Adapting to Life’s Trail

Linda McCabe
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Written by TeamIdentity

My personal journey has been full of unexpected challenges as well. In fact, sometimes I feel like I started out on the “Oregon Trail” but ended up in “Halo”—a futuristic computer game based on another planet. Since much of my childhood took place in a very conservative religious community, I often feel like I grew up on Mars, having little in common with my peers of the 60’s and 70’s.

How to live life is a question that is not easily answered.  For Linda, growing up took time and learning how to live her life was not something that came easily.  It takes time to learn how to live life the right way and it is different for everyone.  Everyone’s trail is unique, but it will always teach you how to live life.

By Linda McCabe

When they were young, my sons loved to play “Oregon Trail” on the computer, a game which simulates a covered wagon traverse of the country in 1848. In the game, you choose your traveling companions based on their skills and assets, buy supplies, livestock and weapons, then face various challenges as you “travel” West. Those who are successful learn to adapt, think on their feet and use what they have on hand.

My personal journey has been full of unexpected challenges as well. In fact, sometimes I feel like I started out on the “Oregon Trail” but ended up in “Halo”–a futuristic computer game based on another planet. Since much of my childhood took place in a very conservative religious community, I often feel like I grew up on Mars, having little in common with my peers of the 60’s and 70’s. While they were listening to the Beatles, I was learning to play hymns and old gospel songs. While they were wearing miniskirts and bell bottoms, my skirts were homemade and long, and wearing jeans was not allowed. They studied in a classroom and played sports; I memorized passages from the Bible and learned practical skills like gardening and canning, sewing, upholstery and mechanics. They dated; I waited. They went to college; I ran an upholstery shop in a rural town, helping support the religious community that I assumed would be my home for life. When Elvis died, I had heard of him but had never heard him sing. I didn’t watch the first moon landing; we didn’t have a TV or take any newspapers.

How to Live Life

Life in the country was not all that bad. I loved the outdoors and hadn’t really wanted to go to college anyway. And at the time, the whole “we are superior” thing made me feel special. Yes, going to town for shopping trips was a little like being on exhibit in a museum, but I was a tomboy with no sense of fashion so I just lived with the stares. I thought that my belief that I was incredibly ugly came from the weird clothes and my mop of curly, unruly hair, not knowing that early childhood sexual abuse by a great-grandfather had laid the foundation for a very low sense of self even before my family joined the community.

When I was 19, in the middle of a physical and emotional breakdown, I left. My immune system was at the bottom and I was depressed. The answers I had once accepted and the community focus on uniformity no longer worked for me and I was struggling to overhaul my views on life, God and my future. My adjustment to the “real world” started with listening to music on the radio for the first time and gradually changing my wardrobe. But no matter how normal I looked on the outside, my inner world was in chaos. The energy it took to seem normal was exhausting and the guilt I experienced in breaking all the rules was unsettling. Fitting in to the point of being invisible was my goal, but inside my head all I could hear was “You don’t belong. You don’t fit in here!” I could be standing on a street corner with dozens of other people, wearing clothing that made me look just like they did, but I felt like they were all staring at me, thinking, “Who let HER out?”

Because of my practical knowledge and skills, I came across as self-confident and people had no idea what was going on internally. Within a couple of years, I started a successful upholstery business in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, where I met and married my husband, who was studying to be a pastor.

A family crisis five years into our marriage finally sent me to a therapist, who began to unwind the tight threads of my mental turmoil. I only went for a few weeks, long enough to realize that I wasn’t crazy and that there were legitimate reasons for my inner conflict, but not long enough to make a lot of progress. Three years and two babies later, I was ready to get serious about recovery because I didn’t want to pass my pain along to our boys. And during the next decade or two, with the help of family and friends, a lot of books, several good therapists and a whole lot of inner work, I have made peace with myself and my roots.

Linda McCabe

Along the way, I have learned that there is no such thing as normal. That most people, especially women, tend to feel that everyone else has it together better than they do, but work hard to hide that fact. Talking to dozens of women has taught me that at our core, we are all more alike than different, which is oddly comforting since I felt isolated and different for so long. I have accepted that where I came from made me who I am; and that much of it was actually a good thing.

For example: learning to grow and preserve bushels of food prepared me to plan large events and feed crowds of people on a small budget. Growing up simply and creatively has made it possible for us to live mostly debt-free. My introductions to the world of tools at an early age gave me the confidence and experience to help my husband remodel nearly every house we have owned. Learning upholstery as a teenager made it possible for me to support my husband through seminary. The love of gardening I acquired there fueled my foray into a plant propagation and nursery business. Learning small business bookkeeping when I was 16 has given me the courage to tackle the business end of self-employment, including taxes. And the things I have learned on my journey have enabled me to reach out to other struggling travelers. For all these skills I am indebted.

If you had told me when I was a teenager that I would end up as a small business owner, the wife of a pastor, mother of two college graduates I would not have believed you. I now live in a world that is much different than the one I thought I was preparing for. But I have managed to take the life tools I acquired back then and adapt them to the current century. Some philosophies and practices have been discarded, like the household items that littered the prairie along the Oregon Trail. Others, such as a good work ethic, ingenuity and a passion for learning have proven their value, no matter the decade or paradigm.

How to live life by reach out to others

I could never have done it by myself; reaching out to others who understood or were on the same path was a huge source of healing and support. At first it was scary to open up, but as I learned that I wasn’t alone in my fears and isolation, it became easier. My favorite thing to say to a woman who is struggling is “You are not crazy and you are not alone!” My days of self-rejection and self-abandonment are over.

I also read a lot about the long term effects of childhood abuse, which helped me understand and accept myself more. Wounds leave scars, and childhood sexual and emotional abuse can literally rewire the developing brain. The clock cannot be turned back, but thankfully the brain is also capable of amazing plasticity and compensation. My brain works differently than most people I know and my perspective on life is very different as well. But I have learned to leverage my strengths to help me accomplish my goals.

No, my trail has not followed the track that I expected, but that’s alright. I have tools and I know how to use them. And so far, that has been enough!

Linda answers the Identity 5:

What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?
I have accepted that what I went through growing up doesn’t have to define me.

What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?
I like the way my brain works. My tenacity. My practicality.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?
Raising our boys. Giving them a great shot at a great life. I want to be financially secure enough to help other women who have dealt with abuse.

What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?
I tend to be last minute and chaotic with projects. Push hard then collapse when it is over. Can’t seem to do it early, can’t come up with ideas until down to the wire.

How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
I love my life–knowing myself and being able to design my life around my strengths, weaknesses and goals.

Linda McCabe is a business owner, wife of nearly 30 years and a mom who enjoys figuring out how things work and how to fix them. After over 20 years in ministry, she and her husband have moved to Tennessee and are currently developing her third business.

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