struggle | breakdown to breakthrough in Montreal

Within every experience of struggle, there lies opportunity.

Before each new beginning, there’s a combustion point. A point where you suddenly find the motivation to embrace change and step out into the unknown. A point where you take your first step away from who you’ve been, towards who you are about to become. In my experience, two elements must collide in order for this transformation to take place. Struggle, and acceptance.

If you are brave enough to endure struggle, to sit within its discomfort, what you are searching for will find you.

I wrote the majority of this post while visiting Montreal a few months ago, coming off of a deeply challenging event in my life. While it was uncomfortable as hell, I knew I had an incredible opportunity on my hands. I knew that this intense struggle would bring so many unresolved challenges to the surface that had been buried deep at some other point in my life, like a shipwreck having surfaced from the bottom of the sea. I had a choice: I could turn away until it resumed its place or I could could seize the opportunity and take hold while it was still buoyant. I could climb on board and explore it until it became renewed by my acceptance and would then melt into the ocean, free of the weight that denial and rejection had previously placed on it.

Without further ado, let me take you back to October ...

Wow, what a week it’s been. I had ideas of arriving in Montreal and being carried away by a wave of inspiration and bliss. I thought I’d feel an immediate connection to this city which would then provide me with the perfect escape route. Who knows, I thought, within a few weeks I could have a new life and a newfound purpose. Apparently the Universe had other plans.

Despite my best hopes, the city did not open its doors graciously to me. Within a single day I was hit hard with the sensation that I didn't belong. While en route to dinner this thought weighed so heavily on my heart that tears began falling down my face. A typical Cancer, emotions have never gone unnoticed in my life. And they have no regard for timing or appropriateness of circumstance. Here I was, at this high end restaurant on a Saturday night, with tears rolling down my face like a leaking faucet. Try as I might, the emotions had found their way to the surface and now the only option I had was to ride it out. Our server was doing laps, waiting for me to stop. Sorry man, if only I could. We decided that he must have thought my friend was breaking up with me. We laughed, while I cried.

I spent the following week in Montreal on my own. It was necessary, sure. But it wasn't necessarily pleasant. Unforgiving at times, the city helped me dig up the emotions that had been hiding just beneath the surface while in the safety of familiarity. I felt confused, lost, at times hopeless. I was searching desperately for purpose, direction, clarity. Racking my brain for the answers while desperately working to track the beat of my heart.

I felt like I'd been running in circles without making progress towards anything meaningful. I found myself wondering if I'd ever feel content or if I’d spend my whole life searching, never finding true satisfaction.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.
— Winston Churchill

One morning I reached out to my friend Emily who shared her eloquent thoughts on struggle:

It does seem odd, but sometimes really feeling something and living in it is the best way to get through it. Those who shy away from change, challenge, pain may have lighter loads, but they also miss out on the strengthening of the soul that happens when you brave through something hard.
If you will, take a new perspective on the colloquial phrase "the struggle is real" - these days it's used to describe seemingly mundane first world problems. But the way I see it, it means that those who really experience true struggle, internally, physically, emotionally ... they are the most real people you will ever know. 

Following that conversation, I softened. I allowed myself to feel how I felt. I acknowledged myself for being brave enough to face these heavy and at times overwhelming emotions. Embracing them as part of me, letting go of my resistance to them. And while they didn't immediately dissipate, they were met with a sense of acceptance and relief. 

I ventured out, stopping in at a little cafe I had passed a few days prior. From the outside it had less appeal than the countless trendy cafes I had intended to visit. It was there that I found the comfort and care that had been lacking for me in Montreal. The server was kind and generous. I wasn't at my best and yet I felt safe and cared for in his presence. The food was nourishing and the atmosphere was comfortable. This scene was so clearly a reflection of the shift of my inner landscape.

I stopped forcing the experience I thought I ought to be having and allowed the one I needed to find me.

I met with my friend's mom in the afternoon at the Musée des Beaux Arts. I shared with her the self destructive dialogue I had been caught up in for days. One thing she said really stuck with me: When you fall in love with yourself, that dialogue falls away. I have been on a self love journey for years, but this is the first time I'd heard it coined that way. What a beautiful concept, to fall in love with yourself. We talked about how many of us strive for the things we don't yet have, without owning and appreciating our own reality, how when you bravely step upon your path, the universe reaches out its hand to you in ways which you’d never imagined. And how I’ve found myself at a magnificent, hilltop jumping-off point. I'm sucker for those.

I left Montreal the next day for Ottawa, and treated myself to a week of great company in a city that by comparison makes up in character what it lacks in allure. I focused on loving and caring for myself and accepting my reality until I began to feel the quiet stirrings of possibility. I made my way home to Vancouver, ready to begin.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
— John Lennon

I’m suggesting that the next time you find yourself faced with struggle, try letting go of the resistance. Allow yourself to feel and accept every dark and stormy part of yourself as of equal value as the bright and charming. Fall madly in love with the person you are and make no apologies. Be true to yourself and your desires - you are making progress even when it feels like you're spinning in circles. Tune in, take care of yourself, and when you need help, ask for it.

Choose to embrace struggle as the agent of change - the bridge to your new beginning.

♡ Jen

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