“Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
An old friend and I were talking the other day about how quickly things can change in just a few months, and nothing has proved this more than the events of the last year. And more than the events themselves – the facts of them and the effects of them, too – it has been the paths that have opened up in my life and in my way of thinking that have become the most valuable to me.
I find myself sitting here before I go to bed clutching the lessons to my chest and reviewing them over and over again lest I lose them or forget their weight.
Two that I keep returning to over and over again these days are about growth, and about letting go.
Growth for me right now means the desire to keep learning and evolving as a person. I don’t want stasis, I don’t want stagnation. I am trying to remember to grow and push myself in many different ways as a whole person, to grow physically through my yoga practice, mentally through learning another language (Spanish), ambitiously through pushing the depth and reach of my writing and emotionally by dipping my toe into new relationships. This word is something that popped into my head during a yoga session one day. In my class, you are always asked to set your intention at the beginning of your practice. Back in January all I wanted was peace, and the desperation with which I asked for it felt like a kind of prayer.
As time went on I found that more than peace, I needed strength. Strength to withstand what was happening and so that I could make the decisions I needed to about how to move forward. And then after I moved, I was standing on my mat one day and I didn’t say strength , I surprised myself by saying growth instead.
So that’s one thing.
The other thing is letting go. And this is a bigger thing. And a tougher one, too.
Really understanding this concept has meant I’ve had to reframe how I think about my entire life. It’s a really funny feeling sitting here and realizing that all of those cliches, all of those things people greater than I have been trying to communicate through books and speech and film and example my entire life – they’re true.
It’s not about the stuff.
It’s not a breathless race to accumulate – to get the degree the dog the house the car the wife the kids the bigger house the better car the boat the summer cottage… It’s not a frantic race to accumulate all the things that everyone else is telling you to want. It truly is about letting go.
I know this sounds like some reeeeeal hippie bullshit, but I am going to do my best to explain it to you.
The greatest happiness that I have experienced in the past year has come from just letting shit go. There are the really obvious things I’ve let go of, like my actual marriage, and the pain that came from that, but there’s so much more depth to this one.
I’ve let go, slowly, of the desire for permanence and stability. I thought it was something I could guarantee with a university degree and a job and a marriage certificate and a baby’s birth certificate and the title to the old lady house of my dreams.
Things fell apart anyway. And at first this was terrifying, because what the fuck. Seriously. What. The. Fuck. But as the months wore on, and the more I read this book, the more it became deeply comforting to me. Like a snuggie for my soul. (and by the way, who would have thought that a Buddhist nun and Chuck motha-flippin Palahniuk would be spreading the same basic message? )
Because if all of that doesn’t mean security, if all of that official stuff doesn’t confer safety and stability, then all bets are off and I can stop worrying about what might happen if I take riskier paths. More uncertain ones. Less conventional ones. I did things the “right” way and still ended up being run off a cliff. I still lost everything.
But I’m OK! I came back. I survived. I got over it. One thing ended and about eight others began.
I am a worst-case scenario planner, always have been. When I am worried or stressed I picture the absolute worst case scenario and plan backward from there, it reassures me somehow. Well, losing my marriage and Olive’s little family unit and the house I’d fallen in love with and the future I’d spent twelve years building, and losing it in a deeply humiliating and hurtful way, this felt like one step beyond any worst-case scenario I could have ever dreamed up. And it helped me so much.
I’ve let go. I was so worried about labels in the beginning, “I don’t want to be divorced at thirty-one!” I would cry, “I don’t want to be a single mom!” But god damn, I am not this divorce. I am more than whether or not there are two parents sleeping in this little house of ours. And as I allowed these small truths to settle in and I began to feel how real they were to me this idea grew to take over every aspect of my life.
Moving into this little suite felt like going backward, felt like regressing when everyone else was steadily plowing forward. But I’m happy here. I haven’t spoken too much about my living situation (I have a post planned for next week) but we have moved into a suite in the same house that my sister and her fiance rent in. It’s communal living at its finest, it’s training wheels for doing it on my own. It’s blissful.
“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Let it go.
I’m letting it go. What would you be doing if you weren’t so worried about what people would think? Or what would happen if?
I’m not my marriage or my divorce. I’m not the house I loved and lost. I am not where I live or what I do or how much I have in the bank. I’m not defined by whether Olive grows up in a two-parent household or not. I hope to god she won’t be, either. I am not defined by whether I am successful or not in my career.
This sounds so cliche, and feels cliched writing it, but I truly get it now. It’s not me.
I mean obviously these things are real, and because they are real their effects can’t be ignored (I am divorced, or will be. I do need to work to earn money, I mean this is basic life) but when I talk about letting go, I have let go of the image these things create for me. I’ve stopped weaving their definitions into this coat I put on every day.
It’s incredibly freeing. Because things do fall apart. Every day. Yesterday it was my heartbreaking loss, tomorrow it might be yours. This is your life and it’s ending one moment at a time. But this isn’t a morose message, it’s a hopeful one! I promise. Everything has a cycle, and one thing ends so another thing can begin, you just have to be open enough to turn your head to see that new growth. And you have to go through the death part, the loss part. You have to grieve so that the channels can be dug, the valleys hewed. You have to get that low so you will have enough room to be filled up. Brimming.
Letting go of all of this bullshit has allowed me to look at what I still hold dear to me. What remains after I release all of this? Relationships. Family. My daughter. These words.
I’ve never been happier. What more do I need?
