Replacement

“Think of what your most pressing crisis was, right before the pandemic.”

I have to smirk. I remember this time, last year. The innocent juxtaposition, like the opening scenes of a disaster film. The world before the virus made landfall, when I was consumed with the creeping inevitability of a situation — the hope that things were going to improve chipping away and all I could feel was the pit in my stomach.

Right before the first lockdown — literally days — I was sobbing, consumed with this comparably adorable suffering. And like a flood rushing in, those moments feel like a quarrel on the beach before the tsunami hits. 

How quaint it is, in retrospect.

When the pandemic made landfall in America, I had hit the ground running.

Within a day of the lockdown, I had set up my at-home studio, sales pitching to the point of begging clients to consider online classes. My to-do lists became equally hysterical, each day methodically mapped out with the precision of a helicopter parent.

I would make to-do lists that would stretch into the rest of the week.

I would listen to an entire audiobook in a day as I accomplished every single remaining home improvement project that had been waiting in the wings. I overhauled the land around my house, pulled out every single weed, started a fruit & vegetable garden. I painted the semi-finished basement and I installed anything that needed to be installed.

On two occasions, I would slice my thumb open with a box cutter, haphazardly bandage it up, and continue on.

“That needs stitches,” my husband warned, on both occasions, but I never went to urgent care. Both times, it eventually healed, even though I temporarily lost feeling in the tip of my thumb.

(There’s a metaphor here. There always is.)

It wasn’t until the Appalachian Mountain Club gave the go-ahead to hike again did I let up on all the household projects. I then shifted to some of the toughest, meanest, most dangerous hikes in the Whites, finishing the list by August.

I had hit the ground running, and ignored whenever I’d roll an ankle or scrape a knee. Literally and metaphorically.

Because that’s the thing about running away from things — all that matters is that you’ve put distance between yourself and the thing. Your wellbeing isn’t immediately important.

It’s been a year since the pandemic made landfall in America. A new normal has been established. Hearing CDC recommendations while grocery shopping has stopped feeling so jarring.

And I think — I think — I have slowed down.

There’s a lot I’m doing differently now. I’ve stepped back from a lot in my personal life — things I was doing to avoid the feeling of loss, to simply replace one focus with another.

(And it never worked out. When you are intent on replacing what you’ve lost, your focus isn’t where it needs to be and you can’t tell if the replacement is going to cause you injury.)

Trying to replace what I’ve lost has landed me in heartwrenching situations. And the fear of losing further kept me there. This has been the case since far before the pandemic.

(And as I continue to use this time to heal and build myself back up, I realize that, more than the betrayal of others, I struggle processing the self-betrayal that I did to stay where I was, to never risk loss by putting my line in the sand. More than their mistreatment of me is my mistreatment of myself for not extricating myself sooner.

Perhaps I cannot fully forgive them for what they did because I have not yet fully forgiven myself for letting it happen in the first place.)

I was hysterical when the pandemic hit because I could not bear to sit with loss. Loss of my career, of my way of life, of a sense of certainty. And I sliced my thumb twice in the process.

Perhaps this is more than just another metaphor I can suss out of the mundane. Perhaps it is indicative of a bigger issue: how many times have I stayed where I was because I was paralyzed by the idea of loss — of losing whatever small good the bad situation was giving me? How often I couldn’t stand creating negative, even if it will be a net positive.

(And how often the injuries it caused far surpassed a sliced thumb, how it severed more than some neural connections, how the numbing went far beyond just the tip of a thumb.)

But what a peculiar balance it becomes — to make sure this time of healing and building myself up isn’t yet another way to replace, to avoid that feeling of loss. But also, what a powerful thing it becomes, to sit with loss.

And then — if I am lucky — I can have both paths converge, where I have built myself up enough and learned not to chase replacements. I become someone who understands the power of goodbye sooner — who extricates herself before something slices through her again.

“If I can give you some more of ‘your husband’ knowledge,” says my husband when I tell him about what I’m writing. “You hold onto that little good because of how your childhood was. When you were younger, ‘a little good’ was all you got. So when you get into those situations, there’s resistance against removing yourself from the equation because — well, ‘a little good is as good as it gets’.”

It all can be traced back to its source in my upbringing. It always can. There are few things that put a person at a disadvantage quite like learning all the wrong lessons about love during your formative years.

A little bit of good; that’s as good as it gets. Something you unconsciously accept as fact if you don’t think you’re innately worthy of more — that, if you want an iota of better treatment, you better be willing to jump through hoops for it. And if it doesn’t happen, don’t risk what little good you got. You’ll never know when you’ll get it again.

I take a stroll through the city after my most recent therapy appointment, Taylor Swift’s “August” in my earbuds.

For me it was enough, to live for the hope of it all…

So many times I’ve stayed in holding patterns, living for the hope of it all, hoping that the hope could replace what had never really been enough. I can only hope that right now is enough; that sitting with loss, that feeling I’m desperate to replace with something else once more, can be enough. 

That I can watch how 2021 unfolds, making peace with where my career is at, where the state of my spirit and my heart is at, that right now is about letting go and letting be.

Not running away; simply moving forward.

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