Have you ever made a plan to clean out a room or a closet or a storage space? I mean really clean it out. The type of cleaning where you empty the space first and evaluate everything before you put it back in. You cull the horde. You repurpose the space. It’s a lot of work, but it feels great when you’re done. Have you ever looked objectively at the process in the middle, though? Sometimes it gets messy.
I remember so many times when boxes and bins and piles of things were strewn about a room while I made one tiny place look and function better. If I turned my focus away from the space I was trying to improve, I would get overwhelmed and discouraged. As I focused on the work I saw things get better, neater, more aligned. When I looked back, however, I saw the debris of everything I’d cast aside. I saw all the work I still had yet to do. I saw the mountains of what remained ‘undone.’
I have always found it difficult not to look back and see the mess. I struggle with feeling joy in what was done, instead finding defeat in what lingered. The mess feels overwhelming and uncontrollable. The mess represents all the ways I fall short. I have always accepted the mess as more authentic to me than the refreshed space. I thought this was only true in the physical world for me. This week I discovered this is core to who I am, and getting lost in the messy parts is even harder when it is internal.
This week I had a very hard day that caught me off-guard. It was a busy day, but nothing particularly difficult. And, yet, I found myself utterly overwhelmed by everything. I felt like I was spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. I felt disconnected from what I was doing. I struggled to stay focused on tasks. I felt out of control. I’ve had days like this before, but could typically find a root cause. Perhaps I hadn’t slept well, or my plans had been unexpectedly interrupted, or I wasn’t feeling well. This day, though….there was no reason I could point to for struggling so much. Not finding any understanding led to more discomfort on my part. I fought my way through the day, getting more exhausted and exasperated as the time trudged on.
Suddenly, from seemingly nowhere, a new realization came to me about why I was having such a bad day: my soul had turned toward the mess still lingering. I’d been staring at the pretty part in front of me for a while now and forgot about what was behind me but not gone.
Without realizing it, I had turned around and was facing the mess, the castoffs of my long mental and emotional cleaning process. Without warning, I had allowed the world to blind me to all the work I had done and place me squarely among the remains I wanted to discard. I was, once again, measuring myself by what was left undone. This time, though, I wasn’t ready for it and it knocked me off balance. It got messy.
I have been doing some deep and arduous self-work in recent years. It started from a horrible place when I faced down some difficult truths that felt like they were attacking me, more likely, just desperately trying to get my attention. But, having ignored them and denied their existence for decades, finally facing them was frightening. I have spent several years trying to parse out what is real and what is tangled emotions. I have spent a great deal of time in reflection trying to understand how these truths changed me and how I move forward in a better way. I have focused on my work and I saw things get better, neater, more aligned.
Then life intervened and it got messy. I acknowledged what was happening, recognized my feelings about it and moved on. Or so I thought. It took that hard day for me to realize that I had been so focused on the progress I’d made that I’d forgotten about the mess that still remains. I was so proud of how neat my space had become that I ignored all the things I’d pushed aside to get here. I still have a mess to deal with. It doesn’t simply disappear because I’ve made this little corner better.
I’d grown confident with the neatness of knowing. I’d become relaxed in the comfort of alignment. But that doesn’t nullify the truth that changed me so long ago. Understanding who I am today, how my past shaped this person doesn’t erase what she went through. I am stronger today. I am better at choosing how I live my life. I am finding my voice and shedding the echo I once was. But the hurt and shame and fear, the anger and the indignation that carried me here – that is the mess that lingers behind me.
For the first time in my life, I stood before a partner and said “this is me – in all my brokenness and hopefulness” and I shared every ugly and yearning piece that built me. This became my cleaned out space. And I liked looking at it. I could breathe in this new space. This week I was reminded that my work is not done, though. This new place I’ve created is a good place – a really good place. But I have to make space for all the other bits, too, the parts I cast aside.
All the things I tried to eliminate still belong here – with me. I need to find a new way to carry them. I need to make them fit in this new ‘me’ I’m creating. There are things we need to keep that we don’t keep on display. Perhaps that is how I need to treat the old parts of me I’m shedding. They are necessary, but no longer relevant.
This week shook me from my complacency and reminded me that I still have a lot of work to do. That exhausting day cautioned me about thinking this work will ever be ‘done.’ That’s not the way personal growth and healing work. It keeps going and evolving. And sometimes it gets messy. I forgot that for a while and reality gave me a loud wake-up call. I’m listening again. I see the mess. But I won’t let it be all I see this time. I still created that really good place and I’m proud of that.
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