Seeing Challenges as Opportunities for Personal Growth

As a kid growing up, I was born into a very challenging life. My mom was a single mother with five kids, one of which was mentally retarded, my father was a severe alcoholic who became very abusive at times, and we were on welfare. We lived in a small two bedroom house in the worst neighborhood in town, and experienced many forms of physical abuse while being neglected and left unsupervised for days at a time. My older brothers ended up going to detention homes when I was fairly young, my younger sister passed away at 9, and I ended up running away in order to avoid what would happen to me if I stayed home. I became quite accustomed to living on the streets and fending for myself by the time I was 12.

Throughout my teenage years I was taken away from my mother due to abuse and child endangerment and put into the court system where I went in and out of foster care that was almost worse than living at home, so I ended up running away from those also. Through all of this I continued to go to school while living in a fort I built in the park. In spite of my situation I did very well in school, and was put into accelerated learning classes and graduated from high school at 16 with a scholarship to college. My main goal in life was to get an education so I could take care of myself and get as far away from this type of life as I could. I filed for emancipation at 16, got a job and started college, where I graduated at 18. I experienced unimaginable hardship while trying to survive and protect myself, and was hospitalized on two occasions for malnutrition. As I continued through life I seemed to be thrust from one challenging situation to another, enduring many hardships, traumas, tragedies, and crisis, which are still continuing to this day.

fear and stressful emotions

When I was young I remember feeling as if I was always being punished for something, but I couldn’t figure out what I had done that was so bad I deserved this kind of punishment, because I was a really good kid (seriously). I was the only “white sheep” in my family, always helped out, learned how to take care of myself at an early age, and never got in trouble with the law (except for fighting and running away). I became very independent at a young age and learned how to handle situations without needing anyone, because every time I tried to rely on someone, they always let me down, never came through on their promises, and often blamed me somehow. I spent most of my childhood doing whatever I could so that no one would know who my mom and dad were, because I was embarrassed of them and felt humiliated being associated with them. As I got older I began to look at things from a much deeper perspective of wanting to penetrate the secrets of life, which I found to be very mysterious.

One thing that I recognized about myself at a fairly young age was that I was a very “strong” individual with a will that could push through what seemed like unbearable situations with a positive attitude, and I always seemed to have a clear perspective on what was happening while forming realizations that led me to consistently make clear decisions about “who I was” and what I was going to do. I was never easily led, could care less about fitting in with a group, and never had anyone to look to for guidance and help. I always felt like no matter how strange or bizarre things got I had to figure things out for myself and make my own decisions. Many of the decisions I had to make were quite difficult because I felt torn inside with a sense of love and loyalty to the very people who were abusing me and whom I sought to get away from. I was terrified at first to leave home and face being all alone and vulnerable to the unknowns of life. My first few years living on the street as a child were terrifying and very stressful, but after a while I got a system down that seemed to work pretty well.

As a young adult I got married, and after going through a very difficult pregnancy, my son was born with serious medical problems that ended up taking a great deal of effort on my part to finally get diagnosed. I had taken him to the doctor and emergency room of the hospital over fifteen times in a two week period, because something inside of me knew that there was something wrong with him, and after the first few times, they began thinking I was suffering from some kind of “postnatal depression and hysteria” that was making me paranoid. I ended up having to take him to a different city in order to get someone to listen to me, and he was finally diagnosed just in time to save him. He ended up undergoing several major surgeries, during which time they diagnosed him at one point with “failure to thrive” and told me he was dying. I decided to take him home, and through a form of intuitive guidance from what seemed like a higher power, I administered the care necessary for him to fully recover and begin thriving again.

