I have an elderly aunt who, at age 84, with alzheimer’s disease barking at her heels, decided she’d had enough of her stubborn, controlling, and verbally abusive husband. She got a divorce and made a fresh start. At her age, a fresh start meant moving to a progressive care facility. Family and friends who’d endured 30 years of watching her life go by while holding her breath, said, “It’s about time!"
Your fresh start is uniquely your own. You may be putting a loss behind you. You may have finished raising kids and sent them on their way. You may have achieved a long-planned retirement. Or you may feel the need to stir the pot and change things up. Start with reflecting on what you already know about how you live each day.
- What’s that routine coffee drink you order every morning?
- How do you respond to people asking for money on the street?
- What’s that thing you always say to your spouse?
- What do you always listen to in the car?
- How do you always feel about to rush hour traffic?
- What’s your routine response to the question “how are you today?"
Noticing a routine doesn’t necessarily translate to changing it. Just reassess what still works for you and what doesn’t.
- Which routines contribute to your life.
- Which routines deplete you, or make you feel bad about yourself.
- Which routines are you choosing to keep?
- Which routines are you choosing to discard or change?
- Which routines are choosing to keep you?
That last question is a tough one, but an important one to consider if a fresh start always seems out of reach.
You may not know what to do with an activity, feeling, or response that seems to have you. But realizing that it’s there is actually doing something. When you recognize it, you’ve changed your relationship to it. You may feel discouraged when you notice it. But just noticing it is actually doing something with it. And each time you notice it, you’ve done something more with it. Stay with it. Talk to a friend about it. Give it a name like "Hop Along", “Alice”, or “Fred”. Make fun of it. All the while, notice how your feelings toward it change. Notice that by incorporating it, you’ve chosen it. And once you’ve chosen it, you’re in a better place to change it if you want to.
A fresh start can start with simple observations. Those observations may lead to bigger changes. But it’s in knowing the details that make up where you are right now, that you lay the foundation for bigger change.
Now that my aunt’s alzheimer’s disease is progressed, every day is a fresh start. While my sister and I visited her in the common room, a middle-aged man passed by to visit his father. A moment later my aunt asked if I remembered that nice young man we met. Confused at first, I racked my brain for someone from her youth. Then my sister chimed in, “Do you mean him?” pointing at the middle-aged man. And my aunt enjoyed seeing the nice young man all over again.
Fresh starts don’t have to be earth shattering. If your memory is working better than my aunt’s, you can build on those moment-to-moment fresh starts to grow toward bigger changes.