“How did you get through your dark time?” my friend asks.
I take a deep breath, look up and away as I search my memories. It certainly wasn’t by following some prescription or guidebook and so I have to mull over it again, slowly remembering the way I found, hands reaching out blindly in front of me, through the maze and back into the sun.
“It wasn’t easy. It never is.” I begin. I always begin this story that way and there’s a reason for that. Anyone who’s ever struggled with addiction, depression, suicide or intense self-hatred, knows that there is no easy way out. We can’t have any delusions about this. We will have to work at it. And I mean really hard.
So I start to tell my friend how I had to first recognize that I had had enough. Enough of disappointment, enough of falling down and scraping my knees over and over again, enough of punching myself in the face till my lip was bloodied and swollen. But once that realization nearly blinded me, I was off and there was really nothing that could stop me.
Next I had to find the strength that I’d buried deep inside myself, the strength that I didn’t recognize as being the very thing that had gotten me through the nightmare so far. It was there all along really, getting me through countless hangovers and scary drug deals and nights in jail. It was just that I had been funneling all that strength in the wrong directions.
Probably at the same time as all of this, I had to admit I had a problem. I had to stop the act, stop pretending that I was OK, that I was in control and that I knew what I was doing. When I really did this I kind of melted inside and I found I was able to reach out and ask for help, from my family, from a therapist, from a spiritual community. It was only when I opened myself up to that degree that I knew that I had a fighting chance.
Since I came out and got clean (and yes, “found” Buddha) I have experienced the same kinds of set backs and difficulties I always had. Money has run tight from time to time. People have gotten angry with me. My car has broken down. The pipes in my house froze last winter and the furnace went out. A friend died. I had to make the decision to put my dog down. Any of these problems, the big or the little, would have immobolized me when I was drinking and using. I would have seen them as punishments for being the terrible person I thought I was, instead of just life happening, naturally and normally.
So when people ask me “how did you get through your dark time?” which really means “how can I get through mine?” I tell them this:
You already know the way. Just trust yourself and take that first step…