How long does it take to rebuild a life? 3 years? 5 years? More? Less? And if given the chance at a new life wouldn’t one be grateful of each and every day? I’ve been thinking about those questions a lot lately. August has always signaled change for me. The first rumblings of back to school, the beginning of fall and leaves changing (at least where I grew up in South Carolina) and that slight shift in the way the sunlight appears in the morning.
Then 3 years ago in 2010, I was admitted to Park Plaza hospital on August 4th. After nearly a year of unemployment and constant, daily prodigious drinking and smoking grass, coupled with a bad case of Shingles, the medication to combat it and a new regime of HIV meds, my liver gave out. And when I say out I mean it split wide open. Known as Ascites, the body cavity, namely the stomach and lower intestines is flooded with the toxins the liver normally holds causing distention in the belly. In fact Ascites means “baglike” from the Greek word askites. My case was so severe that unbeknownst to me, when I was admitted my doctor did not expect me to ever leave the hospital, except in a body bag.
My family and friends were told to expect the worst and soon, probably within 72 hours. When I survived that they were then cautioned that I would most likely never walk or talk or feed myself by my own hand again. The toxins had almost certainly reached my brain where the acid levels cause it to short circuit. 24-hour, wheelchair care would be required from this point forward. And in fact, at that time, I was unable to communicate or move, essentially. I was aware of my surroundings, I recall, but more like I was seeing things in a dream, or nightmare more to the point.
The next 2 months saw me lose my mind, I was in and out of reality, often thinking I was in the hospital because I had been hired to redecorate the rooms and I wanted to see it from a patient’s POV. I even had a crew of workers assembled and would often ask the nurses when my swatches were coming in and where my paint samples were. Funny I suppose until I started accusing the nurses of running my crew away and keeping the samples from me. I got in their face and they restrained me with straps to the bed. It’s all fun and swatches till you get tied down to the bed.
Slowly I came back to my head and began to relearn basic skills people take for granted: walking, talking, writing, standing by yourself to piss. I eventually was released to an Alzheimer’s Rehab facility and after a series of misadventures there, including stolen passcodes, requests for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and repeated break-ins to the in house Ice Cream Parlor, my family was told I was ready to go home, to rehab or somewhere, anywhere frankly, because my time there was up.
This past week on August 4th I was in Austin, Texas, at a beautiful wooded, hill top home of a long time, BFF. Sitting poolside with him and several friends, new and old, the song “Time to Pretend” by MGMT was playing and I was struck by these lyrics:
“I’m Feelin’ rough I’m Feelin’ raw I’m in the prime of my life.
Let’s make some music make some money find some models for wives.
I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars.
This is our decision to live fast and die young.
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?”
I mean they make it all sound so glam, the drugs, the rock-n-roll lifestyle; normal life is painted as unacceptable, so droll, so passé. But the opposite is actually true when it comes to life and not a rock song.
I recently read a friend’s amazing post on Facebook that dealt with his own battle with a devastating illness, though not from the consequences of his own hand. He wrote about Lymphoma and the road back from the chemo to said normal life. I was struck by his honesty and how he walked the walk of his sober life, not being a victim and for the most part remaining hopeful and grateful and awesomely unapologetic about his truth. As both of us are in recovery, I reached out to him with the following note:
I wanted to reach out and say I love reading your posts. I especially liked the one you did today. Interesting that 3 years ago yesterday I too was beginning a hospital run. Reading your post today I was struck by how much I related to what you wrote. I have been struggling with gratitude lately. I should have died 3 years ago. God had other plans.
3 years later I am in a pool of self-pity about being (lonely), where I’m headed with my life, why, why, why? I’ve asked myself a lot: how long does it take to rebuild a life completely? 3 years? 5 years? More?
And frankly, who am I to even question the Supreme Creator of everything with thoughts of “what about me?” I wish I was a better man who jumps out of bed every day thankful and ready to help others with no thought to my own wants or hopes or cares. I do the best I can day by day and certainly I am worlds away from the man I was 26 months ago when I got sober. But I feel I should be “better,” farther along with my evolution, the post-step work man who no longer feels restless, irritable & discontent. Right?
