Strong at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918

The world, Ernest Hemingway said, can kill you, regardless of how brave or gentle or good you are.  If you’re lucky, though, the world just breaks you; if you’re even luckier,  you can heal and come to grow strong at the broken places.

I’m unashamed to admit that the world has broken me on more than one occasion.  Broken people, like broken bones, heal over time, but some bones take longer to knit back together than others; the aftermath of a traumatic event can leave your psyche as wounded as a car crash can leave your body.

There’s something they don’t tell you when you encounter something that requires you to piece your life back together.  When you’re deep in the thick of whatever’s going on, the only thought you have is I have to get through this, but once you actually find yourself on the other side, all the energy you’ve been investing in pure survival is gone, and you find yourself unable to think and act as a normal human being any more.

It’s no big secret that I’m a cancer survivor, and it’s a perfect example how the world will either break you or kill you.  When I finally got myself free and clear, I was definitely broken: my entire life had been destroyed, and the day after I finally found out that I was healthy again (if you can call scarred and exhausted “healthy”), I woke up and didn’t know what the hell to do with myself.  It was like coming out of suspended animation, only to discover everyone you knew from your former life had moved on with their lives without you, leaving you behind.

I went back to work at the bookstore after I got my clean bill of health, but things weren’t the same – I felt empty and alone.  A large number of people who I once considered my friends had mysteriously vanished with the news of my cancer diagnosis, and this abandonment by the people in my life that I thought I could count on was more devastating than any physical illness.

The experience changed the way I approached people from then on; for a long time, I couldn’t understand what I’d done to deserve being cast aside.  I felt that it was a failing on my part – I must have been a bad person, that I didn’t deserve to have people that cared about me in my life, and I went forward from there, walling myself off from anyone and everyone.  Part of this was because I had convinced myself that I was worthless and was therefore undeserving of any sort of friendship, though a lot of it was out of a desire to not ever be hurt again as badly as I was by my so-called friends when they left me twisting in the wind.

It took years, but things were slowly beginning to get better for me.  I’d begun to open my life back up to new people – the biggest gamble I’d taken was becoming involved with the woman that has become my fiancée – and it seemed like I was finally ready to lose the cast and crutches and get on with my life: I was living on my own again after having to move back in with my parents due to my illness, I was finishing my MA in English and was looking forward to putting in my applications for a PhD program somewhere, and in the meantime I had decided to take some time off and work while I enjoyed just living together with my fiancée.

Then, the economy tanked.  The universities I had applications in to all suffered cuts to their funding, dropping the number of new PhD candidates to record lows and precluding me from getting into a program.  The only job I could get turned out to be a horrible inventory manager position at a major pet store chain 45 minutes away which required me to get up at 2 in the morning so I could get there before the early delivery showed up.  That job lasted about two months before I had had enough of the hemophagic hours, abusive upper management, and horrible working conditions, though running over a rabbit on my way in one morning acted as a catalyst for making me leave.

A long stint of unemployment followed.  No one was hiring anyone, anywhere, and I was out of work for five months before getting an even worse job as a call center rep for a cable company.  Not only that, but the job was back down on Long Island, and the lease on our upstate New York apartment wasn’t up for another four months after that, so I lived during the week at my parents’ place and then spent the weekends with my fiancée, all the while dreading the end of the weekend, as it meant returning to a soul-destroying job where I was literally yelled at for ten hours a day while I daydreamed about driving off an overpass on my way home.

That job lasted nine months until I had a complete and total breakdown.  I woke up one day, went into work, spent about fifteen minutes on the phone with a particularly vile customer, and walked into the bathroom where I literally huddled in a corner of a bathroom stall and tried to prevent my heart from exploding.  One of my supervisors found me in the bathroom and told me to go home – I never went back.

I spent another six months out of work.  My fiancée and I couldn’t afford our new Long Island apartment any more, so we relocated to an attic “apartment” in Pennsylvania, where my car breathed its last the week we moved down there.   Our landlord let us coast on a promise to pay until I found a job – a work-at-home gig writing copy for websites in the UK – and it was only until then that I started crawling back up out of the horror that had been my life for the last year and a half.

Things are a lot different today.  Thanks to that job (and our landlord letting us slide), I’ve been able to develop a freelance career that pays enough to allow me and my fiancée to move out of the attic into a nearby cottage on the property, find a new set of wheels, and even put some cash away for the future every week.  Not only that, but I’m a published fiction author, and we’re even finally planning our wedding (keep November 11th open on your calendar, by the way).

