When our daughter’s heart failed *after* her open-heart surgery, we were thrust into complete + absolute uncertainty.
I thought the seven hours of her open-heart surgery were brutal. (They were.) The waiting. The not-knowing. The holding our breath every time the nurse would walk by.
The surrendering + letting go.
And then, her heart failed. Twice.
She spent seven days on the highest level of life support possible. Her meds maxed out. There were no additional interventions that would keep her alive; and getting on the transplant list was no guarantee.
Those seven days were the most brutal of my life. The pain of uncertainty, unbearable.
On day six, we were told that the machines keeping her alive weren’t a permanent solution. And so, we were introduced to the End of Life Care Team. Any parent’s worst nightmare.
Day six was also the day they’d trial her off. Weaning her supports to see if her heart was strong enough to work on its own.
It wasn’t, yet.
And we were running out of time.
I don’t know how I got home that night to nurse her twin sister, both of them just 12 months old. I do remember exploding with rage and then collapsing onto the floor in my parents’ kitchen. A sobbing, exhausted, depleted, angry, devastated mess.
Completely broken open.
All the charts I had made. All the plans I mapped out. The dreams I dreamt. The life I had envisioned.
I simply could not imagine taking one more step.
I wanted to run away. I wanted to wake up from the living hell I was in. I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to switch places with my baby girl.
The pain of uncertainty, absolutely unbearable.
With the help of a power greater than me, and my mothers hand - I managed to stand up. Literally and figuratively.
After I tucked Jade in for the night, I stood and stared at the two cribs. One of them empty. Not-knowing what our future held.
It was in this moment I felt a familiar comfort wash over me. Almost as if I’d been there before. In this moment of not-knowing. If I could take one more step.
The feeling of absolute surrender.
(surrender is not giving up; surrender is TRUST)
I remember sending a text to the club coach who helped me earn a spot on the Olympic team.
For all those sets and all those moments,
when I thought I couldn’t possibly go any further,
when I doubted my strength to carry on,
when the struggle seemed too big to surmount,
all those moments of not-knowing how things would turn out,
All those moments of TRUSTING had been preparing me for this one:
The most brutal of my life.
I knew in the deepest parts of me that I was stronger than I could imagine.
I knew in the deepest parts of me that the very moment when I thought I simply could not tolerate any more pain, I could and would find a way to move through it...
By tapping into a power greater than me.
By asking for and accepting help.
By turning toward gratitude.
By choosing compassion.
By letting go + letting go + letting go.
By learning how to BE in this space of uncertainty. As unbearable as it is.
I knew in the deepest parts of me, that I was capable of doing hard things.
Because, I had done hard things.
I’ve been doing hard things my whole life.
(and so have you)
I slowly, delicately put one foot in front of the other.
Surrendering + letting go of things I could not control.
Mia’s heart turned the corner on day seven.
And three days later, on the day the Patriots pulled out a come-from-behind win that felt bigger than just an ordinary Sunday Night Football game, Mia’s heart took another small step forward.
It’s been a long journey of healing. She’s still a medically complex child. Her heart quite a mystery. Her recovery miraculous.
And with that, I’ve learned how to harness the skill set I honed get to the top of the podium- one that required an enormous tolerance of uncertainty - to ride the waves of not-knowing.
I am not saying that driving toward our dreams is the same experience as nearly losing a child. It’s not.
I am saying there’s a new level of living in learning how to let go.
In learning how to stay in our lane. In learning how to come back to the present moment. In learning how to trust. And, in learning how to release the need to know.
Daily, I find my way back to gratitude. No matter how dark the day or how hard the struggle or how overwhelming the anxiety, there is always something to be grateful for.
Gratitude elevates, bringing light into the darkest spaces.
Even when I couldn’t see how the path would unfold (can we ever?), I took comfort in knowing that somehow we would all be OK. That somehow, someway, we would work our way through this. Regardless of outcome.
Because, really, what was the alternative?
Certainty of outcome is an illusion.
There are no guarantees, not when it comes to this life we’ve been given.
And that drives our human minds wild because our brains seek patterns + order + structure; they’ve evolved to protect us from pain. Even emotional pain.
The not-knowing + what-if’ing is anxiety-inducing.
And, it’s OK to feel anxious.
It’s a human emotion.
It’s not OK for the anxiety to hop in the driver’s seat + stop us from living our lives.
We might not be able to control when we get hit with waves of big emotion.
We can control how we respond.
We get to choose where we put our attention.
We can learn how to anchor into the present moment; to let go of forward looping; to take ownership of the things we can control, while releasing the things we cannot.
For ourselves - and our kids.
(and sometimes, we need help figuring out how)
It takes time. And. It’s not work we need to do alone.
Hard work? YES.
And, we can do hard things. Especially this kind.
”You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
- A. A. Milne Christopher Robin
I’d love for you to join me in the I AM Challenge. It’s an adapted version of one of the first exercises I did with Greg Harden post-Olympics when I was navigating the darkness - wondering who I was in the world. Who I was supposed to be.
It’s a a free, five day journey of reflection, exploration and expansion to cultivate greater clarity, compassion and confidence. You’ll get an email a day - with a short video clip + challenge from me.
Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, high-performance consultant, mental performance coach, speaker, educator and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC., and two, multi-module online courses, the Rise Free Academy and Ride the Wave: A Bootcamp to Strengthen Our Emotional Agility — inspiring, empowering and equipping athletes, coaches and female leaders with the skills they need to become more mindful, courageous, resilient leaders.
In addition to private and group coaching, Samantha consults with teams and organizations on athlete wellness initiatives, leadership, strategic planning, rising skills and developing high-performance cultures. She is a certified instructor of Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE) and as of September 1, 2019 will be an certified instructor of Mental Health First Aid.
Take the five day I AM CHALLENGE and join Samantha’s private community space to link arms, connect + participate in her free challenges.
Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. To learn more about her offerings, go over to www.samanthalivingstone.com