I don’t know what it looked like when my expression shifted, when I rounded the stairs and saw him sitting on the couches. But I felt it in my body, like weights had been released.
And as the weights fell, I did too. I collapsed into his arms, crying, uncontrollably, unashamedly.
He let me cry. In front of all those people on the third floor of the rotunda. And after I pulled myself together, he led me down the hallway and we sat on the ground.
Unknowingly, he was the first responder.
. . .
And he called it ground zero.
He let me leave tear stains on his blue hoodie until I was calm enough to hear him out.
“You’ve hit rock bottom,” He said. “You’ve spiraled, made some mistakes, and you’ve hit a pretty low point.”
He paused. “But you’re not going to stay this way. You’ll start rebuilding.”
He said you don’t recover from ground zero in a week. That this wouldn’t be an easy fix. Recovery would take time.
It would take guts. It would take blood and a lot of fight, and an army of people fighting for and with me.
It would take rest. It would take retreating to the sidelines from the warfront and replenishing supplies. And it would feel like it was the end of the world, and it would feel like I’d never go back out on the frontline to fight again.
He assured me I would.
I’m standing on the other side now. It’s been over a year since we had that conversation. And he was right; I did return to the frontline eventually. It took more time than I’d like to admit.
But in the year since then, I learned something I don’t think I’ll ever forget again: until you fix the holes you’ve been trying to fill and ignore for years, that are now suddenly gaping open and bleeding, you won’t go back out. Or if you do, if you try, you’ll stumble and fall again. And again. And you’ll continue to be defeated, and you’ll continue to drive yourself into the ground.
I don’t think shit is the only thing that gets real when you’re on the ground. I think you get real with it.
I think you realize this time you aren’t trying to throw bandaids over the wounds or run from them, or pretend they aren’t there.
You just let them bleed.
Ground zero feels like letting everything bleed out. It feels like not trying to fix yourself scrolling social media. It feels like being honest with yourself and people and taking a lot of baby steps and a whole lot of grace.
It feels like screwing up everything I just wrote in the paragraph above.
I wrote a blog post last May called “Ground Zero.” The inspiration for the post came out of that conversation in the hallway, on the ground, of a college I no longer attend.
A place I knew I’d never call home, a place I knew I was just passing through, perhaps if only for the reason of reconnecting with this friend. I’d like to think that singular conversation was the reason for my time there that semester.
It was a safe space. The safest for me to do hard rebuilding. I don’t think I’ve ever had to become so real with myself and where I was at than when I was in that hallway.
I don’t think either of us realized at the time how significant and foundational that conversation would be. It’s been over a year later and everything he said is still with me, completely interwoven into who I’ve become in twelve months. He was just speaking out of an honest place, meeting me where I was at, and for some reason, I carried those words close. Overtime, they’ve became anthems.
. . .
I’ve had a lot of conversations with him since then, more than I realized, to be honest. A lot of phone calls. A lot of “Hey if you have a minute, can we talk?” texts.
The running joke between us is he didn’t sign up for any of this. One day he was an hour early to class, and a year later he’s still getting monthly texts from me. We’ve joked he’s my old lady mentor in disguise.
For a while, I wasn’t sure where I was in the process of rebuilding. I’m not sure about you, but the thoughts that keep me up at night the most are wondering if I’m still the same person I was two years ago, or if I’ve changed. And if I have, how much have I actually changed? And has it been good change, or am I just waiting for another ground-shattering, walls-cave-in-around-me moment and I have to start over?
Starting over is always hard. No matter where you are in the process. Just starting out — disappointment. Second or third or fourth time restarting — discouragement. Three years deep — defeated. We feel it, always, no matter how long we’ve been at it.
But the most recent conversation with my friend shifted things for me.
He talked about how rebuilding doesn’t always look like stripping down to ground zero. The process of rebuilding takes so many moments of reevaluation, and sometimes you drop down a few levels, or have to redo a corner of the foundation. But you’re not where you were when you first started, and you won’t always return to ground zero.
“You know, this is probably the most sober-minded and stable I’ve ever heard you since we started these conversations,” He said. “You’ve come a long way in a year. It seems from listening to you and how you’re processing this situation, it’s much different from what it was like even a few months ago. And while I’m always here for the crying, I have to be honest I’m so proud to hear you’re on stable ground and are looking at this from a completely different angle. So props to you, girl. Welcome to year 2.”
. . .
A friend posted this on Twitter yesterday, and it put into words what I feel like I’ve been trying to say throughout this post.
“If you constantly feel like you have something to work on & get better at, then you are GROWING.”
Still going up. Still building up. Taking time to make sure the foundation is steady and firm before building the skeleton.
Year 2. The year of a skeletal outline, mapping blueprints, erasing and drawing and re-erasing.
Year 2, like mile 2. Beyond mile 1.
I’ve been running for the last few weeks. I’m a full time nanny, so I don’t get as much time to be active as I did when I was in school. It’s forced me to make time for working out and staying active. And I really enjoy running.
I used to only be able to run a mile. And then something shifted in my brain last week, and I feel it beautifully corresponds with this whole thing about year 2: you’re capable of so much more.
You pass mile 1, and everything changes. It’s like you realize you had it in you all along to go further, you just weren’t ready yet. Or maybe you didn’t believe you were ready yet. I’ve been realizing recently the hardest battle will be in your mind, and believing you are completely and fully capable run a little further, a little longer, even as your muscles are screaming and sweat’s soaking your clothes and the air is thick and hot.
And I ran two miles last week without stopping. And again last night. It’s been extremely slow, getting to this point, but two miles is becoming standard for me, and soon it will be three.
You’re capable of so much more.
I went to church a few weeks ago and the pastor was talking about the difference between people who work out hard-core and people who work out for the hot towels and lime-infused water. He said the difference between those two groups of people is one group is going in for comfort, for luxury, for the easy way out. The other is going in for a fight. They’re going in without the hot towels and lime-infused water and literally beating their bodies into submission because they know it’s good for them and it is necessary.
“They’re making their bodies their slaves,” he said, “so that they can reach the prize.”
He mentioned runners in tandem with this. When a runner is undergoing a marathon, there comes a point that their vision is blurred and everything around them becomes tunnel vision. They don’t hear the crowds, they don’t see anything else but the finish line in their mind’s eye.
They’re running for the goal.
And if we’re going to tie up this rather long post neatly, then it’s the same for builders. The architect is going to have the end goal in mind, mapped out in front of him, before he executes any plans of building upward.
It doesn’t start when you’re already in the fight. It starts before it. When you’re on the sidelines, getting the supplies, resting when you need to. You’re setting yourself up for the fight before it even begins.
And then, one day, the real work begins. You’ve made it past mile 1; you’ve proved you can go a little further.
You’ve hit ground zero, yes, but you are rebuilding the foundation; you’re proving you’re stable enough to build a skeleton to support what’s to come.
And coming it is.
That. That is what year 2 feels like.