However I do struggle, I fall short, I act selfishly and with lack of faith, in fear. Anyway, I just sensed a kinship in your feelings through what you wrote today and wanted to just connect with you. All I can do is keep going and wait with excitement rather than trepidation as I did when I was fucked up with what comes next. We get “nexts” when so many do not. Have the best day…
Your fellow, fellow. Johnny’
The name Lazarus, the biblical man that Jesus raised from the dead, has been flying through my mind the past few weeks. What happens after you return from the dead (!!!)? I would think you’d be on top of the world, forever fantastic, a “No worries” here kinda guy.
Unsure of what became of Lazarus, I did a little research and came across the following Wiki entry. I was taken aback by this: “According to tradition, Lazarus never smiled during the thirty years after his resurrection, worried by the sight of unredeemed souls he had seen during his four-day stay in Hades. The only exception was, when he saw someone stealing a pot, he smilingly said: “the clay steals the clay.”
Hmm. So troubled by what he saw he never smiled? Wow. I am not a modern day Lazarus by any means nor do I never smile. But struggle with what I have seen, what I see daily, what I “feel.” Worry? Observing life as a spectator? Yep. I also came across an article that asks some important questions, or states some conclusions I relate to and needed to see…answered prayers in black and white. Coincidence, I’m sure.
‘When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When Jesus heard the news, he waited two more days before going to Lazarus’ hometown of Bethany. Jesus knew that he would do a great miracle for God’s glory and, therefore, he was not in a hurry.” Many times we wait for the Lord in the midst of a terrible situation and wonder why he doesn’t respond more quickly. Often God allows our situation to go from bad to worse because he’s planning to do something powerful and wonderful; he has a purpose that will bring even greater glory to God.
Are you in a difficult trial? Do you feel like God is delaying much too long to answer your need? Do you trust God even in the delay? Remember the story of Lazarus. Your situation could not be any worse than his! Trust that God must have a purpose for your trial, and that he will bring glory to himself through it.”‘
I literally said “Wow” aloud several times while reading that because it was a gentle slap in my face to have patience, a message I have received repeatedly since my own raising and a character defect I struggle with mightily. “Just turn it over to God” I am often told. Yes. I do. Daily. I wish I could tell you that were all I needed to be relieved of my doubt but I can’t.
Just as God had, has a plan for me that I am not privy to, apparently this patience or lack thereof, this ongoing trial has meaning, too. As I have pointed out before, the first stanza of that famous Corinthians quote about love begins with “Love is patient…”
Love, ah yes, there’s the rub. I have loved so fiercely in my life, I have much of it to give…first love, soul love, foolish and brotherly love. I have even experienced agape love, if only briefly. And today I see others around me walking hand-in-hand, I see prejudices falling, laws changing, hearts opening and I wish to love like that again, to be in love to be loved in return. That heady rush of butterflies and sweaty palms and dreams of him. But I know it is not something I can “look for” It just happens. Planned long ago above by God who does not see fit to reveal to me when or why. I don’t expect it but if I look up and suddenly fall over it? One minute I’m standing in a crowd at a concert and the next, BAM, there he is, smiling back at me. My God really is a DJ.
I know Jesus did not explain to anyone why he chose Lazarus to be raised nor why Lazarus would then be so burdened by encounters with those in the afterlife during his 4-day death, that he almost never smiled again. I wasn’t dead 4 days, I was, in a way, undead for 2 months and though I cry and wallow and curse, I also smile. Often.
When my cats sleep on my chest and arms and I can’t get up to brush my teeth, I smile. When I help my Sponsee with a problem and she smiles, I smile. When something I post is well received or appreciated, I smile. When I receive a text from my special him or see his face on my computer screen, or read a post he has written or see a picture of him and his children, laughing and smiling, with not a care in the world. I smile. And in those moments, looking at the pictures of a father and his sons(s) and the love that binds them, I smile with tears in my eyes. I smile that I know such a man who is so different from my own earthly father. I smile that I dream about him in the ocean. I smile that God blesses me daily with new mornings that lead to who knows where and who knows who that I may help.
For as that father loves to see his own children smile, my Father loves to see me smile. Even after all that I have seen and done, even when I was decorating the rooms of Purgatory. Even though I struggle and stomp my feet and doubt. Raised up for a purpose I know nothing about. I smile that you are reading this now. I smile.