Steps

Originally posted January 27, 2016

It’s an amazing thing, transformation. A dear (and much more eloquent) friend of mine likens wounded people to locusts — we fly and feed and take in life until the day that hardship (or more than likely, hardship upon hardship) drives us underground. Our time in the dark can last so long that we start to forget what the world above even looked like. In the unbearable waiting, we learn to hate ourselves for what brought us into the dirt, rejecting the thought that the darkness is but a part of who we are until we’re able to crawl back up through the layers and into the light.

Every day beneath the weight of my backpack reinforces that I’m lightest when on a frontier. In the comfort of home, with a soft bed and a DVR and hot meals and a steady job, I wilted. In predictable safety, I felt my sense of self slipping.

I withdrew under the pressure of witnessing the secure, stable lives of those around me, the life I was supposed to want but didn’t — the life that millions would (and do) kill for but I had the impossible luxury to find shackling.

And in that stability, in the absence of pursuing what I knew fulfilled me, all my demons made themselves known. I stopped communicating with friends. I struggled to shower or lift myself from the couch. I was quick to anger with those I loved most. I went on anti-depressants.

Another friend once told me that the hardest thing to do in life is accept into your identity the things you never thought would be a part of you. I gravitate towards intentional denial when it comes to my own failings and fragility, because the reality of me has fallen so short of what my younger expectations for myself were. There were things I chose and others that I didn’t that nonetheless altered me so irrevocably, I spent months in angry mourning for the person I’d always thought I would be. I was supposed to be always smarter, always purer, always kinder, always better. I didn’t want to accept that that person was a fantasy, and that chasing her allowed the wounds of my actual self to fester and blacken instead of simply being as they were.

I was the 20-something girl with the dead mother who chased death time and time again in a completely transparent act of defiance.

I was the selfish fraud who went to bed with a friend’s boyfriend just because he said pretty things in the grey dawn.

I was the cliché who gave a year of my life to promiscuity and narcotics in a desperate attempt at regaining control.

I was the wreckage left behind by the nameless asshole who dropped a capsule in my drink and left my body and self-worth forever changed.I spent that year at home actively trying to reject those things that I hated so, those things that I was ashamed and angry to know were a part of me — lingering, searing evidence of how I’d failed the image I wanted for myself. But the hatred solved nothing; it didn’t cause the bruises to pale, and it didn’t lend me any lasting strength. Now, under the fiercely blue Mexican sky, the depression that crept up on me so stealthily slowly fades, and I begin to find peace with those things that I fought so long to tear out. The bougainvillea and hummingbirds, so effortlessly beautiful in their iridescence, bolster my spirit and remind me that even the underground chapters of my life didn’t keep me from here. My stumbles as much as my sure strides brought me to these terracotta towns with their cacti and cathedrals, to these palm-lined beaches full of shells (beautiful in their fragility) and some of the warmest people I’ve ever known. And I know that just as they brought me here, those same faltering steps will take me onward.

With every day on the road, I become myself again. My steps beneath my pack become easier every day as my muscles tighten and my lungs expand. Because this is my real stability; it isn’t idyllic, it isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t what I expected. But it is what gives me life, and every screw up and searing loss I’ve endured lend themselves to the road. I stare at my shoes — torn, roughened by the terrain I’ve already crossed, streaked with dust from the paths I’ve hiked and spotted with blood from wounds that allowed me to see sunrises from mountain peaks. I was never meant to be perfect. Perhaps I was always meant to crack open, to fall in the dirt, to lose the shining image I’d constructed for myself so that I’d no longer be able to separate myself from others who were hurting; so that when I want to condemn other selfish, hurtful people, I can remember that they need love and compassion as much as I do.

Yes, I would love to have been spared the struggles — as my dad would say, “Lord, spare me the lessons!” — but I refuse to slide into the sense of entitlement so easy to assume when we live through darkness.

These things are a part of me, and it is my privilege that I can still choose for myself the person I will be every day. Not everyone receives that blessing.

So I’ll keep walking. And with every new morning I grow just a little bit stronger under the backpack that at first seemed so impossibly heavy. I’ll scuff my shoes time and time again, I’ll lose items that are dear to me, I’ll scratch and I’ll bruise and I’ll learn that changed isn’t less worthy than new. And on some days, I’ll remove heavy, long clung-to items from my pack with the sudden realization that I need them no longer.

Inspired by Bell Canada’s #BellLetsTalk campaign for mental health initiatives.