To be used when stuck in any given pit of despair . . .
This last month, I had the great pleasure of training with a group of talented writers to be volunteer workshop facilitators for Write Around Portland—an incredible organization in my new hometown. As part of the training, we wrote a lot, and that reminded me of the abundance of ways and forms and shapes in writing, which led me to doing a little writing exercise that led to this post.In the healing I’ve been doing from the loss of my marriage and the accompanying upending of life, I’ve been very aware of an ebb and flow—times of striking clarity and moments where it feels like any thought or feeling I have has to push up through a jar of molasses to be expressed, peaceful hours and long holidays in the pit of despair.
So I thought that while I’m in a lucid moment, one wherein I feel stable, I would write a little letter to myself for the inevitable instance when I again feel like a mountain goat in the ocean.
Below is my letter to me, and I found it to be a most helpful exercise. Maybe you would too? I firmly believe that we are our own best wisdom figures. So try giving yourself the best you have to offer, and feel free to share your letter here!
I also firmly believe that we can remind each other and lean on each other when we forget how rad we really are. So if you’re not feeling so grounded or clear today, if you know what it means to only have hooves when you could actually really use fins, you’re welcome to borrow my letter in the meantime.
You are okay.
Don’t underestimate the power of breathing and observing yourself in the present moment—not dwelling, mind you, not belaboring or beating up, but just observing, looking, noticing what’s there.
Just let yourself be. You don’t need to be fixed. This moment doesn’t need to be fixed.
That said, within reason and without harm to anyone, including yourself, follow through on whatever you need to do. If you feel like beating your fists on the floor, do it. If you feel like screaming, do that, although maybe into a pillow so as not to freak out the neighbors or explain to the cops that you were shrieking at yourself. Remember that what you don’t release can get trapped in you. Let it go, let it go, let it go.
Think about all of the people who love you, and let that in. Allow that love to seep as deeply into your marrow as you so expertly do with all of the nasty and terrible things you’ve ever heard. Allow the love to stain you like blueberries or sangria. Let it in, let it in, let it in.
Find gratitude, wherever it is right now, even if you have to dig it out from that crevice between the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets and brush off the dirt grains, the stale piece of popcorn, and the very crispy leaf of parsley that disintegrates in your fingers like a staked vampire. Let the undead parsley fall away, and hold onto that small piece of gratitude. Maybe just say thank you for the ability to hold something in your hand, even if it is popcorn from the Paleolithic Age of your kitchen. The tiniest shard of gratitude can slice an opening through the thickest and saddest doors and walls.
Remember that no matter how dark and scary the night is, it has always been followed by a sunrise, and that even if it was a cloudy and rainy one, it still got lighter.
Read some Anne Lamott—pull out Traveling Mercies, and start at the beginning or the middle or the end, anywhere really.
Just FYI, the you right now is the same you that wrote a book and started a business and moved four times to new places in this country without really knowing anyone and built communities there. You are the same person who survived being a teenager and losing your dad. You’re the same person who quit a safe job to continue to grow and to pursue your dream of writing. You are the same person who has risked love again and again, despite heartbreak.
Think of Alice Walker’s brilliantly titled story collection: The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart. Your heart may be broken, dear one, but the cracks are like a route marked on a treasure map, showing you exactly which way to go next. Forward and forward and forward, with love.
As much as it might seem like a good idea to drink a whole jug of Carlo Rossi’s finest, it just might not be. Although if you need to do it, make sure to drink twice as much water.
It’s okay to ask for help and to accept it. At the same time, don’t forget that you already have what you’re looking for, that it’s built into you and most easily found through breathing and observing with compassion, although definitely also unearthed through wild interpretive dancing to Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”
Need and longing are simply expressions of energy and reminders of the ebb and flow. Try this on for size: Enjoy the emptiness; savor it. Remember all of the times you’ve felt overwhelmed and stuffed with too much information, too much input, too much everything. How fascinating and complex of you that you can embrace so many different states of being.
When you’re ready to do some filling up, careful what you let into the emptiness. In this moment, choose wisely. Choose simply. Remember that the shiny complicated grail almost always is not the one you want. The small, smooth one made out of common wood has more magic than you can imagine. Take a walk in the fresh air. Make a list of things you’re thankful for. Eat something crunchy and bright. Read a beautiful poem. Write one.
If any of this makes you angry or causes your cynicism to rear up and say things like, “You think it’s so easy and that you’re so enlightened and wise, you smug, sanctimonious asshole,” remember that you are that asshole. And you can be a miserable asshole and an enlightened one at the same time, but when it comes down to it, you’re still an asshole.
And if that doesn’t make you feel better or at least make you laugh, then pull out the big-guns emergency kit: play some Violent Femmes, watch some Arrested Development, and do the nicest thing you can think of for someone else who is hurting, which is just another way of loving yourself.
I love you.
Thank you so much for reading. You might notice that I don’t have a space for comments, but I’m certainly open to conversation about what’s written here. If you’re so inspired, feel free to start a conversation with me via the contact form on the homepage of this site.