Build up to The Breaking

This is the second post in my series on vocation, marriage and work.

From my last post:

We had successes along the way, I'm very proud of our achievements and projects. And I don't regret the journey or the difficult things we went through because of what we've learned through the process. But we couldn't continue on the path we were because it was hurting our relationship, not helping it, not drawing us closer the way we intended.

The path we were on started breaking down for us on the trail and completely imploded late fall 2014. I call it The Breaking.

This series started in my drafts as a single post about understanding work and calling. One post grew pretty quick into two, and three, then four... because I had a lot to write, especially when it came to this point in the story. I need to explain The Breaking and how I'm learning to listen for the voice of vocation in the aftermath that experience.

The Breaking is part of my midlife crisis. It's the undercurrent behind almost everything I've written since fall 2014. I hadn't intended to tell this story in the context of vocation and work, but it's the story that has bubbled to the surface in many posts and has been told in bits and pieces, through direct and indirect means, over many months.

It's time to tell the whole story, the outline at least, to put it all together to explain why The Breaking came in the context it did: where we were living, what we were doing, and why our work was wrapped up in that.

In the spring of 2011 we moved to re-boot our life, we called it Life 3.0. We wanted to move so we could position ourselves better to work towards our goals and dreams. The chief reason for our move was to gain back our freedom but we were also making big changes in our lives at the same time, moving to a francophone province, living in the woods, becoming self-employed, having Damien work from home.

There was so much for our family to gain from this, but there were losses as well, and fear. There were many things I was anxious about in this move; still owning a home in Maine and having to manage it from afar, concerns about where we would live, and how Damien would build a self-employed income.

Even though we were leaving good things - a steady job, our own home, a community we knew - we both felt this was the right move for our family. That it provided the opportunity to better align our life with our dreams and our goals. I believed this, but I still had many doubts, insecurities and anxieties.

Sixes are the primary type in the Thinking Triad, meaning that they have the most trouble contacting their own inner guidance. As a result, they do not have confidence in their own minds and judgements. This does not mean they do not think. On the contrary, they think - and worry - a lot!
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

I'm not the type of person to make this kind of move on my own. It's crazy to think about "me on my own" because I'm not. I'm part of a team, a partner with Damien. Who Damien is influences me, and who I am greatly influences my husband. I'm not drawn to risk-taking ventures. My natural bent is to play it safe. If I'm going to take a risk I need a partner to help me.

Damien and I have taken many calculated risks in our married life. We had made a couple big moves already before Life 3.0. Maybe it was my age or the fact that our kids were getting older and life felt less "pick-up-and-move" portable like it had in our early years, maybe my preferences as a security-seeking person had finally started to catch up with me, maybe it was the fact that we were leaving things we didn't have in all those previous moves - our own home and a secure job. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was, but moving stirred up anxieties I hadn't experienced before, at least not to this degree. And how I "managed" those anxieties would prove to be detrimental to my well-being and our marriage.

I started to rely on Damien in unhealthy ways, seeking his reassurance, leaning on his confidence. "Is this going to be ok?" "Are we doing the right thing?" became a theme in my communication with him.

Because they do not feel they can trust their own inner guidance, Sixes often look for answers in ideas and insights first propounded by others. Sixes do not just jump on the bandwagon, however; they will subject these ideas to scrutiny and testing and eventually may replace them with yet other ideas. ... Either way, their natural response is first to look outside of themselves for something to believe, and if that fails, to react against it and look for something else. Doubt, questioning, believing, searching, skepticism, and resistance are always part of the picture.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

It's ok to seek the reassurance of our partners. And at various points in a marriage we need to rely on the other person to support us. And for those of us bent on finding and doing the "right" thing with our life (which is not everyone, not my husband for example), we may ask these questions often. My problem arose in that I was asking my husband these questions, and variations like them, on an increasing basis. When we made decisions I was an equal partner in those decisions but when I encountered my insecurities and anxieties I turned to Damien for support, over and over and over again.

Damien didn't feel insecure by our decisions, in many ways he felt enlivened and challenged. His fears are of a completely different sort. In fact, a lot what we were doing at this stage was in response to those fears, was a way of moving away from the realms in which his chief fears are manifest.

I couldn't have made the decision to leave Maine and embark on a self-employed path, which we both felt was the right thing to do at the time, without relying on Damien's confidence. I don't think that's wrong, or was a mistake. I think the purpose of marriage is to help each other. But relying on Damien's confidence became a theme in our relationship, and something unhealthy started to take root.

