(You may have noticed that it’s been closer to two weeks since my last post, though I directed any readers of the first part of this double header to return in a single week. I like to keep you in suspense. Or maybe I had a heck of a week. Perhaps we’ll never know. I’m sure I don’t).
I think there are two big reasons people give up on adventure: The everyday and the traumatic.
As a child and young adult, I thought adventure was more like a movie: Nobody stops to have diarrhea, blow their nose, or argue, much less experience chronic illness, infidelity, death of loved ones, or financial trouble.
Being human is hard, which becomes more apparent as you breach and traverse adulthood. If you pictured difficulties as wisps of smoke and quickly cleared obstacles, the length and breadth of your everyday struggles will kick you onto your ass.
Real life cast an ugly shadow on my presuppositions. Messy. Ugly. Painful. Boring. Lonely. It was like cutting into a cake to find it was made of pasteboard and filled with old fish. Every time I reconciled myself to the presence of another “ugly,” another one popped up.
After my first pregnancy, which was 9 months of constant vomiting, recurrent migraines, crippling sciatica, heart attack-like acid reflux, and revolving cycles of insomnia (I didn’t sleep for up to three days at a time), among other things, I started speaking like this,
“This has been a hard year.”
When the next year was extremely difficult due to the transition to civilian life (as a family), a move, isolation in a new community, a congenital birth defect, specialist visits, major surgery, and more sleepless nights, I modified that statement:
“The past two years have been difficult.”
I didn’t realize the pattern until I’d passed about 7 years of the same. My point isn’t that I was having a pity party, though I can definitely say I was deeply disturbed by the seriousness and regularity of my difficulties. It’s that I viewed them as something to pass out of, as a temporary abatement from a better reality: ease, as I defined it.
A friend said it this way, “I keep telling people the last year, 5 years, 10 years have been difficult. What I really think that means is “hard” is the new normal. It’s reality.”
We often respond to heartache by screaming, “Why me?” I came to see the flip side, “Why not me?” But, instead of joyful acceptance, I entered a land of dread and foreboding.
When my second daughter was diagnosed with an exponentially rarer disease than her sister’s condition, and once again, without a genetic basis (no reason, no why, no one to blame, nothing to alleviate the incomprehensible sorrow), I simply nodded. The doctor kept waiting for me to break down as he explained her diagnosis/prognosis, but I simply asked as many relevant questions as I could think of and thanked him for his help. Then I carried her worn out, little body home and broke out in cold sores, my body’s betrayal of the grief I held back.
Six months later, I realized a light had dimmed in my heart as I unconsciously wondered, “What else? What other thing will come along to crush me? How much more?”
All of this occurred with a backdrop of a long-term trauma: 13 years in a toxic marriage that wore away my self-worth, my hope, and my identity. Some of you know the way living in a hopeless situation will shrivel you into a shell of a person. There is an acute awareness that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you sacrifice, no matter what you do, nothing will get better. Your very life seems to be the enemy. You are surrounded, and small, and weak, and the most critical parts of your reality are cages in cages. If home isn’t a safe place, where is safety? If there is no hope for better, why try? If life is only pain, why even engage? Just numb. Just auto pilot the whole thing. Just give up.
When the hits kept coming, I began to think hits were all there were. I lived as if waiting for the ax to fall. My brain and body couldn’t contend with all the real and expected demons; I couldn’t even imagine better. They were warped by the deferred, everything I had longed for that was so far out of my reach.
Are you waiting for me to tell you everything got better, is better? I can’t.
Here is what I can say. About five years ago I began a journey of rebuilding my self-worth, staring my fears down, and living. Not surviving. Living. Some days were just as horrible as the road I’d been taking. Some days were far more painful than that. The status quo is as much an abstract prison as a concrete one. Breaking out will take all that you are and all that you didn’t even know you were.
Once I broke away from the physical wasteland of my marriage, my healing, growth, and imaginative powers took to the highway. Even as difficulties of a different kind surfaced (single-parenting, rebuilding a career, poverty, the aforementioned diagnosis, C-PTSD, and my own health issues due to constant long-term stress), I kept making gains. The knowledge and confidence and agency I discovered built upon itself in simple and staggering ways. I’d wake up month-by-month and day-by-day a different person. My internal dialogue wasn’t just superficially positive, it reached a core part of me. Brave choices became the norm, joy took hold, and gratefulness was indefatigable. I came alive again.
How does adventure play into this?
When you hold strong beliefs in your inherent and unchangeable value, your strength and ability, and you are full to bursting with gratefulness for all you’ve overcome and the lessons you’ve learned through them, adventure is more palatable. Just as our minds cannot create while being destroyed, they are free and itching to do so in a safe, peaceful place. If we’re overwhelmed by surviving each day, the last thing we’ll have energy or ability for is expanding ourselves and investing in our future. But, once we see hope in the dark of tomorrow, instead of fear in the unknown, we’ll plan and prepare for the greater adventures to come.
Why am I sure there are “greater adventures” to come?
Because one of the most incredible and precious lessons I’ve learned in all my life is that adventure is not outside of me. Adventure isn’t even really ahead of me. It’s not something I have to search for beyond myself or grasp for a fleeting moment while I’m skydiving or swimming with sharks. Adventure is inside of me. It’s my journey. My becoming, my growth, my love song in the world – I am the adventure.
And so are you.