Saturday, September 5, 2009

One Heartbeat at a Time

"Anyone can carry his burden, however heavy, until nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day," said Robert Louis Stevenson.

When I was younger and more self-indulgent than I am now, I thought difficulties would kill me.

It was mainly grief that I thought was deadly. When my father died, I was 27; I thought: No one will ever love me again the way he loved me. It was true; only one's father loves one like a father does. But it hurt so much, I feared that the feelings would make my heart stop.

So I self-medicated. That's how I thought of it: medicating myself to prevent death. Taking a handful of pills, nursing a bottle of booze--it was all about numbing the sensation of pain.

When someone I was in love with decided we would no longer be lovers, my reaction was a similar panic: I'm going to die of a broken heart. So take a handful of pills and nurse a bottle of booze. I failed to see the irony, that medicating with substances could actually cause sudden death, whereas emotions themselves are not deadly. And sometimes I didn't care if I lived or died, because life felt so hard that any kind of peace was welcomed.

In recovery, I've discovered that the "broken heart" is just a cliche, not a deadly medical situation. Sorrow is simply the natural reaction to loss. It might be overwhelming; it might even be a permanent state, as it is when someone you love dies. But one day at a time, one breath at a time, I can go on and once again find joy in living.

The trick is to not become embittered. I have to look for joy; it doesn't come knocking on my door, asking to be let in. I need to be willing to see with eyes that believe in goodness and mercy. Here is a poem I wrote about having such eyes:

Robins Abroad in a Sad World

A pair of robins
red-breasted and proud
live like lords on my land,
fertile with worms
and a gourmet’s delight
of insects hidden
in a century’s layer of mulch.
I watch them sometimes
when my mind is full
of dire news, fed
by a river of sorrows
except when I watch
the robins strut
and pluck the strands
of their living harp,
masters at the art
of being.

Chris Alba (c) 2009


David said...

Well said and expressed, my dear friend. I look forward to your blog...your heart.

Hope said...

"Sorrow is just a natural reaction to loss."

That's a simple yet powerful sentence. It took a long time for me to be okay with sitting with sorrow instead trying to numb it, or run from it or repress it.