I have a friend who is going through some big and scary stuff: life-altering, soul-changing, potentially transformative and possibly transcendant stuff. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what will happen. I feel so alone,” she said. Her pain was palpable.
God, I know that place-- that sticky, scary, prickly place. Crossroads? I wish it were as simple as that! That place isn't a fork in the road; it's a whole damned service for twelve, all jumbled and junk-drawer worthy, a snake pit of messy choice. It isn't dark. Dark implies the possibility of something not-dark. This is the total absence of light. It is a teetering precipice, the pain of the present licking at your feet, coiling upwards, while the fear of the unknown breathes hot and harsh on your skin and presses you down,
This place is alone.
My friend's words take me back to my early days in recovery. I spent hours in those neeting rooms, on beat-up couches, drinking horrible coffee, breathing in air that reeked of cigarette smoke and bleach and stale sweat. Hours upon hours of shiny happy people and their endless chatter, who had miraculously been plucked from the depths of their despair and given new life. New hope. And they passed it on to me. Headier than any wine, more intoxicating than any drink I’d ever guzzled. Hope. In the telling of their stories, I found hope.
“I’ve been there,” they all said, in some iteration or other.
No fanfare, no drama. Just this quiet moment of intimate connection. They’d all been there— that same place where I had stood, rooted and lost and broken and alone. It may have looked different from the outside– some talked of boardrooms on Wall Street, others of a gutter in the slums– those exteriors were facades that hid our utter devastation from public view. How could I not find healing in these words? How could I not take hope? They sat pretty comfortably in their own skins, putting one foot in front of the other. Moving, acting, choosing, deciding. Feeling. Feeling everything. Not drinking. Not drinking. And they shared that all, with me, with each other, every day, endlessly, hour after hour. It got so I believed I could do all that too.
And after the hours and hours of bad coffee and stale smoke and endless, hopeful chatter, they left. And I went home. Alone. Home, to an empty apartment that echoed. Home, to sit and think and climb the walls, to feel the silence pound. While I didn’t crawl into a bottle, I climbed into my head, taking refuge in that nightmare landscape of my own creation, with this chorus singing hollowly, keeping me company: In the end I stand here alone. For all their laughter and sharing and connection, I come home alone. And who will be there to catch me when I fall, when I fail?
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what will happen. I feel so alone.
That place. That fear. That place that is absent of light. I know this place all too well.
In the end, we are all of us alone. But here’s the miracle, that bit of grace within that singular moment of clarity: there are breadcrumbs. Strewn along that rocky, tortuous, treacherous path, with all its traps and quicksand and trails that go nowhere and the scary monsters who hide behind the poison-spitting trees, there are breadcrumbs. There are stories and connections and hope, left for us by those who’ve gone before. And if we’re lucky— really, really lucky— there are hands to hold in the darkness, torches placed along the way.
Yes, I take my leaps alone. Yes, even now, I can stand rooted in the muddy, messy Middle, unable to go back, afraid to move forward. But there is hope. Grace. Hands to hold, torches that shine. And should I fail, should I fall, I will be caught. God, or some Higher Power whose name I don’t yet know will allow me rest and comfort until I’m ready to go it again.
I’m here, I tell my friend. Feel free to fly, to fall. To hope. I’ve been there my friend. I’ll be waiting for you, breadcrumbs in hand, and hope enough to share.