I’ve recently left a destination that I hope to never see again. Mind you, I had no intention of going there, and – to be quite frank – didn’t realize where I was headed until I’d arrived. There is no Lonely Planet for this place for it’s not a destination that anyone intentionally sets out for, but alas, this summer I found myself at Rock Bottom.
The journey there, as well as my stay, was a maddening paradox. It all happened at lightening speed, yet time stood still. Everything I held dear slipped through my fingers, yet I felt burdened by all that I had to carry. My personal life was imploding yet my career was taking off. In short, my partner of 13 years had had enough and called it quits, and thus I found myself suddenly and utterly alone.
One of the most painful aspects (in every sense of the word) of visiting this place is the speed at which you find yourself traveling to & arriving there. The saying goes, “they hit Rock Bottom”, and they don’t say “hit” for no reason. You only hit something when you are going too fast to properly coast to a nice and gentle stop – and let me tell you this, NO ONE is coasting into this non-vacation destination. No, I flew at break-neck speed and crash landed like Wile E Coyote on a mission.
Upon arrival in Rock Bottom one is given a welcome guide with a list of emotions to check off (to make sure you’re in the right place).
Shock: What happened?
Confusion: How did I get here?
Panic: How do I get out??
Mania: Oh god – what if I NEVER get out?!?!
I went on like this for a solid week, and then I gathered myself, a few belongings and the two dogs and said goodbye to a life slipped through the cracks. Had the walk from the front door of our house to the car been more than 10 feet I’m not sure I would have made it, for it was the most painful 10 feet I’d ever gone. The seconds stretched out into what felt like hours as a lifetime of memories flooded and raged past.
I went back home to the Midwest to be with family, and as the days went on I went right along with them. I was not myself, but how could I be after so severe a life-change? Reader, if you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time then you know that I love me some good food, and let me tell you this: the food at Rock Bottom is rubbish. And there’s no use going out to the local sites, because there are only shadows from the past come to haunt you. The only place worth going in this garbage-heap-of-a-town is back to bed, which is were I had my first epiphany:
I’ll never be who I was, nor will things ever again be as they were.
Once I came to grips with that, then I could let go of trying to find a way back. It was liberating. I also realized that if I was ever going to leave this ugly place then I’d have to go a different direction than the way I came in. Over the years I’ve sharpened some of my skills, as one does, (packing light, cooking, writing, fitting both dogs’ poo into one poop bag – thankyouverymuch) but none more so than my ability to plan a trip. So, I drug myself out of bed and got to work.
Much like my arrival to Rock Bottom the beginning of my departure began with a series of questions I asked myself.
Where were you when you felt most alive? Africa.
In what job did you feel most fulfilled? Creating educational programs for the Free Library of Philadelphia.
What do the first two answers have in common? Bugs (MASSIVE pre-historic ones in Africa and Bed Bugs in Philly) – My smart-ass wit was coming back, which was a good sign, but I was looking for more serious of an answer – Helping children – much better.
And so it went, question after question, and I began to form a plan of action not only to get the hell out and far, far away from this place, but to soar to new heights. My mania remained, though I appeared calm, which fueled me to follow through on my plan and get shit done. Sometime in the beginning stages of my crazed planning I came across a video that gave me life. Truly. It was J.K. Rowling’s TED Talk entitled The Fringe Benefits of Failure and it encouraged me to the point of delirium to know that someone else had been here, and not only was she able to leave, but she went on to change the world with a story of a boy who stood for love, and goodness, and loyalty. I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment, because love, goodness, and loyalty are not words you find in Rock Bottom. It would be VERY easy to leave this place and carry words like anger, bitterness and rage around me like a shield so that no one could hurt me again. If I’m being honest, there were times that I wanted to pick up those words and show them off, but I’ve read Rowling’s books, and listened to her speech and it so changed me that I was able to let go (mind you it did take some time) and get to imagining a better tomorrow.
Though I have left Rock Bottom, I’m not so far (or naive) to think myself in the clear. But I have covered enough distance to recognize that I’m not the person I was when I arrived. It turns out that I had a great deal of determination and drive within myself that was sitting idle until provoked into action by desperation. I have gotten more done in the past 6 months, than I have in the past 6 years. I’ve also come to realize how precious my family and friends are to me, and how deep a mother’s love can go. These things I value more than diamonds and gold.
In the 15th century a china bowl was broken and sent Japan for repairs. Rather than disguise the fractures, gold filling was used, highlighting and drawing attention to the cracks. Once whole again the bowl was thought to be more beautiful for having been broken and made new again. To quote Master Rowling, “some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” If I am the china bowl and life is the clumsy dope that dropped me, then I like to imagine that over these past few months, as I slowly pieced myself back together again, the gold mortar now draws attention to and highlights the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned. Perhaps one day, should I be lucky enough to turn old and cranky, I’ll be able to look back and see a life well lived, that is that much more beautiful for having been broken.