I consider myself an educated woman. I have several fancy pieces of paper from important institutions that will tell you I am, in fact, a smarty-pants. But here’s a thing I have never even remotely understood: time travel. It’s just not a thing I can wrap my linear mind around, (despite being a loyal Neil Degrasse Tyson Twitter follower). I am simply learning impaired when it comes to this topic. And it’s not that I think it’s real or not – I mean – how the hell do I know? Does it seem possible? No but how are we all even alive on a big blue rock spinning around a huge ball of fire anyway? What do I know? So is there some time space portal thing somewhere that opens and shuts? I don’t know. And it’s not even a thing I can grasp when it’s presented to me in movies. Any movie. Ask my kind, patient ex-husband how many times he tried to explain Back to the Future part II to me. (But how can 1985 Marty be watching 1955 Marty be watching 2015 Marty? No, seriously. I mean they’re all just STANDING THERE IN THE SAME PLACE. Whatever).
It’s been a really super insane week everywhere so I guess it should have been no surprise to me that on that Friday the 13th, at approximately 7:36 a.m. PST, I drove Back to the Past.
Friday was the 5th day of daylight savings time (the absolute worst fucking plague on non-morning people such as myself) so I was still a bit sluggish as I kissed the fur kids and headed out to my new job in North Portland. My head was full of all kinds of swirling thoughts. My new HR job is in the medical field and COVID-19 has slammed my immediate world as well as the actual world into literal pandemic pandemonium made so much worse by the fact that we have a bloated, corrupt, mango Moron In Charge. The airports were in a panic, the NBA season had been postponed and I had just read that Portland employers were going to start to ask people to work from home. The roads were eerily wide open. Perfect. Fear and uncertainty is everywhere and we’re probably all gonna die of some horrible virus but hey! My commute is fabulous! As I pondered the literal state of world affairs, sipping a life-giving enormous Americano, I made the very familiar right turn onto Miller Road – and slammed smack-dab into a time portal open wide to 2008.
Let me back up a bit (warning: truth bombs coming). 2008 was the worst and best year of my life. It was the worst year of my life because I did things and said things and drank things and then made super bad decisions. It was the worst year of my life because my addiction was in full force and the absolute only way to manage an overwhelming, crushing disappointment in myself – was to drink more. I hit rock bottom – and moved in. I didn’t draw a sober breath during the first few weeks of that gray, awful year. It was the worst year of my life because I lied to every single person I knew and loved. Over and over again. It was the worst year of my life because I disappointed my Dad. Over and over again. It was the worst year of my life because the actual physical effort it took some days to just get out of bed still qualifies as the hardest physical effort I’ve ever had to put forth (and I’ve ran 45 marathons and a pretty decent Ironman triathlon). It was the worst year of my life because I found myself in places and situations that were so outside my realm of understanding – that I didn’t even know how to process them (hey – it’s all fun and games until you wake up in a ditch in Gresham…) So, whatever, I just drank more. My fall from grace was swift, thorough, and utterly and incomprehensibly demoralizing.
2008 was also the best year of my life because that same grace cracked my head and heart open just enough that on a beautiful Sunday morning in April, I decided I’d had enough. It was the best year of my life because I came to believe that maybe there was a universal higher power and maybe that power didn’t want my face to be swallowing a fifth of vodka every night. It was the best year of my life because I came to believe that maybe – maybe – I could choose to have the courage to believe in a different ending to my story. It was the best year of my life because I chose to start telling the truth about what I was thinking and feeling – and then so so many of you had the fucking audacity to LOVE ME ANYWAY. It was the best year of my life because I chose to believe again in the best parts of myself that I knew were always there. It was the best year of my life because after telling everyone I loved to go away – repeatedly – they all came to my side immediately when I finally, finally asked for help. It was the best year of my life because every day I made the choice to just keep moving.
