All That Comes Back

At the onset of my nervous system disorder four plus years ago, I became intimately connected with the spring phase of my gardens.  It somehow served me to meander around and stick my face inches from the earth, securing ring side seats to nature’s first pokes back from dormancy.  For the fifteen or twenty minutes that I could anyway.  Dizziness, lightheadedness and light overwhelm would drag me back inside all too soon – where I would then be overwhelmed by the darker setting to which my body could barely readjust.  

What I remember though was the awe at this phase of unfolding.  Never again was I going to miss it, to dismiss it as subtle or to only turn my attention to plants once they became more “obvious”.  I recall last early spring stumbling upon something I had forgotten I planted stridently spearing itself through the earth.  “You came back!!” I literally gasped in wonder.  It hadn’t owed me that, or anything else.  But yet there it was.  

early rumblings of white sage

In the early years of my healing process, my focus on all that was NOT coming back was steadfast.  The incomprehensibility of all I had lost required this.  One life altering gouge from expecting something that never came had already been more than enough.  And so I was met with the boundless sense I would not be able to afford illusion.  Most of all, I was laser focused on all that wasn’t coming back because nobody one else was.  

Etched in my memory are impressions of people close to me, looking for, expecting even, signs of the “Old Sarah”.  This existed side by side with the broader societal benchmark of “getting back to normal” – our modern world’s gold healing standard.  

As for me?  I was on a different plane.  I was soaked in the experience that everything except my body had died, and I trusted this deeply.  I thoroughly knew I would never be the same again.  Rather than ignore or pretend, my primary instinct was to investigate.

I first had to identify, and then adjust to what wasn’t there.  Never to return again was the obvious, my children, and then an endless stream of secondary loss.  Or collateral damage as I typically refer to it: My sense of the world as a benevolent, meaningful place and the future I thought I’d have.  Mindless, easy conversation with people and the appearance of fitting in.  An all encompassing belief in the power of love and hard work.  I was truly a speck within the crater of all that was gone. 

Though speaking from a completely different tongue, I found the following quote quite validating of my approach during my early grief years: 

From “Gearing Up For the New Normal” in the New York Times By Dr. Jennifer Ashton

“The approach that I’ve taken to covering this pandemic has been that of viewing the country as one big patient, and the first step in healing or recovery from any illness is accepting the current situation.

It’s like taking care of a patient who has recently undergone an amputation. The goal of rehabilitation is to get that person walking again or using a prosthetic device. That is their new normal. If they keep thinking of what they did before the amputation, it just hinders their progress. But when you stop looking back and start focusing on the present and the future, you can have an incredible healing and recovery”.

It makes me chuckle that something with such simplistic, black and white, almost presumptive language could speak directly to my experience.  But, scratch the word “accepting” in the first paragraph and substitute it with “acknowledging”, remove “and the future” from the second as my future had gone totally black, and you’ve almost got yourself a fit!     

The mere possibility of surrendering oneself to change rendered by tragedy is collectively feared.  So much so that those of us who have had our tectonic plates rearranged by life’s misfortunes are often looked down upon.  As if we’ve failed somehow.  During my time in transformation’s crucible I’d often sense that “If that happened to me it wouldn’t bother me so much” and “If that happened to me I’d be handling it better” type of scrutiny coming from others.  At times these unsolicited ideas were even shared with me directly.

“You will not “move on”.  You will not return to “who you used to be”.  How could you?  To refuse to be changed by something as powerful as this would be the epitome of arrogance.” 

– Megan Devine from “It’s OK That You’re Not OK”

I suppose it’s the nature of humans who have never been rammed into such a space in their lives, to assure themselves of their steadiness should they ever be.  But yet a part of me can’t help but to pity people expending energy fighting the inevitable.  I knew if anything original in me was going to return, it could not be forced.  I first had to allow the new stuff space to percolate and the elements no longer of use to evaporate.  I also knew I could not afford any artificially constructed parts of myself.  I had zero space to allocate for the inorganic.

When pieces of me first began to return I was wholeheartedly underwhelmed.  They were so thin and had the stability of a paper bag in the wind.  About three and a half years out of fertility treatments, my ability to plan and see into the future began to flicker.  I actually started to like things again besides wine – some things sometimes, and rather than the robotic motion it had been self care actually started to make a difference for the better every now and then.  Suffice it to say I was hardly inspired.  And, within this often create the life you want, vision board busy demographic, part of me felt like there was something wrong with me that self aspects hadn’t returned both sooner and stronger.

Having some miles in between the raw phases of grief and trauma recovery doesn’t automatically deposit one onto some clean “other side”, nor does it necessarily mark the official beginning of a new life or way of being.  I experienced loads of liminal space between raw grief and now – “recovery’s wetlands”, I think of this phase as.

And then, more recently, some key aspects of myself have re – emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, positively glowing, almost as though they had never even left.  Teacher Sarah, Entrepreneurial Sarah, Getting Shit Done Sarah.  Well.  Welcome back.  Haven’t felt YOU in a looooong time.  “You came back!!” I’ve literally gasped in wonder.

Amid my astonishment, my motivation still waxes and wanes.  Like all other aspects of self, I’ll not force this one and will keep my expectations wide open.    

