In the morning when you wake up after life has turned you around and the aftermath of all that’s hurt you is too raw to think about and when the idea of recovery is too far from the concepts of reality; your mind is flooded with too many thoughts, your body is tired because it’s too hard to find rest, and when the soundtrack in your brain is made up of the conversations that went wrong, the truth is there’s really nothing anyone can do at that moment, except breathe.
You breathe because the truth is you are still alive. You breathe because this is the one thing you can absolutely control.
There is no controlling the world. We have no control over the weather. We can’t control whether or not people will be receptive to us. We can’t control the ideas other people have nor can we control the way other people respond or react.
Life is not a one-way plane of existence. There are countless forces moving all around us at different speeds. There are people that will love us and people that won’t. There are people that are meant to be with us and people that only exist as temporary fixtures until they venture onward.
The fact remains, there are no certainties in life. However, there are the exceptions of a few guarantees. The guarantees are very simple. From now until the hour of our death, life will happen. Not everything will be rosy and free and then again, not everything will be hopeless and dark either. There are going to be uphill moments and times when you can coast and be worry free. There will be pain. This will happen to everyone. Life is not easy.
There was a summer that I spent every Saturday in the stairwell of an old office building in Midtown near 31st Street. I was an apprentice at the time. I took an overtime gig to paint the stairwell. This meant the walls, ceilings, banister, floors and steps were to be painted by me and one other person. This was a lot of work, which is why the other person quit after the second weekend.
The job became too much for me but there was no turning back. I was in too deep. I was committed and I literally hated every minute of this. I fell so far behind that I was staying late during the week just to catch up. I remember the lonesomeness of being in the old staircase that ran down nearly 30 flights. I was in too deep but there was nothing I could do, except paint. There was no one to talk to and no one to share the work with. This was all me.
All I could do was one flight at a time, which I did, and which I swore without hope that I would be in this staircase for the rest of my life. I had to set up, prep, paint, clean up, and then move the equipment, only to start over again, and keep moving. I swore I would never get out of here but piece by piece, the more I worked the closer I moved towards completion.
I sweated for hours in the stairwell. Some of my coworkers laughed at me. They laughed about the job because they knew I bit off more than I could chew. I was much younger and a lot less experienced. I liked the idea of earning extra money but I didn’t realize the amount of work that went with this.
I spent an entire summer painting that staircase in an old commercial office building. Meanwhile, the lonely ideas had me thinking about the rest of the world. I thought about the people in my life and what they were probably doing.
I assumed my friends were at the beach and enjoying life. There was no going out Friday nights because I was up at 4:30am to be ready and at work by 6:00am.
After a while, my back was sore. My legs were tired. I had paint all over my face and sometimes there was paint all over the floor, which meant I had more to clean.
I never thought I would finish but slowly, I moved along. I found a routine that helped me move in more productive way.
I finished the walls and the ceilings. I finished the banisters. And finally, I started from the top again and painted the floors from the top landing, all the way down to the third sub-basement floor. Put simply, I got through it, one stroke and one step at a time.
There came a point that I could no longer sit around and mull over the regrets I had for taking the job. I could have sat in my resentment that I had to do this alone. I could have been angry because there was someone that was supposed to help me.
I could have worried about the cleanups and bitched about carrying paint buckets, moving the drop cloths, setting up and prep work, washing brushes, and all that came with this gig. I could have spent my energy on all the above but in reality; none of the above would help me get through painting the staircase.
I’m not sure how many times I went up and down with a paint roller. I’m not sure how many brush strokes it took or how long it took me to paint each landing in the stairwell. All I know is the only way through was to paint one stroke at a time.
There are times when the chores in life seem insurmountable. There are days when we see piles of unpaid bills and unfinished tasks that require our attention. There are days when the heart is absolutely heavy.
There is too much on our plate. Nothing works the way we want. The people we depended on for help decided they had other things to do. The regrets we have come along like an unwanted guest that refuses to leave and the hurtful people in life do nothing but more of the same.
There will always be choices in life. But keep in mind, the truth is we won’t always like the choices we have. We are not going to enjoy everything that comes our way but there are choices. Either we get through or we quit. Either we do the work or we complain but either way, work is a representation of life and rest assured, life is always going to be there until the day we die.
The point being is we have to create a routine. I was in that stairwell during a miserable time in my life. I was in the middle of a big mistake in my personal life. All the shortcuts I took and all the quick ideas I used to satiate the mind had come to collect.
In the face of my life, the one thing I learned is we all have to pay consequences. Life will always come to collect and sometimes, life comes to collect the past due amounts, which is exactly what happened to me that summer. I was alone because I lost a group of friends. I was upset about a breakup with a girl and went from the manicured hands of a white-collar life to the dirty fingernails of working tools and learning about building trades.
I swore I would never recover. I never thought I would pull through. I never thought I would escape the embarrassment of my decisions, which I did. And not only did I escape them, in fact, I created an entirely new stream of decisions to be embarrassed by.
Life to me is really no different from the job I took that summer in the staircase. There are pros and cons to everything. There are choices that come with everything we do, and in some ways, choices are mandatory. Even if you think you’ve refused to choose, this is still a choice.
In some way, shape, or form, everybody has to serve time doing things they don’t want to do, in which I go back to the oldest jailhouse saying. “Do your time. Don’t let your time do you.”
Freedom is always a mindset. The trouble is when we keep ourselves locked up for so long, we struggle to believe there is a way to recover our freedom . . . and be happy.
Everybody is recovering from something. I know this is true. We all have life to deal with and we all have our fair share of doubt, pain, and hardships. There are going to be mornings when we wake up and the world is nothing but one task after another. There are going to be moments in life when there is no help. The only thing to do is realize our place in this temporary process and take one step at a time. Above all else, when there’s nothing you can do but feel, just breathe.
Trust me. It helps.