Have you noticed when bad things happen they usually happen simultaneously? It’s like life decided to throw you an extra ball to juggle when you were already struggling with three. For me, when something like that happens, each ball is like a wave that momentarily drowns me. I feel as if I’m submerged in darkness and the fear begins to creep into my heart. Luckily, my head breaks through to the surface and I can see again before the fear paralyzes me completely. During my time in sobriety, life has had wave after wave hit me. I made it through the first couple with little fear and anxiety; it had been replaced with hope and faith. That’s what’s different for me in sobriety, my flimsy shields were replaced with tools I could actually use. The last couple waves that hit me in the past few weeks were bigger than the rest of them. That temptation, that small voice in my mind itching to scream at me, started whispering. I could hear the tempting reminders of how comforting depression is and how easy giving up could be if only I put up a white flag. The voice practically handed me the flag and tried to lift my arm to an enemy unseen. Before, I would’ve caved and let the stuff drown me for what feels like an eternity and stay there because it became familiar. After the pain subsided, the dull aching in my heart became the new normal. When I got sober, that went away and I found my heart full of other things and without an ache. The waves bring heartache and pain but they don’t drown me anymore, not totally anyway.
A few weeks ago, I had to file a restraining order. I never thought I’d have to do anything like this, it wasn’t on my list of goals as a child. For almost twenty-two years I couldn’t stand up for myself. I looked confident and bold but when push came to shove, I usually became the doormat. It was easier that way, I thought, girls are supposed to be apologetic and take responsibility. That thinking, perpetuated by this society, landed me in difficult spots with awful people, yet I often believed I had been in the wrong. I could easily pinpoint what I had contributed to the problem but I would usually clean up for the other person too. They became my responsibility. I hadn’t learned how to stand up for myself in sobriety yet when this situation happened. I had just gotten myself out of a relationship that was slowly eating at me. Thanks to my friends, I finally began to see how poorly I had been treated and had just enough courage to get out. Afterward, I was spent. I had nothing left except a cut deeper than anything else I had ever felt. They didn’t tell me that sobriety meant having feelings. It was in that instant I learned what grief felt like. The deep aching began at my core and slithered through my soul, body, and mind. It was a hand reaching from within, squeezing my heart until it almost burst. The pain was unbearable. I had never felt grief before and I wasn’t prepared. I thought I had a friend through the situation but what I couldn’t see were the wings of a vulture skillfully hidden behind a mask of kindness. I couldn’t see the sharp beak ready to tear me apart underneath the support my heart so desperately needed. Grief alters our perception and my reality was up in the air, like one of those juggling balls in between tosses resting in thin air with nothing to hold it up against the weight of gravity. Everything that goes up must come down. As gravity began to win, my shroud of grief began to slip as well. I blinked and the wings became clear. I blinked harder to shake it away and it would for just a moment. When my eyes became too dry and I had to blink, the wings appeared again. Eventually, they were there the whole time. Then, the beak appeared. The more I blinked, the more his disguise came off and I began to see the bones he had started to pick at, the damage that was already done, and parts of me that had been stolen from right under my nose. That familiar shame and guilt waltzed into the room and prepared for their dance in the emptiness that would be my heart. In the past, their movements had echoed deeply through the emptiness and it would vibrate through my core. This time, there wasn’t room for them to dance. Hope, faith, and love had taken over and locked the doors to my heart.
I began to feel fear. Fear had joined the mix and tried to steal the spotlight over and over. He came masked and ready to take me down singlehandedly. I had taken the scraps of myself and ran out the door when he wasn’t looking. The hunt was on. I felt like I was running through a thick jungle with branches leaving scars and roots grabbing at my ankles, spotlight on me from above that I tried to hide from. I would find moments of peace when I was completely hidden from the light, wrapped up in a tree big enough to envelop me into safety. I almost decided to stay. It would solve everything, I thought, the conflict will go away and I won’t have to face it. The tree is big enough for me, I tried to convince myself, I’ll be fine here. I tried to smile for myself but felt the cracks before they appeared in the mirror. I sat myself down in an AA meeting, my place of refuge where I knew he wouldn’t find me, and began talking. I found the words tumbling out without any thought and listened to myself as I tripped over each phrase:
“I keep looking over my shoulder.”
“I don’t feel safe anymore.”
“I feel suffocated.”
