Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Dante, The Inferno
Where is this place again?
Basement of the historic Methodist church. 9 am. Come through the 5th street entrance. Down the first flight of stairs, then down the hallway to the left. Last room on the right.
Linoleum, yolk yellow. Tile after tile down a hall that stretches into uncertainty. Strangers stand in pairs and threes, catching up, sharing. I hear laughter between some. Anger finding its voice between others.
Just inside sits a circle of assorted souls. Some won’t raise their eyes. Some seem at home.
A black box made for filing holds the center. From it, the initiated go to pull laminated white sheets. Every meeting starts with common recovery readings.
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.
Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Liturgies of the anonymous. Catechisms of the known.
I don’t know a person here, but I hear my name in every mouth.
“I’m Mike, and I’ve been sober for 8 months.”
“I’m Stan. 2 years.”
“I’m Bob. Been clean since July 2002.”
“I’m Noel. Grateful to be here.”
I can’t bring myself to speak, but I find my confession in each share.
Here there’s presence without pretense. “One year ago, if you had told me I’d be sitting here today happy and healthier than I’ve ever been, I would have said you were crazy.”
I’m gifted hard-won wisdom. “I gave up a long time ago trying to have a better past.”
I’m brought into constellations of confusion. “I really don’t know how I’m going to do this another day.”
I’m offered clarity. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Courage is the power to admit my powerlessness.
What preys on my mind is simply this one question: what am I good for, could I not be of service or use in some way?
Van Gogh, to his brother Theo, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
Recovery will sabotage all the ways you hide. Even the good places you hide in aren’t safe. I hid in preaching. I hid in teaching. I hid in being a writer. I hid the parts of me that I didn’t like in the roles I thought other people would.
So what now? What good am I if I can’t write? What if I can’t write anymore? What if I’ve lost it?
I’m afraid that if I continue to surrender the places I hide then I’ll have nowhere to be found.
I remember the feeling of a call around my desire to write. A clarion call. A purpose. Aren’t God’s gifts and calling irrevocable? They, I, now feel revoked.
Maybe recovering who you are apart from what you do is the point of all this. Maybe being of service to others means first being of service to myself…love others as yourself. Maybe being of use is more about what I’m stripped of than what I accumulate. Maybe I’d rather write like this for myself than build a reputation by writing about C. S. Lewis.
What if my nagging preoccupation with becoming a great writer has been the greatest threat to my being a good man?
Courage is living the question.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
This all feels like failure. Falling, failing, finding bottom, figuring out what’s next, fielding voices you’d never thought you’d hear.
Part of recovery involves giving ear to voices that you’re forced to hear as taught humility.
“It’s been six months and your numbers haven’t climbed.”
“We took a chance on you because of your experience in higher education and publishing, but let me be frank. It’s not working out.”
“I don’t care that you’ve published a couple of books. I don’t care if you’ve written a hundred books. That doesn’t mean anything here. If you can’t sell in this market, then you don’t need to be here.”
“Your debt to income ratio is too high to get you approved for a loan.”
And then there are voices that bring an upheaval of the soul.
“From our time together, I think it’s safe to say you’ve never really learned to attach.”
“Why does intimacy in a relationship feel like a kind of death to you?”
“When you medicate your emotions for as long as you have, you forget you have them and how important they are to a flourishing heart.”
Then there are those that both haunt and hint at hope, spoken with an innocence and the weight of inevitable introspection.
“Daddy, I missed you.”
Courage is keeping your ears open, even when what you hear hurts. Courage is hearing wisdom in the pain. Courage is believing that you’re made for kinder voices.
…His word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.
I previously devoted an entire shelf just to books on writing. King’s On Writing. Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. Pressfield’s The War of Art. I used to dream about writing a book on writing just like those. Maybe mine might be on others’ writing shelves!
What a poor motivation. It won’t do at all. Writing shouldn’t be a mercenary act; I can’t write to be accepted. I can’t do it so that I might be something to others. I know how that movie ends. How it ended. I wrote, produced, directed, and starred in that tragedy. Addiction is a bad movie because its third act is so poorly written. A drama without a denouement. This is pre-production for a new film. I’m approaching this script differently.
I am a writer. I can’t shake it.
I awoke last night with a title for a children’s book in mind: The Silent Giant of Limbo Wood. Maybe the world’s last giant lives in a vast forest of mythic trees, Limbo trees. He never knew his parents and because there are no other giants, he never learned the language of his people. He’s lived in an unutterable longing to know where he comes from, where he belongs, what his life is for.
I think I got thirty pages into a screenplay and then stopped. Now I know how I’d like it to end. It was based on a piece of flash fiction I wrote years ago, about a man who had been brought to the end of himself but was called on a quest of necessity.
I want to write. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to tell those stories, but they are worth trying to tell.
Courage is the process of telling them and telling them true.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Corey is a poet, writer, speaker, and educator. He holds Master’s Degrees in Religion, English, and Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Literature. He is the author of C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, and the forthcoming The Serve the Work: Stray Thoughts on Christ and Creativity. Corey has written articles and given talks on subjects ranging from C. S. Lewis, the theology of creativity, the neurology of the imagination, and the power of story to heal life’s wounds.
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