It’s a question no one can answer.
In fact, I think it’s a question that no one even wants me to ask. I’ve watched eyes glaze over and people become uncomfortably disinterested when I give the rundown of the darkest time of my life that led to the writing of my book Unhooked: a Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Rollercoaster of Her Son’s Addiction.
When it began, I found myself first only asking the inky black ceiling above my bed at night: “I’m feel like I’m sinking…will I live through this?” I would ask, only to be met with silence. Warm tears made their way down my temples into my hair as night after night I wondered if and when I’d find hope.
In less than a year, I found my life, my heart, my hope, and my plans completely gutted. Despair, hopelessness and fear hung over every moment of every day, as a season of grief tends to do. The crisis I was experiencing truly felt like drowning to me. I couldn’t find my footing; my life felt groundless, bottomless, and overwhelming as I fought to stabilize and breathe, sinking all the while.
These feelings of terror reminded me of a few times when I was in the neighborhood swimming pool as a child. I’d found myself in water too deep and knew I was in trouble. Once I realized I was in well over my head (literally), panic would hit. I never forgot the feeling of being totally out of control, the primal fear of it. I seemed to struggle with the panic almost as much as I fought to make my way up and out of the deep water. Once I found solid footing (or a more skilled swimmer would grab my arm and pull me to safety), relief would wash over me like a warm bath. I was suddenly thankful and aware of every breath I could take.
Faced with this overwhelming time of my life, I found myself answering that I honestly felt like I was drowning whenever those closest to me would ask, “How are you—really?”
I often study metaphors of life that may relate to circumstances I’m in, as it sometimes leads to clues of how to cope. I began researching what happens when you drown. I discovered several survivor stories from people who had almost drowned to death. To my amazement, all of the experiences I found had something in common.
The survivors shared that as soon as they had stopped resisting—the very second that they ceased violently thrashing and flailing about, trying to grab ahold of anything they could find for support in their desperate struggle to survive—a calming peace came over them. It was described as “a peace like no other.” This peace was hard to explain, let alone comprehend, as it occurred in the context of someone fighting for her life.
I found my message in a bottle within this description. I had been struggling and fighting the circumstances around me, doing all that I possibly could to change or improve them, but only found myself sinking further into them. By continuing to resist and struggle, I remained stuck in misery and madness. Anything (and at times anyone) I would grab onto for rescue would often result in a slippery disappointment, taking me further down.
I realized that resisting circumstances that I am powerless to change only perpetuates my most acidic emotions—especially when I am drowning in the deep, horrendous waters of grief, pain, loss, betrayal, and fear.
Many things churn in these waters. Worries about my son who now lives across the country from me. A sense of desperation to resolve a conflict that is consuming my thoughts. Financial burdens that jolt me awake in the middle of the night with panic and dread. Unexpected health issues that bring life as I knew it to a screeching halt. Relationship or family issues that result in repeated heartache and anxiety. I’ve experienced them all—sometimes all at once. These are deep, dark, icy waters to navigate.
“Will I live through this?” I find myself asking those closest to me. “Will it get better? When? When will it get better?” The various “I don’t know” answers feel like weights added to the struggle, sinking me further into the dark waters I can’t seem to make my way out of.
But life has seasons, and seasons change. The sooner I stop thrashing about within this season, the sooner I stop reaching for rescue and clutching at comfort, the sooner I will find myself at peace. When I accept that I have done all that I can, when I stop fighting and resisting the things I cannot change and instead accept life on life’s terms, the sooner I’ll be able to allow myself to float along with the current and find my way forward.
Acceptance. I find that is when peace will come. I can take a full breath once I stop fighting. That is when stable footing appears. And sometimes even rescue.
“Accepting the things we cannot change will bring us the peace we long for.” ~ Unknown
Wishing you acceptance and peace, sooner rather than later.
Author: Annie Highwater
Image: Flickr/Aimanness Photography
Editor: Callie Rushton