I find it so interesting that when I am in the midst of all my self-doubt, insecurities and feelings of hopelessness, I am told, “You are not alone. Many women experience what you are going through right now.” Really? I never tell anyone what I am feeling, so how could they know? I keep my deepest, darkest secrets…well…secret. So how do they know?
The truth is, I really am not alone. Everyday I come across someone who expresses, either verbally or by her actions, just how unhappy she is.
Some women are more stoic and accept their situation as it is. “This is life and at least I am not married to an abusive husband or live in abject poverty, right? I have a nice home, cars, take great vacations, buy clothes full price off the rack whenever I want to. So what do I have to complain about? Doesn’t everyone feel this way?” Maybe. But not everyone is so willing to accept mediocrity as an acceptable form of status quo.
Others feel guilty for having thoughts of discontent. “How could I be miserable when I have a husband and family who depend on me? They love me and appreciate me…most of the time. I have nothing to be unhappy about, so I will just ignore these feelings, push them deeper into my soul and try desperately to forget about them. In the meantime I will just keep this smile pasted to my face and no one will ever know I am dying inside.” And for a while, it works. But any scientist will tell you that the more you add pressure to something, the greater the resistance and the more compression you add will simply cause a more violent explosion when it finally reaches maximum density. And eventually it will explode.
Others just know their lives are perfectly pulled together. “I have my world well ordered. My family cannot survive without me. Just look at the piles of laundry and dirty dishes that build up when I go away just for a weekend! Without me…well, this place would fall apart!” True. And yet, in spite of the laundry and dirty dishes, they DO go on. You actually are replaceable…with a well paid and overworked maid. Or you discover your spouse has found someone else to fluff and fold him. And that realization can shake a girl to her very core.
There are multiple variations on this theme, but in time, everyone eventually funnels into the same place: The Pit of Despair (said in my best Princess Bride impersonation). Women fall, eyes shut tight against what is coming, terrified, in denial, and maybe even a bit angry, straight into a giant dung heap of lies, regrets, anger, resentment, sorrow, depression, self-loathing, self-doubt, and every other nasty smelling emotion that gets in the way of healthy and productive living. Once the tumble is complete, the dust settles and we finally screw up the courage to open our eyes, we are shocked to discover…what?
We are not alone!
So here we stand…surrounded by all this misery, and we see lots of activity. Some women are rolling around in their piles o’ poo, feeling supremely sorry for themselves, and with the obligatory weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Some women are starting to rise to their feet, after watching carefully to see what the woman across the room is doing, and the one next to her and that one over there, and her, and her. And suddenly, she finds the strength to stand up, dust off her sleeves and take in her new environment from a different perspective.
Over there is a group of women, huddled together, talking, pointing, shaking their heads, even hugging each other. They seem to be forming some sort of pact or bond. Nodding, now, evidently agreeing on something.
Then you realize something interesting: everyone, no matter where they are, keeps looking toward something in the middle of the room. You finally discover the sight for yourself, and your eyes feast on it: women, standing on each other’s shoulders, building a human ladder to the top of the room, where…wait a minute…is that an opening? Is that a light shining through? No, the light at the end of the tunnel has not, in fact, been turned off due to budget cuts, but is indeed alight and burning brightly. And women are making it out!
After watching for a minute, it becomes apparent that not only are they making it out, but they are not running off, escaping the minute they are free. They are reaching back in, grasping hold of the next woman’s hand, and pulling her out. Somehow, the women at the bottom are moving up the ladder, as new women step in to take their place. It is a fluid motion; a well choreographed dance; a wave in the midst of the ocean that continues to undulate with grace.
And in the midst of all this, you have to keep watching out, because every once in a while, someone new falls in, straight down into the pile, curled up in a tiny ball, terrified, just like you were only a short while ago.
So, where do you want to be?
Rolling around in a stinky mess? Maybe, for a while. If you don’t know you stink, how can you make a change? Sometimes it is an important part of the process to get so rotten that even you can’t stand yourself any longer. And you have to do something…anything to make a change.
Perhaps you don’t need to reek of failure to realize you need change. But you are still here, so what is next? Find someone else to talk to? Those women in that group look like you, seem like you…thank goodness they don’t smell like them back there. So you tentatively go forward, and stand on the outskirts, listening, until you recognize your own words coming out of someone else’s mouth. And you find yourself speaking up, finding your voice, saying, “Yes! I know exactly how you feel!” All heads turn to you, and with welcoming smiles, pull you in. Suddenly, you feel more alive and appreciated and understood than you have in…well…you can’t remember when you last felt this way.
Or are you ready to start climbing that ladder out of here? You may think, “I can do this alone. I don’t need that group of touchy-feely weirdos over there, and I certainly am not going to hang with the stinky crying fools back there. I am heading straight up and outta here.
But instead of helping, you start pushing people and climbing up, frantically trying to get to the top. But the top seems to be going further and further away from you, almost in the opposite direction. And suddenly, it happens: You slip, you fall and you land where?–you guessed it…smack dab in middle of the stinky criers. In frustration, you finally give in, and become one with the stink.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we, the foundation of our homes, families, lives, allow ourselves to get this way? Why do we give up everything that made us so attractive to our spouses all those years ago? Some sacrifices are good, important, necessary. Others, well, they are (or at least were) essential to what made us feel alive! When did we lose sight of that? When did we decide, “It’s okay to give up and not shower this week. It’s okay to gain a few extra pounds…I will lose them next week when I start working out again. It’s okay to stop writing, painting, practicing yoga, working on my career, finishing my education, singing, dancing, loving, living?” When did that become okay?
Remember the movie Back to the Future? The original one. Where Michael J. Fox is trying desperately to get his parents to fall in love in the past, but as they drift further and further apart, the family picture he has starts to fade, and the people in it simply disappear? That was me. That is me. The more my hopes and dreams drift away from me, the more I begin to fade into the background. And fading may seem like a peaceful way to go, but it’s not. It is painful. Excruciatingly so. The process takes so long that it becomes a constant source of pain, until, at some point, you can’t remember not being in pain and the pain becomes your friend, because it is the only familiar thing you know, anymore. Even your spouse and kids seem to have moved on, leaving you standing, holding the bag of groceries, soccer cleats, sports jerseys, book bags, lunch boxes, toys, games and books. Where did they go? Why am I still standing here? Why is all of this stuff piled on top of me?
And now what do I do with it all?