Learning How to Learn
I remember exactly when it changed for me.
I was sitting in the sunshine outside a boulangerie (I know, I know, a lot of weird things happen to me in bakeries), wearing a dress I liked back then, and reading.
It was a Wednesday.
Eating a croissant and wearing a dress on a sunny day seems like it should make everything okay, but it didn't.
I'd spent so much of my life working on answers to the questions I was afraid of asking. I'd proclaimed grace, but my actions said I believed that once I figured it out, everything would work my way. I'd spent all my time and energy managing everything and everyone I could get my hands on, so that my insides would settle down.
But internal turmoil can't be cured by stasis outside. Even when I could glimpse peace for a moment, I would be too terrified of it leaving to enjoy any rest.
When the waves are inside you, you don't ever steady, even when there's no storm outside.
I didn't know if anything would ever be okay, sitting there that day. I had ended a great love and given up a long-held belief system. I was about to turn 25 and felt like 75. I got up every day and went to work and parties, even though I wanted to stay in bed. But any visible sense of function was just that: function. It wasn't life.
Those days, I was reading every useful thing I could get my hands on. Over and over, I made the commitment to be exactly where I was, because I knew that somehow I had to walk through rather than skirt around it all. I was tired of being afraid, but still terrified. I had started getting help for my self-hatred, but I didn't have much hope.
I didn't know if it would ever change or if I could handle any future, but I just kept reading.
Then I read:
"There is nothing that you are presently doing that you did not have to learn. At one time, the things you are now able to do were unfamiliar and frightening. This in the nature of life. Once you realize that you are able to learn new things and handle new situations, you cease fearing the future.
...No one ever knows how to do something before they do it. They go and learn it.
...If you can begin to learn that you can learn, future unknowns look totally different."[boundaries, cloud & townsend]
At that moment, I realized that I could learn whatever I needed to learn.
I could take one more breath, show up to my recovery group with a bit more honesty, write one more line in my journal and read the next book. But I could do those things knowing I was building something important. I didn't know how, but I could learn how to love wholeheartedly and walk with grief rather than succumb to it.
It was another two years of hard physical, emotional, and spiritual work with a variety of people before I felt better. It's not even all better; I'm just more practiced at a few skills for riding the turmoil of my life. But I've learned how to be alive.
So today, I offer these words to you, and to myself again, as a reminder that we have hope. For me, hope looks like the ability to learn new things and practice again at the old. It looks like balancing fear of the future with amazement at how far I've come.
Whatever you need right now, whether you're learning how to write well, how to serve in the place you're called, how to be your own best friend, speak kind and strong words to those who drive you crazy, set boundaries on a particular destruction, or whatever you want to do, the first thing that you have to do is realize that you can learn it.
We can hope for hope.
You'll learn some surprising answers if you believe that you can learn them. Maybe you'll learn the questions, too.
And you can buy a dress you like, now, and wear it even on a stormy day.
[If you're overwhelmed by this sense of hopelessness or merely keeping up the appearances of being alive, I'd encourage you to see a qualified counselor. It may be just a normal part of growing up or something else may be going on. You can learn how to ask for help.]