Over the course of a handful or so of years not too long ago, I managed to lose a little bit of everything: stuff, people, things of inestimable value to me-- one thing after the next, again and again. And then yet again. Sometimes the pace of loss was so fast I could barely catch my breath or stop long enough to grieve. Worse were the slow and lingering losses. They were excruciating and exquisite disintegrations of heart and spirit.
With each loss, I would hit bottom. Absolute rock-fucking-bottom. I would lay, crumpled and still, every nerve taut and throbbing, fairly singing with the tension of shame and grief and sadness, until I was numb. Numb, and relieved, that at least I had finally found the bottom.
And every time-- every single time I sagged in relieved acceptance of my failure-- I would find the trap door.
There is always a next level of low. Always.
This was not the life I had planned on. Not that I had actually made a plan for my life. But still, this wasn't it. What the hell-- I was a nice Jewish girl from a nice middle class family, living in a nice little suburb. And while I had taken a twistier path than most to that place, there I was: a nice Jewish girl with a husband and a child and a house and a job, living the American Dream.
And then one day, again without plan, I wasn't.
Like sugar in water, I watched it all dissolve. I wanted to yell "Stop!" I wanted to scream "Wait!" I needed time. I needed something-- someone-- to fix it, make it better. All I had was me. And clearly, I was not up to it. Let me just catch my breath. Let me just rest for a minute. A day. Maybe another. Please. The light is too bright, and it's dark and cool under these covers. Let me just sleep a little longer. Let me just die a little bit more.
You know what's worse than bottoming out when you're a drunk, killing yourself a bottle (a glass, a sip) at a time? Bottoming out sober. Everything is raw. Everything is screaming: your body, the voices in your head, the people you love. Worse: the people who love you, who just want you to get it together, get better, stop being so fucking sad all the time. Jeezus, Stacey-- enough! Get over it already. It's been weeks. Months. A year. More. Too long to grieve. Too long to be stuck. There I was, a butterfly pinned to a black velvet board, raw and defenseless and twitching.
They got bored with me, my friends. Hell; I got bored with me. I wanted to curve into myself, disconnect from the pain that seeped into and out of every pore.
I wanted to drink.
Almost two decades sober, almost two decades of learning how live without drinking, learning how to live with God, and I wanted to drink. Funny thing-- I knew, absolutely knew that I would get, maybe, 37 seconds. Thirty-seven seconds of relief, where all the noise would just stop, and I would be able to breathe and my skin would stop crawling and I would disconnect enough to not feel and not be. Thirty-seven seconds. And I was in so much pain, it seemed a worthwhile trade: my life, my pain, for thirty-seven seconds.
And I didn't.
I'd lost my marriage, my house, my credit, several jobs, numerous friends and a beloved brother, and I wanted to drink and I wanted to disappear and I didn't. What the fuck?
Oh, yeah: faith.
It sweeps in, peeks around corners, stumbles around blindly, in infinite variety, offering healing and grace. At times, it is cool and resonant, a joyful transcendence that leaps and soars. It is fearless, filled with surety and possibility and hope. It is a glorious and mindful act, all breathless wonder and full beyond measure. It illuminates the darkness. It is intimate as love, brave as love, near as love.
And when I'm in that wonky, spiritually fit place, when life is balanced and I'm not teetering on the edge and unfixably broken, this is the faith that fills me. At these times, in that place, everything fits and flows, endlessly effortless-- God's in the heavens, all's right with the world. Amen, amen.
This was not one of those spiritually wonky places. This wasn't effortless and clean. It was dark and twisty and alone. This was a dangerous and elusive faith, limned in pain, dancing on a razor's edge of hope. This was not a host angels singing loud hosannas while dancing on the head of a pin. It was a much more difficult faith, like pebbles strewn across an impossibly huge plain. Almost insurmountable. Almost invisible. Almost.
But in all these impossible almosts, there was God. In the midst of the jagged edges of my pain (no less so than in the midst of that impossibly joyous and majestic sweep of calming grace), there was God.
So what does that get me? What good is God, or faith, when it is broken despair that is transcendent, driving me? Where was God? And why? Why God, and faith, when we are still stripped and laid bare, when the only prayer we can offer is "fuck you, God?" What the hell does faith get us, when the money is running out and the solitude swallows you whole and the road shifts suddenly, bedrock becoming quicksand in the space between breaths?
What good is faith? Even then-- especially then: there is faith, and God. Faith does not mean that I will never know pain again, or fear. People will die, foreclosures will happen, jobs will be lost. Of course, miracles will happen, too, along with acts of breathtaking kindness and astounding heroism. Life will happen, in all its messy glory. And faith, sometimes a grand, sweeping gesture, sometimes blind and leaping-- faith allows me to put one foot in front of the other. No matter how small the step, no matter how faltering, I put one foot in front of the other, and know that I will be carried through.
And with that act of faith and defiance-- that has everything to do with love and hope and grace and God-- life changes. The world changes. I am changed. Changed enough to put one foot in front of the other, again. And that, I am sure, is faith enough.