On a crisp fall day, just like today, where the sun is shining and people are out playing, I sit huddled on a park bench trying to ward off the shakes from alcohol withdrawal and hunger pains.
I watch the families. I see a mom happy as can be that she has her whole family with her today as they are throwing a ball to their jubilant Golden Retriever and the kids tumble through the grass to see who can get to the ball first. The dog always wins. The mom takes out a snack and gives a little to each child along with a juice box. The dad doesn’t seem to like the mess they’re making, but laughs and shakes his head anyway.
That will never be my life.
This family doesn’t see me. I mean, they see me, but they don’t SEE me. I don’t want to be seen. They try to pretend I’m not there as they go about their lovely Sunday that they’ve been waiting all week to enjoy. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to see me either. I’m an ugly reminder that there are sick, sad people in this world that you try to shield your kids from as you do your best to make them feel safe and protected and that nothing bad will ever happen to them. I get it. So I just watch.
I am vulnerable right now, as I am coming off a drunk and my heart and soul and body is sick with regret and remorse and utter hopelessness.
I see a football game happening where the guys are drinking beers and laughing. I no longer laugh when I drink beer. I no longer laugh. I beg borrow steal and do what I need to do to get more money for some cheap vodka and maybe a $1 something at McDonalds as I haven’t eaten anything for about 48 hours.
It’s incredible how resilient my body has become at 110 pounds with no nourishment except for vodka for days on end. I can use a real bathroom in the McDonalds to clean my hands and face if I can focus on stopping the trembling for 5 minutes and keep others, especially little kids, out of there for that long.
I hurt. My body hurts; it hurts to move. My soul feels so empty and ugly and sad that I have to get something quick to cover it up. My heart hurts and I can’t have that. For if I feel the hurt too long, I might have to do something about it. End it all? CHANGE SOMETHING? No. No way. Not now. So I find a way.
I walk. I walk and walk and walk. I am one of those people you see on the street on a beautiful day that can jar you to your core because if you are someone who looks closely you think, “What the hell happened to her?” I am dirty. I am not dressed appropriately. I am acting a bit shady and you’re not sure what I will do when you pass me by. I am used to the looks and then the averted eyes. I see life and the living all around me and yet I am distant, apart from, utterly disconnected.
Night falls. I am in a drunken stupor, most likely blacked out, which means I’m functioning but I will have no memory of it. I sleep in the park. I pass out in the park. Under a tree. I have no cover, no shield. I am exposed. There is no real rest. It is simply a crash period that my body uses as a defense against me continuing to drink until I kill myself. I have no defense against my alert self.
Despite my need for rest, I am awake and walking again. Walking in the middle of the night in a big city and I have no destination. I walk and walk and walk. It’s all I can seem to do. I see people and they see me and some screw with me, but most leave me alone. I am lucky. I have no idea how lucky I am.
The sun comes up and I am still walking. I am walking as if my guts depend on it. What am I looking for? A reason. A reason to stop all this. I have no hope and until I am given the gift of hope I will keep walking and keep searching and keep drinking. I am hungry I am angry I am lonely I am tired. I am coming down off my stupor and I am starting to withdraw again. The cycle is beginning all over. The same way it did yesterday and the same way it will tomorrow. Over and over again until I die or say enough.
That was 12 years ago.
Today I am a mother after struggling with infertility. I have a phenomenal husband and twin 10 month olds. I have a job and a safe warm place to live. We are broke as hell and struggle the way so many people do about how we will pay for things and what our next move will be, but the fact that I even have these decisions and struggles is a gift. My goal back then was to live through another day. Or on some days, not to live at all. And yet, I am still alive. Son of a lucky bitch. I am still alive.
Quite similar to the zombie “walkers” on The Walking Dead, I was a transient, physically and more profoundly, spiritually. I numbed myself as I stumbled through life without feeling anything. That’s no way to live.
I’m not unique or special. Many walkers never get their chance. I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’m a second-chancer as are all the other walkers out there. They just haven’t gotten their chance yet. They aren’t done. Some never will be. But let’s not write them off so quickly. You just never know who’s out there walking and waiting for their scintilla of hope to spank them in the face. Being kind when it’s uncomfortable might be just what they need right then in that moment. You could be the spark. That still small voice.
You think this can’t happen to you. But I am you. I grew up in a loving, safe home. I lost my way. I lost hope and belief in myself after doing life for a while and not liking what life was doing to me. It wasn’t fair and I thought I deserved better. I drank it all away. Once hope was lost, I couldn’t get it back. I didn’t want to get it back. Hopelessness is that pit of despair that caves in on itself mocking all reason until you finally feel a glimmer by grace and then it hits you that was what you were looking for the entire time.
You can’t put your finger on it, but hope means everything and it is with most urgency you’ve ever felt in your whole life that you begin your fight. You choose to fight like hell to get out and you don’t dare take one second for granted. You keep fighting every day for the rest of your life because it is that vital to keep on top of the pit. You begin to heal and help your people begin to heal as well. When you feel the slightest give, the sand beneath your feet pulling you into the hole even now, you grab on to those who can help you and claw your way back out.
Today on a crisp Fall Sunday, some 12 years later, I sit on a park bench in a different Chicago park with my family and I am filled with gratitude and hope. I still can’t go back to that park I spent so much dead time around as a walker. Maybe one day I will, but not today. It’s a different park today with a different view through hope-colored glasses. I look around our park today and I see the hopeful and the hopeless. I see it all and I feel it as a punch to my gut because I’ve been there.
I keep my past very close so I don’t repeat it. Sure I have fear, but I look it dead in the eye today instead of walking, no matter how much I may want to. We are not garbage. We are worthy. We just need to see it in ourselves, when we are ready. And I see us. I SEE YOU.