By Stephanie Birch.
I don’t buy the whole love and light thing. Not all the time.
I think we can get so caught up in love and light that it becomes exhausting. There’s nothing liberating about choking on “light” and feathering “positivity” when you’ve not begun to uncover the buried parts of you. Collecting quotes to push down weathered stories and experiences is not something that necessarily radiates light. Often, it masks the disguise of experiences stacked in the history of your makeup. There’s an endless parade of corralled happiness and bliss-chasing that leaves the dark locked in pretend existence. That’s the thing about darkness, it’s always ahead of the light.
I used to be a quote collector, like nuts to a squirrel scooping up positive affirmations. As a yoga student, I often followed a teacher’s cues to “let go” in “love and light.” It was always so poetic and sometimes sounded like regurgitated myths that I could, in fact, be loving and light if I simply let go. If…
My brain would agree and I would nod, like a dutiful student, with brief sprints only to fall back into old thoughts, patterns, and beliefs. Like an addiction, I searched and hoarded for words that held little weight and much less responsibility. That’s the thing about collecting quotes, they belong to another.
Quotes and catch-phrases grab the attention of the majority population. You have 6 seconds to grasp someone’s attention. Timed snippets and half-truths. Backed by popular demand, to give the reader feel-good vibes. I tried. I really thought I was just a “bad” human and reading them exacerbated my guilt, shame, and regret. About life, love, and experiences. My collection began to mock me, my habits, and my life. The Instagram feed was full of ethereal scenery and whimsical words that paraded the life reels of my fellow humans. I am guilty of it too. My stomach would knot every time I “tried to be” inspirational, acting like some unicorn streaming positivity on the days I actually felt like shit. I was powerless in surrounding myself with positivity. It felt empty, contrived, and fake.
It changed when I started writing my story. That’s the thing about quotes, they’re not stories. I began to fuze life in trials and errors in my writings, public and private. Putting me into my words and allowing the curves to roll onto the screen or penned to paper. I remember the first time I wrote the big “D” on a public post. The big “D” for depression. My hands shook and my heart pounded, my throat closed as I pressed “send” and I face-planted my phone, leaping far from my actions. It would be hours before I checked it again to read comments, if any.
I think we all have those life and death moments. For some, it lingers; flashbulbs turn into weeks and months and even years. In disconnection, the senses cradle your survival. I can think of moments in my life when make-out sessions turned into one-night-stands, when giving in to someone was easier than saying no. Fearing the label of “bitch” or “tease” only led to badges like “slut” and “whore.” It’s a warped reality when you’re disconnected from your body, from your self. You’ll not heed the advise of your ex-boyfriend when you and your BFF co-worker hop south on the highway at midnight to drive to Ensenada, after a long waitressing shift on Superbowl Sunday. I remember that day well; the year of Janet’s nipple, the old man that grabbed my ass after I took his drink order, the red hot wings, and men smelling of grass from the fairway. I hated that job. The words “country club” no longer meant high society and traditions of belonging. The place was a breeding ground for gropes, slurs, and objectification. Your manager will write you up for not showing enough cleavage when you wear a tank top underneath the body-hugging shirt. It’s the red v-neck with the oiled fingerprint stains, stamped proud as the home course to professional golfers. You’ll learn a lot about married men at this job. And the ones with money. You’ll take the $20s, $50s, and $100s and humor drunk assholes. You’ll pretend not to hear their lap calls and you’ll slap their hands from lingering on your hips. In moments of rage, you’ll huff “stop” and receive a “bitch” in return as you stand round the table of men uproar with laughter.
This is when you give in.
I’ll say that the flashing lights coming from the Mexican police came at no surprise, just a few miles from our destination. We paid every toll on the road without seeing another car heading south. Two 20-year olds girls driving along the 1 highway in the middle of the night wearing flannel pajamas. I don’t think I had tasted survival-mode adrenaline until that night. Asked to put on shoes and step out of the truck while the officers searched and unpacked our clothes. It was pitch black, aside from the moon on the ocean and bulbed lights in hands. There was a ditch drop to the right of us and a hill to the left. I don’t remember the cold, even though it was February.
Standing behind the truck, hearing the officers, and glimpsing at the ocean; my body began to shake and my arms went heavy. The officers held onto our IDs, referring to us by name, as they began the questioning process and hair caressing. Perhaps a tactic in the familiar, I remained nameless, I was not my body. I was disconnected.
Questions, so many questions, with long pauses and stares between.
“Where are you going?”
“Why are you traveling alone? Where are your boyfriends?”
“What school do you go to? Where do you work? Where do you live?”
They separated us on each side of the vehicle. Asking similar questions, close enough to feel wafts of air between the words. The tailgate drops and we’re asked to get in. More questions. Leading threats and lingering hands. I didn’t flinch, nor did I welcome. Disconnected from this body, in trails of ice, empty and numb.
“Do you know what happens to little girls like you?”
“We could take this truck, put you in jail, and no one will ever find you. There’s lot of places to put bodies.”
This is my first conscious breath.
Ears ringing loud, the language distant. The ocean seemed to roar now, it was no longer a hushing lull sound. The ringing piercing my ears. My cheeks are hot to the touch. My face feels heavy, like it’s melting or weighted, I can hardly tell. My vision is blurred, as though I’m looking at the four of us standing above from a distance, it’s like I’m not even there. Everything is so far and yet so close.
This is when I give in.
I don’t live in seedy memories. When talking with Jen about guest writing on her website, I anticipated calling accounts of my depression and how I’ve worked through it. It’s my go-to subject, because it exists. It’s easy to call upon, like a shoulder tap, waiting and stalking. Some days it seethes begging for a slip up and back. The more I continue to dig into my patterns, beliefs, and intimacies the more my history keeps unraveling itself. I used to think that events and occurrences were separate, as if I could get a hall pass on healing with time or qualifying one trauma over another. It’s all connected. It’s mapped in the body. As Caroline Myss teaches, “Your biography becomes your biology.”
That’s the thing about quotes, they’re half-truths. There’s a darkness within them, it’s underneath the watercolor splashes and calligraphy penmanship. Darkness cannot be told in 6 second intervals. It’s the other half, the makeup, and mapping of the whole of the experience for the individual. It’s not love and light. It’s love and light and dark.
I no longer collect quotes, I collect stories.
It is whole.
Ripe and raw, penetrating.
This is when I give in.
In my everyday life, I am a play-at-home mom, yoga teacher, life photographer, writer, soul activist, Tahoe-lover, a sucker for dark chocolate, dark beer, coffee, cartwheels, boardgames, and a life well-lived barefoot and pants-less. “No pants are the best pants,” is the norm in our household. You can practice online with me at oneOeight.tv or in Sacramento, California. You can find me writing wide-open heart as a wanna-be comedian, truth dweller, and often squealing on my best days here.