When I come to, my wrists and legs are Velcro'd to a hospital bed in Spain. Tubes run out of various parts of my body and it takes me a minute to remember. To remember who I am. To remember what I’d done. I squeeze my eyes shut. But the tears come anyway. Unbidden. A trickle at first and then a flood. The ever-present watcher inside my mind—the analytical presence—notes that I haven’t cried in . . . what, a year? Two years? Five? I’m 23 years-old and deeply depressed. And clinically anxious. Untreated traumas and mental illness having haunted me like hungry ghosts for too long. Long enough. Long enough to have regularly adopted “no glasses days,” days in which I chose blurry vision over having to make eye contact with people. Long enough to have swallowed 100 Xanax and half a bottle of whiskey. Long enough to have ended up in a coma for 7-days and only survived by what even medical professionals called, “an act of divine intervention.”
The tears continue to flow and my body shakes with racking sobs. Not angry. Not frightened. But deep deep grief. And profound relief. It’s over. No more band-aids on festering wounds. No more pretend smiles to college professors and parents. No more bravely “going’it’alone.” The gig is over. The curtain raised. Hiding and making due is no longer an option. In this moment of clarity, of consciousness, of truth, I surrender. I need help. I won’t live like that anymore. Can’t. It doesn’t feel like defeat either. Far from it. It feels like a second chance, like redemption. It feels spiritual. The dam has broken. The road in front of me is anything but easy. But it’s honest and lined with helpful souls who want to be part of my healing process. Community. Stories. Discipline. Love.
A buddy of mine awakens confused and bleeding in a dark tight space, vomit covering his body. It turns out to be his own closet, and he’s 18 hours late picking up his son from school. He loses the limited custody he already had. He drastically changes his life after that. Starts attending twelve-step meetings. Confesses his history and is met, not with advice, but similar stories from others. He finds compassion for himself. Not condoning his actions but understanding that he’s not alone in this tough journey. In his pain. He reaches for help. Writes his story. Tells his story. Let’s other people in. Moment of surrender.
Eddy, a man I meet in a steam room at my gym tells me about a car accident he’d been in. An accident he’d caused due to simple distraction fiddling with the stereo. The other passenger, a friend since childhood, died leaving behind two small children and a wife he’d loved. Eddy was spared to live in what he described as damnation, a life filled with chronic pain and unable to walk without a cane. A life haunted by guilt and sickness of every kind. He tells me, “I spent three years angry and isolating myself. I spent three years imagining ways to kill myself. Until one afternoon my family came home, and I realized I’d missed my daughter’s high school graduation. No one had reminded me . . . because, well, I wasn’t someone anyone wanted to be around. I knew right then that I was pissing my life away. That it was fair to the people who loved me. I had to change. I had to lean into the pain and find solid ground no matter how that looked.” Moment of surrender.
A woman I meet at a writing workshop in Colorado tells me that, following the death of her husband, she cried herself to sleep every night for close to fifteen years. One night she held her late husband’s handgun to the side of her head off and on for close to an hour. She tells me, “My finger would start apply a tiny bit of pressure. I don’t know how close it came but it had to have been millimeters between life and death.” Finally, sobbing, she dials her son instead of pulling the trigger and he’s there within an hour. Relieved as hell. Both of them. Moment of surrender.
My beautiful friend Emily, after 10-years of battling cancer, declines another round of chemo. People in her life are upset. Accuse her of selfishness. We stay up late talking on her porch and she tells me, “I’m not giving up Matt. I’m accepting. I want to enjoy what time I have left.” And she does precisely that to the best of her ability—inviting friends over despite her weakness, drinking expensive bottles of wine, spending as much time with her children as possible, and even forgiving her ex-husband who had basically robbed her. Two weeks later, she dies with her hand in mine and surrounded by those who love her. Radiant until the end despite the pain and vomit and all around suffering. Moment of surrender.
Recently, I’ve been stuck on Nick Mulvey’s cover of the U2 song “Moment of Surrender.” I don’t consider why I’m listening to it on repeat until a section of the lyrics reach me:
“My body's now a begging bowl That's begging to get back, begging to get back To my heart And to the rhythm of my soul And to the rhythm of my unconsciousness To the rhythm that yearns To be released from control”
I think about the world and the undeniable trauma taking place. I think about the countless people and corporations and institutions and governments who are presently operating in a mindset very similar to my “no glasses days.” I think of the denial of suffering and the proliferation of band-aid cures. And I wonder what a “moment of surrender” might look like at a community level. At a state level. At a national level. At a global level. Not a moment of defeat. But an acknowledgement that the way we’ve been living isn’t working. That we need help. That we need change. That, surrounded by fires both literal and metaphorical, we need reuniting with the rhythms of our soul more than ever.