When people go through a place of really great sorrow, when something of the fundamentals in their lives is destroyed, they are alone. They walk and sleep and talk as if under a great sheet of glass. Everything else – human, nature, work and hope – is seen as if from a great distance. It’s not that we don’t believe in those things any longer. It’s simply that those things are too far away, so far that they seem truly lost to us.
I’ve come to believe two things of pain. The first is that an alcoholic, standing at the doorway to recovery, knows that inner crisis absolutely. The second is that an alcoholic knows that inner crisis for a very long time before hand, even if she doesn’t know she knows. It may not feel like crisis, because it feels normal. It may not even feel like pain, because it is slow. But it is pain. When we’re cut off from our root like that, there isn’t any other word. And when we’re cut off from our own root, there is nothing but separation and falsity between us and the rest of the earth. We are doubly abandoned. Not only are we alone with ourselves. But we are apart from ourselves. And we are nothing.
Everyone knows hurt. Alcoholics are not unique in that. We shouldn’t forget, though we will and do. We feel hurt because we are human, and have the inner workings of love and creativity and laughter. When those things rust, we pang.
Recovery – the heartwork of pain and love – is a tapestry of paradox. Paradox appears everywhere: kneel to go up, be humble to be free, trust what you don’t understand. The first paradox is the first step, and all the hours and losses and desert of what brings us to the first step, the hard work of self destruction and futile action. To admit you are powerless seems, at face value, to be pessimism and a destroyer of life. It appears to disparage everything sweet and noble in us. It seems to tell us we are nothing, no one, less than dirt.
The paradox says “nothing: everything”. We admit powerless in one part of ourselves, of life; what we really admit is the strength we were formerly ignorant of. Call it grace, or god, or peace. Call it whatever you will. I call it magic.
Sorrow itself would destroy us. There is nothing in pain itself that purifies. Very good people can and are wracked again and again by some hurt or many that makes them smaller, ruins their bodies and minds, leaves them bitter. Admitting sorrow, though, is alchemy.
In hurt, we are alone. We see and hear others, but feel separated from them by an intense pain that none, even the most sympathetic, can imagine. But if love works its mystery, it reaches through distance. You don’t forget what you’ve lost, or who you are, or how alone you feel. But you may come to also feel the innermost reality and beauty of joy, the creative power, the thing that says out of nothing, beauty. It may very well be self deprecating, humble, an abnegation. But it is also naked joy, brute overcoming. It’s a thing that says I, as individual with this name, am not much, but human beings are possible. Love is possible.
Nothing matters: everything matters. The key to paradox is knowing the whole. If we know only one half of the paradox, we cannot enter the door of hurt and survive.
Here is a healing poem
For when you cannot dance
and cannot work
and cannot walk.
the things you still can do.
I mean go down, to see how tall you are.