Fortitudine vincimus

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Stumbling around the useful mistakes


In the not-so-distant past, I found myself sitting alone on a rug in my living room, wondering if I would ever be more than the culmination of all my previous mistakes. In that place of darkness, the good things we do seem so dim, and I could not seem to add my good things up to a number high enough to overcome all the things that were trapping me there. 

People tried to tell me I was a decent person. That I had intelligence and worth. They didn't know how hard it is to pull those images into your mind when all the doors are closed. That's not to say those reminders are unimportant - sometimes they're the only bright part of a day, for however long the darkness allows them to last on the front of the stage. But during a long journey through therapy, finding the right medication for me, and unlikely mentors, I came to realize something. As important as the shiny bits are, and they are important, they couldn't truly exist and shine until I answered my original question.  

Am I a culmination of all my previous mistakes? 

I could call each mistake a stumble and that would be mostly accurate. I get no joy in causing pain, either to myself or others, but the stumbles still make divots; some make holes. None of them are invisible or able to be completely erased. The most important thing I learned about them, however, is that a stumble forward is still forward, and a stumble back means I'm still standing

You can't stumble if you're already lost. Stumbling means movement is still happening, even if it's slow and painful. 

Sometimes we learn something simple from a mistake, like not to stick our hands on a hot tray. Sometimes the mistake is redemptive, allowing us to move past something that does not belong, that hurts us. The only truly useless mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. 

Of course it isn't easy. Few things of any worth are. I live with a constant rumble of terror in the back of my mind that I'll end up in that hole again. It's a deep hole, with a bottom that can't be seen, with ridges dotting the sides all the way down. Thankfully I've always landed on one of those ridges, because no matter how deep they are, I was always able to catch one. It may have torn my hands or broken bones, I may have landed at times by dumb luck alone, but being alive is evidence I never dropped all the way down. 

Am I a culmination of all my previous mistakes? 


But I'm also the culmination of everything I've learned from them, and all the things I'm still learning. 

I've done some very self-destructive things in my life, even if I didn't know it at the time. Things others find confusing, because how did I not know I was hurting myself? Humans have a capacity to be very foolish. We go out of our way at times to do seemingly stupid things. I can forgive myself, though. I can forgive the people who hurt me as well, even though they will never see me in their lives again. Not so much for their sake, but for mine. 

I'm still here. Some things broke me, I can't deny that. For a long time my favorite photo was a random picture someone took of a vending machine with a sign that said, "The light inside has broken but I still work." It spoke to me. I still love it. Do I want to stay there, though? Do I want to be the culmination of all my previous mistakes alone, or use them for all they're worth? I made them - they're mine to use in any way I see fit, right? 

For any of you who know the hole as well as I do, and might be sitting on the rug debating your worth to the world, I can't promise it will be simple. I can't promise it will be a short ride. But give it a chance. If you are not where you want to be, figure out where that place is and go there. Don't worry about whether or not you'll make it to the perfect spot; just move. Not every step will bring a gain you can immediately see, but it will bring you something. 

The world is always moving. The only way to move forward is to move. Stumble. Run. Slide. Whatever it takes, because even a stumble is motion. And the only truly useless mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. 

I'm not the only one out here, climbing and sometimes rampaging through the muck, and neither are you. You are not alone. 

Let's move.

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