*CW: mention of suicidal thoughts/actions
I am a thirsty soul neck deep in a river and too afraid to drink.
I am living at a convergence point of questions for which my life stands as the only answers–answers that unfold in the living of them moment to moment. We all of us are living in a time that demands to know who we are and whether who that is is someone we can face, whether what we do is something of which our children’s children’s children would be able to speak as they pour offerings to their ancestors and tell the myths of collapse and rebuilding, of meaning and magic, as we all must in our different generations.
I am finding that I knew the answer all along, but have been too afraid to live it.
Who am I? Whose am I? Where is the center place where who I am meets the worlds’ longing? This is going to sound really silly, but as young person just coming into my teen years I heard a Jewel lyric** that said “it’s time we made a place where people’s souls may be seen and made safe”… and when I heard that it resonated. I said “Yes, that is who I am, that is what I want to be in the worlds.” Someone asked me recently what I would choose if I could have anything I wanted and I realized that this is still it. I want to live authentically in a way that brings healing, compassion, and courage to the world and the persons–human and other-than-human–in it. I want to stand rooted, for the fires of my soul to sustain, warm, inspire, and transform, and the waters to nurture and heal. I want people to be seen and to feel, and be, safe as who and how they are in the worlds when they are with me.
Do not mistake me, I am just a person like any other. I do not have anything particular to say or do or be that is of value to other people, except insofar as we all do. Perhaps, though, something may resonate for someone, may touch something for them that brings value or sparks a thought, a glimmer of hope, or a wry laugh. So, this is the story of “enough.”
You see, Once upon a time, I was chronically suicidal. I believed I was tainted in a deep and pervasive way that would ultimately harm all those around me, and I had reason to believe this, though those reasons were rooted in a child’s understanding of self, others, and the world, and a child’s lack of trust in any of them. I joke that I have had to accept that the only thing I will fail at more than once is committing suicide. In 2011 I made a suicide attempt that lost me 10 days of my life, among other things, and I decided that I was going to try something new. I was going to live as if I was not tainted, as if I was at least “enough” to not need to die. I have subsequently spent years afraid to the core of my being that I made the wrong choice and seeking desperately to prove it wasn’t true, determined to prove that I was “enough.” I have accomplished a lot doing so; it has been a driving force in my life. And now I hear a new question bubbling up from some deep well within, carried like sparks on the breeze to singe my hair and kiss my cheeks… What if you made the right one, and then were too afraid to ever actually live? Has it been worth the cost if you were right all along–the laughter and love and grief and terror and beauty you did not allow yourself to savor in your fear that you were not deserving of it? I have been sitting with these questions and the thoughts that arise from them for weeks now. They were a strangely sorrowful gift.
I have only scratched the surface of this, but there is a deepening of my experience of the world since I have played this pretend. The thing is, our stories about ourselves and each other and the world are all just stories. We use them to make meaning, to drive the plots and purposes of our lives, even to entertain and educate. But they are only as true as our immersion in them in that moment. If you are comfortable, I invite you to right now in this moment take a deep breath. Bring all your focus on the feel of your breath entering your nostrils, moving down the passages of your throat. Notice the sensation, notice your chest expanding. Notice how different it is when you breathe out, the change in muscle tension in your shoulders and chest, the temperature of the air against the back of your throat. Then notice who is noticing–the part of yourself that is aware of you sensing this breath, that gets distracted or has thoughts about what you are doing and thoughts about your thoughts. What are you thinking right now? This is the part of you that is listening to that thought and even, perhaps, commenting on it. We can immerse ourself in our story–the sensation of our breath, of a hug, in a feeling or thought or belief or action–and we can step back from that to notice what we are immersed in, what story we are telling or even to write a new one, or doodle our lives in finger-paints and crayon, turn it into a dance, or tear the pages. The questions I have been asking myself are part of the tension between the stories I tell and actually living:
What is the value of your fear of not being enough in some way–and have you paid enough for it yet? Is there a moment at which you will know that you have lost enough or suffered enough that you can now BE enough? The drive to prove our enough-ness can lead us to achieve all kinds of things, but there is still a cost in anxiety, in impostor syndrome, in the moments we turn away from to put more into those achievements, in the connections we miss in our fear of shame at others seeing who we are, and still the debt isn’t paid and the fear rarely leaves for long. And at the end of it all… What if you were always enough? What if none of us are “enough” because that’s a godsdammed stupid way to value a life and what we really are is beyond any words even as capable a bullshitter as myself could come up with?? I think I’ll try it for a day, act “as if”… What choices would I make if I had nothing to prove to anyone, perhaps most especially myself? What choices will you make?
**from her song Innocence Maintained copyrighted 1998 Concord Music Group, Inc.