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One Toke Over the Line

“Jackie, that’s how I know you’re healing. That’s how I see true inner peace coming from you.”

My counselor told me that the other day, after I relayed how I was helping someone. She told me that working through my tragedy was one thing, but to actively reach out to others to help, was another.

A sign of healing, ‘eh. That seems to be really good news.

You know what’s on your side when healing? Time.

Even a year ago, I could not have helped. I could not have put myself out there. Could not have held hope and fear for others. Could not have guided. I needed hope and guidance.

But with more time comes a further distance from the hurt and confidence to lend a hand.

And that’s what time has given me. Confidence.

I used to think it was my identity that was lost. It was, but it was also something else. That loss of identity destroyed my confidence. And that loss of belief, that loss of self, gave me gnawing fear, and dreadful anxiety.

“Hi, Jackie. Nice to meet you. What do you do?” Easy enough question.

But not an easy answer.

For years, that question alone brought me to tears right after the asking party was out of sight. I lived in a constant existential crisis: who am I?

The loss of my job as a trial lawyer was the worst. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a word that hurts more than “devastation.” If so, that’s my word. And rightfully so. It took everything from me. And it took my dreams. There’s nothing that could fill that void.

Or is there?

I was lost. How could I even answer such a simple question anymore? The answer before was easy enough, and felt powerful. “I’m Jackie M. Stebbins. I work at my own law firm, it’s called Stebbins Mulloy.”

I questioned everything about what I thought I knew. Once, I came home from my daughter’s team practice and cried to Sean. My feelings were hurt, because I didn’t know how to act, what to say. I called my bestie, Ashley, and honestly said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing there, I don’t know how to relate to anyone.” I was a 37-year-old 7th grader.

Just the other day I read, “Work gives you dignity.” That’s a simple and concise answer I should use when people ask me, “Do you miss your job?” Sometimes I want to reply, Would you miss water? It was that much to me and more. It gave me dignity.

But you know what else has given me dignity? Time.

Time has shown me that my daily grind was only a part of me. It sure felt like a big part of me, and it was, but it wasn’t all the parts of me. The other parts were just buried beneath all that work and stress.

I attended the TEDx Bismarck event a week ago (back to my old dress code –a mask) and I met a lot of new friends. Saw some old ones too. Later that evening, I was invited to not one, but two outdoor socials (OMG Jackie got out of the house!): my local bar and the TEDx folks. I first started at the bar social, and chatted up a storm. And then I moved to the TEDx social, and chatted up another storm.

When I returned home that evening, I had no tears. I didn’t have my usual dramatic, “Where do I belong?” Who am I anymore?” As I reflected on the events, I realized that I chose where I was going that day. I chose my gatherings. I chose my identity.

I chose to be me, no matter what neat box I don’t fit into.

Someone even introduced me as a writer, rather than a lawyer.

There’s still a line that divides my old life and new life. There may always be. Some days I feel my feet straddling that line. I still try to hop back sometimes, and other days I’m focused on the new side. Maybe I’ll continue to hover right over it, between the known and unknown. Even through that lack of a clear understanding, I’ve found my dignity again. And that helps fill the void.

Maybe my new identity isn’t easy to explain. Maybe there’s no canned answer. But somehow I feel like others are starting to see what I’ve been seeing. And I’m proud of that.

I’ll always identify as me.

You be you – I’ll be me – and the world will be a great place!



"And now I'm one toke over the line, sweet Jesus One toke over the line Sitting downtown in a railway station One toke over the line Waiting for the train that goes home, sweet Mary Hoping that the train is on time Sitting downtown in a railway station One toke over the line" ~ One Toke Over the Line by Brewer & Shipley

*I know, I know, it’s a song about excess and drugs. But it popped into my head as I was writing this, so I went with it.


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