Sometimes we don’t want to live anymore. We feel that we’ve lived through or caused so much pain and broken our lives so thoroughly that it seems like death would be easier, gentler, and healthier.
This mindset is common for addicts. Many of us have (or think we have) done terrible things and caused a great deal of harm, and the weight of these histories can be crippling. One of our residents has been feeling this way a lot this week. Despite making some incredible progress in recent months and being a dedicated and helpful community member, he relapsed again this week, and he’s been feeling that he would probably be better off dead.
Tonight we took him out to a remote beach on the coast. First we talked about the nature of the world around us; we looked at the vast spray of stars and the massive, rolling breakers coming in on the beach. We talked about how we are part of that, and that there is a broader energy that we are also part of, along with the sea and the sand and the forest. Then we said a prayer together; we prayed for strength and guidance as we approached some hard work. Once we had prayed, we talked about all the reasons he wanted to die. Then, while thinking about this brutal and painful history, he went and got a stone; as large a stone as he could carry. He staggered back with this massive rock, splay-legged, and put it down in front of us with a resonant thud. It was a dark and pointy rock, shaped a lot like a 3 ft tall shark’s tooth.
We talked about how when we want to die, it is because there is a part of us that are ready to die. Sometimes those parts of us will fight hard to stay, so together, we sat and named all the things this man is leaving behind. His shame about how he failed his family. His guilt about the harm he has caused. His grief at the myriad losses he has suffered. Many, many detailed examples of grief and shame and guilt were named to this stone. We sat together sobbing over the harm that he has done, and the pain it has caused. He knelt in silence with his hands on this rock pouring all the things he couldn’t say into it. Over and over, we asked: “What else?” and he would dig and find deep-rooted pieces of grief and shame and guilt. He would name them, and we would acknowledge how terrible some of his actions had been. We cried for the harm and the grief. Then he took a heavy steel chain and firmly bound all this shame and guilt to this stone. He put a heavy padlock on it so that all these heavy things he has carried that have been bogging him down and preventing him from stepping into the person he is meant to be would stay with this stone, the chain could never be undone. This man has done his time. His family has forgiven him. He is working to build a better life, and these massive pieces of grief have been binding him to this old life, and feeding his addiction. He was finally ready to let that go.
So for the last time, he picked up the crushing weight of all his shame and grief. He walked out into the wild surf; the tall waves knocking him back and forth. He went out and with a heroic display of strength, he cast that chain-bound rock away from himself, into the depths of the sea. He stood there and watched the great, eternal Ocean take all that impossibly heavy grief and bitterness away from him.
The man who walked back out of the wild ocean under the spray of the Milky Way on that sandy beach nested between fir forests was not the same man who went in. He was freer and lighter and brighter. We cleansed him with smoke from cedar and sage, and we welcomed him back. We hurled the key to the lock far, far into the deeps, and affirmed that he will not carry any of that back with him, nor to go looking for it. We sat and prayed again; we prayed that he would deeply and truly let all of that weight go. We prayed that he would turn his incredible strengths and talents towards health and wellness. We prayed that he would forget the broken forms of masculinity that he was leaving behind and begin to embody the deeper, older ways of being a man. We prayed that he would become the Sun, blazing his brilliant trail across the sky. That he would become the Spark of life that ignites the seed from the dark soil. That he would become the proud Buck leaping across woodland stream, the silent Coyote flowing fleet-footed through the night, the distant Hawk with his keening cry far overhead. We prayed that he would begin to feel himself as part of the incredible, infinite world around him; with the full power and responsibility that brings.
For the first time, he spoke a prayer. He offered a beautiful, halting prayer of gratitude. Gratitude for his lightness, for his community, for the opportunity to let this weight go. I have never heard a more genuine prayer than this first, stumbling, sea-soaked offering to the starry night from this beautiful man working to build a better life.
He was given a few items to carry with him to remind him of this work, and took a pebble from the beach as a reminder that he has let that weight go. As we towelled off and pulled our boots on, he could not stop talking about how light he felt, and how beautiful the night was. The drive back was full of laughter and love. Upon returning home to The Friend’s House, he said this: “I never knew what it felt like to let things go. I’ve been trying for years, and talked about it a lot; but what we just did… chaining it to that rock and just letting it go like that… I never knew you could do that. It feels amazing. I can tell I’m going to sleep well tonight. Thank you.”
The work of recovery looks different for everyone, and this man’s work is by no means over. He will still struggle and may even relapse again. Brick by brick, however, we are building healthier, stronger people and healthier, stronger communities. It is an honor to be part of this work, and tonight was a good night for healing.