Just Take A Back Stitch

By Honey Judith Rubin

My Grandfather died when my Dad was seven. Dad started working for a relative then, a tailor. From then on after school or after religious school, work was fairly central to his life. His hard-earned pennies went to help his family. I imagine that the seeds of his 12–16 hours a day work habits were planted at that time, to my sorrow. I know he learned some lessons from the tailor that have on more than one occasion, been of vast importance to me. The one I share I with you now is about taking a backstitch.

He was my hero you understand. So when I took a garment to him, in which the seam or hem had come out, I just knew he could fix it. He was a bit amused by my complaining that the stitching had given way. I can almost hear myself, self-importantly announcing that it should have been done right in the first place and then it wouldn't have come out! "Shoulding" on others and myself used to be a fairly pronounced habit in my life.

He just smiled that warm and delicious smile of his and said, "You think this is a problem but it's really an opportunity to take a backstitch!" Sometimes I think I would "should" on my self just to provoke that wonderful smile. Anyhow, I remained unimpressed so he continued.

"Look here," he said as he worked his needle with familiar deftness. He'd take several straight stitches and then a backstitch. "The original was done in all straight stitching. Only tailor-crafted garments have any backstitches built in. Factory workers just can't take the time to do it. A backstitch is a place of strength. If you snag the thread somehow, it can come out all the way around in nothing flat if it's all straight stitching. Then you're out on the street with your teeth in your mouth and your hem dragging or your backside showing. (He really was this graphic and colorful!) But if there is a backstitch even once somewhere along the line, chances are the open place will be small enough to hold together with a pin until you get home." Then he gave me a "meaningful" stare, one that I knew meant, "Pay attention, this has more than just one meaning."

Almost thirty years later, I was on the phone with my psychiatrist, who anchored me during my first year of remembering how to get high on life and not on drugs, and who had heard every one of my "Dad" stories. I had called to tell him that after months of being clean, I had gotten stoned, driven to a meeting, and made an ass of myself. "Good." he said, "now just take a backstitch!" In no mood for riddles, I invited him to explain.

"This is exactly like everything else in life," he said, "You will face problems and mistakes. You can determine whether this incident, this breaking your word to yourself, is a problem for which you'll beat yourself up emotionally, wasting the very energy that you need to make a fresh start and go forward. OR, you can use this moment to build in some added strength that can catch you so you have less to repair if you ever come unraveled again. It's just like your Dad's tailor story. You get to choose."

That day, I learned that I don't even have to wait for a relapse to build in a backstitch, I can do it as I go. I used that moment to make a fresh commitment to pay attention to how I am feeling, how I am talking to myself — my inner coaching — what I am doing, where I am choosing to focus my energy and attention. I gained clarity and wisdom about how I had in the past brought myself to places where doing drugs looked like a "high-paying" option rather than a rip-off. I had to release my willingness to go numb and commit to standing up to the painful illusions I myself had created. I had to release denial as a tool and embrace staying in my own integrity.

The last 28 years have been increasingly wonderful. I am repeatedly grateful that my Dad's caring enough to speak his wisdom in such a loving way has been such a constant and profound blessing. Remembering to use painful moments to build in a greater depth of strength becomes easier and faster. I can ride the good times for all they are worth and simply become still, reflective, and quiet if an inner winter or a painful emotion shows up in my experience. I have rarely felt the urge to use since that day, and when I did, I welcomed the urge as a friend that reminded me to pay attention to what I am doing, how I am being — if I am allowing or fighting my good. I listen more and more easily. You can too.

If you create a painful contrast between how you wish life were and what is now showing up on your plate, use that time for your highest good, — as an opportunity to launch a new dream, commit to your next level of strength, and awareness, and clarity, and integrity. Let that moment be for you the first step on a higher road. Just take a backstitch!

© Honey Judith Rubin, 2002, All Rights Reserved


Honey Judith Rubin is a freelance writer, proofreader and inspirational speaker who lives in Marietta GA. She especially enjoys writing about ideas that help people increase their sense of personal, physical or spiritual well-being.

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