Don’t Call it a Breakdown

It’s just a nose ring.

I am on my way home from a four-day girls’ trip to Ghost Ranch, an education and retreat center in New Mexico, to celebrate my mother’s birthday with her, my sister, and four of her close friends. To call it a spiritual retreat would probably be a stretch, but I did manage to get in some reflection and emotional work. I napped, talked, listened, learned, wrote, worked (a little), hiked, painted, ate, laughed and cried. The days passed at a much slower pace than is typical for me and given that, I had more time to loosen the knot around some of the issues that are challenging me.

This trip was also the first time I’d seen my mom since I got my nose ring.

My decision to add a little bling to my face for my 48th birthday was met with varied reactions from those in my circle – disbelief, dismay, some eye rolls, and even some laughter. A friend of mine took in a dramatic deep breath and said, “Oh, Carmen! Don’t do that. Get a tattoo!” I got the very real sense that they feared I would regret the piercing at some point down the line. (But I wouldn’t regret a tattoo?) When my mom first noticed it a few minutes after she greeted me upon arrival at Ghost Ranch, she said, “Oh, you really are having a mid-life crisis. Hurry up and get it over with!” I think what she meant was, hurry up and get it over with before you do something more permanent that you’ll regret.

Brene Brown is spot-on when she writes, “to call what happens at mid-life a crisis is bullshit.” As she explains it, a crisis is an identifiable, controllable event with a distinct beginning and end. What happens to us at some point in our lives – not necessarily at what one would consider “mid-life” – is more of an unstoppable, uncontrollable, persistent and constant unraveling. Thank you, sister Brene, for this accurate description of what I and so many women have experienced.

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For me, it started about six years ago. My professional life – at the time I was working as a contract attorney for a small firm – had no direction and held no promise. I was deep in the throes of parenting four elementary-aged girls with a partner who, in my opinion, had all but checked out. My health – both physical and mental – was suffering. And my marriage was on auto-pilot. I was numb, head to toe, internally and externally. Finally, in June of 2013, after having lived this way for several years, I hit a wall. Or, more accurately, wanted to drive my Honda Odyssey off a highway somewhere, never to return.

That was, as they say, the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end of life the way I’d been living it; in a fog, in survival mode, with unrealistic expectations, a constant disappointment to myself, below the radar, to fit in, to please others, to not rock the boat. And in that moment, I began to unravel.

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We kind of expect things like piercings, tattoos, extreme hobbies, dramatic weight loss, staying out all night dancing and drinking at the bar, and sleeping around to signal some kind of a breakdown or “mid-life crisis.” Right? I mean, we’ve all seen it and more than likely we’ve sat around gossiping about it as if we had a front-row seat to someone’s personal train wreck. When a woman in our small school community went through it several years ago, I thought the same thing. First came the divorce, then the weight loss, then the extreme hobbies, hair color and style changes, piercings and tattoos. It was a textbook “mid-life crisis,” I thought.

But here is what I want to share with hindsight wisdom. This nose piercing is not a crisis. It is not a breakdown. And it isn’t the “unraveling” that Brene speaks of. More often than not, the unraveling happens behind closed doors. Out of view. When you’re sitting on a therapist’s couch. Through words on the page of your journal. When you’re staring at the reflection in the bathroom mirror wondering who that person is. When you’re curled up in a ball, sobbing on your living room floor. When you are mindlessly folding yet another load of laundry or standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes. When you call in sick and can’t get out of bed all day. When you’re on the phone with your mom or your sister or your best friend.

But once you have surrendered to it, once you have advanced through that process enough that you are at least stable, with your feet back under you, and you have cleared the path to your authentic self, you begin to live that way. You finally start to restore and honor that connection to your authentic self and become the person you were always supposed to be. And it feels really good. Scary, of course, because you are still, and always will be, in a constant process of coming undone and old habits die hard. But, yeah. It feels fucking good.

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Much like the woman I described above, this piercing isn’t a breakdown. It’s a becoming. This is the real me. Some people may not like it and that is fine. I don’t happen to care for big hoop earrings, winged eyeliner, belly button piercings, and tattoos that are referred to as tramp stamps, but to each his own. After I debuted my nose piercing, several of those in my circle who had originally responded with question to my decision said, “I like it. It really looks like you.” I was describing this to a good friend who very astutely said, “Maybe they just didn’t really know you.” I think there is a lot of truth in that.

So here is to unraveling. To becoming. To living authentically. And to nose rings. I’m already planning my first tattoo.

With a whole lotta love,



This is 48

I celebrate the start of my 48th trip around the sun today.


That number looms large as I inch closer to 50, a milestone birthday by any measure. With time comes wisdom, though. Right? And as I look around and take stock of all I have learned and experienced in my life, and all of the growth that has taken place in just the last year alone, I am exceedingly proud and humble and grateful. And excited. Excited for another year.

To kickstart the year, I thought I’d share what 48 looks like to me. Enjoy!

