I am involved in a 500 words a day challenge with a group led by a writer I admire, Jeff Goins. He recently wrote a book I am listening to called Real Artists Don’t Starve. I am a firm believer in this concept, so I bought the book, and so far, so good. So when the opportunity to join his Facebook group “500 Words a Day” came up, I jumped. Yesterday, I was supposed to write about the most important day of my life.
I thought I had it all figured out. Duh, the day I ran away from home.
I was all set to write about it, until I was talking with my mother this morning.
“I’m at rock bottom.” She sobbed into the phone. “Rock bottom.”
Now, let me say, my mother tends toward the dramatic. She is most certainly not at rock bottom. She is actually at one of the greatest moments of her life. But my mother’s blessing and curse is that she is very childlike. She lives in the moment, like an innocent child does.
This is a truly beautiful thing in many ways.
She gulps down happiness in great waves. She reaches highs like few people I’ve seen.
The downside to this is that the slightest thing can send her spiraling downward.
“Good.” I said calmly into the phone. “Good.”
And I realized in that moment, and I explained to her, that the day I hit rock bottom was actually the most important day of my life. It is the only reason I am where I am now, happy beyond belief, in love and deeply loved in return, headed toward a bright future of clarity and goodness. The sky is the limit. Because of the day I lost everything.
I was sitting on my apartment floor, twenty five years old. It was sparsely decorated one bedroom above downtown – a cheap couch, a bed, a cheap table, some kitchen equipment. Not much.
I had asked my husband of five years to move out only months ago. I was in the middle of a mad love affair with a man who was all wrong for me. I had just been fired from my job as a bank manager. For said love affair. He was my employee.
I remember sitting there, very distinctly, humiliated, destroyed, and thinking, this is what rock bottom feels like.
I will never be homeless; I have oodles of family that would take me in before that happened. I will never be without people who love me because of that family. But here I was, with no job, no money, no prospects, only a GED to my academic name, no experience other than banking, which I hated, and no hope.
It took another year after that moment to build myself up, fall down, a lot, build myself up again, fall down some more, and finally get to a place where I was at the very least dug out of the hole.
I was finally on solid ground one year later.
And there is a reason I don’t say I was on solid ground again.
It was in that rock bottom moment, dug deep into the earth, at the bottom of a pit that was dark and scary that I realized that I had never been on solid ground.
I started my life in a pit and I had been only wallowing and playing in the darkness my whole life. I had been an animal living on pure instinct, surviving but never really living, breathing but never really sighing in wonder at possibilities, dreaming but never aspiring.
The only people I had ever loved deeply, committed to love my whole life at that point, had been my siblings, blood of my blood, kittens from the same wounded litter.
And here I had an opportunity, with nothing lose, to begin life anew.
I could live a life that mattered, that meant something.
One Leg at a Time
So I got up, I straightened my back, and I began the work of building a human who thrives, who sighs in wonder, who dreams big and in bold, bright colors.
There’s a scene in the movie Sleepless in Seattle that I will never forget, and I have used this line many times when talking to people who are hurting.
Tom Hanks’ character is asked how he does it, how he survives the loss of his wife, the love of his life. How does he go on?
And he says, matter of factly, “I get up in the morning, I put my pants on, one leg at a time, I have my coffee, I make my breakfast, I feed my son and get him ready for school, and I go out into the world.”
Every day. One leg at a time.
And that’s what I did. I went through the motions of building my life from less than nothing, one leg at a time.
And every time I slid backward, I forgave myself, and I tried again.
Picture an animal clawing it’s way up a steep, muddy incline. In the rain.
That was me.
But I made it, I found a root to grab onto, I hauled myself out of the mud pit after months and months of struggle, and I look back now, ten years later, and feel gratitude for all that energy in me, all that strength, all that perseverance that I found, that I tapped into, that I didn’t even know I had until then.
Connected By Our Humanity
And what makes that story so great for me, what makes that the most important day of my life is that I can share it. That there is nothing anyone can tell me, no depth so dark, no sadness so deep, that I cannot reach back to find in my own life.
No, it will not be the same. Your loss will not be my loss. Your exact sadness will not be my sadness. Your misery not the precise misery I have felt. Your sins not the specific sins I have born.
But sadness speaks to sadness, misery recognizes misery, loss hears loss.
And survivors help each other survive. It is imperative.
Progress demands it.
That day, my rock bottom, brought me to this place in my life.
If not for that day, that slap in the face that forced me to claw my way up the muddy hill and out of the dark pit, I would not have met a wonderful woman who would have drinks with me on Thursday nights. I would not have been hired as a bartender while having those drinks. I would not have quit my banking job to be a bartender and go back to school. I would not have met my husband. I would not have graduated with highest honors. I would not have gone on to graduate school. I would not have my daughters today. I would not be a teacher. I would not be moving into public speaking for and with women in 2018.
And I would not have the story, the strength, the wisdom, the heart, to help women around the world, to heal women across all color lines, to bring women together from all walks of life, to pull hurting women out of the darkest corners.
Their story is my story; we are connected by our pain, by our strength, by our hope, by our humanity.
So, yes, the darkest day of my life is also the most important day of my life.
Which means yours can be too.