If I Could Just Make It Stop: Alternatively Titled “The Hardest Year of My Life, but Not the Worst.”

What is the distinction between “hardest” and “worst”?

Hard often equals some kind of progress that will follow.

Worst equals bottom.

My bottom in my life was Christmas Eve 2009.

Still, even the word bottom implies that an ascent must follow.

We either move in a straight line,  we move downward, or we move upward.

These are the only options available to us.

For a long time, I was moving down, down, down.

I was living this song.

“If I could just make it stop, I could tell the whole world to get out of the way.”

I keep thinking of Roxane Gay’s review of my book. She wrote, “Sundberg’s honesty is astonishing, how she laid so much of herself bare, how she did not demonize a man who deserves to be demonized. Instead, she offers a portrait of a broken man and a broken marriage and an abiding love, what it took to set herself free from it all. In shimmering, open hearted prose, she shows that it took everything.”

I keep thinking of the way she described me as “open hearted.”

My heart is still open.

One of the things that people tell me the most is how stunned they are that I am still so open hearted.

I want to say to them, “Why shouldn’t I be?”

My heart was at its hardest during the most painful parts of my marriage. There is an entire chapter of my book titled “A Hard Heart.” The hardness didn’t save me. It only made me immune to the pain that I would have otherwise fled.

A hard heart stays.

An open heart feels enough pain to know when to leave.


If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop.

My dissertation advisor took me out for a drink to celebrate the arrival of my book ARCs.

I told him that during the worst of the book, I could only write at night because I couldn’t bear to articulate the words in daylight. I was constantly fatigued from lack of sleep. He seemed to understand, and I realized how comfortable I am telling him about my life. He has been a stable and consistent male mentor in my life.

If my heart is going to be open to men, I have to be able to trust some of them, and I’m grateful for the friendships with men that I have cultivated in the past few years.

I have had to grapple with a lot of anger in the past year. Anger at our country. Anger at Caleb. Anger at abuse enablers. Anger at myself.

Writing my book was hard. I had to sit in my own anger and try to turn it into beauty.

I was living in darkness.

At night, while Reed slept peacefully downstairs, I wrote, and sobbed, and wrote, then crawled into bed exhausted. I woke up in the mornings-—a shell—drove Reed to school and taught my classes, then came home and fell into deep naps in the afternoons.

In Vermont when I was at my writer’s residency, I wrote in my studio with the Gihon River flowing outside my window in darkness.

I walked back to my room in the dim early, morning light. The silence was such that my heart cracked open at the beauty of it.

I stopped crying so much. I started sleeping again.

And then the book was finished.

I spent some time this past summer outside of Seattle with a friend of mine who is a therapist. She does exposure therapy, and she said, “In a way, you’re doing exposure therapy to yourself with your book.”

Reliving trauma is not the same as living through trauma, but it’s pretty damn close.

If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop.

And then I did.

I made it stop.

I hit “send” on the final document, and I cried again, but for a different reason this time.

And my heart cracked open.

I am no longer so angry.

I know that joy, like suffering, is transient, and in some ways, joy is bittersweet because of its inevitable loss.

But for now, I’m just going to sit in this joy. I don’t even have to try and transform it into beauty because it already is.

My heart is open to all of it.