If you’ve ever felt like Sisyphus, you’re not alone. But there’s good news.
Sisyphus: a legendary king of Corinth condemned eternally to repeatedly roll a heavy rock up a hill in Hades only to have it roll down again as it nears the top.
Bet you know how that feels. Me too.
I woke up in my own bed about an hour ago, the smell of my neighbor’s dog poop wafting into the open window. Sigh. I’m home. I lit a candle, turn the fan on. No biggie. Small rock.
This is about the Big Rocks.
A moment ago I hefted a very large rock that I had harvested off the small highway which splits Eastern Oregon. I carefully hiked it up two flights of stairs. That gorgeous rock now sits next to the patio door where it will find a place in my garden.
MY garden. Where last night I walked through, picked out the weeds and noted where the new blackberry volunteers are already on their way up.
Life in the Pacific Northwest. MY life in the PNW. My NEW life in the PNW. Boy, did I have to heft some Big Rocks to get here.
This trip I might have learned something terribly important about Big Rocks.
Let me set the stage, please.
Those of you who are kind enough to read me regularly know that I have a history of sexual abuse, and also that these last thirteen years I’ve been dogged by a bit of a hound dog of man dressed in gorgeous skin. Untold times I have been dropped and hurt by that man. He’s been a hard habit to break, as the song goes. He’s been sent packing. He’ll be back. He is as predictable as summer thunderstorms. He doesn’t set out to be mean, that would be an unfair characterization. He’s also carrying Big Rocks. His suffering is what causes him to do what he does.
Some of us have a very hard time letting go of what causes us suffering. My hand is WAY up here. The process I have walked in doing just that is part of what I write about, and why I write about it. All of us, I suspect, at some level, have difficulty letting go of what makes us suffer, as though there is some well-deserved self-flagellation which somehow makes us more worthy to enter heaven.
Look, at the risk of pissing a few folks off, I have a hard time buying the notion that I should suffer, usually at the hands of men, religious men in particular, who are quick to point out that OUR suffering at THEIR hands is not only part of God’s plan, but they are only too glad to help us suffer as much as possible, all so that we can earn a place in heaven, further worshiping another male.
Oh for crying out loud.
But I digress.
What can make us suffer, at least for the sake of this article, are our Big Rocks, Each of us has plenty. The role of those Big Rocks is critical in our development, as well as in making sure that you and I have a shot at becoming who and what we were always meant to be.
I’ve carried Big Rocks before, like a five-pack-a-day cigarette habit, forty years of eating disorders, obesity. Sexual assault, rape, all of it. Yours are different. Maybe some are the same. A quick scan of Medium on any particular day is a study in Big Rocks that people are carrying, often without their having any clue about it.
When I carried my new heavy garden rock up the stairs a few minutes ago, I had an epiphany.
That’s a bit like giving birth to an elephant, because the ideas and realizations take so long to gestate and for us to act upon. And BOY are they painful when we finally get round to giving birth to them.
Some of us never do birth our most important epiphanies, which is the terrible pity. Some of us avoid picking up any rocks, and as a result, we don’t learn much. And, as we saw during the pandemic, we don’t have much resilience if we don’t carry the rocks that are ours. But that’s another story.
Like the Big Rocks on the To-Do Lists, the big ones in life sometimes take decades.
Buddhism teaches about suffering, and the role of suffering, and about how to embrace it. I wish it were so easy as it sounds: identify what causes you to suffer and stop doing it. You tell that to any addict, and I use the term comprehensively, and hear what they have to say about how easy it is. Just say no. Just walk away. Right. We can have addictions to bad food, bad people, drugs, money, name your Big Rock. The journey to let go of said addictions can be long and difficult. Some folks don’t make it.
In my case, most of what caused me suffering, and I think many folks share this, were habits that I developed to dissipate anxiety and pain. Those habits caused me far greater pain, of course, because some involved grievous bodily harm, such as the eating disorders.
I walked each one up the mountain over and over, only to have that stupid rock roll back down into the Hades of self-loathing, and walk it right back up.
If you’ve ever quit drinking and relapsed, if you’ve ever sworn off cigarettes and started up again, if you’ve ever washed that man or woman out of your hair and welcomed them back knowing full well what was likely to happen, you know what I’m talking about. Some of us are pushing multiple rocks up the mountain all at the same time. You know who you are. Last year was a fine way to find out just how many, and how heavy.
It would be fair to say that more than a few of us were trying hard to carry other folks’ rocks for them, which is just slightly dysfunctional. First, other folks’ rocks aren’t ours. Second, when we do that we rob those folks of their work, which is why I have such an issue with wedding vows that proclaim that some guy is going to “protect us from our fears.” Fuck you, Skeezix. Those are MY fears to face, not yours. Face your own, and let’s do this thing side-by-side. But I digress.
Each time I was able to get that damned Big Rock to the top and push the fucker over to the other side. They are gone forever: the eating disorders, the smoking, the obesity, others. My body bears the scars. But there are always new ones.
You’d think you’d be allotted a pebble once in a while.
Relationship Big Rocks seem to be the hardest. Certainly for me, and for many of my fellow she-wolves. Stay with me here.
It wasn’t until I got home from my two-week trip to Denver and had time to consider the list of who I visited and who I didn’t (the ex) and why, that I realized what was going on with this particular BF, and why he keeps showing back up after all my breathless proclamations about THAT’S IT FOREVER.
