What I’d Tell 2012 Charis

fear grief growth my story simplicity Dec 12, 2022
Charis Santillie in 2012 deep in thought
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🎧 👉 Prefer audio? You can also listen to me share about this in podcast episode #032 here.

A few weeks ago, I hosted a monthly Masterclass for my Busy to Balanced program members. And since this one was in December, I had them do some reflection exercises to wrap up the year, as well as some planning exercises for 2023 that I find to be much more supportive and empowering than creating New Year’s resolutions. I was thrilled to receive a voice memo from of my members saying that "the class was outstanding!"

For one of the reflection exercises, I asked them to reflect back ten years ago to 2012.

I find it’s much easier to notice the big shifts in your life when you look at bigger spans of time.

2012 happened to be a very pivotal year for me, so I thought I’d take some time today to share more about that year with you.

In my podcast show intro, I mention a point when I finally went on a quest for my best life. Well, 2012 is the year I embarked on that quest. I love the word "quest," and I use it now as I look back over the past ten years, yet when I first really got into the thick of this part of my journey, I didn’t think of it as a quest, and it certainly didn’t feel exciting or adventurous.

For a long time, it felt like I was slogging through mud, and at moments, it felt like I was in quicksand, sinking deeper and deeper into the murky depths of my life.

By 2012, I had done 15 years of therapy that had helped me immensely in the aftermath of my family’s hot air balloon accident, but there were a lot of other kinds of personal healing work I had yet to explore, and that, quite honestly, I didn’t even know existed until they started cropping up along my path.

At the beginning of 2012, I completed the development of a new software product through a marketing company I had founded. The product was a digital marketing display for orthodontists to use on TV screens in their reception areas. My husband is an orthodontist, and I had been doing marketing for orthodontists for over ten years at that point. The launch of this product was hugely successful. We debuted it at an industry trade show, and we were the buzz of the show. Seeing all the hard work pay off was super exciting and truly gratifying.

Yet, those feelings didn’t last for long.

The truth is that these external accomplishments don’t bring lasting inner satisfaction.

But I didn’t really understand that at the time. I remember being in a funk and not knowing why. At the time, I chalked it up to a sort of post-partum depression—although I didn’t have children, I imagined that maybe that might be similar to how I felt since I’d just birthed a product.

Then a friend and colleague invited me to join her at a business event that was outside my niche—it was set up to support entrepreneurs in all types of industries.

A few days into the event, we were networking with some people out on the balcony outside the main foyer, and at some point, I ended up sharing the story of my family’s hot air balloon accident with someone I’d just met. His name was Paul, which serendipitously is also my Dad’s name. And after hearing our story, Paul could clearly understand why my Dad had been paralyzed for nearly 20 years...

But then he asked me, “Charis, why are YOU paralyzed?”

This question totally cracked me open. The tears flowed, and I really didn’t know what to say. I don’t even remember the end of the conversation. I do remember walking slowly—almost as if I was in a trance—to my room and crawling into bed.

I was really slow to get around the next morning. And I remember details of that day like few others.

It was like things were in slow motion.

I remember exactly how I did my hair—I wore it down with soft curls. I think I wanted the softness around my face to sort of soothe me. I remember what clothes I chose; a comfortable cowl-neck top with a magenta, white, and black paisley pattern, and a long-sleeved soft black sweater that tied at the waist, with my favorite black slacks. I remember walking down the hall from my room toward the conference rooms and someone saying hi to me and asking if I saw the keynote speaker that morning. I said no, I had missed it. This guy was so amped up and said she was incredible and had a powerful story about her family.

Later that day, when I was in the foyer during break time, I remember seeing that morning’s speaker, Rhonda Britten, across the room and b-lining straight toward her. I briefly introduced myself to her and then said that I’d missed her talk and that someone told me she had a family story I should hear. She proceeded to tell me how she was the sole witness to her parents’ murder-suicide when she was 14 years old, and now she was a life coach and the founder of Fearless Living. I didn’t really know what life coaching was or what Fearless Living was. What I saw in Rhonda was someone who had overcome serious trauma and found peace.

The prior night had cracked me open, and I suddenly felt some desperation around needing and wanting to feel better.

It was like I was totally exposed. I felt stuck and wanted to feel better. I asked how I could work with her, and I quickly became a private client.

At that time, I had no idea I’d be enrolling in her coach certification program seven years later to become a coach myself and that ten years later, I’d be sharing about this day on my own podcast. Heck, I didn’t even know what podcasting was ten years ago.

Back in 2012—there was another life-changing experience that year. Just six months later, I got a phone call from my Dad—he was really upset and could barely get his words out.

He tells me that my Mom, while heavily intoxicated, tried to load my Grandpa’s pistol in an attempt to commit suicide.

