On Solid Ground
by Venetia Craze
The surveying has already been done. Its up to me to build the road. Instead of bulldozing my way ahead without a plan, I need to stop and examine how I got this far. How durable is my road behind me? How many potholes have I left uncovered? Do I need to go back and repair some of those rugged spots? My path ahead will be determined by my road behind.
Ahead, I see a narrow trail through a thick uncharted forest, waiting to be explored. My movement onward is deterred by uncertainty and mystery. Behind, I inspect the paved road that Ive built so far as Ive moved through life. When I look back and scrutinize my accomplishments and mistakes, I see that what Ive learned will determine how enduring my future road will be. There are some rough spots on my path behind, but also some smooth places. This is an analogy of my life. My life is my path.
Ill describe how I built my road thus far. When I was a child, my parents carried me and let down to walk only occasionally. I was content to stay on my path and explore my immediate surroundings, never venturing too far from the safety and comfort of my home. At the same time, I was being taught how to construct a stable base to support the materials that I would later choose to build my road with. Learning right from wrong, sharing, caring, and family values were just a few of the many tools I was shown how to use.
As a teen, I was given more control over the project. Building a road no longer interested me, however; I was distracted by the vibrations of the forest. I frequently left my road to scour the woods in pursuit of the source that seemed to be calling my name. It wasnt long before I found it either, pulling me toward it like a powerful magnet: Alcohol.
My first instinct was to run in the opposite direction and not look back, but Alcohol enticed me to stay, promising fun, excitement, and everlasting friendship. Alcohol introduced me to Drugs, and together we roamed the woods experimenting with various other forms of stimulation, like promiscuity and defiance.
Drinking and drugging filled an emptiness deep within my soul. They were also good excuses for inappropriate behavior. I found it extremely difficult to live in a home and society governed by rules, so I chose to remain defiant. proving to the world that I could take care of myself. I shiver when I reflect back and relive the terror of being lost in the forest. It was frightening being off my path for that period of time, but it has made me appreciate my life so much more.
I found my way back to my path in my twenties to find love from a kind, gentle man. The sense of safety that I remembered from childhood returned, but the forest held intrigue, excitement, and what I thought was fun. Consequently, I put my road-building chore on hold once again and chose the bushes rather than my path.
Once in a while, I would creep back up on the road for a reprieve and to see if I had made any progress. I wanted to see that I was happy, successful, and making a difference in society. To my dismay, all I could see was a path of destruction. What did I expect? I guess I thought I would have those things without putting any work or effort into attaining them. I knew I needed to start working on my life by setting goals, gaining knowledge, and nurturing the love Id found, but I didnt know how, and I was too proud to ask for help.
I spent the next several years searching for the right components to start turning my path into a road. I was starting to see that what I was doing wasnt helping me, but I didnt know how to do things differently. I was also starting to learn from some of my past mistakes, yet I still kept repeating some of the same old habits. The lessons that I actually retained and learned were the materials that helped pave my road.
While I was in the woods, I was exposed to Fear. Fear took me as a hostage, forcing me to carry remorse, guilt, and self-loathing. I hated myself for things that I did and said to my first husband when I was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I was afraid to let him or anyone else get too close to me, so I pushed them away, convincing myself that I didnt need them.
I felt alone and isolated, yet the fear of rejection kept me from reaching out for help. Fear spread throughout me like an incurable disease and I was terrified of the ultimate outcome, death. I had heard about Death and I wanted to stay as far away as possible. For 28 years, I eluded Death, but it surprised me by passing me up and taking someone I loved.
I was way off my path, living in Las Vegas, going through a divorce, drinking every night, with no direction in life, when I got a call that my friend in Seattle had just died of AIDS. AIDS meant nothing to me at the time. I was shocked that Death would take him and not me. I never really considered that someone I knew would die before me, but Death came, pushing me into the arms of Grief.
This was my first real experience feeling sadness and helplessness. There was nothing I could do to bring my friend back. Grief was there to sustain me for awhile, but I knew I had to move on. I desperately wanted to get back on my path, but couldnt find it because Id been away from it for so long, so I kept hiding behind Alcohol, trying to escape Death, still searching for the road that promised peace and serenity.
Death quickly caught up with me again. It was like a tornado, lifting my Dad and taking him away forever. Grief was there again to embrace me, but it also brought Pain. Pain caused me to collapse in anguish. It was debilitating; I wanted to just lie there and cease my quest for my path, but Fear kept me moving.
Three years passed before I had my path in sight again. I could see it in the distance, and it looked wonderful and inviting. Love from another wonderful man had found me, and we were headed back to start working on our life together. We actually made it to the road before Death snatched us back in the woods again, taking my new husband and leaving me alone with Grief and Pain. Grief and Pain brought Depression, which sent me spiraling down an aperture.