The pandemic is a macrocosm of much of this.  We are forever changed and the greater collective is more willing to acknowledge this concept than it would have been back when I was in the belly of it.  Some things are gone forever, some things we’re still not sure, some things come back.  Many things return different.  Root systems have been forced to rearrange.  Light angles shift.  Proportions are altered.  You don’t really get to choose what or when so you may as well rejoice in what you can, if and when circumstances allow.

Perhaps the “absence of all guarantees” theme flooding my life for the past decade inspires such amazement at the return of, well, anything?  I suspect so.  My experiences brought me right up to the edge and gave me a few peaks into the realm of that from which you can never recover.  After being snuffed out by all of the compression, chill, barriers, nothingness, and all encompassing change, how could anything make it back again?  I mean, really, how could it?

And yet, there it is in the spring garden.  Life’s fragility and firmness – all that can get derailed side by side with that which is making its way up, unassuming AND unyielding.  

an unexpected field of poppy seedlings

I no longer believe in meant to be.  I of course couldn’t possibly.  What a strenuous truth this has been to adapt to, but, it does have a few uses.  One being I am now free from the shackles of meaning making.  Instead of getting caught in the net of some baseless, pointless storyline, I can simply bask in the sweet surprise all that comes back.

great grandma’s ferns return

12 thoughts on “All That Comes Back

  • Wow this is so beautiful!!! Yes how can we move on, and how can we believe this was meant to be? This is not ok, but it is what it is. Acceptance and surrender, but not approval and aquiesence.

    P.S. I can from a world of mostly intact families and mostly well-enough-off people, so it’s so jarring to join the world of people who don’t get what they want, who don’t get families or health or homes. But that world has always been there too, I just didn’t think my life was going to be downward mobility.

    • Thanks so much Kat! So true what you said in your first paragraph – in my early days I’d tell myself that I didn’t have to like it, but I did have to deal with it (on whatever level I could at the time). And yes, in one way or another this lands us in a life and with a perspective we didn’t imagine prior.

  • Oh yes! Another post from you to savor. Thank you!!

    It was losing my children and dreams of motherhood that knocked me down (to put it lightly), but it was the “endless stream of secondary loss” that kept me down for so many years. I had all of the same “collateral damage” that you experienced. And, wow, it was all unexpected. I didn’t know how to deal. Thankfully, I found blogs like yours that helped me understand my own experience. But I still just sat in my recliner for a couple more years, mourning and floundering, not knowing how to live again.

    My favorite line in this post is this one: “I first had to allow the new stuff space to percolate and the elements no longer of use to evaporate.” That’s what all was happening internally and externally while I sat in my recliner for those aforementioned years. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what was happening. Lost friendships, lost sense of purpose, loss of meaning, loss of a sense of self… But slowly I began to realize things, like the fact that I didn’t actually even like where I lived or what I had set up for myself. I actually began to be able to form new ideas for myself, but, like you said, they had to percolate…

    And now I am here. Literally and figuratively. Damn it wasn’t easy. But I came back.

    I like what you said: “all that can get derailed side by side with that which is making its way up.” That is really beautiful. Sorry to write a novel… I just always love your posts! They give me so much to think about. Thank you. ❤

    • Aahh Phoenix….the recliner! For me it was sitting on a couch staring at the wall. We could hardly process one aspect of our losses when we were hit with another, and then another……I’ve been in the realizing things phase for about three years now. Thanks for that helpful reference! Rude awakenings on the heels of life altering loss and collateral damage really suck. But I grudgingly admit they are necessary in moving forward.

  • There is a false idea in our action-oriented, progress-obsessed, linearly-constructed society that healing from the identity-shattering loss of childlessness is a binary before/after process. I love that you show up, again, with the TRUTH – that it is an organic, messy and chaotic unfolding, as all creative processes are… And life is a creative process.

    • Well thank you dear Jody!! I always appreciate that your work consistently delivers the nuance and complextities of our experiences. And that our experiences are so counter to what modern culture expects and holds in such high regard (sigh). As I often say, “It’s not like I went to the store and they were out of chicken…..”

  • Thank you Sarah – I love how you put things so that I can understand what I’m feeling. Just when I need it most – as always. I’ve been so troubled by “not letting go” and “not moving on” – love your analogy to recovery wetlands, which I think I’ve occupied for many years and slip back to when triggers are reignited unexpectedly. Feel good on some days and think I’m experiencing bouts of “free from the shackles of meaning making”. Really want to kick out “meant to be” – this should be banned! Love all your garden photos and feel too the joy of “you came back” – the return of hostas (which I knew nothing about and they looked very dead at the end of last season – completely disappeared, not even a stalk) are looking better than ever. They were planted to help shade out a very persistent weed – which also is making an appearance – i’m not being too hard on the weed – I kind of admire its staying power!

    • Hi Jane! I’m finding it gets harder to put this experience into words moving forward as we become more integrated. Things are more blended now and not so black and white. I try to remind myself that this indicates a level of adjusting that has taken place. And yes, love the idea of officially banning “meant to be”. If only! It’s often used as such a dismissal. It’s magical thinking, which if people need to do that on occasion that’s fine. But typically people try to pass that type of thing off as wisdom (ugh!) when it’s really just a low level coping mechanism.

  • Gorgeous post, Sarah! 🙂 I am not much of a gardener (and certainly not as much as you are!) but I have felt that delight of seeing something green survive the winter! 😉 and it’s definitely an apt metaphor!

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