Average Sixes want to reinforce their support system, to strengthen their alliances and/or ther position with authorities. To that end, they invest most of their time and energy in the commitments they have made, hoping that their sacrifices will pay off in the increased security and mutual support.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

The move and embarking on self-employment was my first big security shaker. And the decision to move to Quebec, just added fuel to the fire of anxiety, that was just starting to burn low in my belly.

For reasons I've explained here, when we moved back to Canada we choose to live in Quebec. Quebec is part of Canada but is a different culture, with a unique history and different majority language from the rest of the country.

During my early childhood and late adolescence, in other words, my formative years, Quebec and Canada went through the upheaval of sovereignty/separation referendums. I grew up as a proud western Canadian, in a conservative political and familial culture which was mostly "happy to see you go" about the whole issue. For me, a person who values security, tradition, authority and loyalty, the Quebec fight for independence seemed less about self-determination and freedom, ideas I also value, and more of rejection of the beliefs I held dear and true.

Living in Quebec now for five years I know there is no clear resolution to this political tension, it is very complex issue; nor is there a unified "Quebec" position about these things. Quebec is a very diverse place and I am finding my own secure place, as an aspiring bilungiual but still very anglo-anglophone, former New England sojourner, from western Canada. Living in Montreal helps. So many people I know are from somewhere else and have stories like mine. I fit here.

Five years ago I was very excited to move to Quebec, specifically the beautiful region of the Gaspe Peninsula. I love beauty and seeing new places but I was very scared. I was scared I'd be rejected as a western-born and raised anglophone (a fear that's never come true). And more importantly I was scared my right to homeschool my children would be challenged by the authorities.

Quebec is the least-friendly province to homeschoolers. As progressive as the province appears to be, the open-ness is extended towards the collective ideal, pursuing ideas that are best for the group, and only if those ideas are secular and/or left of center. It's the least libertarian place I've lived. And a lot of my homeschool values are very libertarian, the anti-thesis of group-think. (My politics are complicated because I'm also very interested in the concept of Guaranteed Minimum Income and a believer in Universal Health Care. But I'm not going there in this post.)

Suffice to say, moving to Quebec, as much as I was excited to do so, stirred up a lot of insecurity and anxiety. Would I be rejected as an anglophone? (This hasn't happened once, at least not that I've noticed.) Would Child Protective Services come to my door? (Yes. And they closed our file, and confidentially admitted we offered our kids access to better resources than the local public school system. I think the myriad technological devices scattered through our home and the microscope, which I prominently displayed for their visit, was part of this assessment.)

Quebec is a place I have come to know and love. Since living here I have made it a point to study Quebec. I nearly always have a book on-the-go to help me understand this beautiful place I now call home. Quebec has a rich history I deeply appreciate, and natural and architectural beauty I love to explore. And as it turns out this province is actually part of our heritage (Damien's ancestors on his Dad's side are from a town not far from Montreal) which I didn't know until Brienne did a family tree project last year. For these and other reasons, I feel I belong here as much as anyone else. But this awareness and sense of belonging has taken five years to cultivate and when we moved here I relied on Damien's sense of "ok-ness", I relied on his French, and I relied on his reassurance when I experienced anxiety. I was looking outside myself for reassurance and confidence.

"Sixes are always aware of their insecurities and are always looking for ways to construct "social security" bulwarks against them. If Sixes feel that they have sufficient backup, they can move forward with some degree of confidence. But if that crumbles, they become anxious and self-doubting, reawakening their Basic Fear. ("I'm on my own! What am I going to do now?") A good question for Sixes might therefore be: "When am I going to know that I have enough security? Or to get right to the heart of it, "What is security?" Without Essential inner guidance and the deep sense of support that it brings, Sixes are constantly struggling to find firm ground.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

Those were the big security-shakers for me and we proceeded to invite and experience more: a period of exploring new ideas and lots of out-of-the-box thinking, moving houses four times, walking in a spiritual wilderness disconnected from a Christian community, our children reaching the teenage years, and then hiking the Appalachian Trail. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is enough of a life-changing, significant experience in one's life, an epic pilgrimage.

That we experienced all of this in a four year time span amazes me. I look back and I see that yes, I was relying a lot on Damien for my sense of well-being, which makes me feel shame. But I can also see that I was incredibly courageous in the face of these many transitions. And I feel both proud and tender-hearted towards myself.

