I've been working on this post for months. Months!! It's been re-written a dozen times. Two dozen times. Too many times. The content has been expanded and altered. I've vacillated between saying too much and saying too little. I've been in that space between "Publish" (Go!) and "Save" (No 'effing way!) nearly every day for the last five months. I'm making myself crazy.
I don't think this post is perfect now, but that's okay. The story is here and it needs to be told and I finally have the courage to do it.
Back in December, I turned 40 with very little fanfare.
I was surrounded by my family. My dad took me for a drink at the same place we celebrated my 21st birthday (The Desert Marriott). We rode the Palm Springs tram. I didn't have a cake. But I did have a deluge of birthday texts and calls. My sister and I laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt. I redeemed my free Starbucks drink for a Venti Cappuccino (low fat, half caff, light foam, extra hot). It felt like it was just the right amount of celebrating. I felt lucky. Grateful. Loved.
And tormented. Conflicted. Scared.
While writing this post, I was reminded of a childhood favorite, "Alice In Wonderland." I've always been fascinated about the rabbit hole experience. It seems to me that the rabbit hole was so symbolic and yet so overlooked. Innocent, pristine and lovely Alice, tumbling into a dark abyss of fright and terror. Such a juxtaposition. And yet a perfect comparison for my own sordid story.
I told everyone that I was gracefully stepping into a new decade. But in reality, I was actually losing my foothold and had been for quite some time. Nothing was eloquent about my transition from 30-something to 40. Nothing at all. In fact, the whole segue way was downright ugly.
But you wouldn't know it. Not by how I looked or what I said. I became extremely practiced in the facade of "everything's fine."
I weathered a tough divorce and my ex still wants me back. But everything's fine.
I can't afford my home anymore and, in fact, I'm months behind on the mortgage. But everything's fine.
I can't sleep at night. I lay awake for hours on end. But everything's fine.
I don't know how to be a "good" single parent; I fear I'm failing my sweet son at every turn. But everything's fine.
My heart was broken in Florida last year and I don't know how to fix it. But everything's fine.
I don't think that God loves me anymore. Why else would my prayers go completely unanswered? But everything's fine.
Nothing was fine. Nothing at all.
On the day of my 40th birthday, I was staring down my own rabbit hole and by January, I was falling into it. Rather quickly.
In another moment down went Alice, never once considering how in the world she was to get out.
The mid-life crisis that everyone warned me about - "You know, Janeen, it's coming. No one makes it to 45 without one"- that midlife crisis, indeed had found me.
And I fell further. And faster.
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.
Despite the rapid descent into an inky black space, I knew exactly when it all came apart and I knew precisely what I had to do. I honestly don't think that there is a better gift from God then the knowing - without a doubt - what your work is and when the time is right to do it. My work was very clear, and the timing was as simple and as urgent as "now."
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for Alice had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything.
When you are falling down something as dark and dirty and dismal as a rabbit hole, there is a horrible sense that you are moving away - very quickly - from everything you knew to be true, everything you knew about peace, resiliency and hope. And even though the fall can seem so very long, there is time, so much time - like Alice explains - to peer around and to not know; and it was in that unknown space where my own fear began to emerge.
I don't want to get into the details. Not yet anyway. We all have financial issues, disappointments in relationships, challenges with our children. Life sometimes feels like a lesson in crisis management, and I believe that it is, to some extent.
Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' Alice said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--.'
The rabbit hole is like a vortex; you quickly lose sight of the light and the journey to the bottom seems so very endless. There isn't room for anyone else in the confines of the rabbit hole. The tunnel is narrow and harrowing and a place that no one else would voluntarily want to be.
Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, when suddenly, thump! thump! down Alice came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.
I too, landed on the bottom - after the longest tumble of my life - and it was only then that I could appreciate the eager, willing and loving hands that would be there to scoop me up. Like Alice, I knew that the most painful part of it all - the fall - was over. I felt the "thud" of my own rock bottom place and when I looked up, there was a circle of people who handed me tissues, who picked up my son from school and who told me that everything would be okay, that it really, really would be.
Now, in the midst of my own personal ascent, I'm realizing the payoffs of simplifying and the rewards of quiet, reflective space.
I've stopped putting pressure on myself to practice my writing, to be at the gym every day and to eat eighteen varieties of fruit and vegetables at every meal. I haven't rolled out my yoga mat in weeks. I'm saying no to most social invitations. I'm avoiding Target. I'm making some new friends who are in similar life situations to mine. I'm letting go of the burning need to accomplish everything and to settle for nothing less than perfect execution.
I'm feeling - at last - a calmer mind, a more settled sense of being. And I'm sleeping. A lot!
But I have a long, long way to go. The rabbit hole has become my own metaphor for strength and resiliency in the darkest of days. This was no mere gopher hole.
It's such a long way, that when I'm closer to my destination, I'm convinced I'll have a story to tell. And although I don't know quite how that story will unfold yet, I do know that I'll want to share the experience.
In the meantime, I know that what I'm doing is going to make me a better mom, sister, daughter and friend. I have all the faith in the world that subtle shifts turn into big changes and that every day and every moment of progress equals big steps toward becoming the person I want to be. I believe that God has a hand in all miracles and that I'm witnessing my own. And it will be amazing.
Indeed, year 40 will go down as one that is permanently etched in my memory. It will be the year of sisterhood between Alisa and me. That part is way overdue, yet so very welcomed. It will be the year that Ben saw me the least. That's the part I grapple with most. But there is so much goodness, so much truth to be had on the other side. And my Mom is an awesome stand-in for me.
Now I can look up to the small space where light sparingly peers its way into the rabbit hole and there is solace in the sweet glimmer of of its rays. I'm coming into the warmth. It's closer - every day the narrow space becomes a little wider and I'm starting to believe that the way out is right before my eyes. I just keep looking for the light.
And then Alice opened a secret door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: and she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw.
PS - If you got this far in the post, congratulations! And thanks for hanging in. The next post - my 200th - will be lighter in nature, I promise.