The Cure for Sleep: Rebirth
Season 1, 011: Coming back from loss, shame or failure
The January issue of The Cure for Sleep concerns rebirth.
After reading, do share a short true tale of your own - no more than 300 words – on this theme in the comments section. When – and how – did you come back from loss or failure?
Read the Season One stories contributed by readers over on The Cure For Sleep website: bedtime stories | memory games | bonding | choosing | promises | size & shape | time | desire | regret | faith | rebirth
Season 2 of these monthly emails will begin again in March 2022, offering readers of The Cure for Sleep a space to discuss the themes raised in the book. I will also be sharing writing prompts, recommended reading and calls for submissions to the Stories Beyond the Book archive.
HOW TO LIVE. HOW TO DIE. How to reach back with understanding, even as we are going beyond the ones we love.
What I wanted to learn, fast, in what I believed was my last minute of living, in that moment before I was laid awake on the operating table – these are the questions I will pursue now to my end of days. What started with an emergency having become my passion and my purpose.
In my first life, I placed my faith in rigid routines, believing I could put to sleep my wilder desires.
In my second, I went without rest, searching always for ways to escape my self and the pain of living. To slip my skin and merge, forever, with something beyond me. I tried mothering, unpaid acts of service, immersion in cold water, the making of art, and then – lastly, disastrously – I hoped to get lost in love.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
Think neither fear nor courage saves us.
I would meet you upon this honestly.
Fragments from Eliot. So many lines by him and other poets that I’ve committed to heart over the years, through fear, for courage. As if by stitching enough fine minds together, I could make of them a mantle to wrap around me. My own self, for too long, felt only as an old donkey skin I wanted to throw off, however many photographs and films were made of me, shining bright at my late-made outsider’s art.
We live in only one time and place.
What a counsellor said to me at a first and only session booked too soon after the birth and its aftermath.
We live in only one time and place.
He was trying, I think, to return me briskly to reason, as if my soul was a bone to be reset. He meant it to be healing, I’m sure, but it felt, when he said it, like an excommunication. As if I was, as I feared, cast out on a lonely planet, without hope of escape or redemption. The life I woke to after that surgery was so white and cold and difficult – I needed to believe I could get free of it, somehow.
And yes, we do only have one life, so far as science and our registers of births and deaths go. It is lived in places, to clock time or the sun and its seasons. And we live in bodies, with economic and political forces bearing down on us, always. No amount of self-sacrifice or selfishness lifts us completely clear.
We are not, in this world, ever really free spirits.
But to keep living in it? Sometimes we have to see our worst hurts as little deaths, and believe in our ability to be reborn by them.
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In 2008, I had my first cycle of IVF. I don’t know why, after the long struggle to get pregnant, I never even contemplated miscarriage, but I didn’t. Finally, my body was doing what it was meant to. In photographs from those early months, I’m dressed in colour, rather than my usual grey and black, my broad smile a thank you to whoever or whatever had granted me this gift. Then suddenly it was gone. I’m not brave enough (yet) to write about my feelings for my body then or now, but reading your work gives me hope of such courage in the future.
It was summer,
but a chill settled
in my bones,
my spirit froze
at its loss.
I tried to move
with the world
but every step
sloths in my shoes
we trudged the hill
behind Mary Anne’s
in the slanting rain,
up to the pool
where we’d swam naked
the year before,
pretending to be
the sheep looking on
then as now
in stolid rumination.
We drove to Westport
and ate seafood in O’Malley’s.
I heard my laughter
if it would ever
again ring true.
At a session in Paddy’s
a girl played an air
on the low flute,
but not even those
mellow notes could
This, then, was grief:
a cold companion
come to stay;
a world blunted
a winter that began
many seasons more,
as the other.
Until one day
I stood by a waterfall
not long after snow,
and heard the last of the ice
crack and yield,
bursting like afterbirth
into the Sow,
and knew at last
that the thaw
I'm naked in the bedroom, doing a mad-woman, thigh-slapping dance. My husband grins from the bed.
"You're feeling better, then?"
And I am. I am feeling better. The cloud of not-me has lifted, and this is me, right here, right now. I can feel life bubbling up in me, the sheer joy of not feeling like that, but feeling like this.
I think C S Lewis described this feeling you get when you emerge after a long illness, or the first day of the long school summer holidays. That sense of things being right, of having things to anticipate. That's how I feel.
I didn't feel like this yesterday, or the day before. I've learned to accept that chemo takes away that feeling for a week or so. In that trough, I have no future, I can't plan, I have no goals. I hate feeling like that. I have carefully recorded how I feel over the chemo cycle, so I know that feeling will end. That's what I tell myself - "Hang on in there. This will be over soon" - but I don't really believe it - so that feeling, that waking up, that rebirth - it surprises and amazes every time. Despite everything, I'm me again.
Is it worth it? Almost. I'd rather do a mad, naked dance every morning. But then again, maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I need to feel reborn to do that.