The Road Less Travelled
Author: Esther Moore
Changing course from victim to a victor
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
It’s now been over a year since I was first told at 26 my body was fighting cancer. It’s been (unbelievably) three years since we were first told our beautiful son has Down Syndrome. It’s hard to believe that it was over three years ago that I first released my debut album at seven months pregnant, blissfully ignorant of what was ahead. Life looks so different now than it did then. So much has changed, both in our circumstances and in ourselves – yet I believe we are now better people for going through it all. I’d even go as far as to say that unexpectedly, we now have better, fuller, richer lives than we ever would have had before.
It’s a strange feeling, this. I’m away at a treatment center in Germany, my third time here since spending a month here in the winter getting treatment for my health. And it feels as if I left home to come here the first time as one person and came back as someone else. The difference between the person that I am now compared the to the person I was when I was first told the diagnosis is hard to believe.
So much has changed these last few months. When I first arrived at the treatment center, I was consumed with my body battling cancer. I was still reeling from the appointment with my oncologist where she told me that my future, from a conventional medical perspective, looked grim. After running my details through the industry standard statistics tool, she said that because of the type of cancer and my circumstances, there was only a small percentage of a chance that conventional treatment would even work to prolong my life - let alone save it. As hard as it was to hear this, it gave me the final push I needed to look at other options. I finally made the heart-rending decision to leave my family to go away to this treatment center I had been recommended and went on to stay for four weeks.
When I arrived I was pale, drawn and resigned to an uncertain future. I had subconsciously fallen into a zombie-like state of existence; one where I was exhausted, drained and had no energy or will to fight. After years of one hard thing after another, I had all but given up and was sleepwalking through life in survival mode.
But after going away and getting even more physical, mental, spiritual and emotional detoxing than I thought possible, something has now woken up inside me. I now feel more alive, awake and full of fight than I have in years.
As hard as it was being away from my family for a month for my health, I honestly feel that it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. It was so, so good for us. Both Will, my husband, and I had experiences when he and our boy came to visit me here that changed us to the core. We feel like the part inside us that had coped by going into a comatose state has finally woken up. It feels like the haze has been lifted off and we can see clearly again for the first time in over a year. I feel ALIVE. I feel free, like a huge weight has been taken off. I feel like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, who had spent her life living in a world of black and white until she woke up into a world exploding with colors and light.
I’ve realized that there’s a part of me that had subconsciously lived the first year after the diagnosis as a victim – not necessarily in feeling sorry for myself or wallowing in self-pity (our boy made sure we weren’t able to do that!), but in just feeling too exhausted to fight. To echo the words of Dr Larry Crabb, I had been in a desert so long that all I was able to see was burning sand stretching out to the horizon. My thirst had nearly given way to resignation, which I tried to call trust. I had all but given up from exhaustion. But it is so true that many times, it’s not until we stop trying to find water in our own strength that we find a spring.
This time away has been my spring. It has been a time of awakening, a time of new beginnings, of doing away with unhealthy mind-sets and thought patterns, a time of coming alive again. It has been a time of journeying from trying to survive each day and accepting whatever would come, living under this subtle victim mentality, to living fully alive and victoriously in every area of my life.
It’s still a journey and definitely hasn’t been easy to get to that place, let alone stay in it. I think it’s probably similar to what Frost was referring to when he talked about the road less traveled by: the hard narrow road of living fully alive and free compared to the relatively easy, wide-paved road of convenience and passivity.
The problem with living the easy way is that we usually end up living in a comatose state of existence. Our lives become a monotony of either endless self-destructive cycles or else a sheltered, closed-off life of survival. We can try to fill the void with working harder, partying harder or different forms of escapism, but let’s be honest – nothing really satisfies in the end. How do we get out of this rut of self-preservation and begin to really start living fully alive and free?
From what we’ve been through these last few years, I believe we all – and our culture as a whole – need a massive paradigm shift. Most of us grow up in a world where all our needs are met instantly, where we’ve been lulled into a false sense of entitlement that affects everything: our jobs, our relationships, our sense of wellbeing and happiness. We’re used to getting what we want, when we want it, and expect life to follow our plan without any exceptions.
But what happens when, as most often is the case, life doesn’t go according to plan? When our career either suffers a devastating blow or just fizzles into soul-destroying monotony and boredom? When our relationships begin to fall apart and lose any life? When we hear an unexpected doctor’s diagnosis that causes our worlds to stop turning and our lives to spiral violently out of control?
The normal response, and what our response was when some of this happened to us, was to ask why and rant and rave at the injustice of it all. We try to shift the blame and come up with excuses and reasons of why we deserve a better life than the one we’ve been given.
It wasn’t until we stopped and changed our perspectives that our lives started to shift. We intentionally stopped living as victims and started living as victors. And by doing this we went from being in a survival state of mind and constant crisis management mode to finally feeling alive, well and free. It was liberating. It was empowering. It feels like I’m finally finding what I had spent years searching for: abundant life.
Staying in that place has been more challenging. This subtle victim mentality is so deeply ingrained in most of us that it takes being intentional and making a conscious decision every day to break out of it and stay out of it. There are subconscious thought patterns that most of us live oblivious to that have crept in over the years. A culture of blame-shifting, not owning our mistakes and responsibilities and reacting rather than responding are only a few thought patterns that can keep us tied down to a victim mindset. I find I still need to intentionally choose to think and act differently all the time. It’s worth it though, because these thought patterns, if left unchecked, often end up sabotaging our lives and relationships and keep us from ever reaching a state of fulfillment and completion in our lives.
I believe the opposite is also true though: if we commit to consciously breaking these thought patterns and changing our perspectives to stay in a victorious mindset rather than a victim mentality, it can be possible to live a fulfilling, joy-filled and beautiful life despite the hardest of circumstances.
There is a powerful quote by a Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who puts it like this:
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."
The theme of our lives these last few years has been a journey of learning what it means to change ourselves - to rise above hard circumstances to live fully alive. I’ve learned it means choosing to dwell fully in the present, to learn and move on from the past and keep lifting my head up above the chaos of the moment to look ahead toward the future. It means this:
We can’t always control our circumstances — but we can keep them from controlling us.
Living in freedom means not making excuses for our failures, but taking ownership over our lives to bring lasting change. It means refusing to carry the weight of the world and every decision on our shoulders, knowing the pressure is off. It means intentionally choosing the road less traveled by every day. And, I believe, it means knowing that no matter our circumstances – freedom, life and life to the full has already been won for us. It’s up to us; all we have to do is take it.