Devastation and emotional turmoil

During this time my entire life and marriage fell apart, and I think I may have had what seemed like several emotional breakdowns in trying to deal with everything all at once, that challenged me in every way there is to be challenged. One of these breakdowns (completely distraught and lost all sense of hope) came as the result of having to go against the system and everything I was being told in order to save my son’s life, which resulted in having a “direct encounter” with what I came to recognize as my “Higher Self”, who intuitively “showed me what to do”. Yet in spite of it all, after almost a year, I walked away from the situation with a healthy and happy little boy. I lost everything I owned through the process and had to file bankruptcy the next year due to the astronomical medical bills. During this time I accessed a part of myself I didn’t even know existed, and it transformed my way of thinking and being in a way that began taking on a life of its own. I felt like I became a different person because of this experience. I was no longer afraid or unsure of myself and could see things with what seemed like a great sense of clarity and confidence.

I then went through the slow, painful process of trying to revitalize what was clearly a dead marriage, while pursuing a fairly demanding career in order to take care of my son. I became very independent, extremely confident in myself, came face to face with drug addiction and trying to somehow manage what eventually deteriorated into a very abusive situation. Though I found this period of my life extremely challenging at times, I also started feeling very strong mentally, much more mature, and capable of doing whatever it was I needed to do. I became so empowered that I eventually felt unaffected by the situation I found myself in. I was no longer afraid, anxious, or vulnerable, and instead felt grounded, calm and calculating, and able to manage even the most difficult situations with relative ease and psychological skill. I developed a higher level of mental abilities through all this, and learned how to bring my emotions fully under my control.

Another major breaking point came several years later when my husband tried to strangle me in the midst of a jealous rage, and I was finally able to make him leave and was willing to face the consequences of what I thought he might try to do to me. A few months after our separation, he was stabbed through the heart while in a bathroom stall of a restaurant, and ended up dying four days later. They arrested the perpetrator the night it happened and had him incarcerated when he died, and it became a murder case. I left the hospital after he passed and had to go directly to the police station where I was interrogated for several hours and given an idea of what charges were being filed and given the details on the nature of what happened. This was followed by a murder trial in our small town, which at that time had a population of 2,400 people (so it was the biggest thing that happened there in years) that lasted for 14 months. My son was seven years old at the time, and I won’t even try to convey the insane experience this brought and what I came to realize about how our justice system works.

Going through this experience completely changed my attitude and the course of my life. I became obsessed with finding the truth around what happens to us when we die. What does someone experience as they’re dying? Where do they go? What’s it like? A few weeks before my husband was violently killed, I had a premonition about him dying in a car accident. Several events that took place immediately after that where I thought I had taken the actions necessary to prevent it from happening the way I saw it, yet it simply happened a different way. This made me determined to explore the nature of intuition and why I was given a vision that seemed like a warning, if I wasn’t meant to stop it. All the things that resulted from this experience sent me on a quest that changed the direction of my life and set me firmly on my spiritual path.

processes of thought

As I was sitting quietly one day and reflecting back on things and wondering why “bad things” were always happening to me, no longer feeling as though I was being punished, but more confused and mystified . . . a voice inside of me calmly said “think of it as training. How can you teach and help others through things if you don’t know how to make it through them yourself? See this as your education so you can develop yourself to fulfill your life’s purpose as a teacher.” This was profound because at this point in my life I had no idea I was going to end up being a psychologist, metaphysician, and spiritual teacher. That experience set a transformation into motion and I began taking a whole different attitude towards the seemingly tragic events of my life, and looked back on them with a new awareness around the reason for things. I began recognizing that it was during these moments that I grew the most in character, and came into myself in a much bigger way, where I felt more alive than ever before.

I realized that even as a child who was conditioned to a very dysfunctional way of living and dependent on a bizarre set of circumstances, that I was always aware of what “I couldn’t bring myself to do.” I wasn’t making clear decisions at first, but rather ones that came from feelings inside of me that realized I couldn’t be “that kind of person” or let “those kinds of things happen to me.” In every crisis I faced as a major event of some kind, I noticed that it brought out the worst in everyone involved, including me, and I got to see myself in a different light. I got to see parts of myself I normally couldn’t see. I saw myself as reflecting the traits of those around me, and I didn’t like who I was. I then realized that in my worst moments as a child, I was making the most important decisions of my life in terms of who I was going to be, and those decisions served to shape me as an adult and set my destiny in motion. I realized that no matter how dark and scary things became, I always seemed to have a “voice inside of me” that was talking me through things, comforting me, and guiding me on what to do.

