Learning to Stay

It’s been a little while, friends. Since my last post, I’ve managed to pull myself out of my tailspin. It’s taken time, and I would say I’m still in the early days of really feeling 100% in control of myself again. Things are in constant flux; there’s no guarantee that this stability will last. In fact, the only sure thing is that it won’t. Things will change again. There’s comfort in that, I suppose. The highs don’t last, but neither do the lows, not forever.

We’re in Ontario visiting family right now, trying to tie up some loose ends since our move in the spring. Having extra hands to help has certainly contributed to my most recent recovery. I’ve been seeing my therapist weekly since we got here, and that little “top up” has been so important for me to sort through my shit and reaffirm some things.  I know I’ve got this; I know what needs to be done. It’s the doing it that’s hard. I’m working on not numbing out: no more wine, trying not to overeat, not to check out mentally with my phone. I’ve been running, or meditating, or reading, whenever I find a spare moment in the day. I’m trying to let go of the absolutes: the “I have to do this thing at this time every day or else I do nothing.” I’m trying to embrace the fact that, with three kids ages five and under, I’m never going to have that kind of regularity. I’m embracing the chaos of it, embracing the flux. The writing has been missing, and so here I am. And here I will try to come more often. If I can’t have my therapist in Dawson, maybe this can stand in to help me stay accountable to myself.

Something I’ve realized in the past two weeks is my intense discomfort with myself, with the present moment, with being still and staying with whatever is happening. More and more, I notice myself constantly looking for an exit. Yesterday, I took the kids to the beach. We had some fries and Orangeade; the sun was shining, it was windy but warm. A gorgeous day. As the kids ran across the sand towards the lake, shorebirds taking flight in their wake, it started: that nagging voice in my mind asking “so when do we leave? What’s next?”

What the hell?

The kids are happy. They’re not fighting, they’re not throwing toys around my parents house or nagging me for a snack. We’re fed, we’re rested, we’re outside and there is so much to see and smell and feel. Why can’t I just enjoy this? So, I brought myself back to the moment I was in. Acknowledged that restlessness, and sat through it, there in the sand and sun. It passed, and we played for another hour or so.

It’s this restlessness that drives so many of my habits. Bored? Pick up the smartphone: exit. Frustrated? Start yelling at everybody: exit. Overwhelmed? Open that bottle of wine: exit. Sad? Eat another huge helping of dinner: exit. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, I’ve got an exit strategy. And I’m finally starting to see them play out, time and again. And I’m ready to stop and stick around with my shit, because I’m beginning to learn that it always passes, eventually. That the discomfort doesn’t kill me. But the exit strategies are.

Last week I got a new tattoo. It was about three and a half hours of tattooing, and of course it hurts. I breathed through much of it, chatting off and on with the artist, looking around the room, listening to the music, but at times I was overwhelmed with this creeping-up-my-spine feeling of “get me the fuck outta here!” But of course that’s not an option. I can’t leave with a half finished tattoo. I don’t want to do that. I chose this, and at the end, I’ll have this beautiful piece of art on my body. So I came back to my breath. I got through it. And it occurred to me that choosing to be present through whatever is going on isn’t a choice you make one time and then you’re set. It’s a choice you have to make over and over again, a million times a day if necessary.

That creeping feeling shows up in meditation, it shows up when I’m conciously trying not to pick up my smartphone: basically any time I’m trying to keep myself from running for the exit. It is so uncomfortable to just be present with myself. To be present in my life, this life that I’ve got. These three kids who exhaust and overwhelm me daily. But if I’m not there for the overwhelm, chances are I won’t be there for the (often rare and fleeting) bits of beauty.

In her book ““Taking the Leap”, Pema Chodron says we only have to do three things when we feel ourselves about to run for the exit:

1. Acknowledge it (with kindness, if possible)

2. Take three concious breaths. Be curious about how you’re feeling (have a sense of humour about it, if you’re able)

3. Relax. Get on with your life.

I love that she doesn’t specify what “getting on with it” might be. She leaves the possibility that we’ll still run for the exit. But the more frequently we practice creating this space around our exit strategies, the easier it will become, over time, to choose to stay present.

I’m going to practise this today and every day. I’m going to be kind with myself even when I do run for the door. My hope is to eventually stay, like a faithful dog, through all of it.

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