My Dad was the only person there with her at the time, and since he was paralyzed in a wheelchair, he wasn’t able to physically stop her. He was able to get to a phone and get someone there to stop her, but you can only imagine how completely terrifying this would be for anyone to witness, let alone if you were physically unable to stop the person. And it was terrifying for me to hear about it.

I jumped on the first flight out of California to my hometown in southeastern Washington state. By the time I arrived, Mom had been taken to a facility where she would be monitored for a few days as she detoxed. They agreed to release her to me when I suggested she come stay with me for a little while.

This was one of the scariest times of my life, second only to the hot air balloon accident.

I can only imagine what it was like for my father. I could barely function myself, so I didn’t have the capacity to comfort him in any way. I also had to stay at a friend’s house because it was in my parent’s guest room where Mom had tried to load the gun, and I couldn’t fathom sleeping in that room.

I remember making a ton of phone calls to both my therapist and my coach to help me navigate through this crisis. The best guidance I got at the time was simple because that’s often the best, isn’t it, especially when we are overwhelmed?

And those words of wisdom were to take one step at a time.

I flew my Mom and me, and her small dog back to my home in Northern California, and she stayed in our guest room for a few weeks. During that time, we had another scare when I had to call an ambulance and rush Mom to the hospital. It had something to do with a reaction she had to the meds they gave her to help her with detoxing.

I was able to get her into a rehab facility about an hour away from me. This was the second time I’d gotten her into rehab. She was very willing to go and stayed there for the full thirty days. Then I found a nearby sober living house where she could live with some other women in recovery for a few months and be able to have her dog with her.

I knew my Mom’s liver couldn’t handle her drinking anymore. She’d recently had four years where she was sober, and I’d flown to meet her a few times per year at a medical center in Seattle where they were monitoring her liver function. They were very clear that if she drank again, she’d be done with it.

So I was desperately trying to set her up for success by staying sober, and it was encouraged for people to not just go back to their current lives but instead to stay in a sober living environment for a few months to establish new habits after rehab.

My Mom gave the sober living house a try, but it was short-lived. Within a few weeks, she was convinced she was ready to go home and that she now had new skills and would be okay and not drink again. I was not convinced.

I was so scared and truly devastated because I knew this was the beginning of the end.

My gut and my heart knew that she would drink again soon, and her body couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t stand by and watch that happen. So I made an excruciatingly painful decision to distance myself from her. As hard as that was for me to do, I knew that I could not handle watching her drink herself to death. 

I relied on therapy, coaching, and Al-Anon meetings for the next seven months.

If you aren’t familiar with Al-Anon, it is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is for family members and friends of alcoholics. It follows the same twelve-step program and has regular meetings all over the place. I would go to a few meetings each week. I even got my own sponsor.

I found out that Mom did start drinking again, and it was only a matter of months before I got a call that her health was deteriorating. I reconnected with her and went for a visit while she was still able to walk.

Then a few months after that, I spent the last month of her life with her in hospice right before she passed away on Thanksgiving Day of 2013.

The time with her during that final month was really special and really one hell of an experience too. I’ll share more about that in a future post sometime.

So after sharing all of that with you—all the big, heavy stuff that showed up for me in 2012—I can’t help but need to take a deep breath and let out a big sigh.

While that was one of the most challenging years of my life, I can look back now and acknowledge myself for how I got through it. I can acknowledge myself for how that was the year I found a path for my own recovery and healing. And I can also look back and find the gifts and opportunities that came from the shitty moments.

If I could go back in a time machine...

And since I was an 80’s kid, I can’t help but picture jumping into the Delorean with Doc from Back to the Future—what would I tell my 2012 self as I was going through all of these big, heavy things?

You know what, I wouldn’t say anything much different than what was said to me by others that year. I don’t think I was ready for more. I was ready to take one step at a time as I started to scratch the surface of why I was emotionally paralyzed.

Right now, I can picture the 2022 me walking into the room as the 2012 me was spinning in circles—and stopping her, giving her a big hug, and telling her,

“You’re going to be ok. You’re going to be more than ok. You wouldn’t believe what is waiting for you in ten years. Just keep taking deep breaths and keep taking one step at a time.”

So now I invite you to look back at your life ten years ago and imagine what you’d say to that 2012 version of yourself.

And what would you love to hear from the 2032 version of you? How about you envision her walking over to you right now and giving you a big hug and telling you, “You’re going to be ok. You’re going to be more than ok. Just keep taking deep breaths and keep taking one step at a time.”

“10 years from now, make sure you can say that you chose your life; you didn’t settle for it.”

– Mandy Hale

🎧 👉 Prefer audio? You can also listen to me share about this in podcast episode #032 here.

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