A few months ago my sister called me with some bad news. She said that she was going through a break up and felt really sad. After she had explained her situation to me, I rushed in with some (what I thought was) helpful advice and straight away she told me I was being “too practical” and that she just wanted to to be sad without the offering of anything other than someone to listen to her. Of course, I understood this, sometimes all we need is a sounding board, but the way she stopped me from offering her guidance made me aware of my own desire to try to fix other peoples problems but also aware of my own need for allowing myself to process difficult emotions and the opportunity to just be sad. I also had to laugh to myself that I was being described as someone that is practical but I guess that is who I am now; someone who is on the lookout for solutions instead of someone who keeps creating problems. But what happens when there are no solutions? In my sisters case, and in many situations I’ve been in, ‘solutions’ are futile. I say ‘solutions’ because what we think of as solutions – usually the practical things – are really not conducive at all and the only real solution is to not have one.
Even though I know this, and practise leaning into my emotions and processing them in my own life, I still rushed forward with my eager advice. Why? Because knowing someone I love is in pain hurts and I wanted to do everything I could to alleviate that for her. But what happens if we stopped doing that? What’s the alternative? The alternative is sitting with uncomfortable feelings. Gross. Even typing that out makes me shudder. I don’t want to be uncomfortable, I want to exist in a meditative state and feel like I am floating inside a cloud at all times. Fuck being uncomfortable. But my sister knew this is what she had to do and I know that it is necessary too; if I want to reach the cloud, I have to travel through the storm, and from experience, the bigger the storm the more comfortable the cloud is. Having said that, I don’t enjoy this process – sitting with uncomfortable feelings – and I don’t think my sister did either, she just knew it was an inevitable part of the process. I can’t help but wonder why I have such an aversion to just sitting and feeling? Because when you break it down, being still and acknowledging how your body feels and what your thoughts are, is literally all it is. Which doesn’t sound that difficult when put like that.
I know this isn’t something that is unique to me, I see it in almost everyone I encounter. I see it in my friends who are always out, I see in it myself who is constantly creating and journaling in an attempt to make sense of the world, I saw it for years in my dad who worked and worked and struggled to stop, I see it every time I pick up my phone and am inundated with thousands of pieces of information, I see it in strangers darting about and I wonder what the rush is. Being still is just something that we are not good at. But it is something that sometimes we are forced to do.
Last year I broke my toe and it was horrible. I couldn’t walk for 6 weeks and if you know me you know that two of my main vices are exercising and being able to walk to the beach everyday to jump in the sea. I couldn’t do this and I struggled. A lot. I broke my toe during a HIIT class, I heard it crack but continued on because I didn’t think the crack was an actual break, I just thought I had knocked it and maybe it would be bruised so I carried on. When I work out there is nothing stopping me reaching the euphoria I feel at the end when I’m laying on the floor in a sweaty mess – this is my happy place – so I continued on and it wasn’t until that evening when I noticed two of my toes were swollen and bent that I realised something more than just a slight bump had occurred. I was in denial at first and tried straightening them by bending them back into place, which yes, hurt a lot, but didn’t hurt as much as the thought that my toes would be forever bent and I would be unable to exercise; I had to do something to rectify the situation. I went to sleep that night hoping my toes would magically transform into my straight toes again but the next morning I woke up and they were more swollen, my foot was in so much pain I could barely walk.
The stillness in the weeks that followed was overbearingly uncomfortable. I knew silence could be loud, but this was the loudest I had heard it. I was only three months into my sobriety by this point and I had just broken up with my ex boyfriend (literally the week before) so it wasn’t a great time to also break my toes. I ended up calling him back a few days into my broken bone situation, partly because I was bored and needed a distraction, partly because I really needed help and he seemed happy enough to accommodate me whilst I was injured. I do remember a conversation we had where he said “you only keep calling me because you’ve broken your toe and need my help” and I distinctively remember responding “yes, you’re right”. If there is one thing about me, it’s that I’m honest. I don’t have the time for pretending out of politeness, especially with the people that I love, because I did love him, I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore.
I made good use of my time even though I couldn’t swim or move about much. I wrote lots and read lots – my other vices. And even though it was at times distressing, I learnt the importance of being still. Being still without drugs or alcohol too, which was a huge feat for me. I learnt that it is okay to slow down and to feel things and sometimes it is okay to just stop completely. I learnt that it is okay to cry as ugly and as loud as possible. I learnt that it is okay to need people, not romantically or sexually or even emotionally but to physically depend on another person because you are not able to do things yourself. That was a difficult one to learn, especially as a disabled person who has always been praised for doing things independently but I learnt that asking for help when you cannot do something is okay. From then, and throughout my whole sober journey, the ultimate lesson I learned is that I want my life to be lived slower. This may change. Like all things do. But right now, I want to live at a slower pace and this is something I have continued to practise. I learnt the importance of the process; the journey is much more important than any distant imaginary ending that I have imposed onto my future and I want to be moving at a slow enough pace to appreciate the ride, not be in a rush and pass by it too quickly.
I hope that when my sister calls me up now and tells me she is sad or maybe that she has broken her toe and cannot walk I will tell her that it is okay to be sad and that having a broken toe or being sad doesn’t make us broken people. It makes us human and is just another part of the journey of life that we have to experience. There is nothing to do, no solution to come up with, no problem to resolve. The solution lies in being who we are and how we are at any given time. We can show up sad and sadness is okay, we can show up angry and that will also be okay. If I have to exist as an older sibling in this world then I want to be the older sibling who is wise, not one who tries to be wise with unhelpful advice.
I want to finish this by sharing something I wrote during the 6 weeks of broken toe stillness whilst I was also tackling a break up, sobriety and overthinking:
I don’t want to be fixed because I am not broken, I want to be allowed to experience the full range of human emotion without being labelled ‘damaged goods’. I am not damaged, I am angry. I am not broken, I am sad.