I fell twice in the one long block between the subway and my house this morning. The first fall wasn't so bad -- I hit the asphalt with my hands, skinning them a bit but catching myself. The second fall I slipped backward full-on banana peel style, hitting my head on the concrete.
I'm past the point of being embarrassed by falling really; I was grateful that a man stopped to help me up, and for the other man who asked me, "You OK, Miss?" from his nearby car. There's an added indignity to falling on a busy Manhattan street while everyone actively ignores you, barely parting the pedestrian flow to adjust for your prone form crumpled on the sidewalk.
That's what happened to me a few weeks ago when I slipped on the way to therapy and lay startled on the ground struggling not to cry for several minutes while I waited for the initial pain to fade enough to decide whether or not my arm was broken. It wasn't, but the bruise that blossomed outward from my elbow looked shocking enough to cause gasps from anyone I decided to upset with it.
A few months before THAT, I gave myself a concussion from falling on the street. I didn't even hit my head, I just simply fell so hard that my neck snapped forward, sloshing and bruising my brain. I wandered around for a week or so wondering why I was so tired and fuzzy-feeling. Because I hadn't actually hit my head, and my symptoms seemed so disparate, the whole concussion angle never even occurred to me. I even went to the gym, concerned that I was so out of shape I couldn't stand up for more than a few minutes at a time.
Finally, I went to the urgent care where a doctor shined a light in my eyes and unequivocally told me I had a concussion and needed to go on "cognitive rest." Cognitive rest means, essentially, "no thinking" -- no reading, editing, writing, problem-solving -- and it was great. I have felt a bit resentful about having to use my brain ever since.
The point is, I'm a faller. A stumbler. And further more, the kind of woman whose purse is full of garbage and who drops an unwrapped tampon on the floor when she tries to find something in there. The kind of woman who once got stuck in a dress she was trying on at a store and had to be cut out of it by the sales ladies. (And yes, I then bought the ruined dress.)
My life and person has never once been anything that could be described as "together." I assume everyone probably feels this way to some extent, but I've spent most of my 30 years on Earth wondering if everybody got a book of directions that I didn't. It was worse when I was drinking -- I coudn't figure out how you people did things like made it to yoga class or hung curtains. I once heard a story from a girl in my recovery meeting who didn't have any curtains so she just slept in her closet for a year. That makes pretty good sense to me.
Growing up, our family mantra seemed to be "This would only happen to us," and as I a graduated to adult life it became "This would only happen to me," like the time I missed a class because I managed to lock myself inside, not outside, of my house. If you were to get one of those emails from me about being lost in Nigeria without my wallet and passport and desperately needing money to get home, it wouldn't be a scam, it would be a real letter from me, experiencing a typical kind of thing that happens in my life. Seriously, wire me some money you guys!!!
For a long time, and for various reasons, I have felt like a fundamental fuck-up. Part of that is because I beat myself up relentlessly over every tiny mistake -- I recently picked up and bought a pair of jeans in the wrong size and when I realized my mistake I felt immediately so overwhelmed. First that I had made the mistake in the first place -- here we go again, what a screw-up, isn't this just like me, and partly because the very idea that I would now have to take them back the store and exchange them overwhelmed me so greatly.
Now that I have opted back into the living world of human being who engage in such things, all the little post-office-and-doctors-appointment minutiae of life seem so terribly hard. I can't listen to my voicemails yet -- I still play them with the phone far away from my ear, cringing, then delete. I've been sober for 5 years now, I think -- shouldn't I be better at all this? Shouldn't my insides feel like the shiny outsides I see on all the grown-up ladies around me?
The falling is an external representation of it all -- the tangible expression of how I feel on the inside. That I just can't do anything right. That I am a constant mistake-maker. That I am too aimless and absent-minded and forgetful and and yes, too much of a screw-up to even stand on my own two feet.
I showed the bruise to a man I am acquainted with, somewhat contentiously, and he responded with a seething, "Jesus Christ," his voice dripping with repulsion. I felt immediately ashamed to be a person who falls, a person who had fallen like that, who had created such a repulsive bruise. I projected that this man found me disgusting, that he was somehow angry with me for falling down, instead of concerned for my well-being. That he was thinking this was just the kind of thing I would do -- to be in a rush, or to be careless, to be not paying attention and having it all result in this repulsive bruise.
Later, when I brought this up to him, when I said, "You hurt my feelings when you reacted that way to my bruise," he said that I had misunderstood him, that he wasn't angry with me. "I was angry at
," he said, referencing the bruise.
Victimhood, when you spend a lifetime as a real, actual victim of a lot of horrible things, can be hard to get away from. I still consider myself a rape victim, not a survivor, although I will use the proper phrasing when referring to others. I don't feel like I've survived all that well. Yes I am alive, but I was victimized, deeply. That said, having been a victim doesn't mean you have to be one forever, and in fact, I suspect it is impossible to find happiness that way.
Maybe I make more mistakes than other people, maybe I don't. I am still learning a lot of lessons about how to live in this world that I didn't necessarily get from my dysfunctional family or pick up in the bar bathrooms where I spent half a decade snorting cocaine.
But you know what? We all buy jeans in the wrong sizes and leave spills on the kitchen counter and forget to show up to doctor's appointments.
Maybe not everyone falls down as often as I do, but that doesn't make me a deficient person, just one who falls a lot. We all measure our lives in progress, not perfection.
We all fall down.