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48 is never wanting to be in your twenties again. Ever. It’s understanding the value of, and being grateful for, every minute, every person, every relationship and experience that brought you to where you are right now. It is looking back without regret, to survey the landscape of your life and stand in awe of your stamina and resilience. It is realizing that while you may have thought you knew some important truths back then, there is a soul-deep wisdom and unwavering confidence that only comes from being battle-tested and continuing to rise. From being heartbroken over and over again and continuing to fearlessly pursue love. From pulling yourself out of depression and continuing to enjoy each day of your life, rain or shine. From being abused in some form or another and continuing to trust.

carmen chopp 28 copy48 is understanding the fluidity of relationships. It’s realizing that people come and go from your life and learning to let them go without white-knuckling your grip on them. It is appreciation for the time you shared and the imprint they left on your life. It is knowing that what is meant for you, will come to you. It is patience.

48 is discernment. It is being brave enough to love wide open and let people in, and having the strength to leave a person or situation when it becomes toxic or no longer serves you. It’s understanding that this doesn’t make you a mean person. It makes you a person with a healthy sense of self and boundaries.

48 is knowing discomfort equals growth. It is always challenging and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It is learning to lean into discomfort, confident that you will be able to withstand it, and assimilate it. It is realizing that fear is your compass and being brave enough to follow it. It is being okay with who you are now, and who you will become.

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48 is finally understanding, accepting, and appreciating your super power. It is seeing and realizing how the wide open, fire hydrant-type love that you give out so freely makes people feel warm, important, seen, valued, and desired, and being proud of that. It is learning to treat that super power with care and concern, like a precious commodity. It is knowing when to use it and having the ability to regulate it. It’s also knowing the importance of rest and recovery.

Girls especially, I want you to hear this. This one’s important. 48 is learning to value yourself, and never letting anyone discount you. It’s never making yourself small or your voice quiet for anyone. It is never dialing it down, or dumbing yourself down for anyone.  Anyone.

carmen chopp 7548 is accountability. It is taking a critical look at yourself in the mirror and accepting the image, good or bad. It is owning every decision or choice you make and the consequences that follow. It is no longer living as a victim, and being committed to self-development and personal growth. It’s understanding that no matter what circumstances made you who you are today, you are responsible for being the best person you can be.  (p.s. It’s also understanding FINALLY that you can’t fix people by loving them. They’ve got to love themselves enough to do that.)

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48 is sexual confidence. It’s being able to strip yourself bare in front of someone, literally and metaphorically speaking, if that is what you want to do. It’s knowing what you like, what you don’t like, what you want, and what you need. And having the confidence to speak up and ask for it without shame or embarrassment.

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48 is finally becoming best friends with your body. It is surrendering to it, learning not to fight against it so it can be free to do what it knows how to do; to carry you into the next season of your life.

carmen chopp 78_preview48 is knowing that there are people reading this post and saying, “Well, yeah. Of course. Sheesh. I already know all that,” and being undeterred. It’s knowing that everyone comes to things in their own time and their own way. It’s never letting another’s opinion of you become your story. It is knowing you, and you alone, are the author of it. Full stop.

Cheers to another year!

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**Image credit: Tressie Gilmore, Classic Tressie


I’m Back

And it’s high time I dust this thing off, get back to writing, and put it out for public consumption. God knows I’ve got a lot of material to mine in my journal.

And I have so many people to thank for all of the support and encouragement I’ve received over the past couple years. Whether it came from family members, high school friends, old work friends, new work friends, or former writing group members who happen to be friends. Whether it came across as a gentle nudge or a violent shove, I appreciate it. Thank you for letting me know you missed my voice.

Speaking of this voice, I should probably issue a warning. The last several years of my life have been marked by complete upheaval, emotional destruction, significant growth and transformation, among other things.

growth game

I am not exactly sure what’s going to come out or how it will land. It may be squeaky and new, it may be too loud, or too strong. The message may sound like someone you’ve never met even though you’ve known me my whole life. It’s okay. It’s still new and a bit startling to me, too. But just hang with me. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s all going to be okay, I promise.

Yikes. That sounds really heavy, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry. It won’t all be dark. I still love to laugh and have had plenty of opportunities to laugh lately whether it’s at something, someone, or myself. Expect some lighter material to balance out the dark.

Before I kick this off, I thought it appropriate to put down a few pledges in black and white so we’re all on the same page here. So here goes:

1.) I pledge to never trash or purposely embarrass anyone I’ve been married to, I am related to (this includes my kids, too…mostly), have worked with, slept with, or dated. Names may be changed at the writer’s discretion.

2.) I pledge to be a brave, honest storyteller despite risk of offending anyone. This means I will also call myself out on my own bullshit lest someone does it for me in the comments.

3.) I pledge to use cuss words appropriately (this is subjective, right?), and then apologize to my mother who will inevitably read this. (Sorry for #2, mom!)

4.) I pledge to make every effort to post at least once a week.

With all of that said, it’s time to get to work. You’ll hear from me soon….sometime in the next week.

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