I have always lived in chaos. It’s what I was born to, first of all: a dramatic and dynamic mother, a total whirlwind of personality, charm and presence whose mind was a turbulent sea, able to pull her underwater at any moment; and an impatient and rageful father, with an exacting sense of order that he was never, ever going to have satisfied within the bounds of our boisterous family of five.
Chaos has its thrills, for sure. (That would explain how my father fell in love with my mother, not knowing what he was in for.) I can enumerate those thrills with a fervent enough passion to convince even the most risk-averse person in the world that they should maybe toss everything aside and join the circus. I mean, I am myself a three-ring circus: more enthusiasms and ideas and foment than should probably be allowed to exist in a single body. Of course, along with that comes the darkness, but pish-posh. Small price to pay for the peaks.
But I am making a very strange and uncomfortable transition right now. I am learning who I am underneath the adrenalin addict.
The quiet inside me is a much more dangerous villain than the dozens and dozens of storms I have stared down and raged through in my life.
But an interesting thing happened when I got fired from my last job: I realized I was Done.
Done with heroics. Done with impossible tasks and teaching everyone around me how to survive the war zone. Done with the incredible labor of being a triage nurse. Done with proving myself to myself and staring down a wall of doubt and fear again and again and again. Done with seeking out just one more goddamn big, hot mess and putting myself in the middle to solve it.
Done, as I put it to my therapist, “pushing the rock up the hill.”
So it’s been about two months since I stopped working. I had a trip to Morocco, the recovery from the bug I brought home from Morocco, a terrifying experience with my dog becoming totally immobile from the onset of a joint disease and a few other things in the mix. So in some ways I actually feel like it’s only the last two weeks that I have been mentally present in the experience of being…. quiet.
I have been able to do absolutely mundane house tasks. (Ask my son how much I keep talking about the thrill of my spotless windows. I’ve done only 12 out of about — no exaggeration — about 58, but still, I’m preening and prancing about it.) I have organized my office. I have crawled back into bed and napped when I felt like it. I have taken long walks with my dog. I have taken even longer walks by myself.
And I now cook every single meal my son eats, preparing his weeknight dinners for the very first time in his life, ever. (He’s 12. My career is — was — 26.)
So these things I’ve listed above are good.
Less good is what else lies beneath.
Anxiety. Doubt. A lurking miasma of failure. (Always the failure.) And a gripping fear.
That I am wrong. That I am lost. That I am destroying everything I ever could rely on to carry me. That I am slothful, lazy, disgusting.
Because the only thing that carried me through many, many years of my life was working until I was blind to everything else but work. And living out and reliving the chaos of my childhood home in extremely intense jobs where I righted the ship, made the plan forward, put out fires, nurtured my team, wiped tears, held hands—and continued to feed my sense of being superhuman.
Above human. Above pain. Above the darkness.
But no. All that was still within me, waiting until the time I was healed enough to let it flow forth from my brain and into my being. And then integrate it all, absorb it into myself so that it’s just one more part of my story—instead of a sealed trunk of darkness that leaks its poison into mind when I am alone. And quiet.
I’ve learned so much in the twenty years I’ve been in therapy. I consider my therapy assisted growing. I’ll never stop. I don’t think of therapy as something people do when they’re broken. I think of therapy as something people undertake when we want to see how big we really are, to free ourselves from the fears and safety tactics we grow up with as children that keep us small when we become adults.
And so here I am. In my own quiet. In the home I led myself to after I lost all the things that had given my life shape in 2010. This magical place that feeds me in a deeply meaningful way every. single. day.
Monday I spent in bed, in and out of bouts of anxiety and tears. What am I doing? I’m never going to be okay. Not working is not possible! You need money! You need a job! You suck! You are washed up! You are hiding!
But today I am overcome with lightness. Sitting in my conservatory (oh, how I love to call it conservatory, the word’s five syllables expressing the luxury and pleasure of such a room), listening to the fall rain, listing all the things in my life that make me feel full, loved, right.
I am learning to live in my quiet. It’s a process that is many years in the works and probably has a while to go. But I know when I land there, in the center of my self, in that quiet place, that from it I will draw incredible beauty and bring it forth into the world—in the loudest, most dramatic way possible.
Because that is simply who I am.
I accept my seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions. Have you come to terms with your own? Tell me about them. I’m fascinated by our complexities. For that is what tells our stories.