It wasn’t long ago, only a few years, not even, that I was a woman who bounced from crisis to crisis. I would come up against an obstacle or some sense of pain and instead of trying to come up with a solution or even manage my feelings, I would, in fact, create more pain. A poor choice would lead to another poor choice until my life basically consisted of an ugly, nauseating string of poor choices.
I remember, quite a few years ago when my marriage was falling apart, a friend telling my then husband that I was inherently miserable. When I confronted this friend, she didn’t deny saying it. In fact, she made it known that she believed that I was responsible for all of my misery. I was hurt. I was livid. She had no understanding whatsoever about what I was dealing with, who I was dealing with, what was being done to me! How dare she?!? The comments drastically changed the shape of our friendship, and I held a deep resentment for quite some time.
Until, of course, I realized that she was right.
For much of my life I have suffered from deep depression, or at least bouts of deep depression, riddled with crippling anxiety. When I was twelve and my sister was dying of leukemia, I starkly remember hiding in my basement bedroom scribbling madly in a key-and-lock diary, at times rocking or shrieking, and praying each night that God would give me the courage to kill myself. I wish I could say that with time my outlook improved, that my self-loathing dissipated, that I learned to somehow quiet the demons that whisked like jokers on the zip lines of the neuropathways of my mind. Unfortunately, I cannot say that. There were years of putting myself in situations that were painful and dangerous. There was self-harm. There was abuse. And, there was that deep inherent misery.
This misery carried me through my teens, through my twenties, through college, through employment, through a marriage and through the first six years of the life of my sweet baby boy. This misery became my very skin and, too, became a sort of friend that I could rely on. So, when I could no longer stay afloat in the wake of my poor decisions nor survive within the walls of my 180 proof prison and decided, by the grace of God, to get sober, I had to grieve.
In the first six months without a drink, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I have mentioned here before that it was not uncommon for me to sit and stare at the wall, well into darkness, not even imagining how I might lift myself off of the couch. I went through those classic stages—anger, sadness, denial, bargaining. I felt victimized by the fact that I had to turn my life around. I was still crying “Why me?” and acted all sorts of babyish about it. I didn’t drink, but I didn’t know how to cope with my feelings, and I continued to make poor choices.
One late night, when I was reeling, I called a friend. I was “triggered” and wanted to act out. “I’m not going to tell you what to do,” he said. “But I will remind you of how you might feel tomorrow morning.” This comment did not seem profound, but I quickly de-escalated and just went about my night as a normal person might. I breathed through my nose, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. The call, the comment, the de-escalation was pivotal. I realized that I was not a victim; I was making a choice. Thankfully, I am– with the help of others and the help of the divine– continuing to make that choice. I not only stopped using and abusing alcohol, I stopped stomping through the fields of chaos looking for landmines. I started living. I am filled from toe to crown with gratitude!
I am still, as we all are, faced with obstacles. It seems that in the past six months my life has been riddled with them. No personal tragedies. No horrific devastation. Just a steady stream of interactions that have really forced me to examine myself. The woman that I once was would be a puddle on the floor right now. Yet, I am somehow climbing over these stone walls with agility and grace. I can recognize the ways that these experiences can help me stretch and grow.
I say agility and grace as if I’ve got it conquered, as if I’ve figured it all out. Not so. I am, like all of us, a work in progress. I believe that there is only journey not destination. Living my life in a state of non-crisis is a completely different experience. I still stumble, still grope in the dark at times trying to find my way, trying to find a match with which to light the candle. I am discovering that when I am not swept away by the undertow of my emotions, I am not even able to fully identify my emotions. Am I angry? Sad? Relieved? Hurt? Fearful? Sometimes I don’t know. But, I know that I am making progress. I know I am relatively calm. I didn’t know that life could be lived this way.
I once wrote here about the Zen proverb “The obstacle is the path.” I wrote about it, but I didn’t get it. I guess I thought that the statement had more to do with tackling things, like with shoulder pads and headgear on. I have presently come to believe that this proverb has more to do with acceptance of what is and what is supposed to be and the acknowledgment and understanding that every challenge poses the opportunity for a lesson learned. That is our path. And, I believe our life’s purpose. I know that every experience of joy, of misery, of lack of hope, and then of hope itself, has crafted me into the person I am today. I needed all of it. Every drunken, self-absorbed, dangerous minute of it. And, I am proud of who I am and continuing to become despite all the work that I still have to do.
I have a friend who often quotes the adage “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Since climbing out of the well of my self-pity, since trading love for inebriation, since starting to search out the divine, I have changed the way I look at things. I can, for the first time, be witness to beauty. Even when I am sad. Even when I am afraid. I can see obstacles as opportunities. And, for this, I am so very blessed.
I must note that I started this post a few days ago and was interrupted by the day-to-day grind and decided this evening to finish it. I have, in some ways, struggled through it as my mind is never far from today’s horrific news about last night’s mass shooting in Orlando. I post the link to this blog on Facebook and right now Facebook is flooded with this news. And, I rarely comment on the news in that forum, so I am hesitant to even bring the subject up. I am not sure how to end this post or if I should share the link. I am writing about my personal journey with depression and alcoholism and my Pollyanna-like newfound ability to see growth when faced with my life’s minute challenges. I am sitting on my deck, sipping lavender chamomile tea, with a heaviness in my heart but the very real knowledge that I did not personally know anyone in that nightclub. Right now I am safe and sound.
I will not pretend that, in recent years, I have faced any real tragedy that wasn’t connected to my own actions. I will not pretend that I have known that level of trauma or that I would be so optimistic about obstacles if the rocks in my path were boulders instead of relative pebbles. I only know that tonight I will pray for those affected by this tragedy and for all of those suffering from trauma and heartache that they may find solace and comfort and peace. I only hope that my words, however self-centered, might provoke some sense of hope or some positive thought in someone of my small readership who has or is facing any adversity. And, I must continue to believe that love will survive hate.