Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Falling through the rabbit hole

One doesn’t stop to think about it much: how discombobulated Alice felt when she fell through the rabbit hole and crash landed onto the floor.  I’m not sure if ‘discombobulated’ is in the dictionary, though it’s understood well enough as Australian slang. It suggests Alice felt absolutely nothing was in the right place in the world anymore – neither within her or around her. 

Think about it: down the rabbit hole none of her previous assumptions about what was rational or predictable or fair stood for anything. She didn’t know who to trust. She didn’t know who to love.  She was confused, disorientated, had trouble communicating, and couldn’t even open the door to move forward – suddenly nothing fit, suddenly nothing made sense, and she was filled with fear, anxiety and a longing for what was once safe and familiar.

That happens to us all sometimes, I suppose, to a greater or lesser extent. 

I’m told a bad trip at a party can have a similar effect, though I haven’t personally experienced it.  I know a heavy bout of drinking can turn the world upside down.  Yet that tends to be more about proportions than hallucinations, and thankfully sooner or later (sometimes after the bed spins) you fall asleep and escape the predicament. Then the world is pretty much the same the next day, except that you feel horribly unwell and vow never to drink again.

What I’m referring to is a true side-swipe: the kind of change or impact which you don’t see coming… where you’re left winded, unnerved, and far from yourself.  Physically they call it shock.  With machinery they call it an accident.  In plays they call it a tragedy, particularly when one significant event sets in motion a flow of developments which combine to bring about catastrophe and heartbreak.  And with death, and deep personal loss, they call it grief; an all-embracing name for a difficult and complex phenomena. 

Emotionally these onslaughts leave you like Alice: wondering why it has happened, and how and when you are ever going to get out of the situation and return to something approximating your previous life, your previous self. 

Occasions of betrayal are the same – the worst of which is when you thought you had good reason to trust the person.  Abandonment is significant too, ranging from a broken heart or promise, to an asylum seeker or refugee being forced across a border into a lonely and foreign land.

And regrettably, like Alice, there is no clear recipe for coping or assimilation… only a necessary passage through everything which frightens her most, threatens to hurt her most, until she stumbles upon a thread of stability and eventually some light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s a painful process.  Friends help of course, Good Samaritans too.  But they can’t prevent her feeling the pain or take away the exposed rawness she feels in her unexpectedly hostile environment.  It is simply up to her, alone, to somehow make sense of things, or to give up trying to make sense and choose a path which goes somewhere new, anywhere new, as long as its forward.  For sitting down in one spot at the bottom of the rabbit hole, after the first days or weeks of the fall, is not an option if she wants to preserve her sanity.  Though, woman to woman, if Alice had a duvet I’m sure she’d have snuggled under it for longer than Lewis Carroll allowed her. 

Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz faced a similar challenge, and like most journeys she didn’t know what the lessons were supposed to be until she had survived and recovered from her severe discombobulation – putting one foot in front of the other on the yellow brick road until she came through the dark forest and up again into the relative-normality of the Land of Oz.  

I felt a little like Alice in the rabbit hole when I plonked myself down in the middle of Italy several years ago to live, without friends or language skills.  My disorientation was greatest in the winter, unaccustomed as I was to interminably wet and cold weather.  Yet, even in my darkest hour, I knew there had been choice involved – that in fact I had launched myself down the hole… in search of a new adventure.  So I was responsible for picking myself up each time and getting on with it. 

It’s much harder when you’re blind-sided: when you didn’t ask to be pushed or dropped in it, as it were, when the rabbit hole is not where you deserve to be based on your own intentions or merits. 

But that’s the thing.  Life isn’t fair.  The athletes from the Paralympics have shown us that.  It is, in the end, what you make of what you’re dealt.   And it requires courage – particularly when every inch of you, sometimes inside and out, aches with the wounds of the fall and the bitter taste of the loss.

But what can you do?  Not everything happens for a reason.  I reject that entirely on account of its pessimistic and fatalistic connotation – not to mention an inherent suggestion that some God or other is up there dishing out the suffering.  What I do believe is that there is probably something to be learned or acknowledged from any fall down the rabbit hole, however heart-wrenchingly difficult the episode may be.    

I just wish you could fast-forward to the time when you feel wiser and less discombobulated. 

For it’s a hellishly long time to wait… the initial rally supremely difficult… and new or unexpected detours the most lonely… but to do anything else is to wish away life.

And if Alice or Dorothy had thought like that, they would never have found their way home.