Last night I left home for my Third Annual Writing Retreat — a handful of late summer days and nights spent all alone in a quiet nest with the intention of making You Are Not Stuck into a book.
As any writer will tell you, this journey of creation is one that’ll make you crazy if you let it. The wave walls of exhilarated “go get ‘em, tiger” followed by “who the hell do you think you are?” crash and crush and pull you in and spit you out with an unforeseen amount of irregular regularity. It’s like my menstrual cycle has teamed up with the Incredible Hulk and I am rendered the threads on the shreds of the shirt he busts open, again and again and again.
Still, here I am. Working through this process, and letting this process work on me.
The first writing trip came about a year and a half after I’d quit my job and had pretty much settled in to my new self as full-time mom and full-time yoga teacher. Newer, and more complicated, was my status as — and understanding of myself — as a sober woman. And this community was only a few tender months old, but already it felt to me like the beginning of something very important.
Over the course of four frantic, exciting, lovely days that fall in 2014, I wrote and wrote. I started with a blank page and structured an outline for the book. I clarified my audience, my intent, and my voice. I banged out essays that could stand as chapters, sent them off to cherished friends for review, and then got giddy with their encouraging feedback. I drafted a query letter for prospective book agents. I lit candles. Drank tea. Ate salads after sunset yoga practice on the deck overlooking the lake. And, gift of gifts, my hero Elizabeth Gilbert “liked” my Facebook page, and things started to take on a new life as new friends entered the picture. Almost 500 of them! I came home full of words and work product and excitement. MOMENTUM, baby!!
A few weeks later, my husband lost his job. In the span of 18 months, we went from having two incomes to having no incomes, and we were, for lack of a better phrase, freaked out. We started bickering — a lot — a first for our 10-year marriage. Irons in hubby’s job fire didn’t ignite as quickly as we’d hoped, so I grudgingly set the book aside and took on some PR work to pay the bills.
Fall gave way to winter and things got cold around the house. Much less talking and much more fighting. A trip to a marriage counselor would help us nip this distance in the bud, I thought. Little did I know that visit would be the beginning of a crazy road, on which hubby revealed a major depression, a midlife crisis, and, oh by the way, the belief that he didn’t love me anymore.
As you might guess, my life pretty much fell apart in that moment — and so did I. For months on end, I felt completely broken. Despondent. Unloved and, worse, unlovable. I was questioning, fearful and alone — so goddamn alone. Not to mention Very, Very Angry.
I became possessed with a rage that simmered under the surface, every minute of every day. I fell into my own numbing depression. I felt directionless and had no clue which way to turn, not trusting my perceptions or my instincts. I didn’t know what to do that wouldn’t devastate my kids. I seemed like the choice was my happiness or theirs: I didn’t want to stay and yet I couldn’t bring myself to go. The Universe was making sure I understood better than ever the very definition of the word “stuck.”
The entirety of 2015 felt like a freefall into misery and confusion, and I spent most of the year struggling just to keep my emotional head above water. But the water pulled me down. By the time my fall writing getaway came around, I was flat exhausted.
I looked at that second trip less as a chance to write, and more as a chance to simply get away for a while. Dave and I were living together but we were not talking much; in fact, we barely interacted other than as parents. He slept on the couch while I holed up in my bedroom, where the walls kept getting closer in, and not in a comforting way. (Of course, my desk lives in my bedroom, so there wasn’t much “publishable” writing happening anyway. Everything coming out of me then was from open wounds, not yet scars that had done anything close to healing.)
So last year I came to this special place craving physical space and solitude. I read, reflected, slept, and prayed. It was one giant, necessary exhale. And, on my way home, I inhaled as much grace as I could, bracing myself for what was still to come. The next week I’d slip deeper into my own depression. I’d check out of interactions. I’d stop wearing my engagement ring. (I had left on the silver wedding band because that felt factual, contractual — but the promise and sparkle represented by the diamond felt like a big, fat lie.) Eventually I asked for it back, but he wasn’t ready to give it — and then when he was, I wasn’t ready to accept it. Getting on the same page was so hard that we thought about just ripping the page in half. By this past spring, we were all but there.
But then we weren’t, because we couldn’t seem to reconcile how a separation or divorce would impact the kids. So we just sort of sat back down in our chairs. We retreated from the brink. And in the months since then, we have just sort of focused on be-ing, without the self-help books or the appointments with the marriage counselor or the pressure to be “in love” again, whatever that might look like someday.
