I wonder if my life will always be in flux. Of course, the answer is yes. One movement to the next. Let’s go. One yogic flow, constantly bending, breathing, forgetting to breathe, remembering the breath, and cinching myself to align with it. Annoyed by my utter lack of devotion to it. Enamored and entangled with it. In all ways, there is a mirror against my cheek, and I am pressing back against myself, trying to see but everything is so close that I am bound to the imperfections. Forest versus trees, etc. etc.
In all ways, I am bewildered by the direction this life has taken me. I am in love with my messes–and yet, I hate them. I flutter with the anxiety of not knowing how to contain them. In whatever life I have yet lived, I have learned to feed my fears into the river beneath my feet–one at a time–and watch them float in pieces apart, away from each other and toward one another forever, cascading against the rocks and the cresting wake, driving me in all directions. I still fear death. I still wonder if I’m supposed to fear God.
It seems I’ve lost a voice. Rather, I’ve lost my “connecting” voice. The one that intuits, rather than observe. There is one voice–the one that speaks every day, that listens intently and consumes the world and picks it apart. That voice is mesmerized and a bit dumbfounded by what lies beneath my surface. She doesn’t know what to make of it. And with every keystroke, she realizes that she’s losing the grip she once had on the other voice–the one made of tangles and vines and cobwebs and dust. The one that hasn’t remembered how to roll a tongue in years. The one who does all the folding, all the weaving, all the generous holding. She’s afraid that voice is almost gone.
This is frustrating. I feel like this happens all the time. I have a deep sensation of wanting to vacate something from deep within and it gets stuck in the throat of my mind. Nothing comes out. I feel like my creative voice has somehow been neutered. These past 10+ years have felt fruitless. It makes me angry. it makes me feel choked. I want to feel like I have a voice again and yet here I am, pounding away at the keys, feeling like I’d only be indulging my ego if I were to engage in anything somewhat meaningful. I stop myself all the time.
I feel like… perhaps I’m stuck. Because I’ve written about the same things over and over and yet have felt very little resolve.
I keep coming back to these things. I keep returning to my stories, over and over again:
My education. My vocation. My sobriety. My divorce. My future.
Whatever any of that means.
I roll my mind endlessly in circles around these stories I tell myself about the things I’ve lived through. Like, my life was set on fire. Or, I set the fire. Or, I walked away. My life was reduced to ashes and I lit my sage on the smoldering remains. I walked away. I started again. My heart was a beaten mess. Fractured. Fractals of its former self. I walked on. Fell in love, and out again. Soaked my body in red wine, rum. Soaked it until I could barely see. Dried it out. Repeat x3. And in all this, I’ve been pushing back against myself.
In all this, I’ve come to realize that I cannot remember major parts of my childhood. Parts of young adulthood are gone from my memory. There are locked doors with no knobs, no keyholes. I cannot say how I felt, exactly, when my parents got a divorce. I can’t remember what my relationship was like with my father before he moved out of the house. I am caught by surprise when I do remember things–the eating disorder, the depression, the loneliness. Then, I feel the anger at remembering some things, and not remembering others. Somehow, I convince myself that all the bad things that have happened in my life are an anomaly. This can’t really be my life. I’m not really the sober, 29-year-old divorcee who keeps finding and losing love. I can’t imagine how it happened. I can’t imagine why I allowed the men in my life to smear themselves all over me and I, all over them. Even ten years after the fact, I am surprised at times by the ferocity of my anger toward a particular man who abused me, assaulted me, isolated me, and almost won. I am confused and lost in my memories. They never become any clearer.
For a few years now, I’ve been overcome by periods of intense pain in my shoulders, neck, and back. I’ve always told myself–or, I’ve always been told–it’s stress. I need to take care of myself, I say to myself. You need to take care of yourself, others tell me. For a while, I learned to tell myself I had to accept pain as an inevitable part of getting older. I convinced myself that these hot burning muscles would always be around. These days, I have learned to befriend that pain, because it warns me. As soon as I nod toward it, it starts to disappear. Searing pain in my left shoulder tells me that I am overextending myself emotionally–I am wearing thin. Perhaps, even, I am depressed, and need to lay my head for a time and soak in some warmth. Pain in my neck tells me I am straining and overextending myself mentally. Or, sometimes, it tells me I am anxious, and I need to honor my rigidity and what it means. Pain in my lower back tells me I’ve overexerted myself physically. It tells me I need to rest.
This pain is my smoke signal. When it comes, I am able to retreat into myself momentarily and make a promise: I will take care. I will be good to me. I will do what I can and forget the rest. It dissipates for a time and returns again eventually. It always lets me know when danger is near.
It should be no surprise that for a few years now, in addition to this pain, many forms of sadness, anger, and despair have tailed me everywhere I go. This is where the smoke signals become less clear. I still hold angry, one-sided conversations with my ex-husband in my head. I yell at him. I do my best to make him feel awful, horrible, and guilty. I hold conversations with–and try to explain myself–to ex-lovers. I imagine their response as the perfect scenario. I come back to these conversations over, and over, and over again. There is never a handshake at the end.