As I saw the traits that the people around me displayed, and how they made me feel by what they were doing to each other and how they were treating me, I thought to myself, there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to be like that, or make someone feel the way I’m feeling right now. I felt disgusted and extremely disappointed. I lived every moment never knowing when someone was going to be “set off” by something and take it out on me, or what kind of mood they were going to be in from one moment to the next. I was actively choosing, even as a child, who and how I was going to be because it wasn’t “in me” to do that. It wasn’t in my nature to be that way. I couldn’t even imagine myself participating in the insane activities going on around me, and I always felt awkward and out of place as a result, so I started going off by myself so I could find a place where I felt safe and could relax.

One of the things I began telling myself at a young age was that I felt like no one knew “who I really was” because they were always judging me to be like my family, and I was nothing like them. In schools teachers would recognize my last name and knew who my brothers were, and would make off remarks and treated me as though I was going to be a problem to deal with. Every time I encountered a cop for some reason, they would ask me how my mom, dad, and brothers were doing. I was perceived as being a juvenile delinquent and possible trouble-maker or bad influence (many of my friends parents wouldn’t allow them to hang out with me), even though I was living on my own in the park while continuing to go to school and never got into any serious trouble with the law. The only illegal activity I was engaged in was what I needed to do in order to survive and protect myself, which I did.

When I finally moved out of my home town and into a brand new community, where no one knew me, I was going to work one day and right as a was approaching the front door, a voice inside calmly said to me . . . “okay Linda, you’re always going on about how people don’t know you for who you really are, well no one knows you here, and no one knows what you’ve been through, so who are you going to be?” And I realized in that moment that no one would know anything about my past unless I told them. So I made it a point from that moment forward to never talk about my family, where I came from, or what I had been through, and took an attitude instead of “creating myself” as I really am. I used the mental image of “walking through a new door” as a metaphor. I started becoming aware in moments that I normally didn’t pay any attention to.

This not only put me in touch with myself in terms of “who I am” based on the decisions I was making in a moment by moment manner, but I decided in that moment that I was going to quit talking about my past and telling stories about “what happened to me”. I realized we “become who we are” by the stories we’re always telling ourselves about our past and what it means about us. We’re always building our identity out of our own stories about ourselves. As a result of never talking about my past, I not only got to the point where I hardly ever thought about it anymore, I eventually forgot about many things altogether, and I began learning how to stay present in my everyday life and create myself in every moment to be the person I truly was inside. After a few years of doing this, I felt like I was a whole new person. When people I had known for years finally started finding out about my upbringing and where I came from, they were shocked. Most thought that I had come from a fairly well-to-do family, had a formal education, and didn’t have a problem in the world because I “seemed” so “well-balanced and confident.” Of course this was also the community where my son was born and my husband was killed, so it set a whole new type of reality into motion that brought with it a whole new set of challenges and obstacles to be overcome and resolved to a favorable end.

Inner universe

Every time I hit a point of mental and emotional collapse, where I felt like giving up because I didn’t think I had the strength or know-how to make it through my situation, and I felt completely alone in life, I realized that I didn’t know how to give up. What would it mean to give up? How would I live with myself knowing I gave up? What do you actually do when you give up? And after a period of severe stress and dwelling in a sense of hopelessness, not knowing what to do, literally falling apart inside, crying to the point of heaving, I would get pissed (at myself and God, even though I was an atheist at that time), and state firmly and repeatedly, like a mantra, “I refuse to give up” – “I will not concede” – “I refuse to accept this” – and in those moments of complete mental breakdown and surrender, feeling morally diminished and lost, yet determined to proceed – I connected with a higher power that seemed to consume me by “coming into me”, and becoming one with me.