During these last couple years of uncertainty, I’ve paid careful attention to the way people I admire have navigated changes in their relationships. Case in point: Glennon Doyle Melton.
A couple years ago, after Glennon had separated from and later reconciled with her husband Craig (before her announcement last month that they were separating for good), she wrote and she wrote, and I listened:
“Some loves are perennials-they survive the winter and bloom again. Some are annuals- beautiful and lush and full for a season and then back to the Earth to create richer soil for new life to grow. The eventual result of both types of plants is New Life.
The only way to find out whether your love is perennial or annual is to Be Still and Do That Next Right Thing until more is revealed. That’s just the Way It Is.
So does a Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Warrior Stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do.”
Be still and do the next right thing until more is revealed. That’s it. That’s what I did, because that’s what my deepest wisdom told me to do.
So, over these last few months, we’ve been back to doing the basic stuff — cooking and sightseeing and hanging with the kids, one day at a time. Talking more. Holding hands. Buying a minivan. (How’s that for renewed commitment?) And it’s been good to feel — thank heavens — that the anger has largely been replaced with forgiveness.
What was the turning point? This summer, shockingly and sadly, a friend who’d battled depression for years lost his life. It showed me that if the claws of depression could have made him feel the way he felt and do what he did, then it sure as hell could have made my husband feel the way he felt and say what he said. I realized then the truth of what others around me had been trying to say for a while: that it wasn’t him who didn’t love me, it was the depression talking.
Around this same time, as I was getting more and more impatient with my own inability to simultaneously manage my “work” bucket while dealing with stuff in my “home” bucket, I had another a-ha moment:
This was just one chapter in our story, not the entire book — and our stories can be both lived and unfolding at the same time.
In fact, there is no other way.
The earth does not stop on its axis simply because we’ve got problems demanding to be worked out. The trees do not stop breathing. Our bodies do not stop aging. No, it all keeps going, spinning, evolving, marching on.
We do, too. We must.
And this evolution is meant to be a multi-tasking kind of process, you know, because few of us can afford the luxury of focusing on only one aspect of our lives at a time. Even when there is trauma and drama to sort out and healing to be done, there are also bills to pay and children to raise and dinners to cook and plans to make and leaves to rake and classes to take and birthdays to celebrate. Not to mention the ongoing spiritual and personal growth we must tend to if we are to ever move from Point A to Points B, D, G and beyond.
Here’s the good news: Mysterious forces are at work upon us, bringing clarity to our minds and peace to our hearts — whether we are still and sleeping or whether we are mid-combat with ugly, fiery demons that fight extra dirty. Our deepest wisdom comes when the the time is right, and not a moment earlier.
If we believe that — and I think we must or else we’d have no reason to hope — if we believe that, we must also believe there is a way to reach for our best lives amid distractions, heartache, and setbacks. The question is whether we can commit to keeping ourselves charging forward in the face of those things that seek to pin our shoulders against the wall.
Which brings me around back to now.
In a blink, I’ve somehow arrived at the Third Annual Writing Retreat. In some ways, it’s a starting over — and in other ways, it’s seeing clearly how all the pain and uncertainty of the last couple years has served its purpose, and simply pushing off from there. Regardless…
Here. I. Am. Not running away, but with hope in my heart, absolutely wide open and feeling that my deepest wisdom has arrived. Knowing the time to midwife this thing has arrived. My bones say not only am I ready, but that if I don’t do it — right now — I will be consumed with regret. I will wither. I will have let myself down. So here I am. No more excuses and no more waiting. I am committing myself wholly. I WILL NOT SQUANDER THIS OPPORTUNITY.
In years past, I came fully loaded for this week: inspiration, reference books, creature comforts. This year, I packed minimally and with laser focus: one book, one pen, and — God help me — I’m setting up some posts to hit later in the week and then I’m turning off the wi-fi. I even took off the nail polish and filed my claws down short because I don’t want anything — ANYTHING — to stand between me and the words that need to make their way to the page.
No fear, no filter… no barriers, no distractions. Just this.
As I dig in, I want to thank you — each of you — for the special light you bring to this community. Your support of me — and, more importantly, of each other — is one of the most meaningful joys in my life. I could not be more grateful for this group and the many ways in which you share yourselves here. Please, keep sharing. I will if you do. (Oh, hell, I will no matter what, but it’ll be better if you share yourselves back.)
Because that’s how we heal. That’s how we love. That’s how we get unstuck.