And the Universe says, Watch this.
Anyone who has ever done a basic carry exercise (walk around carrying something heavy enough to get your attention, either one in both hands or one-sided, it’s excellent training) and they will tell you that carrying weight like that is an overlooked, superb workout. You get stronger. Your posture improves, you body confidence improves, balance, blah blah blah. It’s hard. It’s not showy, people don’t ooh and aah at your HUGE bicep curls. But the exercise bloody well works.
The Universe/Goddess/Whomever you believe in gives you and me what works.
Carrying Big Rocks is just part of life. Don’t throw yours at me; I don’t want it, and besides, you wouldn’t want to carry mine. The Big Rocks we carry are ours and ours alone. If you avoid the work, life gets harder. By design.
The lessons I learned from each Big Rock inform my writing, inform my life. I still make stupendously stupid mistakes, but how I interact with the fallout is fundamentally different.
That’s the result of having had to take those Rocks up the hill again and again. Failure after failure after failure. For years upon years.
That’s how my shoulders got strong. That’s how I grew a funny bone.
If nothing else, Big Rocks taught me patience. If one shows up again, that means I didn’t get it all the way over the edge the first time. Sigh. Lift, heft, balance, start walking. Find my funny bone.
This guy has a way of rolling back downhill. He will. It’s what he does.
Yet there was some incredible grace in realizing that I am HIS boulder, in effect. I am his Big Rock. This dance isn’t one-sided. And for those of you who, like me, have a sneaking suspicion that before we slid screaming and wailing into being we agreed to a few key lessons, there’s a certain wry humor in this. He can’t do much about those Forces either.
Sometimes, the Big Rocks in relationships end up being with us for a very long time, because the other person/people involved require us as their Big Rock as much as we need them. I didn’t say it was fun. Or joyful. Or particularly pleasant. Nor am I implying we’re victims. Not at all. Sometimes we’re just not through with each other, no matter how many times we’ve shrieked GAH I AM SO DONE!!!
Until they’re back. Because whatever it is they’re supposed to learn from us, they didn’t finish the work either. Perhaps this is why we need each other so very much, even when those pairings feel like hugging a porcupine.
I do think that, most certainly for me and with this particular person, there are intense and difficult lessons that perhaps I’m ignoring. This is how you and I carry our shit from one lover to the next. If we don’t figure out WTF we keep doing that isn’t working or isn’t healthy, we keep carrying said Big Rock uphill.
The way I know that, as I have with all my other Big Rocks, is that sound when the damned thing rolls up against my front door again and shakes the house foundations.
Well shit. He’s BAAAAACK.
So while I wrote him his walking papers yesterday, I realized, not without some genuine humor and more than a small dash of affection, that he’ll be back. Anyone who’s ever asked that Universal question,
So what’s the lesson here?
knows this dance. We carry the Rock until the Rock is done with us.
I can’t carry his Rocks. I can only carry my own. I can only put my Rocks down or over the top of the mountain when they are done with me, not the other way around.
There’s a fair bit in the Bible about casting your burdens on the Lord. Kindly. That’s one hell of an effective sales pitch for the spineless. For my faith dollar, I’ll take a God(dess) who puts a bigger Rock in my hands because She bloody well believes I’ve got the strength and fortitude to carry it.
Yesterday morning I read this from fellow wild woman Yael Wolfe:
Here’s my favorite line:
I am too exhausted for this. I have enough bags to carry.
Precisely. When those we love aren’t willing to carry THEIR Big Rocks, we end up with double the load. Until we put theirs down, and focus on carrying the ones that the Goddess intended for us to carry, we are going to be exhausted. That in and of itself is one of those Rocks, which we can release when we stop carrying other people’s Rocks for them.
Some of the Big Rocks we end up with, like addictions and anxiety, are from trying so very hard to carry Rocks that don’t belong to us. Yael wrote recently about being tired of carrying the blame when relationships fail.
That’s a Rock you Just. Put. Down. Not yours. Theirs.
This from Yael’s story:
The weight makes it nearly impossible to take one more step.
And finally, because I love Yael for her heartbreaking honesty and for how well she puts this:
I won’t carry these suitcases. Not the one I packed for myself and most definitely not the one he packed for me. There’s no love or grace in either of them. And I deserve love and grace.
For my part, love and grace come of our willingness to carry only the Big Rocks which are uniquely ours. Putting down forever those which are not ours to carry, and saying no to those who are ever so eager to pile their Rocks on our aching backs.
Pick up your own damned Big Rocks, carry them your own damned self, and find your own way to a sense of humor about it. Grow. The. Fuck. Up.
Aging is huge Rock, and it’s hard enough to bear that one. Humor lightens the load. Perspective gives me strength. Wisdom allows me to say no to the next grinning traveler who has a Big Rock in his hand and asks,
Yes. I do mind.
This one’s heavy enough, Sparky. Do the Fucking Work Yourself.
When he shows up again, and sure as the sun rises he will, maybe this time I can see the journey with different eyes, as Proust wrote. It’s not failure to try again. It’s failure to stop trying. It’s not failure to have hope. It’s failure to give up. There are grace and love in both not knowing when it’s time to drop the Rock. And there are grace and love in owning the Rocks that we alone can carry. That indeed is self-care. Self-love.
The greatest grace and love, above all, is to reach the top carrying only those rocks meant for us alone. Learning which are ours, and which to say no to, is part of that journey.