July Twelfth: Between Sea and Land

Ryan Heller
Change is a monster. A beast with many masks.
And for change to really matter, to make a difference, it has to mean something. So change doesn’t come easy, it comes in the form of a hurricane. Followed by a tornado. Embraced by a monsoon. Real change changes everything and everything is blown into a trillion microscopic particles that orbit my already spinning head.

I’ve been searching for answers. Praying. Whispering to an invisible force I don’t understand. I want to be published. I want to have children. I want the stage. I want to impact an audience. I want to have a footprint. I want a higher understanding of self. To shed selfishness. I want to be present.

I light a candle.
Write down my prayers.
Recite affirmations.
Seek guidance.
Balance energy.

But I’ve still got me. The thirty-year-old man who refers to himself as a boy. Who still plays pretend. Who dances alone in the house in front of a packed theatre and promptly accepts an Academy Award. Who waits for the call. The big break. To be discovered.

For change.

I am tired of wanting more but doing little. Waiting for something when nothing is what I am willing to put in. I become infatuated with an idea and run full steam. Buy the materials, supplies, invest excessive thought and time. Talk about it, dream about it. Know in the very core of my being that this is the answer. It is my purpose, my calling, my ticket. It is my thing.

And a week goes by.
A month.

Life continues on despite my profound momentary call from above. My bout with enlightenment. And without fail, my thoughts drift. My focus goes back to distraction. Procrastination. Or I move on to the next shiny object. There are so many shiny objects in my path that I can’t stop from wanting to touch them all. Then that little itch creeps into my head. It tells me I failed. That nothing will change. My life is shit. I am not good enough.

Until I scratch that itch with frozen yogurt. Topped with cookie dough, Cool Whip, chocolate rocks, white chocolate chips and coconut flakes. And for those thirty minutes of driving to Menchie’s – sampling flavors, building the perfect OCD-driven concoction, then gluttonously binge eating – I feel calm again. Because I have something to invest my thought and energy into. Something that makes me feel better. But as I lick the debris of pumpkin flavored frozen yogurt and Cool Whip, I feel my stomach protruding over my pants. The adrenaline rush fades and I am left with me. A little fatter. Wallet a little lighter. It’s the moment ecstasy fades and someone turns the light on. Reality sets in.

I go home defeated. I will diet tomorrow. But I don’t.

And so it goes. And has gone. Patterns, rituals, self-deprecation. Highs and lows, buying then throwing away. Haircuts, hair dye, new clothes. The shit that makes me feel good for a moment. When I feel like something has changed. I have a new thing. A new ‘fill in the blank’ to make it seem like clouds have parted.

An insect trapped in a pool. Treading. Struggling to swim out and resume life. A tiny spec in a vast sea with no lifeboat.

It has taken time to realize that I do have a lifeboat. I have two things I was void of for most of my life. Faith and confidence. Faith that I am exactly where I should be and confidence that I will survive. That I can float. I can swim. That there is land in the horizon and the sea does not stretch on forever.

At least that is where my head is today.

And it is a concept that I’ve been holding on to, but one that takes work to maintain. Because I naturally gravitate toward the crazy in my head, to feeling good then letting it fall out of reach. I listen to what someone says, start doubting myself, follow the trail of paranoia down the road of “they’re talking shit about me”. And so what if they are? So what if I fall on my face? So what if I stick my foot so far in my mouth that it comes out my ass? If I write something terrible? Does it really matter if they think I’m lame? That I am not talented. Not cool. Not interesting.

I choose to allow those thoughts to monopolize my life. And they do. Or at least they have. But just as I can let that negativity dominate me – and it truly does dominate – I can also choose to stop. To let it flow out of my consciousness like the stream of a river. Acknowledge the thought, the insanity, and watch it drift into oblivion where it belongs. And suddenly I’ve saved hours, days, of beating myself up. Wondering what he said. If I’m good enough. Instead I can shift that time to doing something. To feeling good. To writing. But it’s back and forth and some days are better than others. But at least I’m maybe a fraction less crazy than I was before.

Real change doesn’t just happen, as much as I want it to. It’s not a quick fix, wave-a-wand kind of deal. It’s a battle of self. Shedding old skin and accepting new perspective. A new way of being. Change is painful to someone like me who believes wholeheartedly in instant gratification. I want to be kinder and more accepting – where do I buy it? I want to be more selfless – what aisle is it on? I want to be spiritually fit – can I just snort it instead?

The last change was three years ago. I swallowed a bottle of stolen pain pills then drove forty minutes back home in a blackout. The aftermath was ugly and by that time Chris had enough, so he gave me an ultimatum. I went to rehab. My world was turned upside down and suddenly I had to learn how to function as a human being.

Now everything around me is shifting again like tectonic plates ready to crack my bedrock. But this time is different, a shift born from light not darkness. None of it is coming without a swift slap in the face. Without having to stop and look at myself. I believe it is called growing up, something I avoided with each pill I swallowed or snorted.

I am a frog from sixth grade biology class. Cut down the middle and spread open. Dissection needles pierce my skin, keeping my chest exposed and vulnerable. My insides examined, rearranged. Fingers dig in my intestines, moving toward my heart. My brain. Every inch of me dissected and explored until there is nothing left.

Three years.

Stitched back up and given the chance to keep going. To experience life with a new set of eyes. To emerge as FrankenFrog and step forth that much stronger. Hopefully a little bit wiser. With experience to share and lessons to learn.

I go back to the past because there are so many lessons. Life events that were unbearable at the time. Days I did not think I would continue to live. Days I wished for death repeatedly. There are things I held on to with an unbelievable amount of shame and guilt. Things I did to others. Things I did to myself. I lied daily. I stole from friends and family. I gave my body. I gave my mind. I cheated in school, in life, in relationships. I manipulated to get what I wanted. I consumed drugs in excess. I let others take the fall for my actions. I am selfish and a narcissist. I tend to feel very little when people struggle. I watch a lot of movies and have learned how to mimic certain emotion and behavior to a point that I question when I am being authentic. I am an actor. A storyteller.

I am a work in progress.
But these are my stories.
And they make me who I am.

Thanks for reading