The problem is my mind is so bent and twisted from going through all of this pain and fear that it doesn’t realize that things actually are better now; all those old feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy are still there, just bubbling away under what otherwise looks like a calm surface, and the littlest thing can make me boil over and turn me into a complete wreck.  I keep myself as closed off from others as I possibly can, not trusting the motives of anyone who moves to befriend me, and while I know that doing this leaves me isolated and without friends, the fear of being abandoned yet again is so great that it’s paralyzing.

The thing is, I know this is no way to live.  I’m trying to change these things about me – trying to learn to take risks again and to allow myself to trust the people around me.  I’m starting to reveal more of who I am to the world again, both in person and on this blog, even though it’s the most fucking frightening thing I can think of to do.  The thing is, even though it’s makes me want to run and hide, I’m going to do it anyway.  Bones itch while they heal, it’s going to be a lengthy, painful, uncomfortable convalescence, and I can’t tell anyone how long my recovery is going to take, but I’m tired of being constantly afraid of everything.

Despite all the pain that I’ve had to go through and despite how much shit keeps getting thrown at me,  I am too stubborn to give up.  I’m not going to let the world kill me, even though I may be broken; instead I’m going to become stronger at the broken places, and one of these days I’ll be able to walk on my own again.  I guess I’m just asking for a little patience until I’m ready.

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5 thoughts on “Strong at the broken places.

  1. Wow bro, sounds like you need a hug. A hairy manly non homoerotic, pat on the back kind of hug. 🙂 (sorry playing a lot of ME3 and they honestly went a little overboard on how often homosexuality is displayed. Which would be OK, but I think they went over the top. I don’t think 2/3 of the people in the world are Gay… but in ME3 land, it’s close).

    What can I say… First off, I can say that most people will likely read this, and if they are like me, they will feel sympathy borne from similar pains in life.

    No, I never had cancer, but we all have different tolerances for different problems. I won’t try and compare them, I know for me some of the things you talk about that sounded hard for you, sounded easy for me. While other things that you rattle off like it was nothing like school and such, are things I don’t think I could ever do.

    Being defeated, Crushed, Smooshed by life however is a state of mind. One that we all experience in our own way.

    As a Philosophical Buddhist, my view of your story is one of self imposed sorrow over events that are neither good, nor bad, they simply are.

    To an uneducated or oversensitive person, what I just said might sound horribly Cavalier, or hypocritical.

    But let me tell you again – The Events in your life are neutral. What makes them good or bad are all a reflection of your own self. They are all relative to you alone, and reality frankly doesn’t give a shit if you nearly died last week, if it’s your turn to eat a shit sandwich, it just is.

    Now, if that’s a bad thing, that’s not the shit sandwiches fault. Like the saying “guns don’t kill people, Kids who listen to gangsta rap music do.” Life doesn’t suck, people do.

    We, as humans, have a natural tendency to anthropomorphize everything. From inanimate objects, to Events and times.

    From the Greek Gods, to luck being a lady.

    One thing I try to do, is when shit goes south, I try to imagine that if things went the way I hoped they would, that something worse would have happened.

    For example when my Dog ate a lego and almost died (we thought at the time). The local Animal emergency hospital didn’t pick up when I called them to make sure they were open. I didn’t know I called a wrong number and was pissed all the way to the much further away one.

    I decided that there was a reason why we got sent to the far away one, maybe if we had gone that way we would have been in a 30 car pile up at the intersection. Maybe the vet at that place would be drunk and give my dog poison.

    I don’t do this because I think that’s really what would happen, I do it to remind myself that events in life are only good, or bad, because of how we perceive them.

    All of these pains, these defeats, these deaths you suffer/ed. Are just pages in your life story. They will turn, and you as the observer of your reality have gained a great deal from the experience.

    Turn away from bitterness, and instead embrace the lessons and good things that have followed.

    Maybe if you never had Cancer and the other problems, you would never have met the love of your life?

    Most people spend their whole lives doing the oposite… We go through life always wishing for things, neglecting the things we have.

    We go through life blaming life for our pain… when it isn’t lifes fault that we experience pain…

    We go to bed at night shaking our fist at the sky saying – When lord, when is it going to be our time. Your time is now, it has always been now, it will never be tomorrow. It is only now, right here this instant. For better or worse, no other time exists.

    One of the biggest lessons I recently learned – was that most of us go through life tyring to be things we are not. Instead of trying to build on the things we are.

    Some people are hedonists, and spend their lives searching for ease and comfort. When life is hard, they are unable to cope.

    Others are ascetic’s and go through life punishing ourselves in an effort to remove weakness. Embracing suffering, often to the point of being unable to experience pleasure.

    The only truth, the only answer is the middle path. The one that says you can have it all. The one that says – OK, my turn. The one that says – It is what it is, and I am what I am. The one that says – Whether you believe you can, or you can’t, your right.

