lost in the right direction

The surgeon, who for some reason felt the need to tell me she was originally from Kentucky, leaned down as I lay on the operating table in a pretty comfortable stupor and asked: “Do you make a habit of holding things inside?”

“ I do,” I said. “ I’m the master of being okay. Especially when I’m not.”

“Just know that everything you think creates a physiological reaction in your body. Internal pain always comes out. Always.”

I have thought about that brief conversation so often over the past seven years. About how what you don’t let out traps you. You don’t bury feelings or secrets. They bury you.

I thought back to that summer afternoon in 2012 in the operating room — high on the drug that killed Michael Jackson — again on Monday morning. As we rolled through the sunny countryside bound for the gorgeous wilderness of the Bruce Trail, we were listening to podcasts, pausing them occasionally, to discuss the finer points.

Liz Gilbert or Glennon Doyle or Esther Perel, or someone, was talking about the transformational power of rock bottom. And, conversation nerds that we are, we paused the podcast to wonder aloud what our rock bottoms have been. 

“I almost died,” I said. “I think that was my rock bottom. I can still hardly think about it now.”

My rock bottom centred around that blurry, nauseous afternoon strapped to the operating table at London Health Sciences Centre. I was on death’s door. And I knew then that I couldn’t go on doing what I had always done — thinking my way out of things instead of feeling them. The grief and shame and guilt that I’d denied existed, had nearly pushed me to the limits of my life.

That was the summer that I came out to my family. It was the summer of my — and our —  complete undoing. The summer I disappeared into myself. The summer where I got separated from this sort of lifelong correspondence I’d always been having with my own heart. The summer of a trail of broken hearts. The summer where my cheek came to intimately know the cold comfort of the bathroom floor. The summer I am only now, after a lot of time and perspective, able to hold up to the light and begin to dissect. The summer that I am kissing on the forehead and letting go of — with gratitude.

Redemption and forgiveness — especially self forgiveness — seem to me to have a lot in common with writing a story. They take time and effort and revisions. A lot of revisions. I never was a great editor, so it takes me longer.

On Monday morning, as we rested in the midst of the overgrown ruins of The Corran, an estate built near Wiarton in the 18th century, I thought about how we all have moments in life that leave us writhing on the bathroom floor. We are all lost trying to find our way sometimes.

It’s the price of admission to a meaningful life.

And, I’m coming to see, it’s entirely possible to be lost in the right direction.

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