Sunday, April 24, 2011
Today is April 24th, which is an anniversary of sorts for me. Eight years ago on April 24, 2003, I woke up to the worst day of my life - I hit rock bottom. And it turned into a crucial turning point for me of learning to never give up...
After dating the guy that was all wrong for me for four years, I finally ended it when I met the guy who I thought was all right for me. Without really knowing what to look for in a partner (how could I, I was only 25?!?!), I somehow thought that just because the new guy was everything the old guy wasn't, that I must have found the perfect match. Needless to say, I was wrong. But at the time I really felt that I had met my partner for the rest of my life.
Things were going pretty well for about 10 months, when he crushed my heart by sleeping with an old friend of his from college who was visiting him from out of town. His tact left something to be desired as well, as he broke this news to me while we were driving into work together one morning in early April. I was devastated, by both loosing my boyfriend and my best friend. We established some ground rules of how to try to continue working together civilly and not let the break-up strangle the friendship. I was broken-hearted though of course, but I was dealing with it, or so I thought. Then for some reason, when I woke up on the Thursday morning of April 24th, I was empty. An empty I didn't know was possible. I had of course experienced feeling lonely, and exhausted, and separate, and helpless all before, but never all at the same time, and definitely not ever to do this degree. I couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't get comfortable in my own skin. I had always wondered how a person could ever get to the point of feeling like they wanted to commit suicide, and for the first time I began to understand it. I wasn't picking up the knife just yet, but I knew if I left myself to stew in my own self-loathing and disrespect it might not be that far away. So I tried to call my closest friend in Boston, my ex-boyfriend.
He didn't answer the phone, which only exasperated all of my feelings since I imagined him being indisposed with his new lover. I didn't know what to do with myself. I certainly wasn't going to go to work, but I don't think I even actually called in sick that day. For some reason the only thing I could think to do was get into my car and drive over to his place. Interestingly, he was just leaving his apartment when I got there, and he came over to my car as I pulled up. I explained to him the deep hole I had fallen into, and he got in and told me to drive the car. I remember thinking that seemed a little cold at the time, but he later told me that was a very deliberate instruction he gave me. He wanted me to have to concentrate on doing something else, other than drown in my own thoughts and feelings. He listened, as we drove around Cambridge for about an hour or so, and asked me what I was going to do with myself for the rest of the day. I had no idea. He suggested trying something/going somewhere new. I had the perfect answer: go to the Buddhist center on Mass Ave. I had walked past it a million times, and always wanted to check it out. Now was the time.
We eventually wound up back at his place; he did need to go to work that day. He told me to wait in the car as he went upstairs to get something. He came back down with Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, and suggested reading it as soon as possible. He got in his car and drove to the office, and I took myself to the Buddhist center. I walked in and was greeted by Venerable Man Ching, the presiding nun. She could tell I was distressed, and asked me to talk about it if I wanted. I tried to explain to her how I was feeling, which in my mind was so intense and monumental, but when it came out all I heard was a sniveling little girl crying about being a jolted lover. I felt so generic. But that was good - it meant that I would survive this, that this was not the first, nor would it be the last, time that someone had ever gotten their heart broken and had to get over it. She suggested that I come back the following evening for their Dinner With Dharma program, something that I have now been participating in ever since then.
On the way home, I popped into Cambridge Naturals, your friendly neighborhood "do good" store, and browsed their selection of Quotable Magnets. Winston Churchill spoke to me: "Never never never give up." I latched on to it, and it became my motto. I went home from there, and sat down to read the book my ex had given me. In no uncertain terms, it saved my life. The conversations I had had with both my ex and the Venerable were the right stepping stones, but reading Peace Is Every Step allowed me to synthesize all that had happened, in my own way, in my own time. I now re-read it every year on April 24th.
But I wasn't done re-birthing. I decided to go to the gym that evening to work my shift coaching the kids. It is difficult for the Head Coach to find a replacement on last notice, and I appreciated the feeling of being needed. But what I got out of coaching that night was so much more. If listening to the sound of the kids laughing doesn't put a smile on your face, nothing will. I remember one girl in particular having the best giggle in all the world, and I can still hear it, reminding me to smile every time. My own little bell of mindfulness.
This was one of my first major lessons about resilience. I have had the "opportunity" to learn this lesson several more times since then, but this was the one that set the stage for the survival of the rest. It's now kind of my superpower you could say. I know that what ever happens, I will survive, if not for any other reason than I know I will never give up. And this knowledge not only makes life a lot less scary, but sometimes really exciting.