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Chutes and Ladders

In real life, the game is even harder

I’ve always hated Chutes and Ladders.

When my kids come to me, lugging that dreaded box, I’ll do anything to change their mind.

“Let’s play Uno instead,” I tell them. “Or Candy Land.” I’ll even opt for Rummikub, although it means playing using all four boards, until my head convulses in a dizzying number-color overload.

Chutes and Ladders is an exercise in futility. Hunched over on the hardwood floor, my legs repeatedly folding and unfolding in search of comfort, I wait for one of my little opponents to please strike some lucky numbers and bring the game to a glorious end.

But every time salvation is within reach, someone lands upon a chute that sends him tumbling down to the very beginning, much to the kids’ delight, and my nail-biting frustration.

In real life, the game is even harder.

Deep in a pit of discouragement (I won’t actually use the word depression to describe my state of being; my courage only goes so far….), reeling because of hopes dashed, overwhelmed by the challenge called life, I resolve to rise.

I lift my chin up and start to climb.

Week after week, in a little room in a big building, I sit and explore the issues that I came to work on — and the issues I didn’t even know were festering beneath the surface all this time, so adeptly had I hidden them. I push myself to speak, to reveal what’s buried so deep even I don’t know about it. I inch ahead, step by painstaking step.

Progress is barely discernible, but when I look back, I see that I’ve made headway. I’ve risen. I’ve conquered some dragons in my quest to get better, to be better, and to do better.

I’m out of the quagmire, I realize one day, and now view life with a bit more clarity, taking in things from a different perspective. I can turn my head upward and see the sun above. There’s a purpose in this climb. There are goals to be reached. There’s a way forward. I’m euphoric with accomplishment.

Soon, however, I inevitably stumble upon a pitfall that sends me hurtling right back to the bottom. Bruised and beaten, in a miserable slump, I begin to doubt that my trek until now accomplished anything at all. I’m unsure if I can even get up, if I have what it takes to resume the climb.

But I shake the dust off my skirt and tentatively rise again. Many yards in, yards full of tooth-grinding grit, of sweat and toil, of facing fears and torrents of tears, I hit another hurdle and fall again. I tumble down the slippery slope of old behaviors and spiral through dark thoughts and tormenting visions of despair. Sometimes the drop is small, but it sends my delicate heart hurtling downward. I don’t feel like picking up the pieces.

I want to stay there, in the darkness of the pit. I want to roll my blankets tightly around me and say, “Goodbye, world. I’ll see you when I feel better.” I’m no longer sure I’m headed anywhere. I doubt that there’s a point in all this effort.

Kids, work, husband, familial obligations… please let me get off the train and wallow in my pain, I plead soundlessly. Let me sit in the haze. I’m beaten. I can’t get up so many times.

I’ve tugged and pulled and tried. I worked so, so hard! And here I am, back at square one.

Where is the rainbow they speak of after the rain? Where is the gain from all this pain?

Is the climb even worth it — this painful, taxing climb — does it lead anywhere? Even if I do want to pull myself together to pick myself up, my vision is blinded by tears.

Eventually, I get up again and I resume my climb. And I realize that fallen as I have, I’m at a higher plane than when I’d started out. And I see that battles already won are easier to fight the second time around — a ladder materializes just as I struggle to keep up, and I neatly shimmy upward.

Sometimes I need to stall to recoup my losses, to summon the courage to keep going after taking a nasty slide.

But I know that, contrary to what my depression (there, I said it) would like me to believe, even in Chutes and Ladders, you never return all the way to square one.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 794)

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