When I left that place, something in me woke up. A different person entered the room. She looked familiar but I couldn’t quite pin where I had seen her. She walked in, hair like mine, calm exterior, hands tucked in her loose jogger pants, a shirt that reached the top of her pants with a pretty picture, and simple tennis shoes. She could’ve been any random girl you picked off the street or browsing through a mall. There was nothing physically significant about her yet you couldn’t take your eyes off her. There was an aura, an energy, a still calmness that rooted her so firmly, you couldn’t help but stare in hopes that some of it would rub off on you. Her eyes scanned the room and a small smile pulled a corner of her lips up. Familiarity sank into her expression as she turned to face the hope, faith, and self-love already standing there, staring. She pulls up a chair, sits down, folds her hands across her lap and waits. Immediately, hope, faith, and love begin explaining the fear, the pain, and the uncertainty they faced when thinking about recovery. How do we get past this? They wondered out loud. How do we get out of fear? How do we run? A quiet sweeps over the room as she unlaces her hands and rests her elbows on her knees. Her head rests in her hands for a moment before she stood up. She walked into the circle of uncertainty and stared the monster straight in the face. She wasn’t scared. Fear bounced off her like arrows off armor. Anxiety dissipated the moment it tried to touch her. She had a courage that nothing could penetrate. Glancing over her shoulder, she motioned with her head for faith, hope, and love to join her. They glanced at each other in shock, hesitantly glanced towards her, and began to move simply because of her firm gaze. They couldn’t say no. Once they were next to her, they looked again at the monster they had tried so hard to pretend wasn’t real. Look how terrifying it is! They yelled. We can’t do anything about it. She simply smiled and kept looking the monster in the face.
But it’s so big and terr – wait. The longer they looked the clearer it became. With each blink, the monster shrunk and shrunk until there was nothing more than an apple sized person ferociously lashing out. He had become so small that his attacks weren’t so threatening anymore. Love tried to kick him across the room but the girl held her hand up. Confusion swept across the face of love. How could she not want to hurt the monster that had terrorized us for so long? What’s the plan? After a moment of thought, she stepped back and formed a circle with faith, hope, and love. She finally spoke.
“Here’s the plan.”
She began to describe a plan so simple but not easy, doable but difficult and asked for everything they had. They had to work together but apart, each protecting different parts of the heart and soul. As they began to take positions, fear, who had been leaning casually against the wall began to laugh. Do you really think you’ll succeed? He taunted. The boldness that had once been there seeped out the room slowly with each laugh. Hope started to whimper, faith began to waver, and love began to morph into hatred. The girl, who had taken her seat once more, stood and rushed over to fear. She was tiny in comparison to his tall stature. He looked down with a wicked smile, begging for her to try and do something. She looked up into his black eyes, stared through the sockets, and simply said,
“All we have to fear is fear itself. And I’m not afraid of you.”
She turned around hands still in her pockets and resumed her spot in the middle of the room, equidistant from hope, faith, and love. Hope stopped whimpering, faith stood tall, and love was once again love. Fear stood straight and took in the sights. He tried to yell and slam his foot into the ground but it no longer echoed. The wall opened behind him and suddenly he began to fall backward into the void. He tried desperately to hang on to something, anything at all to remain in control, and tried to yell. His black eyes, no longer piercing, simply faded until they became a part of the darkness the rest of his body had sunk into. She never glanced in his direction. She knew something that they didn’t know but they couldn’t figure it out. Suddenly, big footsteps sounded in the distance. The weight of each step shook the ground so hard the door hinges almost lost their grip to the frame. The walls struggled to hold the ceiling up and the floor could barely hold onto gravity’s hand. When the footsteps ceased, a loud exhale came from the other side of the door. The heat of breath slithered under the door. Silence gripped the room and everybody held their breath. A loud pounding broke silence’s grip on their throats and they began to worry as the door quivered unnaturally. All eyes were on her as they screamed for direction. What do we do? Those words echoed over and over around the room. She simply stared at the door, hair blowing back with each pound only to rest on her shoulders again, hands still in her pockets, feet firm on the ground, and eyes never breaking contact. Her eyes circled the room once more, resting on love, hope, and faith each for a couple seconds. Her eyes landed back on faith. She nodded her head slightly and returned her gaze to the door.
In a moment, the door creaked open and a monster shrouded in darkness reared its ugly head, and walked straight towards faith. Faith tried not to waver but it couldn’t help the involuntary movement. Faith squeezed its eyes shut tightly, wishing desperately that the monster wasn’t real. Hope and love couldn’t simply leave faith. Abandoning their posts, they ran to faith and took both hands into their own, hope on one side, love on the other. The shaking stopped as faith realized it wasn’t alone. One eye peeked open, the other joined, and its gaze rested on the monster. It simply whispered, “You’re a coward.” For a second, it was true. I was a coward, all of me, afraid to stand up for myself and get the help I needed. I was too scared to rock the boat we were all sinking in. The monster was hunched over, cloaked in black, and wore a sneer where a mouth should have been. Its yellow eyes pierced faith but faith stared back. The girl whispered in faith’s ears and suddenly faith grew.
“I’m not a coward. Things will be okay. I believe.”
In that moment, it didn’t matter what I believed. I simply did. It was enough to get me to the courthouse, ready to be brave and ask for help. I remember my hands shaking as I took the form and began to detail my experience with the harassment. The battle silently went on inside my heart as I trembled, closing my eyes against the ugliness of the past. Faith fended off the monster long enough for me to record the events I wish never occurred, long enough for me to sit outside courtroom two at eleven am on a Friday, holding proof of the events I had described. The battle in my heart quieted.