I was so deep in the darkness of the forest, and the foliage was so thick, that I was sure I would never get out. Quite frankly, I didnt care. Depression stifled my desire to find my path. I came to a standstill and waited for Death to find me. With the help of Alcohol and Drugs, I exhibited open wounds of vulnerability representing an easy target, but Death didnt want me; it wanted the ones I loved.
I aimlessly roamed around in the thicket for the next two years not really caring about anything. Little did I know that healing was subtly taking place and in spite of Depression; I was getting stronger. As I meandered along, I vaguely felt something nudging me in the direction of a faint white light that could possibly lead me back to my forgotten road. I headed in that direction and discovered I had become pregnant along the way.
Anger invoked me to find my path, face Death once and for all, and start reconstructing the road that I had abandoned so long ago.
Hope started creeping into my consciousness only to be stamped out by Death once again. The joy of prospective motherhood was cut short by miscarriage. This was the final straw. Grief, Pain, and Depression transformed into Anger. Anger invoked me to find my path, face Death once and for all, and start reconstructing the road that I had abandoned so long ago. First, though, I had to get out of the veritable jungle that had become my home for so long.
Getting out of the jungle was difficult because it meant having to say "goodbye" to Drugs and Alcohol, and "hello" to some new friends: Sobriety and Spirituality. It was painful to finally admit that Drugs and Alcohol were the main culprits in the deterioration of my life. I thought they were helping me, when in fact they were hindering me from moving forward on my life path.
My new friends were my true friends. I trusted them to help me find my path and lead me to it. I followed closely as they guided and directed me toward the light that I witnessed not long ago. On the way back to my path, Sobriety and Spirituality helped me gather stones of logic, bricks of knowledge, and mortar of experience to construct my path. Before I could actively begin the project, though, I had to first devise a plan to deal with my enemy, Death.
In order to find Death, I had to go where it lurked. The closest place that I could think of was a hospice organization, so I became a volunteer. I learned a great deal about the death process through hospice, not to mention witnessing it first hand. Education was the first step in understanding it. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding grief, near-death experiences, the afterlife, religion, and spirituality.
I took a death education class specifically to enhance my understanding of this enigma. The more I understood it, the less frightening it became, and I soon learned that death wasnt always the enemy. Sometimes it was a welcome friend.
I worried that my stint as a hospice volunteer would make me desensitized to death because my grief wasnt as severe as it had been in the past, but being a volunteer only embellished my awareness of it. I discovered that my fear of death was diminishing. I no longer saw death as a terrible monster picking on me alone, but a momentous event that happens to everyone at the end of the road of life.
Its sort of like crossing over a bridge on the path ahead. As a hospice volunteer, I learned that some people need help over the bridge. Just as babies need assistance being brought into the world, dying people need a hand leaving. We are all destined to cross a bridge at some point on our individual roads of life. We dont get to know when our passing from life to death will be or how long it will take, but we will all make the journey. It brings me comfort to believe that my loved ones are just on the other side of their own bridges.
Experiencing death firsthand and accepting the inevitability of my own death has brought clarity to my new view of life. I no longer feel the need to engage in self-destructive behaviors. I realize that life is meant to be enjoyed and shared with others. I dont need to hurry to find my bridge; I trust that its there. My heart is into constructing my road right now. Along with the materials of logic, knowledge, and experience, Ive acquired love, compassion, and a little bit of joy to put into my road.
Im also committed to staying focused on school, enabling me to one day obtain a degree, which will, in turn, boost my credibility as a master road builder. If I keep standing firmly on solid ground, attending college classes, sharing knowledge, and listening to others, my chances of success are guaranteed.
Sobriety and Spirituality have hinted to me that I have a calling in life. I suspect that it has something to do with death. Whether it is as a grief counselor, consumer consultant, hospice worker, or death education teacher, I dont know yet.
I do know that right now, Im right where Im supposed to be, walking a straight line on my path of life. Once in a while I get off into the ditch, but I dont venture too far into the forest. I know what awaits me there, and I dont want any part of it. Sometimes I hear Alcohol and Drugs calling to me; I see them in the distance beckoning me to join them, but I choose to stay on my path with a lifeline connected to Sobriety and Spirituality.
As I look ahead on my path of life, I can only see so far. My view ends at the bend in the trail, but I move ahead with confidence nevertheless, because I trust that no amount of grief, pain, depression, or anger can surpass what Ive already experienced.
Judging from my road behind, I can see where it was necessary for me to go through these emotions and feelings to help structure my life. I have taken the seemingly bad and found a way to use it to my benefit, so I move onward, eager to meet whatever lies ahead.
Now, if Death should lurk around the next corner and touch my life again, Ill be ready.