What more do I need?
“I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Your strength. Your wisdom. Your soul. So inspiring. So beautiful. Never stop writing, sharing, and educating. You have no idea the influence your words have had on my life and those surrounding me. Forever grateful I picked up your book at that quaint bookstore on Galiano. Thank you.
Wow, thank you, Za. Those are pretty powerful words and they mean a lot to me. I’m glad that you found my book, too.
I found your blog back in October, read through your whole series of being pregnant with Olive, and then took a break until about a week ago. I picked it back up and was confused by some of your newer posts, so I ended up going through your blog since last November and I just had so many feels. It’s like your life paralleled mine. I lost a relationship I’d been building for seven years. Someone I grew up with. He was my all I knew since I was 14 and at 21 I woke up and decided I couldn’t be with him anymore. He was abusive and because I’d been with him since I was so young, I had no basis to even realize the situation I was in. I thought that it was normal. I thought about leaving for almost a year before I finally committed to the decision and left back in November. I didn’t tell my parents until December. It felt like they would judge me. It felt like they would say “well, you weren’t REALLY abused”. It felt like they would blame me for staying so long, partly because I blamed myself. My mom still (unsupportively) tells me I need to just move on already.
I had to reimagine my life. Things I thought I had figured out were gone. I had to learn to trust myself. It took months of counseling and a team of supportive friends to get to this point where I think I’m happier than I have been in a long long time. I know looking back I made the right choice.
Your blog just spoke to me. And I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for talking about your struggle and your battles. It’s helped me feel like I’m not so alone, and that I can get through this.
I am SO sorry you had to go through what you did, especially with a family that perhaps wasn’t as supportive as they could have been. You sound like you are doing really well and have created a really good support system for yourself between friends and counsellors. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, too. This community helps so much…reciprocity!
So much of this can speak to where I’m at, even though it is not the same losses. My husband has been out of work for nearly two months (after 10 years at the same company). We’ve been muddling, trying to get him work, but he has felt unqualified for everything. Meanwhile, I’ve been a stay at home mom for the past 7 years with a 6, 5, and 11 month old. We just decided last week that maybe I should find a full time job, as the job postings we’ve been finding have spoken more to my experience than his (we both graduated from the same tech diploma program). I am pre-mourning my loss of spending all day with my babies, and having control of the household. BUT, I am excited to potentially be using my non-parenting brain cells again! We are weeks away from major financial crisis, so this is a real rush! Thanks for the wisdom!!!
I can just imagine what a heady rush of fear/anticipation/dread/excitement you are feeling right now. You are literally turning your life upside down! But what an incredible opportunity, too. You can get dressed in REAL clothes and talk to REAL adults! ALL DAY! The possibilities are endless!
My fingers are crossed for you guys. Please let me know how it goes?
Life is amazing and this is an amazing post. xo
Such a touching, inspiring post! I experienced a similar sense of freedom after my father drowned the day before Father’s Day a few years ago. The pain and shock was excruciating. The first few months were probably the most difficult months I’ve ever been through trying to deal with the loss and make sense of it all. But then there was the moment when the realization that nothing is forever, nothing can really be stable or secure, which also gave me this weird sense of peace and acceptance of how crazy this life is. We can’t control anything and instead need to figure out ways to enjoy the ride as much as possible. Thanks for sharing this! It’s helpful to see that others are experiencing this as well.
This pierces straight to my heart. I could have written so many of these words because they resonate that much. Thank you for this beautiful piece and for sharing your story.
“let go and trust what stays” – a mantra i learned from a wise yogi. great post! thanks for sharing as always
I honestly want to tattoo this somewhere on my body. What a fantastic mantra.
Thank you I needed this. I picked up a copy of When Things Fall Apart a few weeks ago. Momma of a beautiful 4 year old daughter who saves me without even knowing on my saddest days. My partner was unfaithful the entire course of our relationship tough to just find this out you think was my whole life a lie, certain things make sense. But my girl deserves more so do I and that drives me to settle for nothing less. I work with youth as a teacher who are at risk and see the value of family stability that was the toughest thing to let go of the idealized version. There is some freedom in letting go small steps.
Heather – I am so, so sorry. I can’t believe that. I feel like I have an inkling of what you are going through and I am sending my most heartfelt thoughts of peace and healing to you, and your little girl. It’s funny, I worked with at-risk youth too, and struggled with the same feelings of the loss of that stable family unit, the loss of full siblings for Olive (or even siblings period…who knows). It is so, so hard. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope things look up, soon. Take the hope and the feelings of freedom where you can find them.
Thank you for this post and also to everyone who commented here too. Just makes me feel like I am not alone in what’s happening to me right now so thanks for sharing all. I am in the midst of potentially the end of my relationship with my fiancé father of my 6 month old. We were due to get married in just 4 months. I find myself constantly wondering how I got here and how I am going to cope, I thought we were forever. I’ve been reading the book you posted. It’s such a different way of thinking but I love it and it’s been so interesting and helpful. So thanks again Madeleine for sharing. I can see by all the comments I am not alone in loving your writing!
Wow, thank you heaps and heaps for your inspirational message. At this moment I am going through something. While looking up the meaning of the quote by Chuck, “I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom”, I came across you message. I don’t regret reading it, and I am truly grateful for it. I am not the amount of money I have in my bank account, I am not the clothes I wear, I am not my past. It’s like a load has been lifted from my shoulders. Thank you!