In our culture, we are taught that certain things happen at certain ages – you get your driver’s license at 16, retire at 65. This idea also extends to certain decades. The 20s are geared to finishing up college, starting a career, and securing a spouse. If the spouse doesn’t materialize in the 20s, surely marriage and children should occur early in the following decade. If not, you could end up single forever, growing old alone, unless of course, you count your pets. This is just the way life is “supposed” to unfold–the “normal” life trajectory.
This idea of what should happen by certain ages causes a tremendous amount of undue stress, turmoil and strife for many women who have struggled with an addiction, eating disorder or mental illness. They feel that they have “lost time” due to spending years in their illness that might have been spent otherwise. What’s more, these women believe they will never be able to make up the lost time; they have fallen off track with little hope of ever catching up or getting back into the stream of life. They tell themselves they will never get married or have a family because “the time” for that has passed.
I know how these women feel because I spent many years in early recovery living with those beliefs.
Even though I followed the career script by completing college, medical school and residency in my 20s, I departed from the social plan in the grips of a full-blown eating disorder and alcoholism that would take me years to recover from. The latter half of my third decade of life was dedicated to searching for and finally finding sustainable recovery.
By my mid-30s I became aware of something my diseases robbed from me: I had not found a mate nor started a family. I thought my only option was to accept it, grieve the loss, buy a dog and go on. Because, of course, there is only ONE decade when people can get married…and have babies, right? That was my distorted belief, and many women think likewise. I see them in recovery meetings, in professional circles, and in groups at TK. Their misery, though very real, is misguided. There is a real absurdity about our culture’s timetable. It does not take into account the unique plan that a loving God, or higher power, has for each and every one of our lives.
I remember when I was afraid to hope, to live life fully, to go after what I wanted, to trust it would be there for me, too. To actually dare to believe that God is kind and merciful, that even in my late 30s I had plenty of time to make up for lost time.
So I took a chance … followed my heart. I got married to someone I love on a soul level. Together, we are having a baby.
Just as I hope for women to discard the world’s adoration of unrealistic thinness and beauty, I hope for them to disregard artificial timetables. I have lived long enough to see women meet and marry the “love of their life” at every age, and have the family they always wanted, or elect not to. I have seen talented women launch successful careers, in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Life is dynamic and full of possibilities; it rarely runs according to a societal dictate.
In my life, things may still go terribly wrong at some point; that’s a risk we all take when we are in the game. Even if it does, I will be grateful for everything: the journey … the experience … for living.