There is this thing built up inside each of us that is a mountain of disappointment, despair, sadness and guilt. As we age we do little things to chip away at it like take drugs, have sex with people we don’t particularly like because we want closeness even if it is only physical or we do things like bungee jump or sky dive (Gina, don’t do it!). I think we do these things to try to feel our life more clearly. Most of the time I think it just pushes us further away once the experience is over.
I remember clearly the first time I did LSD and tripped. I was in high school, maybe a senior or junior, I forget and coming down, in the dawn, the light of the sky filtering in through my window I felt the most powerful clarity I have ever felt. I wondered to myself why am I alive? What is my purpose and a deep sense that I must go an actively seek out those answers.
Then I fell asleep and felt really hung over and fried and tired. But that sense of amazing wonder at being alive and what that could possibly mean was very powerful. All of the hurt, the sadness and scary things seemed smaller as I allowed myself to feel bigger than all of it. Bigger because I wondered not if I had a purpose but what it exactly was. It was the first time I felt the wall I had slowly built as a child of divorce, 4 divorces in 5 years, fall away so that I could feel more like myself. More free. More able to walk ahead and not look down at the peril below but to move ahead and onward.
At first that wall feels very protective and safe. You feel so safe you don’t even notice it is there until something happens that makes you feel that heavy coat of shame, sadness or guilt close in around you and then it feels like it will suffocate you and not protect you from harm.
All of those extreme experiences we create for ourselves as teenagers, the drama, the ridiculousness of self-importance of young adulthood only act as glue to hold the bad in. Most of those experiences don’t make us better people but make us wonder if anyone really cares for us.
I felt it chip away more the day I had sex with my husband for the first time and felt that powerful true love, love of me, all of me, even though I was and am messy and stupid and loud and obnoxious. Also on the day we married and the days we had our children. I felt some bitter part of me crumble away and turn to dust.
Those are just a few special experiences that are trying to bring down a lifetime of bullshit so my pile still seems pretty fucking big.
I have noticed though that being at the hospital, seeing people, experiencing a bit of their lives is chipping away at the pile again and I can see how it could be addicting to always feel this. You walk into your patients room and they have had something horrible happen or have undergone some kind of scary surgery and are frightened and in pain. You see their families crowd around them and cry and worry.
I can look into my patients eyes and see them, really see them and sometimes, as corny as it sounds, I can see myself and feel myself more. I feel more than just a person. I feel bigger than it all. I feel every emotion I have ever had sometimes. Like when I took care of that beautiful neonatologist who was 34 and lovely and just had a brain-stem stroke and died. Being with someone like that is powerful and I feel grateful to give up my burden and let a little of my mountain go.
I can feel my life and not just occupy my life. Scary, but good.