The question filled my mind on many occasions over the course of my life. Where is God? Why the family strife and separation and death? Why the addictions, anxiety, depression and guilt over bad parenting? What purpose does the suffering have….any of it… for the moulding of my person and being? I’ve felt the rending of my heart on more than one occasion and scream-cried tears of such agony that I thought I was going to lose my mind. The world is built on a belief in some higher intelligence that cares for us, but who, (and where) is that intelligence? If it’s had contact with us in various forms before, why is it not always here, why not in the darkest periods of our history? Why do religions start when there’s not a whole lot going on by men who say they are the only way to happiness, only to have them leave their earthly children more bewildered and divided than before? Is it a wonder that wars start over such madness?
My personal struggles are unique to me only in detail but the overall theme is shared by all humans throughout time. Buddha nailed it best when he said that to be human is to suffer. Pain is an ever present stimulus that form our beliefs and how we manage that pain has really shaped society. I think of how religion, self-help authors, antidepressants, substance misuse, psychology, yoga, bodybuilding, overeating, war, social media, entertainment, and many other things are used to deal with pain. Who could honestly say that they’ve never felt pain (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) of any kind and so never has need for anything to medicate it away? It is truly part of what it means to be alive.
There was a time during my darkest period of suffering that I was drinking almost 2 litres of wine a day while trying to raise my two young daughters and applying to a Nursing degree program at University. I was killing my liver and pancreas but also my soul in the process. My children knew what was going on (as all children do) and they begged me to stop because they knew if I didn’t stop, I would die. The perfect storm of my pain (my brothers suicide, the end of my 14 year marriage to an abusive and alcoholic husband and all the dysfunction of my own childhood) had hit a crescendo and it was time to decide if I wanted to live or die and worry about sorting out my suffering later.
To get sober, I went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and met people who were very kind and accepting, but who I felt were way more screwed up than myself. This is typical of high-functioning alcoholics who have deluded themselves into thinking that there is no problem because they still hold jobs and get the supper made and laundry done. I didn’t go to too many meetings, but did make it into sobriety after working through a few of the first steps and then exerting sheer determination (one of my family’s survival techniques when faced with trauma) and relying on the unwavering love and support of friends and family.
An ironic true story…
I was in my first years practical experience course in the nursing program I was in and about 6 months sober. The fall semester was a shit-show and was truly meant to weed out those who weren’t meant to stick out the rigorous nursing studies that lay ahead. I had taken a ‘counselling’ course where we discussed interpersonal communication, ethics, personality tests and the like. We had a class where we discussed safety when disclosing personal information to others and the emphasis was on trust building, appropriate sharing and helping others reflect on their own difficult subject matter.
The instructor for this course was a woman whom I’d made a complaint about because she and another instructor berated me and jokingly suggested they hit me in the head so things would sink in better. All of this was while I was exiting an exam and only a few months sober. Fast forward to the counselling course where, in my effort to participate in the class, I divulged that I had been a heavy drinker with lots of baggage but that I was working on that. I should have known this woman would be taking notes.
First day of practicum and only an hour into my morning with my patients and the clinical instructor (a different and very nice lady) pulled me into a med room and asked me point blank if I had been drinking. I honestly didn’t know if I should laugh or cry but I think I did kind of laugh. I was very careful to explain that, no, I hadn’t been drinking and asked what made her think that. She said that a staff member said she could smell alcohol on my breath. Well, I said, I did used to drink and had been sober since February 8th of that year and would be happy to do a blood test or breathalyzer or whatever in order to clear me as fit to practice. She said no that wasn’t necessary, but I did insist on knowing who had told her this info as I had barely spoken to the nurses on the floor that morning. It turned out that the instructor that I was doing my practical with and the instructor who I complained to the University about were best friends. I discovered this at the end of the year party we had where all the classes and instructors got together for a bbq. Seeing them sitting together made it all click…
A year or so later, I ran into the instructor (who had tried, so I thought, to get me kicked out of nursing school) while stopped at a gas station near the small town where I was living. We stood in the same line waiting to pay for fuel and when she saw me her face went the color of a dead fish. I smiled and said hello and told her to have a great day knowing that I had survived what certainly felt like an assassination attempt on my character and career. I laugh thinking about how seriously I took all of it at the time and the amazing ironies in my life and how much I’ve learned from them. I imagine God laughing too. Someday, we’ll probably get to laugh together over the stupidness of it all.
Guaranteed cycles of joy and pain…
Living life in a continued state of anxiety and pessimism is not living. We all want joy, peace and hope but find it difficult to reach when we are sad, lonely, angry or confused. We’ve become disillusioned and damaged by the absence of human fathers and an invisible and equally absent Heavenly Father. A global pandemic, economic downturn and war have made it hard to have hope for some. What I try do is to help others as much as I can.
I stopped drinking on February 8th, 2008 and have been in recovery ever since. I still take one day at a time, but memories and my relationships have been allowed to heal. My pain is infinitely better and I’m living more joyfully, but do still struggle with depression at times. I am not so naive to think that because I’m in a better, healthier place that there won’t be some major crisis or heartbreak somewhere in my future. I have faith that life is all about the unexpected and that includes the good and the bad. I am now 14 years sober and working as a Registered Nurse with people at the end of their life. Their daily interactions with me and their suffering is reminder of the reality of life…. that I’m still here on terra-firma…still part of the suffering human race.
“What Fresh Hell is this” – a statement attributed to Dorothy Parker, American poet, writer and critic in the 1920’s known for her wit and for pointing an acerbic lens on social dysfunction. It is said that she uttered these words when answering the door to an unexpected visitor.-Wikipedia
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. – Matthew 11:28
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