The irony is that the more insecure and lacking confidence they are, the more Sixes rely on external support, and the more they lose their independence.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

It is no surprise, given what we did (took lots of "risks" and lived through many transitions) and how we did it (me relying on Damien) that when we reached The Breaking I was at the lowest point of my confidence in my adult life, and I was wracked with anxiety. I hadn't done the inner work at that point, so I didn't understand what I know now. Damien asked me the honest question, "what happened to your confidence?" and I wondered the same thing. And so I set a path for myself to find the answers and to find confidence once again.

Project Home and Healing was a part of that journey. Moving to Montreal was part of that journey. And so was a lot of introspection, honest and difficult communication with Damien, and increasing self-awareness.

After The Breaking I created a two column document named Who We Are.

One side of the column is titled Damien and the other Renee. This two column lay-out is divided into rows, and these rows are titled with headers like: Personality Type. Core Needs. Core Values. Personality Traits. Motivated & Energized By. Chief Fear.

It's an evolving document, as I refine the understanding of who I am, who my husband is, who we are.

Damien loves big projects that give him the chance to go deep into problem solving, that require and depend on his knowledge and expertise in crafting elegant technical solutions. He thrives in ideas and actions that push his boundaries, both in technical and physically challenging situations that depend on outside-the-box thinking. Damien is completely comfortable, in fact, most alive, when working towards a big vision that requires movement through undefined territory. He is enlivened by finding innovative solutions to reach a goal and he is wired to break ground.

And he believes in his abilities, skills, and experience to rise to those occasions.

The AT was a perfect project for Damien: so many challenges to overcome (thru-hiking with a family, hello?), being full-time outdoors, integrating work and keen interests, and building an online infrastructure to publish this adventure.

And for me it was overwhelm at nearly every level, because... surprise, surprise... I'm not like Damien. I thrive in procedures and structure. And in order to hike the Appalachian Trail, and to do many of things we did in the years leading up to the trail, in order for me to feel some measure of safety and security, that everything would be ok, I had step behind Damien because I was too scared to walk side by side.

Sixes would like a guarantee that if they do all they are supposed to do, then God (or the company, or their family) will take care of them. They believe that if they and their allies manage their environment well enough, then all unpredictable and potentially dangerous events will be avoided or controlled.... There is nothing that Sixes can do in the external world that will make them feel secure if they are insecure within themselves.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

The fact that I would do this, step behind instead of walk side by side, that I would think that following seemed like the "right way", the "best way" to minimize risk and insecurity; those thoughts took root because of beliefs I held about marriage.

And that's where we have to go now in this story.

« Vocation, Marriage, and Work: An introduction
What I'm into (early fall) »
  • Beth

    Beth on Oct. 10, 2016, 7:49 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing this. It's so timely for me as my husband was just laid off after almost two decades at the same company. We saw it coming (and are relieved to have it done with) but it's going to be a big adjustment. If only because he'll be home for a few months! I'm in the middle of a significant career change myself so we've got quite a few things bubbling around here. Exciting, terrifying, and stressful! Many, many important conversations to be had over the next few months.


  • Sarah

    Sarah on Oct. 10, 2016, 9:05 p.m.

    Awesome post Renee! I can't wait to read the next installment. I am a 41 year old 6 currently struggling with anxiety and loss of confidence that exceeds anything I've experienced in my life to date. I never expected to be in this place & feel embarrassed by a deep sense of failure to be a successful adult. Your story and analysis are resonating deeply with me. I am stuck in a place of inertia and fear that will only change if I find the courage to act, rather than wait for an answer from others. I look forward to reading and thinking more about how you navigated this difficult terrain. Thanks and best wishes. x Sarah


  • Lacey

    Lacey on Oct. 11, 2016, 3:21 a.m.

    I loved reading this over a long lunch. It's given me a lot of mull over. While my husband and I are different personalities to you and Damian, a lot of what you're saying resonates with me. I am always inspired and encouraged by your committment to 'doing the work' of inner understanding and growth. Thanks for letting us peek in. 


  • Stella

    Stella on Oct. 12, 2016, 9:11 a.m.

    I can relate to this and a lot of what the other commenters have said. Your honesty and strength inspires me and I am so grateful that you share this.


  • grace b

    grace b on Oct. 15, 2016, 2:58 a.m.

    Wow. I can't wait to read the next piece. Thank you for your honesty Renee! My fiance being a 9 goes to 6 in times of stress so alot of what your writing about -- standing behind instead of next to -- I've definitely been in the Damien position in our lives together. It's great to read your perspective!


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