As I was looking for poems to post today, I came across a short poem that I wrote. I remember what was going on in my life and what where I was, but I don’t remember writing it directly. Reading it today, it felt like a note or a piece I wrote to myself at a time when I needed reassurance that I would ‘get back up.’ I’ve not been quiet about the fact that I’ve fallen many times in my life literally and metaphorically. Some of those falls have been into deep rabbit holes, where I literally questioned, “How am I ever going to get up from here?” There were definitely periods where I honestly was uncertain that I was going to get up or recover or smile again. The moments where I really, really questioned if I would be able to stand again have become, over time, the moments that defined my life. As a therapist, I often tell my clients to draw me a timeline of their life. I don’t give any instruction on how to do it, and I’m honest with them that I’m vague for a reason. The only directive I might give someone would be, ‘imagine if your life were a newspaper, give me the headlines.’ The purpose of the exercise is in the processing. I learn a ton from those timelines. I’m handed timelines that are simply a replication of athletic awards someone received or academic achievements. Alone, in that, I begin to see where they view how others ‘value them,’ or ‘what’s important to them.’ Then there are some, so vague, it’s incredible. I have to ask, “Really, you don’t feel anything of significance has happened in your life.’ Then there’s the most common one I see, which is life either all in the positive or the negative. To both, I have to ask, ‘So nothing good has ever happened to you?’ or ‘Nothing that has ever happened to you has felt bad or are you just avoiding those experiences because you don’t want to look at them?’ Occasionally, I will get the most detailed timeline I’ve ever seen. Typically, I will have to beg to see it because the perfectionism of the individual is so strong, handing something over to me, means it could be seen as ‘not perfect,’ and in their world there is only ‘perfection’ and ‘failure.’ Often what I get is a hybrid. It will have a few events on it and then, at a certain point, typically when the person has deemed himself or herself ‘mentally ill,’ I get a list of failures or trauma, etc. that consumes the list. I assume this is how the person views their life. It’s also their perception that, as a therapist, I am interested only in the negative sequence of events in their life, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In all honesty, I’m looking for polarity and the ability to see both. I want to see that someone can say that things were negative at this time; however, there was something also positive that happened. Sometimes, it takes me days to just get someone to tell me one ‘good thing that has happened to them.’ Many times this is due to the fact that the individual is very depressed, but often it’s due to a misconception of what we view as ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ When we’re wounded in some capacity, the negative feels overwhelming and takes over everything. I’ve been there; however, moments still pop up where something good happens. I think, it’s often much easier to identify where we failed than what made us laugh or smile. Sometimes I wonder if that also comes from living in a society that demands so much comparison of one another. I will say, “Did you ever go on a vacation or just had a nice day off alone?” People will look at me like I’m nuts and say, “We were poor and never went on any cruises or anything.’ The comparison rate of what is ‘good’ has gotten so high. As a kid, we did not have much money and our vacations were often limited to ‘camping,’ and that was a lot. We didn’t have money to do that every weekend, but I would probably put it on a timeline because, although I had friends that went to Disneyworld and traveled every year, that was not my life. It also was not displayed to me every day. They went maybe once a year and I’d think about it, but it wasn’t on my radar. It also was a vacation for my parents and seeing their change in attitude as they were able to have time off, be with us, and relax made it special. Some of those camping trips or weekend adventures are the best memories I have because I saw my parents as the people they are. I saw them when they weren’t stressed about money, putting food on the table, their crappy jobs, etc. They were themselves. As an adult, I can relate to this well. Although I love being a therapist, it’s a job that does not leave you. You have to work to leave it at the office. The few periods where I have been in-between jobs and without forty clients that depend on me, have been incredible experiences. Probably one of the few times that friends and family get to see me truly with my guard down. As I read this poem today, it really struck me that, at the time I wrote it, I was needing badly to remind myself that I’ve been here before and I have gotten up. Despite the circumstance, I’ve gotten up. It goes back to the idea of loss and the ultimate goal of loss as being ‘acceptance.’ Many of my falls were losses, in some capacity, and the getting back up was finding my way to ‘acceptance.’ Acceptance does not mean things are headed back to the way life was. Acceptance means, “Something significant happened, and I can accept that I am changed and probably will forever be changed, and I’m going to be ok in that new reality.’ That is acceptance. The idea that we often like acceptance and it feels good is often what keeps us from it. It’s not a cure. It’s not a magical wish that takes us back in time, it’s reminding ourselves that we have been knocked down and maybe the worlds going to feel different as a result and that is ok. When I read this poem, I think about those timelines. I think about all the times I’ve been on the ground and ready to throw in the towel, seeming it impossible to imagine what the ‘new reality,’ is going to be like and if I can exist in it. The truth is, the answer is often reminding myself how many times I’ve fought acceptance and how many times it’s won over time. Looking back, I would not be who I am today if I had not taken the punches and worked through the slow crawl toward acceptance. Right now, there’s so much uncertainty. We’re living in a world where it’s really hard to imagine what next month might be like. I am finding more and more I lean on my history of falls as evidence that it’s all going to be ok. I think about those timelines and ask myself each day, what would be the ‘good thing,’ I would put in that timeline today. Quarantining in a studio apartment alone, there are days when it’s really hard, but I’ve found that I always find something whether it was “waking up early this morning and enjoying my coffee and writing a poem,’ or ‘just hearing the sound of my parent’s voice or a friends.’ I find I’m becoming more aware of how grateful I am for little things like music, dancing in my room, making a new recipe. I hope that one of the things that comes out of this period for all of us is we appreciate and accept that in a moment with great uncertainty, loss for many, isolation, loneliness, etc, we also found some new parts of ourselves that we liked.
I slid through the entrances of my exits
& found exits that led to entrances.
Places in myself where I could not
be still enough to ask myself the burning questions,
essential to knowing myself so you could know me.
The rain on my naked feet felt like someone
was touching me, assuring me. You can’t
bring your destiny out when you’re against you.
Whatever follows your statement of I am will find you.
On the cement fallen acorns feel like lost prayers.
Give something reverence and it feels spiritual.
A body has one million atoms in it right now,
In the last three weeks, a quadrillion atoms have gone through
The body of every living species on the planet.
Inside your spirit, I bumped into love, compassion, beauty, ache.
I am trying to learn patience from the skies,
Inside me, a great mystery flows. Inside, a void of inner silence flows
as blood comes out of my scraped knees and hands.
They say I am pretty beaten up
from sliding through entrances and exits,
some even have said I’m ‘stuck, defeated, done.”
I just stare down at the acorns on the ground,
My smile too is seasonal and re-emerges even when my spirit feels beaten.