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"If you knew that you would die today

If you saw the face of God and love

Would you change?"

I’ve spent the better part of three years trying to go back to what was. When all seemed lost, I kept looking. I strained to hear that little voice inside that said, “Be patient, it will all come back.”

I hoped for nothing else. Just to go right back to being me.

So I squashed the other and louder voice that said, “This will ultimately change you.”

Go back to being me. I know me. Stay focused. Stay the course.

"When you're down so low you cannot fall

Would you change?"

I hoped and I hoped. I prayed. I wished. Some efforts big, some little. I continued to wait on all the familiar sights and sounds of me. The woman in the mirror I recognized. The strong voice I had heard before.

Through various ways and tasks, I prepared for the return of Jackie. The return to the life I knew. Far more than a return to the old look and ways. My belonging. My identity. My role in the world. I kept trying to work towards what was. Just go back. Don’t change.

A vow: I can’t let the loss of my career destroy me. I’ll mimic it. I’ll be the same, just in a different way. I won’t change.

The changes just kept coming. Life kept marching away from point A. Time ticked. With each minute and day, further from the way it was. The new normal is a stupid phrase. I just want normal. I lived normal.

May 26, 2020 – May 26, 2021 happened.

"How bad, how good does it need to get?

How many losses how much regret?"

I was completely broken open. The last bit of me that remained, the woman who clung to her old life with bare white knuckles and bitter intensity, finally died, so she could rise again.

I went through my own Phoenix process. All was burned to the ground, so I could sift through the ashes of what was to come. From the burn, regrowth. From the old, a new. Some pieces could stay, but many had to go. I sorted through the flames.

"What chain reaction

What cause and effect?"

It was a daunting year in my recovery. But I’m slowly starting to see how it’s all coming together.

"Makes you turn around

Makes you try to explain"

Day after day, I tried not to let life break me. Complete isolation, school at home, an infant, a scary virus for a person with a scary immune system, my exhausting health and mind. Every day was an eternal bleak Monday. I repeated in my journal, “I’m at breaking point.”

Just keep swimming.

"Makes you forgive and forget

Makes you change

Makes you change"

Life finally broke me. But it was what I needed. It was the elixir to heal this wound and truly move forward. To walk away from the crash and let the embers cool. It was destiny for the process to be complete by May 26, 2021.

The third anniversary. The day of doom turned the day of cheer.

My tired fingers were pried away from that last grasp. The last part that vowed not to change.

The final stretch from March on, became the worst. The last bits of me went into the fire. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, triggers, flashbacks. A true fear and feeling of relapse. An admission to all of it. It has been dreadful, but I’m starting to see the good, the new, the beautiful emerge from the rubble.

As my fire grew, so did my spirit. And my clarity.

"If you knew that you would find a truth

That brings a pain that can't be soothed

Would you change?"

A friend once told me that it is as if my whole life was set up for now, for this. To speak, to write, to share. I didn't see it then.

The clouds parted. Message delivered. God and I even made a pact: I'm still here. Still standing. I have to be around for a long time. And with this life, I have to give selflessly to my family, and to the world. I have to thank, welcome, push, focus, and inspire. I have to be.

"Are you so sure you won't be crawling

If not for the good why risk falling

Why risk falling?"

I have this purpose that's so convoluted, I can't explain it. I see life's colors flash and turn at me like a kaleidoscope. But I know what it is. I feel it. I see it now. The reds, the pinks, the blues, the white. The bright sun.

I live as if my whole life was set up for right now. Everything happened for a reason. Share yourself. Keep the faith.

I see the face of God and love every day. In my AE baby. In my healing body and mind. I see God all around me in nature like never before.

I see a God who has walked with me day in and out, and who won't forsake me. When I pray, I thank God for the gentle footsteps beside me.

I text a friend in the UK. My circle of friends didn't vanish, it widened.

I cannot go any lower. I saw the worst. Yes, it was scary. But I rose. I felt myself all coming back together, piece by piece, day by long day.

I saw some pictures of myself from 2018. Serpents didn't come from my ears. I needed to see myself from those moments, to be reminded of my transformations. The worst is past and life isn't the same. Life is new now. The old is a vision. A vision of the past.

"If everything you think you know

Makes your life unbearable

Would you change?"

I have let go of what was supposed to be. Of expectations. I have become exactly who I want to be. The person I need me to be.

I don't get a new normal. I don't want a new normal. I just have a life now. All that is.

Forgiveness is hard. I'm not perfect. Nor are the people around me. Maybe they can't change. I have to accept what is, and all that was. So much burned in the fire. The good rose.

As I kept swimming against the current, I saw everyone around me traveling life in their own way. Everyone can only do their best. Maybe it's not always perfect. But the love can come in me.

Every time I see my husband along with those three little faces off in the distance, I stop and say, "That's my whole world." Every time. It is.

No more long stories. No more explanations. "What do you do?" What the spirit moves me to do on a particular day. "Who are you?" I know that. Sean knows that. My family and dear friends know that. God knows. Just smile.

"Jackie we love your story." I'll tell it only if I wish. Only if it needs to be heard. That story isn't all of me. Some of it burned.

I have never been happier about my body. It has given me so much. It accepted every challenge. It stayed with me when I wasn't always nice. It walks, moves, and carries me each day. It kept swimming.

My mind. It has given me a memoir. It kept a vibrant personality. It cares.

Chocolate never hurt anyone. I'll have more. A bike ride today, yes, because I want to. Rest a lot, because I need it. The mirror, just fine, I'm proud of what looks back at me.

"If you'd broken every rule and vow

And hard times come to bring you down

Would you change?"

I'll always remember, but I'm gone from there. I won't go back. There's no life to go back to.

I have here and I have now. I have me.

I no longer pray to go back to the way that was.

I'm happy with what is.

I have changed.


Change by Tracy Chapman; Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser

*Author's note: I have changed so much, that I finally did something I didn't think I'd ever do, but have been plotting since August, 2018. The "Just Keep Swimming" tattoo.

Thanks again to all of my friends, family, and supporters all over the world who keep reading my work, listening to the Brain Fever podcast, and writing me notes to share your stories. I continue on this journey with hope and a smile, because of you.

Go be the change you want to see in the world! Stay #StebbinsStrong and just keep swimming!


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