I quit smoking about 20 years ago.
(Go ahead, applaud. I’ll wait.)
Thing is, while my 2-pack-a-day habit wasn’t doing me any favors, neither was it impeding my life in any major way. You X- and Y-ers might not know this, but back in ’87, you could still smoke most places, like…indoors. In your hospital room!
Plus lots of other people smoked, too, so you had your pick of people to date and hang out with and drink with who were also smokers. And, save the bronchitis I’d had a couple of bouts of in years past, smoking hadn’t really affected my health yet. I looked fine, was in reasonably good shape, and since a pack still cost under twenty bucks, smoking barely made a dent in my hefty, ad-hole salary.
Still, I’d come of age after the surgeon general’s thumbs-down, so I knew I’d have to quit at some point. I was switching jobs and figured it was as good a time as any: start at the new place with new habits. So I quit right before I started.
And then I farted for a month.
No, that’s imprecise, I sat in a methane miasma of my own making for a month. Or longer. In a cubicle, that’s a “room” with no ceiling, people, surrounded by brand-new co-workers who had no idea I did not always smell like a dead rat the horse shat out. I sat, head pounding from withdrawal, chasing my farts with matches as I wrote jingles and taglines and blurbs, grinding my teeth, chain-sucking Halls Menth-O-Lyptus tablets.
And that was while I was at work.
Every minute of every day for the first three weeks was a living hell. I had a mantra, one that worked so well, I wound up using it again several times during bad breakups:
If I can make it a minute, I can make it an hour
If I can make in an hour, I can make it a day
If I can make it a day, I can make it a week
If I can make it a week, I can make it a month
If I can make it month, I can make it forever
The basic point is, my life went from being…well, if not perfect, then pretty good, to a whole lot better. In between, however, was another story. In between, there was the Big Nasty. A great big stinky sodden mess of upheaval that there was no way past but straight through. And I get why we give up there: really, I do.
I reorganized my apartment around the end of last year. And because I am on the non-robust side, any serious reorganizing requires me to empty all critical bits of furniture of all their contents. And because my apartment is also on the robust side, this means that for a time, everything ends up in a gigundous heap in the middle of the apartment. Only it’s not the middle: it’s the whole freaking place, one big shitheap of all my crappy, earthly possessions, lying inert in a mass like we just had a 7.2 on the Richter scale.
Also, I timed this really, really perfectly back in December, which is to say, right when it gets dark. So it’s dark, and it’s cold, and it’s the end of the year, and I’m lying in the middle of a shitheap. And this grand vision I had for the total reorganization and streamlining of my life is not only not working out, but the mess and the darkness have conspired to show me that I am, in fact, an idjit, that my furniture will only fit into ONE configuration, that change IS impossible and I am both an ass AND a boob for daring to think otherwise.
So I sat in the midst of the rubble and I cried a little. And then I started hauling around furniture anyway. And wouldn’t you know that by gum, those old sticks would go together differently and I did get everything put away and when I was done, it was not only not just okay, it was fantastic. Fantastic!!!
Why bring this up now? Because I’m in a hole. It is maybe not so black and deep as Fartville or The Night My Furniture Almost Ate Me. But it is dark and it is vast. It is the great, not-so-great unknown I must cross to get from “okay” to “fantastic.” Okay was okay, too, really it was. I’ve had a good life. But life can be fantastic, and I don’t mean from a swimmin’-pools, movie-stars perspective. I mean the full living of your actual life: being there, doing that thing you do 100%, whether or not it earns you a thin dime. Fulfilling your purpose. You can do a lot of it from the land of okay, but eventually, you gotta go. And that is a scary gulf.
So if you cross…when you cross…stay aware. Reach out for a Halls or a hand or a good, sturdy, safety match, as appropriate. Know it won’t be the miasma forever. Know that even if you can’t see them, there are millions of people crossing their own impassible swamps.
Know that it’s okay to cling to the shore for awhile, but also know that once you strike out, there’s no going back.
You’ll be okay. You’ll be more than okay. You’ll be different.
You’ll be fantastic.
UPDATE: There’s a pingback below, but for those of you who don’t click on comments (and hence, might miss it), Amateur Manifesto has a wonderful post up about her own, current experience with the Black Hole. Strongly recommended.