I think often about how much my life has changed and it’s hard not to fold myself into the story as if it might protect me from the pain of having lost so fucking much in so little time. It’s easy to wrap myself in a blanket of shiny transformation and hide what lies beneath: this festering sense of defeat. I retreat to my stories of blossoming, as if it wipes out the fact that I was, myself, completely wiped across the floor with grief and guilt and sadness. I can weave a better, more well-adjusted version of myself into a story that makes people feel better without showing them how they, too, are so goddamn alone. In telling these stories of beauty and transformation, I can feel safely “seen” rather than totally exposed. But so much of the truth becomes muted and smudged. So much of the anguish I’ve wrestled with becomes no more than a side-story character. I name the pain yet give it no real room to breathe. In the end, I suffocate beneath it when it steps out again.
For example, when I tell the story of my divorce, I often neglect to even mention the two-week period before our separation where my ex-husband insisted we throw away or donate nearly everything we owned, save for the essentials. We threw away everything that could serve as a reminder of our love. We donated everything that wasn’t necessary for day-to-day functions. He was confused when I cried. He was annoyed when I stalled. He wanted it gone. He was eager to throw away any remnants of our time together while insisting it was a new beginning for us at the time. I felt hollowed out. I felt as though along with the bags and boxes of things he no longer wanted, he was also throwing me out. I was the trash of his past. It just took him a little longer to set me in the alley next to the garbage bin. The love we had left in pieces, bit by bit, carried out to the dumpster, crushed, bagged up and suffocated, donated to someone else who might want it someday. The love we had left and never returned again.
I am nearly 30 and love is leaving again. It’s leaving in a different way, sure, but soon it will be gone. I still own nothing but what I can fit in my bedroom and a few boxes in the basement of the house I rent. There are very few things that will serve as a reminder of what was a complex, infuriating, beautiful part of my life. I have stopped collecting many memories. I have little to show for the last decade of my life.
And so, these angry conversations in my mind, these writings, these recollections and moments of “processing”… they do not resolve the pain I still feel. I revisit them periodically and always uncover something new. The taste of the pain is different but somehow, much the same. Of course, I do not wish to erase my experiences. I carry them with me with a sense of pride, though it’s tainted with anger and defeat. I have somehow come over the mountain to the other side. At least, I’ve come over this particular mountain: the mountain of my 20s, where the switchback trails are coated in heartbreak and disappointment and anger and loss of identity. But the asterisk is always that: I lost so much. I tried to fast-track the grieving process. In doing so, I lost pieces of myself.
Yes, there was a lot that got caught up in that fire. I’ve been building it back up for over four years. But there are still so many unanswered questions. There are loops coming undone. My protective blanket is unraveling. And here I am: I cannot even bring myself to feel competent as a writer. I cannot trust my own voice. I feel weightless in this space and while I grasp for something to hold onto, my thrashing pushes me further into nothingness.
One of my ex-boyfriends reached out to me last night to tell me he was thinking about me as he was watching the election returns roll in. He said he hoped I found some bits of promise in the results. He said he admired the strength I showed through turmoil, and that it changed him, and that he believed it changed others as well. I was floored. On an intellectual level, I understood what he was saying and even believed it. Yes, I am strong. Yes, I am enduring. And yet, I find myself still floating in this anxiety of weightlessness. I don’t know how to believe him on a cellular level. I cannot see it, or feel it. I cannot sense it in my body. I look at my bedroom and my car, I see the mess that surrounds me and it makes me want to cry. I am still a mess–my life feels messy and disorganized. My mess is contained to my own private space, sure; I am good at showing the world how quickly I was able to regroup and carry on, outside of this messy space. But a look inside shows a neglected interior life riddled with doubt, carelessness, fatigue, and simply not giving a fuck. The serene outside hides a painful interior. The joy of sobriety hides the pain that caused my addiction in the first place. The transformation of my personal life is underscored by sometimes paralyzing fear of getting hurt, or hurting others. How easy it is to never go inside the house, only admiring its lovely new paint job. How easy it is to just ignore what’s bubbling right beneath the surface.
But then, I have to stop myself. And breathe. And remember. And be grateful, even for the mess I’ve made. When I write about how proud I am to be sober, it’s true. When I write about how grateful I am for everything I’ve been through, it’s true. When I celebrate all of life’s complexity and uncertainty and weirdness, that celebration is sincere. And, when I write about feeling completely untethered and uncertain about anything at all, that’s just as true as the rest, if not more so.
As the saying goes, I contain multitudes. As the saying doesn’t go, I have no idea how to hold them or make them work together. I am my own double-edged sword.
So, here I am. I feel stuck and unresolved. I have suffered many necessary losses. I am prepared to accept my life as it is. I am full of fear and strangely, also quite absent of it. I am in pain and am I thriving and I feel more hopeful than I have in a long time. I am on the edge of something excruciating to wait for. I am here. Here I go.