As it became one with me in mind and spirit, a feeling of peace came over me and I felt elevated. I felt more alive than ever before with a feeling of elation and a profound sense of self-awareness. A deep feeling of calm came over me and I became very focused with a feeling of absolute power in what I was sensing. I seemed to know intuitively exactly what I needed to do, how I needed to do it, the reason for doing it, and what would result from doing it. All of my grief and despair vanished, I rose confidently in my awareness, embraced the situation, and proceeded with a renewed sense of moral strength that felt unstoppable. It was as if I had stepped into a new mental current and was immediately taken away in it. This was a profound awakening for me because I had always felt judged and abandoned by a higher power and as if I was being made to suffer “because” I was a “good person.” I always felt my problems came from “not conforming” to what was going on around me. I had felt betrayed and condemned by religion and always saw it as a form of mass delusion born out of hatred, even as a child.

I then started having new realizations about the premonitions I began having about the events that led up to my husband getting killed, where I literally tried to intervene and stop it from happening because I thought that was “why” it was being revealed to me. As I tried to change the course of events based on what I was seeing, they simply happened in a different way. Then, after he was stabbed and died on the spot, and was resuscitated several times while undergoing open-heart surgery, only to die as soon as he was taken out of ICU from a blood clot, it changed my perspective on everything. This set a whole new realm of investigation into motion that completely changed the course of my life by leading me down a path of deep inquiry into the true nature of karma, destiny, and the meaning of life. I became consumed with wanting to know more about the purely spiritual dimensions that interlace with this one, and learning more about my own clairvoyant abilities. I began reading everything I could find on the subject while talking to other psychics about their experiences when people come to them for a reading and they “saw” their death, and what happened when they tried to intervene by warning them.

the lower is a reflection of the upper

It was at this point in my development that I finally realized that if I didn’t believe in God (I considered myself an atheist), then who was I always talking to, and who was always talking to me? How did I know the things I knew when they extended beyond my own ability to know? I realized I was always engaged in a form of intimate conversation with another being and higher power that was inside of me. What was this voice inside of me that was always guiding, instructing, and comforting me? That was always guiding me on what to do in my worst moments? How was it that I could foresee events of the future while unconsciously engaging in behaviors as a part of what led up to them (I bought a black dress for an event I was attending a week before he died that I ended up wearing to his funeral). Was our life predetermined in an unconscious way and we’re just going through the motions as a means of experiencing it, or are we truly creating our life moment by moment through the decisions we make? Is there such a thing as personal will, or is it all still a part of a greater plan that operates unconsciously, giving us the illusion of having a free will?

What I realized through all of it was that in every moment, through every life challenge and crisis, I was able to see different aspects of myself brought out by the shear panic and despair I was feeling, where I was making a decision, conscious or not, as to who I was going to be in relationship to that moment, and taking what often amounted to drastic actions that were terrifying in and of themselves as the means of fulfilling my decisions. These weren’t decisions I made in a rational analytical way through reasoning as a debate of some kind, although that part of my mind was running full blast too, but rather decisions that ultimately resulted from feelings, intuition, and a heightened awareness around the true nature of things. It always came down to my conscience driven by an inner sense of “knowing”.

I became very clear on what was “in me to do and what wasn’t.” My choices came out of an awareness of who I am as a soul. Not from what I was “taught” about right or wrong or what was deemed acceptable based on the circumstances. I couldn’t “imagine myself” being that way, and if I was, I would hate myself while knowing I had the ability to change it, but chose not to out of fear and self-doubt. All of my unconscious decisions resulted not from my conditioning and the values and behaviors being demonstrated all around me that I was an inherent part of, but from my inner sense of morality and what I knew deep inside to be right and wrong. It was my morality and intuition as a soul that was my compass and beacon shining through in even the darkest moments when all hope seemed lost and I was beside myself with fear. All the answers I sought weren’t outside of me, but within me, simply waiting to be acknowledged. I realized that questions and answers are opposite ends of the same thing, and the questions we ask in our most private moments with a deep sincerity to know, bring the answers to us as life experiences.

