Empress of Forever and Eternal Moments of Grace
Invariably, I just up and go to live in the Land of Forever. I am, perhaps, the Mayor there. Or the Empress. I like the ring of that – Empress of Forever. All I need is my tiara and sash and I’ll be set for, well, forever.
Do you know the place?
Forever is the place I go – always – when Something Happens. It’s always a capital letter event – a Loss, a Disappointment, some Painful Experience. Something that leaves me a little breathless, a little lost, a little twisty. Something Happens and I pack up, riding the train to Forever, where I set up camp and plant myself, to wait Forever. It’s a bad neighborhood, Forever is: burnt-out buildings, tumbleweeds and a howling, keening wind that wraps around my heart and gets under my skin until I want to crawl out of it. Instead, I wrap myself in the armor of my memory. Like an endlessly looped movie, I watch the scenes of my pain again and again. There is no surprise at the climax, only a certain kind of inexorable inevitability. There is comfort of a kind in that inevitability.
And I sit. And I wait. And I stay. Forever.
This is what happens, almost always. Almost every time, until the next time and I don’t know when I leave Forever, or how I get back – but I do. I re-enter the world of happy and frustrated and joyous and bills to pay and dinner to cook and life to live. From temporal stasis to moving at the speed of life in a heartbeat, a breath, unnoticed.
Except not this time. For the first time, I am not moving to Forever. For the first time, I seem to have made a side trip to the land of Used To Be. It’s an oddly jarring journey.
I don’t go anywhere. I still wander through my life and dance to its syncopated rhythms. I cook and clean and watch and write, but in the quiet, offhand moments, when I allow the busyness of my life to still for a stuttery step, Used To Be comes sidling in through some back door, grabbing my attention in the corners and the almosts: almost asleep, almost awake, just out of sight, around the next bend. Almost but not quite vulnerable. Or guarded (which is sometimes, almost, the same thing) – I used to be. I used to look. I used to feel. I used to
The particular verb escapes me. Or perhaps, it’s all of them. An infinity of Used To Bes.
I hear the whispers of that empty, soulless land as a death knell – what once was is no more and will never be again. I used to be younger. I used to be thinner. I used to be pretty. I used to…
I can’t seem to find my way out of this place. All I can see, all I can feel, all I want is what used to be.
And perhaps, because it is early August and the day before the twenty-second anniversary of my getting sober, I have just enough strength, just enough faith and hope to be able to breathe in Now for just a second. To be present, in this moment, and so, remember a few other Used To Bes.
I used to be drunk. If not all the time, then a lot of it. And if I wasn’t drunk, then I was cleaning up the mess of my life that came as a result of being drunk. Or attempting to clean it up. More often than not, whatever I tried to fix, or manage or control just got me deeper into my brokenness.
I used to live in a tiny universe of one – lonely and isolated and silent – deathly, desperately silent. There was no you, there was no me, there was no God. Just a vast eternity of empty. I remember the cold of that. I remember slowly dying of that. I used to huddle in on myself, unable to move, to think or feel. I crawled inside a bottle, my shield against pain. I wanted to sink into the liquid courage of that drink. I would cling to my despair as if it could save me – or drown me. I don’t think I really cared which. I used to survive – barely – and used to fool myself that drinking would make everything just Stop.
I used to be dying – a sip, a drink, a bottle at a time. I lived in a Forever with no pause. No return. One stretched and attenuated Forever that never changed. I used to think that was okay.
And then, one day, twenty-two years ago, it wasn’t okay anymore and I got sober.
One day, twenty-two years ago, the pain of drinking was greater than the fear of not drinking. I slipped free of that universe of one. I left the desolation of my prison and entered a world of sound and light and motion. There was still pain. There was still fear. But there was joy, too. And grace. And living. There was living to do – and I got the bills and the cooking and the cleaning and the driving and schlepping and loving and losing and grieving and laughing. I got it all. Every breath, every whisper. These days, I even get to take a trip, every so often, to Forever, to set up camp and sit and wait, in silence and in pain – but those trips got shorter every time. The distance between that Eternity and this Now has been bridged. The path is still narrow and sometimes dangerous, but it’s been lit by an infinity of hearts, and there are hands to hold in the darkness while I learn to navigate its sometimes twisty, sometimes merely curved pathways.
And so I move from the harshness of Used To Be to a soft and reverent remembrance: for every Used To Be that I mourn, there are a thousand blessings for all that I have been given. Now is a fine time to be living. Now, not what was, nor what might be, but now, an eternal moment of grace and gratitude.
Thank you for your strength, your laughter and your love and for helping to light my way as I stumble along this blessed path, from Forever to Used To Be to Now. I am endlessly grateful for your graceful presence in my life.
07 August 2014