I was so, so sad.
I wasn't feeling sorry for myself. I was sad.
Fortunately I had a wise sponsor (who has since passed but who I still hear, in my head -- or my heart, maybe -- and without who's patience and guidance I would likely not be alive today -- or at the very least not be the man I am today) who was able to understand the difference between sadness and self pity. At that time he'd already sponsored me for several years. He'd heard -- and clocked rather ruthlessly -- my self pity when it showed up. He knew in this case I was not indulging myself. This was no tantrum. It was not the voice of King Baby inside me, wailing away over all he hadn't got. No, this was deeper, and slower, and more dangerous than self pity.
"This too shall pass." He told me.
"Don't quit before the miracle." He told me.
I was maybe seven or eight years sober, and it felt like "quitting" was most definitely on the menu, though what form that might take was up for grabs.
"It's almost worth being where you are when you come out the other side. God didn't get you this far just to drop you on your ass now." He told me.
We lived in different cities at that time, but spoke on the phone every day. Sometimes twice a day.
"I don't believe you anymore." I told him.
"I know," he would say, "but do you trust me?"
I had to think. "Yeah, I do."
"Okay, that'll have to be enough then." I look back from today at the patience and kindness he gave me and I am humbled by how generous he was with his time. With his spirit.
I still went to meetings -- a good amount even. One doesn't shrug off a habit of give-or-take 8 years standing very easily. I was even too sad to hate the meetings, though it seemed a pointless exercise to me.
It went on for a while. My sponsor listened. He suggested I pray. I tried, but it too seemed pointless.
Finally, late one night -- it's always "late one night" in these kinds of things, isn't it -- lying in my bed, I said to the God I didn't believe in anymore, "I don't believe in you anymore. But ... help me. Please. I'll do anything." And in that moment I meant it. Sometimes I think that's what makes the difference. People ask God for help all the time. Asking is easy. Being willing to do anything to accept that help -- well, that's a very different proposition, isn't it.
My hand flopped down on the nightstand, and came to rest on a book there. Of all things Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." I'd bought it to look smart, more than anything, and it had made its way to my bedside in an effort to impress some repeat offender of a one-night-stand ("Wow, he must be good sex, he reads Whitman!") -- and also because while the language was beautiful in places I really didn't understand it, and thus a lot of it bored me, so I used it to try to fall asleep. So much for the classics.
Without any real thought I opened it at random. The poem I started reading was split, part on the bottom of the page I'd opened to, and part on the next. This is what I read:
The questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless
Of cities filled with the foolish
Of myself, forever reproaching myself
For who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?
I had to laugh at that.
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renewed,
Of the poor results of all
Of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest, me intertwined
The question, o me, So sad, recurring:
What good amid these, o me, o life?
Then came the page break, and before I turned it I understood the mystery of poetry, that it wasn't about comprehending the words necessarily, though these spoke clearly and directly to me -- it was about understanding the feeling -- just like sharing, actually.
I turned the page and this is what I read:
That you are here; that life exists, and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
And just like that, my great deep sad was over.
Across a hundred or so years Whitman had echoed my feelings and my questions -- life can seem false and empty, people even more so -- what's the point? Why go on?
And he answered it with the only real answer there is to those moments: That there is you, the only one of you there is or ever will be, and if you choose to, you may help, you may make a difference -- and so I understood what my job was again -- my real job, not the fancy bullshit corporate job I had at the time.
I was free from the horrible, soul-sucking swamp of a sadness I'd somehow stumbled into. My sponsor had been right. God, The Universe or The Great Whatever hadn't gotten me that far just to drop me on my ass -- that this, too, had passed. I felt free. For whatever mysterious reason, of all things, as pretentious as it may sound today, Whitman's poem had reawakened within me a clarity of purpose, and I felt like maybe I could help someone -- anyone -- I was ready to try to contribute again.
I heard once in a meeting that ultimately all we have to offer each other is our stories, and they are unique to each of us, and it is possible to help -- even to save lives -- by sharing them. It is not for us to judge, but for us to do. "O Me! O Life!" brought that idea back to me and made it sing.
To make sure this new freedom stuck, though, and to give me a chance to get busy "contributing" right away, God sent me The Scariest Sponsee on Earth the very next day.