Nine months have passed since the last time my friend and I have met over coffee. We caught up, shared stories, setbacks and progress. Most of all we talked about mindfulness. We were both trying to get into the groove — me, for the first time, she, as an experienced practitioner.
“Last we spoke about mindfulness,” my friend said, “I remember you telling me it brought a lot of overwhelming emotions up. Now that you’re starting to practice more, does it still happen?”
In those brief moments, memories of me struggling to sit quietly reappeared. My fear of mindfulness stems from my fear of prayer. In my most troubling moments growing up, I used to sit in an empty church and pray. Most of the time I didn’t know what to say. Most of the time I just cried. And in the silence of an empty church, sitting in an empty pew, I unfortunately did not find reprieve. Voices, instead, began to emerge — loud, reverberating voices telling me, among other things, that not only was I not good enough, but that I wasn’t good enough to exist. For more than half of my life, suicide invaded every inch of my body and my being, so much so, that it became rampant in my spirit too. I wanted the voices to stop, so I avoided solitude. I avoided silence. I avoided prayer.
But eight years have passed since I was first diagnosed. Twelve months have passed since I was hospitalized. And only six months ago I became pregnant. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my friend, since I’ve contemplated silence. In that span of time, something else happened: it’s been a while since I’ve contemplated suicide.
The voices are gone for now. I don’t know if it’s the pregnancy, therapy, the meds, or all of the above, but when you’ve been spending so much of your time struggling to live hour by hour, day by day — and then realize those invasive thoughts have left you — well, it frees you up to focus on other things. Like your breath. I find it hard to admit, but solitude has become less intimidating. The voices aren’t voices anymore. They are just thoughts floating around like clouds in the sky. No longer do they insist on sticking around, waiting for your demise. No longer are you afraid that the voices will win someday. For some reason, those days are gone. And in the past twenty-four hours since I’ve spoken with my friend about mindfulness, I’ve realized one thing: maybe I’m in recovery.
I am undoubtedly scared by this realization. To me, recovery was some far off mysterious place. I thought I would never achieve anything remotely close to what I pictured as recovery. Now that it’s happened, however, it feels just like a mundane reality. In fact, I barely even notice how much my life has changed. What’s going on with this picture? I think I’ve taken for granted how much endurance, grit and determination I went through in order to get to this place. Now that I have this sudden realization — that what was once a harrowing experience is now over — I can no longer live a complacent life.
I could still fall “face down in the arena,” as Brene Brown puts it. In most likelihood, I will relapse. The voices may come back. All of this is possible and the thought of it is scary. But what is also possible is for me to take advantage of this reprieve, to relish in the sound of silence, to pursue a meaningful life instead of waiting around for one to pop up in front of me. “What am I so afraid of?” my therapist asks me. To quote Joseph Campbell, “The big question is whether you are going to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
I can’t deny that I’ve been living life at arm’s length but I’ve also realized I cannot live back up in the rafters, fearing the arena. It’s time I’d start engaging in all of life’s messy and beautiful glory — relapse possibilities and all — with a resounding yes.