The woman sitting next to me in the conference room at my sober retreat a few weeks ago was telling a fantastical tale, and I was working hard to keep my incredulous inner cynic from bursting out.
She said she and her husband had traveled from Philly to a quaint little town in the Carolinas, and she loved it so much that she asked God for signs that they were meant to move south. Shortly thereafter, they wandered into a local church, where the door just happened to be unlocked and the priest just happened to be available to chat. He told the couple he knew of a nearby house that had just gone up for sale. They left the church to tour the house, made an offer on the spot…yada yada, it’s two months later, and they’re all set to relocate to their new home.
Pfft! Woo-woo overload, right?
I mean, it’s not so much that I didn’t believe the nice lady. It’s that stories like hers seem, well, unbelievable — or, at least, pretty farfetched.
The 12-step fellowship encourages us to pray, to connect with a higher power, and I understand the crucial role spirituality plays in recovery. But I’m terrible, in general, at applying this part of the program, and the idea of basically going, “Hey God, can you gimme a hand here?” in a spur-of-the-moment, non-crisis situation is a foreign concept for me. Even in a crisis, I feel like God has other things to do than to rush in and help me.
Magic does happen, sure, but it happens to other people. Miracles are reserved for the folks on “Intervention,” or better yet, “I Survived,” where the inspiring stories of extraordinary courage mixed with divine intervention never fail to make me bawl.
Speaking of crying, let’s flash forward to earlier this week, when depression invaded my happy place, and I was hit hard on the head with the incredible, undeniable power of prayer.
It was Tuesday morning, and I found myself both without a paying job and a counseling internship on the eve of the new semester. The former wasn’t my fault, and the latter was my choice, but I was still in a tight and scary spot, needing to earn a paycheck and find a new placement quickly so I didn’t fail out of grad school.
I’d taken appropriate action, sending out applications and even landing an interview, but I still couldn’t shake the low feelings — anxiousness, worthlessness, extreme irritability, egged on by raging hormones — or keep from expecting the worst. Why would anyone want me? Why was I even doing this? What. Is. The. Point?
There was only one healthy coping tool within my reach. I went for a walk in the park.
I can usually recognize depressive episodes by a sudden loss of interest in any kind of activity, and on this drab, gloomy day, it took all my strength just to put on shoes and leave the house. Tears ran down my face as my feet plodded along the familiar path, and yet my body felt completely numb.
A dark thought floated through my head like a shadow as I neared the park’s main causeway: What if I jumped in the creek and just floated away, never to be heard from again?
That’s another red flag for depression: the mind starts to traffic in irrational despair. It’s not that I want to die in those moments, but I’m (temporarily) unable to see good reasons to live, and fantasizing about escape from pain is how my system tries to soothes itself. Especially now that I’m sober.
Without alcohol to fuel them, the thoughts eventually pass. The episodes pass. It takes time and patience, and therapy, but they always pass. And that’s important to remember, friends, when your mind is telling you “quit”: It. Does. Get. Better. 🙏🏻
I kept on walking, away from the water, head still swirling with negative thoughts. Suddenly, an intrusion. A strange idea — out of character, but definitely not nowhere. It worked for my retreat friend. What the hell? Worth a try….
“God, show me a sign that my life is worth something.”
It took a minute or two to scale the big, steep hill, and I instantly felt lighter when I reached the top. I saw the sun, beaming straight at me through a thick blanket of gray clouds. I grabbed my phone to take a picture and noticed an unread text.
A school friend I hadn’t talked to since November chose this very moment to check in. To show she cared. 😳
I told her she saved my life when we talked on the phone the next day, but I used the phrase flippantly, as a figure of speech.
You don’t say, “Guess what? I think you’re an angel, sent to answer my prayers!” Or, “Your text triggered my spiritual awakening! So, thanks for that!” in a casual conversation with someone you’ve known for just a few months.
It sounds super cheesy, but I can’t brush off the truth: I asked for a sign, and manifested a miracle.
By Thursday evening, I’d secured an internship at an addiction treatment center much closer to home. In fact, this place had been my first choice when I started my search last spring (lesson learned: TRUST YOUR GUT!) As if that wasn’t great enough news, the site also asked me to join their team part-time as a real counselor, getting paid to see clients and run groups.
OMG! What an amazing opportunity to get started in my new field! I went from 0 to “dream job” in 48 hours, when I started the week running low on hope. How do you explain that?
“Your higher power must really love you.”
That’s what my first AA sponsor used to say, and while it kind of made me cringe, it’s hard to disagree. I need to do a better job nurturing that relationship. I have a dangerous tendency to live in my head, to “play God,” thinking everything in my orbit is my responsibility to control.
I did make an effort after the holidays — a rough patch for my sobriety, in addition to my career — to renew my commitment to the 12 steps and strengthen my spiritual side. I went to more meetings and made time for more readings, paying particular attention to an old favorite Big Book passage called “On Awakening.”
I was facing indecision at every turn, so I started this ritual the week after the retreat. I read the passage with my coffee, asking for inspiration in times of doubt and relaxation in times of struggle.
All the while, I was shaping my vision: I wanted a chance to learn and grow as a therapist in a supportive setting well-suited to my geographic and personal needs. I wanted someone to bet on me, despite my inexperience, so I can develop the skills to do real good. I vowed to take intentional action toward achieving my goal (control the things I can), while letting go of the result (accept the things I can’t.)
And I thought it had all been fruitless….until that moment in the park.
Never again will I be dismissive of everyday miracles, or deny the magic at work in the world. Never again will I let myself forget: I certainly didn’t get sober all on my own — that was 100% a miracle — and even in the depths of depression, I am not alone.
We’re a part of something bigger, and we’re all in this together. We’re here to shine light when others need it and ask for help when our light dims. And when we receive that help, when our life has been saved, the only thing to do then is live. Keep shining. Walk your path. Send that text! You never know what good you can do.
Because of recovery and powers greater than me, my light is still burning. Nothing has been strong enough to make it go out! I know I need to keep seeking support, from the spirit up above and the voices on my phone, so I have the juice to do this new job while protecting my sobriety and safeguarding my mental health. I’m going to need to keep praying for inspiration and making “conscious contact with God,” every single day.
Does that sound “woo-woo”? I’m starting to think it’s really wise.