Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Steady as she goes.

Are you familiar with Jenga? It’s that puzzle game where all the pieces are solid wood rectangles. You make a tall tower, three blocks at a time, and when the tower is built, you carefully slide blocks out, one by one, without disturbing the surrounding pieces. Your goal is to keep the tower standing in one piece.

I was sitting at my computer the other morning, trying to work, and feeling incredibly distracted, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was pulling my focus. I have things to do, that’s for sure – work, laundry, exercise. I could paint the living room walls, which is something I’ve wanted done for two years. Reorganize the bathroom drawers…really every drawer. And cabinet. There’s no shortage of projects, but what’s missing is a targeted plan and the drive to actually get it all done.

Sometimes it’s just that the task at hand isn’t all that thrilling. I get that. And sometimes we need a little win (Solitaire app, anyone?) before we move on to trying to get that big victory in the books (I can barely walk into the garage for all the Christmas bins that need to be put back on the shelf).

But a thought crossed my mind this morning as I wondered where my motivation was: It’s been a bumpy few years. And I know so many of you can empathize with me because you have your own hard things you’ve been working through. As I count on two hands (and a couple toes) all the losses and tough stuff I’ve been trying to manage, it occurs to me that while I’ve compartmentalized the pain these things have caused, I have still been affected. But tapping out to actually address it isn’t really an option. Because while parts of our world might be falling apart, the rest of life moves right along. A week of introspection and meditation simply won’t happen, especially when you’ve got people relying on you to take them places, feed them, and to provide support in the form of hugs, practice tests, active listening, and clean clothes. So as women, we shift into survival mode.

Whenever there is bad news, or sad news, or something emotionally difficult to handle, we look at it, then tuck it away into a little box inside of us. That box gets put on an internal shelf labeled “DEAL WITH THIS LATER.” And then we look up with a deep breath and a smile and say “Okay everybody…who’s hungry for dessert?!”

But each time we push those heavy, little boxes onto the shelf inside our tower, it’s as if we are pushing a solid Jenga piece out of place. When we decide to carry sorrow, or confusion, or pain with us, we create an empty space where solid and steady used to be, shifting our balance. Keep enough of those placeholders within us, and before we realize it, our stability is compromised. Even with a strong base, there’s only so much power we have over gravity, and the more scary stuff we hold onto, the less we can rely on the structure that keeps us vertical. If the issues we are dealing with are close to the core – really shaking our foundation – then the chances of us toppling over sooner than later are pretty great.

So as I was wondering what my roadblock to productivity might be, I visualized all those boxes on my shelf. Loss. Regret. Hurt. Betrayal. I’ve treated parts of my heart as a storage facility, I think. And it took me a while, but I see now that some pretty useful pieces that I used to rely on might be pushed out of place. They haven’t gone far, but still, they aren’t where they used to be…where they should be. And so, neither am I.

Life – as beautiful as it can be – just kicks the shit out of us, doesn’t it? And sometimes we are so busy hurling ourselves forward, even we aren’t aware it’s happening. Adrenaline keeps us rolling through pain. It’s not until we slow down a bit that we realize just how much we hurt.

It’s interesting that it’s taken me several years of telling myself and everyone else that “It’s fine” before I could recognize that maybe it’s not. I mean, I’m still me, I’ve just got some funky spots. And perhaps over the years when some blocks got shoved out I tried to fill a couple of the resulting holes with, oh…I don’t know…wine? Pasta? Brownies? Binge-watching Parenthood? Let’s be honest…there are placeholders that are way worse, so I think I’m alright.

I think the brain should kick in and say, “Hey lady, block mishap. Maybe you should pick up the piece of yourself that fell out and push it back in. That will shove the sad, little box off your shelf. The top will pop off and all the gunk inside will spill over, but it’s O-KAY. Take a few minutes/days/weeks to really look at what’s there before you toss it out, huh?”

But what happens in the immediate is, our brain says, “Hey lady, you’re coming undone. Eat a cookie, crack a bottle of wine open, keep making dinner, and we’ll call it the day, shall we?”

That kind of works for a while, but it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – fill the space permanently. We are working from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. Whatever distraction we choose goes away and we’re left trying to defy gravity and stand tall (not easy with a nasty hangover). Even with a crutch, even with friends, even with faith…if you don’t sit with the root cause and address it, it won’t go away. And you won’t be whole again. Or in this case, I won’t be.

The good news is that my foundation is strong. I have so much love in my house and in my life…maybe that’s what’s held me up for so long. And I can see that missing pieces of myself doesn’t have to mean I am broken. I have more in place than some, and while I know people who have crashed, I myself – thankfully – haven’t. But even if your tower has tumbled, while you’re looking within for the strength to rebuild, don’t forget to look around. You are still there, and though you may be in pieces, you are no Humpty Dumpty. We’re talking about solid building blocks here. You can put yourself back together again. Understanding that we have the power to be our own Jenga architect is a pretty good place to be. And I’ll still be me, and you’ll still be you, just…better. And possibly different. Like a cooler, 2.0 version of ourselves, with shinier packaging and a new perspective to boot.

Is this ringing a bell for anyone, or is it just me who’s comparing herself to a Hasbro game? In any case, I think it’s time to stop trying so hard to pretend we are whole, and start putting all that energy into actually being whole. Stop telling yourself you are fine, and begin to be fine, then more than fine, then kicking up your heels fine.

And hey, stop drinking so much wine and eating pasta and brownies. OMG KIDDING KIDDING KIDDING. With all the Jenga we’re playing, it’s important to carb-load and stay hydrated.

Thus ends my public service announcement. And by “public service announcement” I obviously mean “personal revelation made public for what reason I have no idea.”



  1. I can totally relate! Every time I think I have a solid tower, one of the pieces collapses from underneath.

    1. Yup. Don't blink (and keep the vino handy). ;)

  2. This is exactly what I needed to read. Love you with all my heart.

    1. Oh angel. I love you too, babe. You have a lot of heavy boxes, I know. Let me know whenever you need help putting yourself back together. I am always here for you. xo