Somewhere in my first year of sobriety, I went through a rough patch. It may be more accurate to say that “somewhere in my first year of sobriety, I found a few seconds of joy and breathless freedom.” Those seconds were very few and very far between. The rough and stumbly, broken and prickly moments stretched into days, into weeks, into months. I (still) feel so much more at home in those spaces. I understand the rules there. There may be more pain in that place, but I get its ebb and flow, understand its motion and oddly circuitous paths.
This time, of all those myriad times, was really pretty rough. Trust me: I know rough.
Now, what they don’t tell you, those omnipotent and aloof They who haunt the smoky rooms and dingy halls of recovery, what They don’t tell you is just how raw, just how naked, just how vulnerable you can feel when you finally start feeling, and there’s nothing standing between you and the rest of the world except you.
It’s just you. And the pain. And the fear. And the fire that burns inside your head because you just can’t stop thinking and you can’t stop feeling and the world keeps spinning and you just want to yell “Stop!” or maybe “Wait!” or maybe just hide. Just crawl under the covers and lie in the cool and shadowy dark for a few thousand years, until It’s all gone, until you can’t even remember what It was to begin with.
I was consumed by that fire. Those flames licked up one side and down the other, dancing along every inch of my skin without cease. Scorched earth policy (or whatever equivalent fits). I held my breath, held it all in, waiting for it to end, for the burning to stop, for the manicky, panicky beating of my heart to quiet. I held myself breathlessly still, hopelessly folded in on myself.
It was right about then that a friend gave me a card. It was not your typical Hallmark card, replete with hearts and flowers and ooey-gooey sentiment. Nor did it highlight wise, sarcastic characters who made pithy little remarks that you thought were amusing and yet couldn’t recall thirty-seven seconds later. In fact, this card had a cartoon-like (think Keith Harrington-esque rather than Boynton-y) picture of a big city skyline, a suspension bridge in the foreground, and a sunshine yellow taxi clearly falling (at breakneck speed, I imagine) off the edge of the bridge to the depths of whatever it was below, flames shooting out the taxi’s windows, and some person, some stick-figure of a person, waited inside, clearly obeying the laws of gravity and motion, clearly at a loss.
The future did not look bright for the taxi or its rider.
On the inside, to the left, were words. Many, many words. Great gobs of words that told the story of how the taxi, and the person inside of it came to be flying off that particular bridge at that particular time. Or maybe, the words told the story of the thoughts and feelings pf that lone and lonely inhabitant as he (or she) plummeted to some cataclysmic crash. Might have been some spiritual allegory. I don’t remember. Frankly, I don’t really care.
What I remember was the echo I felt of that figure’s resignation and absolute acceptance of the act of free falling in an endless and elegant arc that could only end in — not death; that would be too clean, too neat — but more pain. That certainty that this would not end in a bottom but with a trap door.
That was the lefthand side. The right side held a wish. Bold black letters on a blanket of bright white:
I wish for you a soft landing
And at that exact moment, everything started up again. Until that very instant, everything about me had been held in suspended animation, frozen in some weird danse macabre, or a game of statues — nothing moved, nothing changed, except the fire in my head and the freely-falling bottoming out that I could only watch from 30,000 feet and feel with intimate agony.
A wish. A hope. A prayer that buckled my knees and filled me with breathless wonder. A desperately needed lesson in compassion and love from a friend who knew my heart and cherished my soul (even when I could only find tattered bits (when I bothered to look at all)). She understood that compassion has nothing to do with healing me or changing me. It was not advice or wisdom. Comfort didn’t really fit either. I was falling, and nothing she could do would stop the descent.
She didn’t watch from a great and safe distance, shielding herself from the the certain wreckage I was about to cause. She didn’t demand that I stop and pull myself together, nor did she coddle me and feed me the casual niceties so easily said (and so blithely become merely pleasant noise).
All she could do was love me and wish for me a soft landing.
These days, my rough patches are not so rough. What seemed so bleak and attenuated now has softly blurred edges and rounded corners. I don’t seem to cut myself on my life too often anymore. My head catches fire with stories and words rather than panic and paralysis. Still, I have my moments, and get caught off guard, not by the rawness and the nakedness, but more by despair or grief. Life changes. God, does life change! Thank God that it does, and me along with it.
But for all that it changes, for all that I have been changed, still, one of the dearest prayers I know remains: I wish for you– for me– for us all– a soft landing. No matter our strength or faith or goodness or grace; for all our mended brokenness and razor-edged faults, we all fall sometimes. We all sit in the back of a taxi, hurtling off the bridge at a million miles an hour, falling into forever.
And as we fall, as we plummet to the surety of a trap door bottom, we can still wish for a soft place to land. And in that landing, that soft and gentle landing, may we find a place to breathe, a spot of rest in the palm of God’s hand.
To my dearest Kaelyn — wishing for you the softest of places to land. xoxo