Submitted by Alli Armstrong
As I got older, I had a haunting feeling that the traumas I had experienced were just stacking up and going to knock me over one day. I specifically remember during yoga teacher training that yin felt like torture to me. Sit semi-still for 90 minutes? I’d rather do almost anything else. I would fidget and list all of the reasons this was a waste of time and sulk and then feel guilty for sulking and jealous of my friends who were nestling into juicy poses.
Had I grieved enough? Had I done the work? These questions haunted me. Take a deeper look? No, I don’t want to. I’m good. I’m safe over here listing all the reasons I should be okay right now. And I genuinely felt okay. But that feeling….the older I got, the louder the voice asking that question got.
Had I done the work? Similar only to Rumi’s, “and you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”
Then something happened to a friend of mine. Something so frightening, and out of my control. The feeling of being out of control, and so desperately wanting it, knocked on my door, moved in with its bags and made itself my bunkmate. It hit me right in the slits between my armor and set off every alarm in my nervous system. In all other struggles in my life, I had managed to see it for what it was, learn, grow and grieve. This time I felt like I was on the tail-end of a whip.
I felt disarmed. I was having trouble sleeping. I cried, but out of anger and exhaustion, not grief. Grieving meant admitting that something seriously wrong had happened, and I couldn’t venture to that discussion panel in the corner of my mind. It was too scary.
All of sudden I felt as though nothing was what it seemed. I questioned everyone’s happiness, including my own. I thought about the people around me ten times more than myself. And I was thinking about myself all of the time. I constantly wondered if I was going to have a good day, or would I end up anxious and crying at home tonight? I thought about the past timidly, and didn’t enjoy looking to the future. Yet I couldn’t get out of either mode. I was consumed with what had happened and what might happen.
Eleven months went by - months of therapy, change of scenery, long conversations with trusted family and friends - and still so much pain. It became less about what had recently happened and more about everything that had ever happened- so I did something crazy: I asked myself what I was afraid of. The answer was going to have to be really good because, at that point, there was nowhere to go but up.
At this point in my life, I was afraid of standing still. At my worst, I felt like I was running from a pack of wild animals, and if I stood still, they would eat me. Through this entire time I was working 35 hours a week at lululemon, taking four courses at BU and training for a marathon. The only time I sat still was to eat, if that. I was running from my past, and the truth is, I had been running for a long time. We know from above that I was already uncomfortable sitting still. I was done running. I was sick of listening to my inner dialogue, and sick of going on the way I was going on.
I had to put in the work. The real, consistent, raw work. Deep down I knew what I had to do, because I had turned to similar outlets on different levels in the past. Only before, they felt true. Knowing something will all work out in the end? Yup. Feeling simultaneously tired but grateful? Got it. This is not where I was at. I stared down the tunnel without believing the light was at the end. It felt like I had just heard from a friend of a friend that they thought they had seen a light.
A quote from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things went through my mind often:
“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt with. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding and my dear one, you and I have been granted a mighty generous one.”
No. I don’t want these cards. I don’t want these scars. I don’t want this past. What if my life had gone a different way. Is it too late to trade with someone else?
I knew I had lost myself and I knew I had to find myself.
I did not put down the self help books feeling complete or fulfilled or peaceful.
I made myself do yoga and meditate even though I never made it very far in without crying. I let myself cry. I journaled and talked about what I was actually afraid of. I listened to myself. I read Rising Strong by Brené Brown. I read and listened to the end of Wild over and over again until the words felt true.
Day after day, the words began to feel true. I inhaled all of the good energy I could find and I exhaled all of the stale energy that was no longer serving me. I did it over and over again. I grieved versions of myself over the years. I acknowledged them and thanked them and sent them on their way. I peeled back layer after layer. I stared myself straight in the eye and I didn’t run away when it felt rough. I unraveled myself, day after day, gently and curiously. I began to remember that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel only if I create one.
I cannot change what has happened, but I can decide what I do in response and where I go next. No one is going to do it for me.
With space and time and work, nearly one year later, I came home to myself. It’s been some time since then, and I have felt the happiest in my entire life. The work doesn’t stop. And, damn, I love the work. I love knowing myself. I love not running from myself. I love sitting with myself. I love my cards. I started boxing and I love the rush of taking it out on the bag.
Iwrite and I read and I listen and I slam my gloves against the bag over and over and over again until the love and acceptance feels true.
There’s a quote from Cheryl Strayed that says, “acceptance is a small quiet room,” and I’ll add that it’s a yoga mat and a book and a boxing gym and a long talk and a road trip and a lot of self love.
I am in the practice of acceptance.
“There’s nothing I don’t get, believe me. But then what? If there’s one thing I can teach you it’s how to find your best self, and when you do, you’ve got to hold onto it for dear life.” -Wild, 2014