What is the true joy of life and how does one find it? I found the answer to that question one day on my bathroom floor.
I was in a place so desperate in my life that I was literally brought to my knees one Saturday afternoon, crying with such revulsion that I was throwing up and begging a God I barely believed in to Please, Help Me!
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit…
I have traditionally been the kind of person that looked good on the outside. I’m the mother of two young children, a clinical psychologist and a respected member of my community. Sure, friends and family had seen me weather personal ups and downs over the years, the kind that many people go through: divorce and the subsequent romances and break ups, and to some extent financial and personal uncertainty.
From the outside view though, I was taking care of myself through these rather common but nevertheless painful travails. I went to therapy and attended spiritual retreats. I took up meditation, studied Buddhism and even started attending church. I traveled to interesting cities and took enrichment courses in Spanish, pottery, dance and cooking. I kayaked and hiked. I attended life transformation seminars and volunteered my time to organizations dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others.
Friends would remark, “You make it all look so easy” or even, “I wish I had your life!”
What people didn’t see was the other life that I was living. The double life.
What I hid from loved ones was the depth of the sadness with which I was living. It wasn’t a sadness that you could call depression. It was more like an existential sadness. It was like having a broken heart that wouldn’t heal.
I can’t point to one cause of this despair. There was not one single heart break that brought me to that point. It was as if life had become so disappointing and so far from how I imagined it could be. It had become without purpose or direction and myself along with it.
It was in that disappointed yearning for a special and unique life, to be someone special and unique, that I lost sight of there being something bigger and more powerful than myself and my “uniqueness”. It seems that I had become, to paraphrase the words of George Bernard Shaw, a selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world had not devoted itself to making me happy. And it was inside of that world that I let go of nearly all that had once mattered to me and quietly and somewhat secretively surrendered to addiction.
To say that I was the last person my friends might expect to become an addict might be a bit of a stretch. I was hardly known as a nun. Having said that, there is a world of difference though in taking delight in playful mischief and being an addict. The trouble is, the line between the two worlds is a thin one and you don’t know you’ve crossed it until the line is behind you.
Once that line is crossed, it makes no difference how much education one has (I have a doctorate degree in clinical psychology and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in addiction medicine), how much money you have, or whether you have children. One of the gifts of addiction is that it breaks the illusion that we are different and separate from each other because as anyone who has entered recovery knows, we are all the same.
I use the term addict loosely here. I make no distinction whether someone is a drug addict or an alcoholic, whether someone has an addiction to relationships and codependency or a compulsivity to shop, to restrict food or to strive toward the never-fully-satisfied horizon of success.
In the end, our stories are the same. In the end, we all betray ourselves and the people we love most in one form or another; and for a time in that obsessed world, it all seems so normal, right and true. For a time we can maintain the illusion that there is nothing adrift or at least things really aren’t that bad. It is everyone else that has it wrong. t is everyone else that is trapped in their ordinary, fearful life.
Until one day, if we are lucky, we can’t hold up the lie that has become our life any longer.
One day, if we are lucky, we end up on our knees praying to a God that we do not believe in, terrified and begging for help.
It is in that act of surrender that miracles begin to happen. It is in that act of surrender that the seedlings of a new, and yes a joyful life begin to germinate. It is in that moment that we face our truth and in that truth that we are set free.
I have traveled some emotional and spiritual space and time since that afternoon on the bathroom floor. I have come to know a power greater than myself, a power I now comfortably and easily call God, and for whom I have other names. I call God, Love and I call God, Life.
I’ve come to understand that for me, God and God’s will are one in the same and that is to love and to live fully. Each day I match my will and my actions as best I can to live in unity with Love and with and the miracle that is Life.
Inside of that world, new possibilities emerge; the possibility of what George Bernard Shaw calls the true joy in life:
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
So, dear reader, the gift I wish for you, is your own moment of surrender. The moment in which you surrender to your truth and the joy of your life.
Your karma may not have you walk the path of addiction as mine did in order for you to arrive at that place. Your path will be your own.
But on this road to bliss, I wish you safe travels and an easy surrender to the truth and the joy that is Life.
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Ed: Sara Crolick