All or nothing

There are times in our lives we’re nostalgic for. Fact. This doesn’t necessarily mean we want to go back and redo these moments or relive them over and over again on loop. Not for me. I don’t think. Rather, we miss the way we felt or the people we were or were with… something in the moment that we felt or touched that left a deeper, more lasting impression. I get this way when I listen to music. I get this way when I write.

If I had to pick a time in my life at this very second that I was nostalgic for, I would have to say sophomore year of college. Ironically my best year was also one of my worst. I experienced loss, deep loss continuously throughout the year (and subsequent years to follow) but in breaking down so far and so low I found my foundation and rebuilt my world one uphill step at a time. This particular time in my life is one of those rare times you can point to and say “That! Right there. My world stood on end, I breathed, and it came crashing down…”

I don’t want to relive the tragedy or the heartbreak. I don’t want to revisit one of the darkest times in my life. But I do miss the clarity. When you’re watching your world implode it’s that split second decision of “What do I grab?” But in this instance it wasn’t so much a burning building scenario; I wasn’t concerned about grabbing documents or valuables. I was looking for a lifeline. “What can I hold onto so that I don’t float out to sea along with everything else? ” I had my friends and my kindred of a roommate. I had my studies. And I had my writing.

I was lucky enough to be able to bury myself in words. As I sunk lower I pulled the letters down with me and turned them over in the dark until I had enough of them to light my way back out. And I was lucky enough to have been surrounded by people and resources that fostered this sort of reawakening. I read for endless hours and listened to music constantly. I could write every day and it wasn’t something I had to try and squeeze in between anything else. As an English Writing Major at a liberal arts college, most of my classes were cathartic. I could write around what I was trying to say; what was killing me was driving my art.

And the people who didn’t know better, and even the ones who should’ve known better, told me how beautiful misery had made me. How poetic. At a time of reconstruction I couldn’t help using some of their words and phrases in my new designs. So I still believe that I write better when I’m sad. I default to stoicism and introversion. And I know this now. But it isn’t entirely functional for where I am in my life. Where I was able to function through the pain before, I didn’t exactly have to hide it. I was encouraged to take it out and examine it, stretch it out and allow it to fill me up, to fuel me.

But that’s not how it works anymore. Now I bear witness to the breaking points in the lives of others. I’m an uninvited guest into all their worst moments. To have broken so completely before in my own life over horrific things… to survive them and to be on the other side of them but never beyond them… It’s painful in a different way. Where I was encouraged to embrace my darkness before because it was part of me, I am now forced to shove it away and swallow the emotions clawing up my throat. I learned before how to be strong for myself. Part of growing is learning that there are different kinds of strength and one of the hardest, cruelest kinds of all is being strong for everyone else but yourself.

You’ve been through the fire, you’ve survived it, they’ve seen your scars and those who know it have retold your story in hushed tones. But none of it matters because the ones who need help now can’t see you and they don’t know how familiar you are with their terror. And you can’t tell them. In order to help others effectively, part of you has to be sacrificed. For me this has been the bitterest pill. Naturally curious, empathetic, calculating… the sheer volume of nightmares I encounter now would knock the wind out of me if I let them in. But it’s all or nothing sometimes. The nothing helps me weather it. The nothing makes me good and strong for others. But I miss the days when I could embrace all of it; sort through it up close and find the beauty of it. I’m still learning how to manage the “all” bit of all or nothing in my current state. If I ever figure it out, you’ll know.

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