The greatest mistake I ever made occurred in the pecan grove of my undergraduate campus. But to understand why that mistake was so huge, so life-altering, and so close to being irreparable, you must first know where I currently stand.
If I read one more mommy blog that proclaims “We are all just doing our best,” I may gouge my eyeballs out. When I was at my personal suckiest, I ate this drivel up with a spoon. It was with equal enthusiasm that I inhaled the old “I have no regrets” cliché. These were just the enabling mantras I needed to channel all of my energy into finding enabling mantras. So, I ask that you pause for just a second and reflect on this question:
Are you REALLY doing your best? Seriously, are you?
If you can answer with an unequivocal “Yes!” then stop reading. And to the other 99.9% of you, please proceed.
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s start again. The greatest mistake I ever made occurred in the pecan grove of my undergraduate campus. It’s just what you might imagine, an expansive grove landscaped solely with broken pecan shells and provincial reading benches — like a sandbox for late-adolescent idealists. It was a quiet morning. And without another soul in sight, I was on the walk that would forever change my life.
These were just the enabling mantras I needed to channel all of my energy into finding enabling mantras.
Like the crescendo of one of Beethoven’s symphonies, all of the components of my world — classes I loved, the crackle of pecans beneath my flip-flops, my super-beautiful-first-love-amazing-boyfriend, my like-minded roommates that strummed guitar chords before heading to the campus coffee house, a future with limitless possibilities — congregated in perfect cranial harmony. Creating a note so supreme that it jarred me and stopped me in my tracks.
At that moment of euphoric immobility, I made the single stupidest promise to myself that I would ever make. “Jen—” I said, “never, ever, ever settle for anything that feels like less than this.” And with that, I’d doomed myself.
What began as the musings of a naive nineteen-year-old became fodder for the mother of all wake-up calls. I floated for two more years in that pecan grove before being spat violently into real life. And to echo Langston Hughes:
“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
But this isn’t an essay about how shitty my life got (please see previous publications) — it’s about bucking up and doing something before you make an un-fulfillable promise to yourself.
For me, it took twelve years, eleven blackouts, ten close-calls, nine nasty exes, eight skipped grad school classes, seven moves, six dead aquarium fish, five hair styles, four life-improvement apps, three self-help books, two people I love more than myself, and one therapist before I finally figured shit out. Now who wouldn’t want to spare themselves that agony?
So what exactly is my advice? Own the fuck up. You know good and well what you hate about yourself. You know good and well what makes the guilt-record taunt you when you can’t sleep at night. And you know good and well that your little nest of self-loathing has become a dangerously cozy comfort zone.
Maybe it’s those McDonald’s sausage biscuit wrappers you hide in your glove compartment? Or what about those chugs of wine you take from the bottle while you’re “grabbing the butter from the fridge”? How ya’ feeling about that random hook-up on Friday night that finally took you into triple digits? Are you sure your friend won’t miss those pain pills that help with your (ahem) back problem? And no way your wife thinks that text to your hot secretary was anything but business related. Right?
You get it. Whether you’re no-showing to AA or exercise class or your kid’s soccer game or your marriage — you simply aren’t doing your best. This bears repeating. You aren’t doing your best. You have two choices today. You either take the first step to get help or you insert Groundhog Day into your Blue-ray and press play yet again.
But, but—what is the first step? Whimper. Whine.
You know what it is. And I know you know what it is. It’s the same thing you’ve made a zillion excuses not to do up until now. Give yourself a deadline — preferably 5:00 p.m. today—and do it. And if you’re really, genuinely, profoundly stumped here, Google it. It’s 2015.
I found myself back in the danger zone quite recently. Everyone hears about the horrors of addiction and the difficulties of maintaining early sobriety. What they don’t tell you about is the Pink Cloud. Think of it as the pecan grove of former users. You’ve gotten through those heinous early days of physical withdrawals, ridiculous cravings, and mood swings from hell. Enter Pink Cloud. It’s happiness on steroids. It’s mania with three cherries on top. But like all clouds, it carries the foreboding of a storm.
You have two choices today. You either take the first step to get help or you insert Groundhog Day into your Blue-ray and press play yet again.
About three weeks into sobriety, I was riding that Pink Cloud like a rodeo queen. I was making friends and taking names. I was owning my personal trainer. I was talking and writing and talking some more, all in an effort to get my amazing thoughts conveyed to the less-enlightened world around me. And on this particular occasion, I was taking a freakishly brisk walk with my baby in the jogger.
But thank god I’m not nineteen anymore. Thank god I’ve navigated some splinters and broken boards and missteps on the journey up. Because on this walk, just like that day in college, I stopped dead in my tracks. Again, I was breathless from the possibility of it all. But suddenly, it felt too familiar, and I knew that it was time for a new promise.
“Jen,” I said to myself, plucking a sharp pecan shell from the bottom of my flip-flop, “there will be moments that feel like less than this. In fact, there will be moments that make you feel like joy is a mud-covered glob of gum on the bottom of your ugliest pumps. Never, ever let those moments defeat you. Never, ever let them trick you into thinking you can’t walk your way back to light.”
And with that, I moved forward.
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. — Langston Hughes, Collected Poems.