When I was about 30 years old my life began falling apart for reasons I couldn’t explain. I was suffering with depression, but I didn’t know why. I knew I’d had a rough childhood that included physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, but so did others and they didn’t seem any worse for the wear. Turns out a lot of people were as good as I was at hiding a lot of pain.
I chose to examine the first 30 years of my life in the effort to resolve the unresolved and move away from all that had held me in a place of insecurity, fear, and self-loathing. I’d say I was desperate to move on, but I really had no idea of such a goal. To what and from where? I was, however, desperate to move – at all. So I took hold of an old adage by George Santayana and sent it careening through every darkened crevice of a life I barely understood: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I wasn’t terribly supported for it at first. As I would later find out, some people who also had skeletons didn’t appreciate being reminded that they had them, even if it is by way of someone else minding their own business as they go about the business of minding themselves. I was told by several people that mine was an unnecessary trek, but mostly I was told it would be a long road with no guarantee that I’d be any better off for it.
In Zoo, Edward Albee said, “It’s one of those things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly.” So I set out to explore, navigate and negotiate with my own past. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was pioneering my own life. Looking back, this explains why I felt hopeless, lost, and exhausted while at the same feeling curious, excited, and exhilarated.
Some were merely curious about how or if I’d make it, while others were hopeful I’d get wherever I was going so they could follow. They must have thought I was mad, though, because I kept making what I thought was one turn in place after another. Turns out I was on a sort of spiral staircase, so while I did revisit problems, memories, and issues over and over, I did so at an ever-increasing level of skill. And again, I didn’t know that’s what was happening until I cleared the clouds, looked out over the vastness, and realized I wasn’t just better off; I was better.
I knew from the moment I began my quest that dropping unhealthy habits and not repeating the mistakes of others wasn’t going to be good enough. I was going to have to learn new ways of thinking and doing. The first three decades of my life were built on a foundation of reaction with no regard for (rather, active discouragement of) my own actions, feelings, and beliefs. I was brought up to have unconditional regard for and reliance upon what others thought I should do, say, and think.
It was scary and often lonely. At times it was so frighteningly overwhelming I thought (and sometimes hoped) I would die. I did it anyway because my desire for freedom had come to outweigh all the despair. I wanted out from behind the windowless walls of a life that didn’t allow, much less accommodate, who I really was. I didn’t know who I really was, but the need to know was stronger than the need to avoid the possibility of finding out I was no one at all. As it turns out, the latter was never a possiblity because everyone is someone.
For a good long while I was told to focus on the child within, and while this was a good approach, it was only half the picture. Just as there was a person I had been, there was also a person I would become. What of her? So I bundled up that child within, accepted who I was at that moment with no small amount of chagrin, and headed in a different direction. It was as if the person I would become had been beckoning me all along. She stood on the other side of my life and never stopped waving, hollering out, and shooting up flares.
I was so glad she waited. And I am so glad she made it.