A loud pounding broke silence’s grip on their throats and they began to worry as the door quivered unnaturally once more. All eyes were on the girl as they screamed for direction. What do we do? Those words echoed over and over around the room. She simply stared at the door, hair blowing back with each pound only to rest on her shoulders again, hands still in her pockets, feet firm on the ground, and eyes never breaking contact. Her eyes circled the room once more, resting on love, hope, and faith each for a couple seconds. Her eyes landed on hope this time. She nodded her head slightly and returned her gaze to the door.
In a moment, the door creaked open and a monster shuttering to an invisible coldness, reared its ugly head and walked straight towards hope. Hope tried not to whimper but it couldn’t help the involuntary sounds escaping its lips. Hope squeezed its eyes shut tightly, wishing desperately that the monster wasn’t real. Faith and love couldn’t simply leave hope. Abandoning their posts, they ran to hope the way they had run towards faith, and took both hands into their own, faith on one side, love on the other. The sounds stopped as hope realized it wasn’t alone. One eye peeked open, the other joined, and its gaze rested on the monster. It simply whispered, “This won’t work out.” For a second, it was true. I was worried, all of me, worried that I was making a mistake, that I shouldn’t be there. I was too scared to rock the boat we were all still sinking in. The monster was tall and frail, hugging its tiny body with claw-like hands, nearly frozen in position. Its blue eyes pierced hope but hope stared back. The girl whispered in hope’s ears and suddenly hope was strong.
“I’m not worried. I’m not making a mistake. I believe.”
In that moment, it didn’t matter what I believed. I simply did. It was enough to get me to courtroom two, ready to sit in front of a judge and ask for help. I remember my hands shaking as I took my seat, waiting for my name to be called. The battle silently went on inside my heart as I trembled, closing my eyes against the reality before me. Hope fended off the monster long enough for me to rise when my name was called, long enough for me to sit before a judge and ask for help, holding proof of the events I was talking about. The battle in my heart quieted.
A loud pounding broke silence’s grip on their throats and they began to worry as the door quivered unnaturally again. All eyes were still on the girl as they screamed for direction. What do we do? Those words echoed over and over around the room. She simply stared at the door, hair blowing back with each pound only to rest on her shoulders again, hands still in her pockets, feet firm on the ground, and eyes never breaking contact. Her eyes circled the room once more, resting on love, hope, and faith each for a couple seconds. Her eyes landed on love this time. She nodded her head and didn’t turn back to the door, eyes still on love.
In a moment, the door creaked open and a monster wailing loudly, reared its ugly head and walked straight towards love. Love tried not to morph but it couldn’t help the ugliness that was already spreading. Love squeezed its eyes shut tightly wishing desperately that the monster wasn’t real. Faith and hope couldn’t simply leave love. Abandoning their posts, they ran to love the way they had run towards faith and hope, and took both hands into their own, faith on one side, hope on the other. This time, the girl was already standing behind love, ready to whisper truth. The transformation stopped as love realized it wasn’t alone. One eye peeked open, the other joined, and its gaze rested on the monster. It simply whispered, “You’re not worth the effort. Let it go.” For a second, it was true. I was doubting, all of me, doubting that I wasn’t worth standing up for and that I should lay back down the way I had for my entire life. I was too scared to rock the boat we were all beginning to drown in. The monster was small and weak, face turned towards the floor, oozing the stench of fear. Its black eyes pierced love but love stared back. The girl stared back. I stared back. The girl whispered in love’s ears and suddenly love began to morph.
“I’m worth the effort. I won’t lay down. I believe.”
In that moment, it didn’t matter what I believed. I simply did. It was enough to get me to wait patiently as the judge reviewed my evidence, asked some questions and I answered them honestly. I remember the sweat on my hands as I opened my mouth, waiting for his verdict. The battle silently went on inside my heart as I trembled, closing my eyes against the future that lay before me. Love fended off the monster long enough for me to tell the judge I was in recovery, long enough for me to put my life and sobriety first, and be the living proof of the growth I was talking about. The battle in my heart quieted.
And it stayed quiet. The quiet grew until the judge looked up and granted me the safety I had asked for. Any trace of a monster dissipated. Safety brought light to my heart and lifted the darkness, the fear, the worry, the doubt, the everything weighing me down. I was no longer drowning. The boat had been rocked but we had survived. This was one of many challenges to come and it couldn’t have been accomplished if love hadn’t morphed. After the monster left, the girl sat love down and spoke.
“You can’t always look outward. Don’t forget about you.”
As love tried to interrupt, the girl continued.
“Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. You are worthy of love.”
I believed her. Love is still growing inside me and I know it will continue to do so with the help of hope and faith. This battle had been won, but the war wasn’t over.