    Anyway dude, since your in PA I can’t be your New Garrus in life.

    But I didn’t start chatting you up again just because you could help me with my writing. I also happen to like reading your blog. Now… Get back out there, and tell life you don’t care what it does any more.

    One last word of inspiration – I was with my Wife getting her another piercing…

    The guy at the tatoo place was talking tough guy stuff with me, and somehow it got into how I’m the type that would rather die on his feet than on his knees.

    And he was like fuck yeah Bro.

    “Like you know that movie Deep impact? At the end when the chick and her dad face the tidal wave and die?”

    And I’m like “Yeah… ?”

    And he’s like:

    “If that was me, I’d fucking punch that fucking wave as hard as I could…”

    I nearly shit my pants laughing. Because I know what he means.

    You go out there now Dave and you punch that fucking tidal wave right in its balls and even though it’s still going to probably wash you away – you go out knowing you didn’t just let life drown you. You went out fighting.

    OK… OK, hope I didn’t make it worse.

    But if you need to talk, just hit me up.

  2. That reminds me of the gag reel at the end of Jade Empire: “I recall your earliest lessons. You fell from a thousand feet during the Walk of Death, which alone was odd enough at your age, but doing short work of the Walk of Maiming, and the Walk of Intense Discomfort, and tore your head clean off. I comforted you – well, your head – saying you could just walk it off, because, you know, the cut was clean, and then you would punch a mountain! In space!”

    On a serious note, though – thank you. I guess you could say that I’ve definitely been skirting the ascetic path without really realizing it as a response to the shit I’ve dealt with, but I’ve definitely been struggling with throwing that off and going back to living a normal life again – or one as normal as possible for someone with as diseased a mind as my own.

    It’s just a case of “easier said than done,” really. Knowing rationally that the way you’re living your life is doing more harm than good and taking the steps to change things for the better are two completely different things, but I’d like to think that I’m making progress. It’s slow, though – kind of like the endgame grind in Final Fantasy 7.

    Or maybe it’s more like the chocobo breeding. Which one has more giant chickens fucking?

    • “On a serious note, though – thank you. I guess you could say that I’ve definitely been skirting the ascetic path without really realizing it as a response to the shit I’ve dealt with, but I’ve definitely been struggling with throwing that off and going back to living a normal life again – or one as normal as possible for someone with as diseased a mind as my own.”

      Again, try to assess for yourself what normal really means. Don’t expect life to be a certain way. Life is balance in all things. What I think I’m aiming at is the idea that even your pain and suffering is NORMAL.

      The life your in right now is NORMAL… What you NEED is not normalcy. It is BALANCE. Expecting life to return to normal is a source of further imbalance. Instead, seek balance and you will see that life is already normal for you.

      When a person feels fatigued all the time, it often means they need more exercise, not more rest.

      What balances your life is up to you to figure out. Maybe you need to feel anger instead of sorrow. Maybe you need to feel Sorrow instead of anger.

      The good news is, balance seeks itself in the world, like water seeking it’s own level. If you allow things to happen, life has a way of balancing itself over time. You can either help it along, or leave it alone.

      Start small, learn to find the pleasures in the little things. Capture a lightning bug and watch it blink. learn to cook something simple and new, or better than ever before. Spend a day just walking around looking at nature. Take up a new hobby.

      Work your way up from there…

      Things only sound easier said than done because we assume some things in life are not hard. We forget that nothing in the world is easy, even breathing required a great effort on the part of your body to achieve. Just because it seemed easy to say something, doesn’t mean that the cells in your body didn’t have to move mountains to accomplish it.

      The hardest things in life require two or three things to be made possible.

      1: Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. It is possible but only through great pain and the loss of perfectly good corners. A Blood cell cannot be a brain cell, but by being the best blood cell it can be, the brain cell is nourished with oxygen which in turn makes a smarter healthier mind, which in turn makes a healthier body, which in turn makes a healthier blood cell.

      2: Time – Taking small steps. Learning to crawl before walking and running. Climbing out of the hole before filling it in with the foundation of a new house. Painting a picture only happens by stroking the brush countless times. The only way an artist can finish the painting is to never count the strokes. Likewise, don’t count the hardships in your path.

      3: The will to accept defeat and error as a part of life and try again. There is a reason the backspace key on a keyboard is one of the biggest keys on the keyboard. There is a reason that there are erasers even on some pens. There is a reason cars have brakes, and guns have safeties.

      OK, I’ll stop pontificating now.

      Glad I could be of some help.

  3. Pingback: First world problems. « Amateur Professional

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