Last Christmas, I thought that I had hit zero. A dark and depressing Christmas where – not knowing where else to turn – I said a desperate prayer to my mother while cradling a box of her ashes (an experience I documented in my blog post, Faith).
In truth, I hadn’t hit it yet. Actual ground zero was one week ago, last Monday morning, when I woke up with the heavy, oppressive realization that I had been lying to myself. That I could no longer live with one foot in my old life, one foot in my new one, trying to have it both ways. I couldn’t forge ahead into the future while still holding on to the security blanket of the past. I needed to finally give it up, all of it.
I miss my old life. I miss my old life, even though I know it’s not for me. I miss the rhythms and the routine. I miss the comfort in the familiar, even though the familiar was often discomfort itself. I miss always knowing what was coming next, even though what was coming next was often stressful, anxiety producing. And I miss the person that I used to live with, even though he made me crazy. Even though we fought. A lot. Even though I cried.
I walked away from my old life because I had to. Because in the midst of all the loss – my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my dear friend – I had also lost myself. I was drowning, and losing so many people that I loved in such tragic, jarring, devastating ways taught me that if I didn’t change, I was going to die too. In fact, I already was dying, but so slowly that I barely even noticed.
In walking away, I left my home, my marriage, my friends (some of whom, I would learn, were only ‘friends’), and a passion project that I am immensely proud of, an ongoing theater festival that I helped to create, that I worked tirelessly on, gave my whole heart to, and that involved collaboration with many people that I dearly love. Walking away from all of those things hurt like hell.
When I hit ground zero one week ago, I realized that in saying goodbye to so much that I anchored my identity to, I’m no longer sure who I am. I’m no longer sure who I am outside of a relationship that defined my twenties and that brought me both enduring joy and profound heartbreak. I’m no longer sure who I am outside of a company that I co-founded, a company that has been my creative home and my sanctuary from the soul-sucking world of Hollywood for the last five years. And I’m no longer sure who I am outside of my role as an exceptionally competent (what’s the point in false humility, it’s true) producer and caretaker-in-chief, the girl with the plan, the one who manages the to-do list, the problem solver, the go-to, the one with an answer for everything.
The girl in this new life no longer has a plan, save to keep going, to keep forging ahead, one foot in front of the other, into the great unknown. She’s a girl alone in a city where it’s easy to be lonely, a city where she’s not sure she belongs anymore. She’s an actress and a producer without a passion project, and a writer with so many projects that she doesn’t know where to focus, only that they’re all driving her crazy with their dizzying, disorienting, the truth is everywhere and it’s fucking painful, thoughts.
How did this girl, how did I, know that I had finally hit zero; that it hadn’t already happened yet? Because I couldn’t stop crying. Not for three whole days. Because anything – going for a run, ordering lunch, brushing my teeth – produced instantaneous, uncontrollable, sobbing. Because I couldn’t get off the floor, not for an entire afternoon. Because in the midst of all of this, I wrote myself a ‘get well soon’ greeting card, filled it with inspirational thoughts that I didn’t really believe, trudged over to the post office, and mailed it to myself. And when the mailman delivered it the next day, I didn’t feel better, as I hoped I would. I couldn’t even bring myself to open the damn thing, I just looked at it, bawling, feeling like an insane person, for fifteen minutes straight.
If this is what letting go feels like, then I fucking hate it. It’s the worst thing you can imagine. Throughout all the loss and the sickness and the death and the crises that I’d been managing over the last two years, I have never felt anything like this. And it’s probably because I’d never stopped, or settled down long enough to allow myself to feel it. I was producing a play when my mom had her nervous breakdown, another one after my dad’s death and during my grandmother’s. And then I went on to tackle producing an ambitious, thirty-minute film noir movie. Through it all, I worked, worked, worked, not because I was (at least, not consciously) trying to avoid feeling things, but because it’s how I deal. It’s what I know how to do. I’m the competent, problem-solving caretaker, remember? The one managing the to-do list.
I’m not a negative person. I’m not a defeatist. The rational part of me knows that the only way out is through, and that I have no choice but to wade through this until I get to the other side. But it sure doesn’t make it any easier. And when you’re desperate and searching, sometimes help can be found in the oddest places. Like Pinterest. While doing some work for my social media job, I happened upon a quote by the poet Mary Oliver. I had been introduced to Mary’s writing years ago, thought occasionally about her line ‘what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?,’ but couldn’t call myself a follower by any stretch of the imagination. But when I came upon her poem The Journey, my heart nearly stopped. It is so beautifully written, so profound, that as a writer I’m incredibly jealous that I didn’t write it. And I’m also overwhelmingly grateful that she did, because it encapsulates everything I’m experiencing right now so perfectly. Here it is:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice – – -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – -
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.
I’m not going to lie: I wept for a long time after reading those words. I read them again and again. I’m still reading them. And here’s the thing: I know in my heart that when nothing is sure, everything is possible. I know that there are many doors open to me, and I just need to stop waffling, choose one and walk through it. After all, if I’m not sure who I am anymore, that means I can be anything, right? I could haunt sidewalk cafes in Paris, and finally write my memoir. I could steal away to a village by the sea and forge a simple life. I could pull a Cheryl Strayed and give away all of my personal belongings and go on a months-long, soul-searching, danger-filled adventure. I could become notorious, and invite other writers to write things about me.
The exhilarating and terrifying part of true reinvention is the prospect that someday – in the not too distant future – I may very well look into the mirror and barely recognize the person I’ve become. What if, in starting anew, I lose parts of myself that I really like, never to be found again? But I guess that’s where faith comes in. Faith in myself. Faith in my intuition, faith in my inner voice, a voice that I ignored for far too long while it was screaming at me and stomping its feet, a voice that had been trying to tell me something for a reason.
After crying for three days straight, after barely being able to get off the floor, I woke up last Thursday morning, suddenly, inexplicably, lighter. I felt like getting out of bed, and doing something productive with my day. And so I did. And it felt good. And since last Thursday, I’ve been feeling mostly OK. I think this pattern may continue for a while. Some days I’ll wake up, feeling fine, and some days, not so much. But the important thing is, I’ll wake up. And I’ll continue to go.
So this is it. This is true ground zero. This is where recovery – where reinvention – begins.
It sucks. I fucking hate it.
But it doesn’t appear that I have a choice in the matter. So – onward I go. Into the great unknown.
Until next time, friends.