Sure sobriety was a fantastic choice but with sobriety came clarity and clarity brought this: I was in an unimaginable amount of every kind of trouble there is: legal, financial, emotional, moral, spiritual, and physical. I had lost my drivers license, my freedom, my athletic and conditioned body, my ability to trust myself, my self-respect and – well – what the hell else is there? The summer of 2008 is a blur of courtrooms, accountability, tears, crippling fear, crushing bouts of shame and self-pity, mind-numbing anger, and bagels. Lots and lots of bagels. And with no car and no license to operate one, I was forced to fish my Trek 1000 out of storage and haul my sad ass around town on a flashy yellow bike meant for true triathletes. 2008 me was no triathlete of any kind.
However, none of that history was anywhere near front-and-center in my mind as I made the habitual right turn on Friday morning. I’ve been driving again now for a while and it still gives me an actual thrill every time I get in my shiny new green car – Emmy – and head up the same hills and roads I walked with a heavy backpack all those years – heading to the bus stop.
The well-known road was uncharacteristically empty and as I hummed along – cresting the first hill, at the very spot in the road I’ve driven by hundreds of times before, I was suddenly slammed with a very vivid memory. It was so clear and startling, I literally turned my head to the right. And that’s when I saw her – 2008 me. She was, not riding, but walking next to that shiny yellow Trek 1000, the small gentle hill too much for her overweight, unused limbs. It was very dark, about 5:15 a.m. and she was struggling to get to her minimum wage job by 6. She’s so afraid someone from her old life is going to see her and know she’s on her way to a minimum wage job. She was tired, cold and very scared of coyotes for some reason. She was wearing pants two sizes bigger than she’s ever worn before and she actually thinks that matters. She was so so so so afraid. Of everything.
And then there was this strange merging of past and present where I was feeling everything at the same time. I felt crushing despair and undeniable hope. I felt the cold wind on my face as I was smelling the rich espresso in the warm confines of my super cool car. I felt the tired, burning sensation in my legs from pedaling uphill even as my strong legs worked the gas pedal and clutch flawlessly. I felt crippling cynicism and enduring strength. I felt unrelenting self-bullying and surprising, steady self-love. And above all else, I felt an overpowering sense of gratitude. The stark difference that a dozen years of grace have made in my life was so overwhelmingly delicious, I laughed out loud. I actually raised a hand in a sort-of virtual dorky high-five to my former self.
As I sped along in the present day to my decidedly NOT minimum wage job, I thought about my weird wrinkle in time. Oh how my heart ached for 2008 me. Oh how I wanted to talk to her. Oh how I wanted to tell her how great she was doing. Oh how I wanted to tell her that those 35 pounds didn’t fucking matter one damn bit. Oh how I wanted to tell her that those selfish stupid men she was worrying about didn’t fucking matter one damn bit. Oh how I wanted to tell her so badly that someone would hire her again. Oh how I wanted to put my arms around her, hug her tight, and tell her that she has everything she needs to be OK. Oh how I wanted to tell her she would be sober to see and do a lot of cool stuff – she just needed to trust more. Oh how I wanted to tell her to be kinder to herself – to love herself harder – to speak more gently and kindly to herself.
But that’s not how shit works is it? We don’t get to learn the answers and then come back and cheat later to make life easier. There isn’t an Enchantment By the Sea dance around the corner to solve our problems. Biff doesn’t show up with a Grays Sports Almanac to help us out. We get to stumble along and fuck it all up and then if we’re lucky at all, we have moments of pure clarity where we look back and truly amaze ourselves with the power of our own journey.
Maybe that’s just a natural part of aging, to look back and immediately assess your past self and feel a bunch of stuff and know you’ve come a long way baby. Or maybe this week’s Apocalypse triggered some insane Mazda/Delorean/NW time portal into the past. Either way, I am living proof that miracles happen, molecules change and humans can and will do anything to survive. What a gift to be reminded of that at the end of what was, in fact, a very weird week. All I’ve heard this week is “be kind to each other”. Yes that’s a powerful message but I will scream even louder “be kind to yourself”. It’s the most powerful relationship that exists.
Whatever is weighing you down today in this minute please know this: you can rise and you will. Your future self is waiting for you – with or without a shiny green car and an Americano – and they are cheering HARD for you. Show up – love yourself and no matter fucking what – JUST KEEP MOVING.
Because, trust me kids, where we’re going, we don’t need roads…..