What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

You can’t get to where you’re goin’ if you don’t know where you’re leavin’ from. That’s one of those truisms said a million ways by a million voices. It’s true of every one of us. Whatever our differences, that’s our commonality.

Knowing from whence you’ve come versus where it is you’re headed is one thing, but knowing how the hell that trip came about is quite another.

Last new year’s eve I finally had a night to myself after several days of being with family and friends non-stop, and I spent some time thinking on the year I wanted to have ahead of me. I wanted to lose at least 50 pounds. I wanted to get a grasp of my finances. I wanted to take writing seriously again. But most of all, I just wanted to become a better self.

I’d spent two years going through one hell of a ringer, as if life was some game show that decided I had a two-year contract of Running The Gauntlet.

“Will she make it out alive? Good golly! Make sure you tune in to see more of the exciting antics as life doles out doozy after doozy to our fair heroine! What a ride this one’s gonna be, Billy! Hoo, boy!”

I decided last fall, in a swirl of overtime and craziness at work, that I’d take serious stock of life over Christmas. I’d had my brother staying with me for a few days over the holidays, for what was completely an exercise in excess. A cousin had heard we were hanging together for the festive week, with no other family nearby, and sent a massive food basket with $200-worth of gourmet regional goodies. We drank and ate and smoked dope and watched half the movies in my extensive library… but we spent a lot of time talking also about where my brother wanted his life to go, and where I knew I had to take mine.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around and my house fell silent, I found myself doing some heavy mental lifting as I took stock of just how displeased I was with where my life had gone in ’07, and how happy I was to have reconfigured my priorities, quit a job I hated, and took serious steps in gaining some security in my life again. But I knew I’d barely begun.

And here it is, seven months later, and I’m down about 40-45 pounds, my finances are sorting out nicely, and everything’s moving in the right direction, but lord how far there is yet to go. While I might’ve done some mental heavy lifting at the new year, I certainly haven’t been hoisting much of late. I’ve been avoiding the “how” I got to be that person I was last year. Where did it all begin? Where’d the weight start to become something I used to protect myself from others? How’d I let myself fall so freely into the life of excess and ignorance? How’d I let it continue unabated for so long?

Long story short? I got hurt. A lot. In every way. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Hurt after hurt after hurt after hurt, year after year after year after year. Hurt and pain is like a snowball. Once you get it rolling, once it gets momentum, if it keeps moving that way, it builds up layer after layer until you can’t believe the size it suddenly amasses.

A pretty apt analogy for my weight problem, too. The further I get in my journey to self this year, the more I realize how much my weight is tangibly linked to all the hurts I took on over my years.

It’s taken me my lifetime to learn that hurt isn’t personal. Tragedies landing on my doorstep weren’t life’s way of telling me I wasn’t welcome. It’s not about me. It’s just the ebb and flow of life, and it was just my turn. Just like this has now become my turn to shine, then it was my turn to hurt. And I took it the wrong way. I thought about the hurt rather than thinking on the learn. What could I learn from it? How could I grow? How else could I look at it? Was my point of view self-indulgent, or was I being objective?

And the funny thing is, is just how long it’s taken me to learn a lesson I could have learned in just a single day 13 years ago. I spent a whole day doing a ceremonial sweat lodge with a few folks from the Tlingit native tribe up in the Yukon when I was 22, in February, 1995. Chief Phil explained the most important principle to keep in mind: It would be hard, it would be long, it would sometimes hurt, but it would be worth it. The whole point of suffering, he said, was surviving it.

And, right there, I guess, is pretty much the secret to life in a nutshell. It’s long, it’s hard, it hurts sometimes, but it’s ultimately worth it. The whole point, it seems, is surviving. And some, of course, do it better than others. Others, of course, have it easier than some. And that’s just how it rolls.

But though I knew what Chief Phil meant that day, knowing and understanding are two very different things. Now here I am, 13 years later, and I get it. I understand it. I even love it. Because I know I’ve survived it. I know what I’m made of. I know what I can overcome. But I have more to prove.

I’ve had a hard year this year in a lot of respects, but I also feel like I’ve ended the darkest part of my life, and this year of trial has been hard only because it’s the physical labour of building a whole new life. It’s the trial and the fatigue and hurt of a hard year’s work, not from the adversity posed of a life of difficulty. I run my life now, it no longer runs me.

The hurts of my past, the hurts from my youth, they don’t hurt me anymore. They bother me some when I think on them, but my thinking has to do with taking stock, owning it, and then consciously moving past it. I’m, in a sense, undertaking a reckoning of my life thus far, and I’m staring it in the eyes and saying “You don’t bother me no more” and closing the door on it, hurt by hurt, year by year.

It’s a slow and difficult process at times, but that’s why I told myself last new year’s that it’d be at least a year before I was anywhere close to on track for that proverbial destination I ache to reach. Seven months in, I was more right than I knew, because, although I’m further than I expected to be this far into my year, I also recognize that my distance I must travel is far greater than I could’ve realized.

But it’s a hell of a trip, baby.