3 minds and selves

As I continue through life, I’m still experiencing one challenge after another, some of which result from decisions I’ve made in a fully conscious and deliberate way, while others seem to come about of their own volition. It’s as if when I solve one, it lays the foundation for the next one to naturally emerge and start playing out. I’m currently in the process of going blind (have been for several years), but now I look at things from a completely different perspective where I see them as the ideal situation for showing me parts of myself that I still need to transform. I see them as opportunities administered by my Higher Self that serve to facilitate my moral and spiritual grow by teaching me the lessons they hold as a result. Sometimes things happen, not so much as “lessons”, in terms of how we normally tend to think of this idea, but more as a kind of “test and temptation” that forms the basis for developing our character. I’m completely clear on the fact that karma is administered in an unbiased and compassionate way by my Higher Self whose lovingly affording me the opportunity to redeem myself from past errors instead of blindly repeating them in new ways. Through challenging situations I have the opportunity to develop my weaknesses and bad traits into strengths and mental skills. I’ve come to realize that all of what I perceive to be problems are actually setting the stage necessary for growing me in new ways. We only grow when we’re challenged or have to endure hardship of some kind. Suffering is a powerful form of moral purification.

I’ve learned that every situation, no matter how challenging or difficult it may seem when it’s happening, brings out in me qualities and traits I developed through my conditioning, allowing me to “see them” along with the conditions in which I acquired them. Once I can see them clearly while withholding the judgment that caused me to hide them from myself initially, I can detach from them emotionally and see them in a different light. Once I can see them from a neutral and non-personal perspective, they no longer consume me or run my thoughts, and I can work to transform them by making new decisions on how I’m going to be instead. Through the challenges of my life I can see what weaknesses I still need to transform into strengths. I have developed a strong ability to look at myself as I truly am, and take an attitude of always rising to every challenge I’m faced with in order to develop myself in a fully conscious and deliberate way. I realize with complete certainty that this material life is not the prize to be won or story to be lived, but simply sets the stage necessary for me to decide in every moment who I’m going to be in relationship with it and as a means of creating myself by way of it.

I realize that my true purpose in life is to grow my soul in ways that allow me to help other people grow. I consider myself a teacher and know that I can only teach others what I know from experience. Now I consider all challenges an opportunity and feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation in response to them. I know that in blazing a path from the lowest level of despair and hopelessness to the highest level of optimism and confidence, permanently records it in the astral light of mass consciousness where it can be accessed and utilized by all who are searching for their own answers. It has provided me with the knowledge and practical skills to be able to embrace and walk head on into any situation, no matter how bad, with a sense of compassion, reverence, and confidence in my own ability to not only endure it and know what to do in new situations, but to use it as the means for actively developing the parts of me it naturally calls forth in response to it. Every time I’ve ever gone through a truly difficult situation or period in my life, it immediately appealed to and called forth all my deepest fears, insecurities, and shortcomings, all the parts of me that I loathed and banished from awareness, allowing me to see them in the light of day, and use my will to transform them into virtues and moral strengths.

I know that this life and these circumstances are simply a phase and step in my soul’s overall growth and are only meaningful in terms of setting the stage that’s ideal for my eternal process of self-creation. It’s not about what happens to us in life or why, but rather who we decide to become by way of what happens to us. We become who we are by how we go through the challenges we face. It’s only in your worst, most fear ridden moments that you get to see who you truly are, and decide in that moment, who you’re going to be. In every moment we’re making decisions based on one question, and that is “who am I?” Who am I going to be in this moment? What do I stand for as an individual? What am I going to create? We’re always the one determining our own creation and setting the course for our destiny. The only purpose to this life is to master our ability to not be controlled or determined by the conditions and circumstances of our life, but to engage in it with full awareness by learning how to mentally direct the natural forces of the world by utilizing your higher will, imagination, and ability to decide “who you are” and “how you’re going to be” in relation with it. How we live this life forms the karmic basis for the next one as a continuation of our soul’s journey from an unconscious state to a fully conscious one.

Dr. Linda Gadbois        

Transpersonal Psychologist, Metaphysician, and Spiritual Teacher

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