I wriggle in the over-stuffed chair, shifting my knees from side-to-side, searching for something to say to fill the silence.
My therapist gazes patiently at me. Long pauses don't bother her one bit.
"The thing is....", I begin.
"The thing about blowing up your life is that you get to sift through the ashes, searching for the remains - the shards - that really mean something to you."
I speak in the second person, because it's too hard too say "me" or "I". I pretend I'm speaking about some other person, a stranger I'm observing, perhaps.
"Interesting analogy", she says after a beat. "But it sound rehearsed, like you've said it before."
As usual, she's right. That little analogy is what I say to people who ask me how I'm doing. I'm scrambling for the blessings in this mess, and that visual seems to relieve people of their worry. They comment on how I'm being brave, how it's important to find the gifts in hardship.
With a sheepish grin, I nod. "Yup."
"Tell me about the shards, then," she says. "Which ones are most important to you?"
I brighten. This is an easy one. "My kids. My husband. My family. My friends."
"What isn't a shard that surprises you?" she asks.
I think for a moment. "My businesses. I mean, I still care deeply about Shining Strong, but it's in very capable hands. I want to keep making jewelry, but I feel so overwhelmed these days that I sit at my desk and just stare into space. I'm done with all the crazy running around, and it's a relief."
She waits, poker faced, as I stare at my hands. I sense I've answered wrong, and say so.
"Why do you think there is a right or wrong answer to my questions?" she asks in that infuriating rhetorical way that therapists have.
I look at her, helplessly, and shift my legs again. I take a sip of tea. "Well, because, you're clearly after something, and I don't know what it is."
"Ellie, we're talking about YOU. Not me. You do realize that, don't you?"
I stifle a surge of rage. Of course I know we're talking about me. But, see, I don't know me very well anymore. I thought I did. I had it all worked out: mother, entrepreneur, recovery advocate, wife, daughter, friend.
She sighs. "I'm just wondering how come you aren't a shard, too", she says, quietly.
My eyes widen. "I didn't realize that was a option?" I stammer, as though her question were a multiple choice test.
"Exactly," she says.
As I drive home I realize the shard analogy is more than just a thing that I say to people. I feel shattered, stripped bare, raw. Things have happened. Things I won't talk about here. Not yet. I am keeping my life small, safe and very quiet.
I am trying to figure out how to just be. Just be Ellie, whoever she is when the world isn't watching, when there are no demands for my time, when it's just me in my cozy home with my family.
I feel broken into a thousand shards myself, having fought as hard as I could against the pressures of the past few years, against my old nemeses depression and anxiety and addiction.
Words, for the first time I can remember, don't come easily. All I know is that I give up. And not in the scary way; in the healing way. I feel like I have been trapped underwater, my foot tangled in weeds, with my lips mere inches from the surface. I have struggled, kicked and thrashed as hard as I could thinking sweet freedom was just within my reach.
I didn't know that freedom would be mine if I would just stop kicking, let my body go limp and sink, loosening the hold these demons had on me.
I am a fighter. I've had to be. For all the writing I have done about surrender, I missed something important: the bravest warriors know when to surrender. Rushing headlong into a battle you can't win with brute force isn't courage, it's folly.
And so I sit. I sit in overstuffed chairs and wriggle. I sit in recovery meetings and listen. And cry. And talk. I sit with the stillness of my life and the roaring silence in my mind.
And bit by bit, I pick up each shard, examine it, and ask myself where it fits with my life, With me.
With whoever I am becoming.