I am planting this seed where the pain of my past no longer defines me.
I am planting this seed where the wealth of my past most certainly defines me.
I am planting this seed where all of my past informs me.
From it will grow my next step, experience, thought, breath.
~ from my Spring 2014 journal, post Maha Shivaratri
* * *
I believe that every outcome is the result of a chain of actions, of simple cause and effect – of Karma, if you will. What happens right here, right now, might seem surprising and mysterious. But that event was actually molded by a series of efforts – seen and unseen – that have been bubbling and boiling for a good, long time. Nothing is miraculous. Everything makes perfect sense.
The seeds, after all, have been planted.
* * *
Easter Sunday, 1990, New Orleans. I was still awakening from my 2nd suicide attempt in one week. I put on a white Esprit sundress and my black Vans deck shoes, grabbed my Canon AE-1 and drifted down to the French Quarter to shoot. My favorite images from that day: 1) Two little kids, dressed in Easter best, flowers in their hair, smiling widely and dancing wildly to street music – at their moment of abandoned embrace; 2) An elder couple, dressed in what we would call “vintage” Sansabelt slacks and polyester blend cardigans, watching the musical mayhem – at the moment that their hands join together behind their hips.
Images full of love and light. Taken in black and white. And I would remain lost in darkness for nearly 13 more years, slowly rising from the dead. Gradually finding my way here.
Easter Week, 2015, Washington DC. I have now been alive for half of my life. This summer I will turn 50, and this week is the 25th anniversary of those final suicide attempts – the culmination of a string of deliberate tries and careless living. Beginning around age 11, trying to smother myself out of grief when my beloved Aunt died…in 6th grade, jumping down ridiculously long flights of stairs, believing I could fly…as I grew up, guzzling down ridiculous amounts of alcohol to kill the pain of what I now know is untreated trauma…during college holiday, crashing and spinning my car across the New Jersey Turnpike while speeding recklessly through Thanksgiving Eve traffic…in-between and onward, drowning in self-destruction of all kinds. Until Easter of 1990, I’d spent half of my life wanting and trying to die.
When my 2nd suicide attempt failed, I raised the white flag. And I’ve been around ever since – increasingly alive to tell the story.
* * *
During those first 12.5 years of seeking healing, my drinking to obliteration would continue periodically. Despite enjoying stretches of dryness, having a regular yoga practice, practicing spiritual ceremony from many origins, returning to my childhood religion, changing my diet, going to therapy and so on, I still could not access a consistent joy for life nor desire to live. And admittedly, over the 12.5 years since getting sober through a program in October 2002, I’ve still reached gravely low points. I planned to jump off of a bridge after a heart-smashing breakup; I punched a wall while experiencing a terrifying PTSD trigger; and, I’ve wanted to rip my skin off during the often uncomfortable yet sacred work of untangling the thickly rooted patterns beneath my depression bouts.
So what’s the difference between the 1st and 2nd halves of the past 25 years? Since getting sober through a program, I have not used alcohol and drugs to hide from, mask or deaden my feelings. I have experienced all of life’s challenges without escape. I’ve used the tools of the program, yoga, therapy and other healing resources to face my past, clear away as much wreckage as possible, and address the origins of my addiction and mental health issues. I’ve grown to accept that certain “dark” feelings and events might be a fact of life – until they’re not. Now, I am rigorously honest about my life; I never go through challenge alone; and I never say no to help.
Today – thanks to that “uncomfortable yet sacred work” of practicing the program’s 12 steps, aiming to live yoga’s 8 limbs and accepting help from a wise and expert circle of counsel – I know exactly where my suicidal impulses originate; I have infinite resources for healing, growth and change; and I am grateful for every moment of the journey that I’ve traveled. All of it. Without this very life, this very story, I would not know how to respond to life’s inevitable trials, nor, authentically and effectively serve others with similar backgrounds and challenges. Today, I show up for life gratefully, with more consistent joy and presence than ever.
So, I believe, my path of obstacles, my pattern of resilience…both are part of a much larger, seen and unseen web of cause-and-effect. Other beings before me went through similar trials as mine, and therefore were available to guide me when I came along. And those beings passed on their experience, strength and hope, so I could then share what has worked in my life with others.
* * *
If I were to believe in miracles…for example, if I believed that my survival of a lengthy romance with suicidal ideation, a deep yearning to be dead and multiple suicide attempts was miraculous, then I must believe that my friend Bob’s successful suicide (or any destructive, disastrous or sad event) was also a magical, mysterious event rather than the result of distinct actions – a combination of his, nature’s and universal efforts. Karma. Not bad or good Karma. Simply Karma.
It has taken effort, not miracles, for me to reach where I am today. Just as it’s taken effort for you to reach where you are. Or anyone to reach any moment. In my opinion.
“Really, Holly?” says a voice within. “If you truly do not believe in miracles, why do you weep every single time you hear these words during the J. Brown Yoga DVD’s deep relaxation period? Every. Single. Time.”
Breath coming in and out of you, heart beating…the sun and the moon and the stars and the planets are all circumambulating each other. Life is happening. And maybe you would observe, or, at least entertain the notion that it’s inherently worthwhile. The fact that you are lying here existing right now is a profound miracle beyond comprehension. And there’s a comfort to seeing life in that way. It makes it easier to overcome the difficulties that are presented, and to really cherish and appreciate the gift of…life.
All in all – this Easter, I will observe 25 years of yearning to live. It feels a bit overwhelming! At the same time that I’m celebrating the journey, I’m grieving for that poor girl from 1990 New Orleans. It’s interesting. Over last weekend, I binged on TV and sugar, and then slept forever on Monday morning. Clearly, habits of avoidance. I didn’t get to the bottom of my emotions until I got on the phone with my therapist, and started describing exactly how I lived back then.
Daily, I would wake up with a stranger, drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my father’s Exxon card, then go by a liquor store on the way to listen to street music in the French Quarter. I would sit on a curb and drink cheap tequila out of a paper bag. I imagined myself a writer. I hung out with celebrity drunks. At the end of the day, I would bring home a stranger. Repeat, daily. I remember every single moment of what I thought would be my last night on earth – the hot chocolate at a café, the visit to a famous producer’s recording studio, the producer’s obvious attraction to my friend, the feeling of unworthiness and impossibility, the weight of hidden trauma and isolation, the denseness of depression.
And ultimately, the triumph of pain.
I awoke the next morning, barfed up a toxic combo of drugs and alcohol, and walked around my sunny spring neighborhood in a daze. After trying a different combination of substances a few days later, and waking up again, I knew 100% that I would never be able to take my own life. But I did not know how I would go on living.
For 25 years since that Easter Sunday – with its visions of love and light – I’ve simply put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes dancing.
* * *
When I recently moved into the house where I currently live, a friend sent a lovely gift and card. “Welcome to your new home! I hope it proves to be a…garden to grow the seeds of your creativity.” Indeed, the seeds have been planted.
Love life. It is, indeed, worthwhile.
Thank you for reading. OM Shanti.