Choose Your Own Adventure. Does anyone remember these books?

“You're The Star! 40 Thrilling Endings!

Will You Become Trapped In Time?

You are hiking in Snake Canyon when you find yourself lost in the strange, dimly lit Cave of Time.  Gradually you can make out two passageways. One curve downward to the right; the other leads upward to the left. It occurs to you that the one leading down may go to the past and the one leading up may go to the future. Which way will you choose?

If you take the left branch, turn to page 20.  If you take the right branch, turn to page 61. If you walk outside the cave, turn to page 21. Be careful! In the Cave of Time you might meet up with a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex, or be lured aboard an alien spaceship!

What happens next in the story? It all depends on the choices you make. How does the story end? Only you can find out! And the best part is that you can keep reading and rereading until you've had not one but many incredibly daring experiences!”

I think it was 5th grade when I found these books and I ate them up.  At first, I was a purist. I would sweat and ruminate on each possible path before I turned to the next page offered. I would not look at any of the other endings or look ahead. But then I started to become dissatisfied with some of my choices. Would the story have been more interesting to me if I had chosen to take the curve to the right instead of going upwards to the left? Wait, what’s better? To be taken by aliens or eaten by a dinosaur?  So I started cheating. I’d look a couple numbers ahead and if I liked the way the adventure seemed to be going I’d smugly read on. Then it got to the point that I was so concerned about having the best possible outcome that I would read all the actual endings I could find first and try and work my way through the book backwards. It was the ultimate self-deception that my ten year old brain could come up with. What did I think I was accomplishing by forcing the story to have the ending I wanted? I had taken all the fun out of the books so I stopped reading them. I would see them in the library and feel a secret sense of shame at my actions. Like, the books know you are a liar, Kirsten. Good grief.

I can look back on that and laugh now. I have compassion for my fifth grade self. I was struggling with building anxiety that seemed formless and never ending. I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way or how to make it stop and the book thing was just an off shoot of controlling behavior that would soon become my way of life. Not because I was a controlling person at heart, but because I was trying to manage my anxiety, albeit in a very unhealthy and non-productive manner.

You know, when you get married and start to settle in you think that you know what your life is going to look and feel like until it’s over, like you’ve read your book backwards. Sure, life will throw things your way that will take you by surprise, but you have your person and you know your general path and it brings you a sense of control and security. Turns out that that sense of control and security is an illusion that can be stripped away very quickly.

This is something that has happened to me twice. I occasionally take time to reflect on what my life has been like. I usually end up sitting there, shaking my head in disbelief. How is THIS my story?! Don’t worry, four years of therapy has helped me understand how it IS my story. But that’s a different blog post. Let’s just say that sometimes things enter your marriage that are so damaging that it is best not to continue that relationship.

I thought I had read to the end of the adventure first and I thought I knew the ending, but then I realized that the choices of someone else had changed my story. Heck, I wasn’t even in the same book anymore. The changes in my life and the lives of my children are too numerous to even list them. Many of the damage that has been done, the healing that has taken place are too heavy, or private, or sacred to talk about.  Often the magnitude of these changes becomes so overwhelming that I lose myself in the anxiety again. These are the times that I am desperately trying to read ahead and see if there is a good ending to my story. I fall back in to old patterns of trying to control outcomes. My heart fills with fear instead of hope. These are the bad times.

But there are always choices, even in the bad times. You can throw the book down and say you’ll never read again. You can try and choose a new book to read. You can try to write your own book; controlling every sentence, desperately trying to make your book turn out the way you think it should. Or, you can remind yourself what it was that made you want to start reading that book in the first place, take a deep breath, and start reading again. One page at a time, one decision at a time, trusting yourself and that the things you’ve learned will slowly lead you to new and interesting adventures.

One of the most important parts of my healing has been to try and cultivate the ability to turn what in the past I would have deemed negative into something positive. This is not some blind, empty positivity head spin. It is a conscious choice to reframe your life experiences; to look at challenges as opportunities instead of punishments. It is a vital and necessary thing to do to step out of victim mode, past survivor mode, and in to thriver mode.  So don’t take it wrong when I say that one of the most exciting things about divorce is that all of the sudden, your adventure opens up. Instead of having two or three possible endings, you’ve got infinite possibilities in front of you.

That being said, being a single mom is still dang hard. When I start to feel the old pressure building inside of me that I MUST know my ending right now, usually the universe, or God, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it, will send me a reminder to chill the heck out. This last week it was something I read in one of my churchs’ publications. (1) The author of the article stated that it was important to remember that that desires (and I would include in that word, wishes, goals, intents of the heart) can be examined, educated, and changed. This was an important reminder to me, as oftentimes I, as the adage goes, let what I want right now get in the way of what I want most.  Then the author said to remember to take time to “glory in the mystery that is your future”. I love that! Not just be glad the bad stuff is over, not just survive from day to day, not even just be cautiously hopeful, but to GLORY. Glory in the mystery! It has taken time to get to that place. Sometimes I leave that place and have to find my way back to it again. And that’s okay. Because now I know I can get there.

That’s the epitome of choose your own ending. I don’t know how my adventure will end. I mean, I have absolutely no idea! But what an awesome thing to get to be free to read one page at a time, to make one decision at a time, being me, free to find myself again, free to experience new things, new people, new relationships, free from the burden of knowing I was tied to an ending that was bringing depression and damage. And I don’t have to look back with shame. I’m not that fifth grader anymore. I can look at my past choices with compassion for myself. I can look at my ex-husbands choices with compassion for them. I can help my kids see how to do the same for themselves and their future. No one can control every element in their story. No one can control how others choose to act in their own stories. We can’t really even control the end of our story, but we can control how we feel  and what we do about it. Here’s to taking something like divorce and making it an adventure. The greatest Choose Your Own Adventure book ever written! And it will be written by me. One page at a time.

(1)Megan Armknecht, How to Face Uncertainty with Faith, Ensign, June 2017