring Way Facilitator by Dr. Brené Brown