I was driving to a friend’s cottage to spend the holiday and weekend with them for a mini writing retreat. My first Christmas after separating from my husband had been hard, even though it was anything but traditional–my family and I spent two weeks in England with my brother, his wife, and her family, and overall it was lovely. But while I was there I managed to hit an emotional rock bottom–or what I thought was rock bottom: after a situation with my family triggered every conceivable trigger I have, I spent the night sobbing, alone, in the dark, hoping to fall asleep because I was having my first panic attack in months. I was done. To be perfectly honest, I was ready to die. I couldn’t, because of Rusty (my dog) and my cats. But I wouldn’t have been upset if I fell asleep and never woke up.
And even though my general mood improved, that feeling didn’t go away. I was so tired of feeling like I literally sucked at living, and I was tired of the specifically exhausting pain of stopping myself from hating a person that I once thought was my soul mate. I was so fucking exhausted of telling people I couldn’t afford things, can’t afford things, won’t be able to afford things for a long time. When I came home, the empty house was a gut punch, the loving faces of my pets a tragic reminder of the little family I was losing, the mounting responsibilities in homeownership (that I never would have signed up for without a partner) a big fucking mountain of sand pouring down on me.
I was low. Even without the drama of panic attacks an sobbing, I was the lowest I’d ever been because I didn’t even feel human any more. I didn’t feel like a person. I didn’t feel like a woman. I didn’t feel like anything but a giant pile of things I didn’t want to do but had to.
And I didn’t even want to fix it because I was, more than anything, tired of trying and failing.
Maybe it was my fate to be that way. Maybe I was a sad person by nature, and I needed to stop fighting it. I realized I would have to decide, every day, for the rest of my life, whether it was still worth it to keep going or not. And my only criteria so far was how guilty I felt, and how many pets I had left.
So, like I said, I was driving, New Year’s Eve, down backwoods country roads with Rusty in the back seat. I was just leaving a 55mph zone, entering a 30mph, and I was slowing down accordingly. And I got pulled over, for speeding of course. And the cop was unnecessarily dickish.
And that totally did me in.
That was it. I sat in my car staring at my speeding ticket sobbing like a hot mess (I at least had the dignity to wait until after he gave me the ticket to cry), because I didn’t have money to feed myself, I didn’t have money to pay my mortgage, I didn’t have money for health insurance that I didn’t even want but had to get or else pay a fine that I also didn’t have money for. I didn’t have money for the lawyer everyone kept telling me I should get to handle the separation paperwork. I didn’t have enough money to take off work for 2 weeks or to pay my share of the expenses while I was abroad, but I had to go because it would have been worse to stay, the plane ticket had already been changed twice, everything had already been calculated with my presence included…
And that was rock bottom. Nothing tragic, nothing monumental, nothing unique. Just powerlessness. Emptiness. Everything hurt, and nothing could be done to solve anything, or fix anything, or make anything better. Nothing.
Over the handful of years leading up to that moment, I’d had an image in my head of this strong, free woman: a robust woman standing on a precipice with her arms spread open, welcoming the storm winds, hair streaming and eyes wide. Her expression was always neutral. She didn’t hate the storm. She didn’t love it, either.
She was the image that came into my head when I tried to picture being brave.
That New Year’s Eve, when I finally put my car in gear and drove forward, wondering whether or not I should even go to the cottage (I was only 20 minutes away at that point, and I’d already driven over an hour, in the snow), I became the evolution of that woman on the precipice. Only my arms weren’t spread wide, and my feet weren’t planted firmly on the ground. I was adrift. I was a kite cut free, buffeted and lifted and whipped through the sky with a sort of soft, or maybe slightly surprised, look on my face.
There was nothing to be done, so I stopped fighting.
And all at once, it didn’t hurt anymore. It didn’t hurt, because I wasn’t being strong anymore. I wasn’t being brave anymore. I was actually, genuinely, free.
I could give up control. Because I finally, finally, finally realized that I never really had any control at all, except over one very small but very important thing: how I choose to move forward now, in this very moment.
And I chose to keep going.
With that vision in my head of a girl adrift on a storm wind, unmoored and free, I began the slow and often frightening process of re-training myself to really, truly listen to my heart. And one of the first things it told me–what it had been trying to tell me for so long–was this:
The secret to flight has never been wings–the secret has always been to let go of the shit that weighs you down.