in a dark room alone
One absolute certainty that I’ve learned in my 29 years is that life is going to come at you hard, and that you’re going to get knocked down. Chances are that you’ve already discovered this for yourself at one time or another. Adversity will hit you square between the eyes. You’ll be left feeling stunned and searching for answers, too shaken to reason how you will piece yourself back together. Your mind and body will respond naturally as they’ve been trained – fight or flee? After quickly analyzing the severity of the situation, you will make the decision to do what you feel is best in that moment. Perhaps you will find the strength inside to hold your ground and sort through what’s in front of you. But what if you can’t? What if you’ve found the adversity that you are facing to be so debilitating that it’s driven you to your breaking point? Your only reasonable thought is to run. Escape the situation until you can regain your composure. Take refuge somewhere secure and safe. Where is it that you go when things fall apart?
Everyone’s answer to this question is likely to be somewhat unique. But no matter how it’s individually defined, “home” is likely to be a popular response. There is something about heading back to that place of innocence that holds us in tact during our most troubled times. Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the surroundings, our parents, a sibling, or even an aging pet that we consider our dearest friend. But I believe that it’s more than that. When we go “home”, we find comfort there because it’s a place where our trust is absolutely unwavering. We believe wholeheartedly in its power. In most cases, it’s become our ultimate symbol of sustainability. In all likelihood, things were never perfect at “home”. But it still remains our rock of solidarity. Through the fondest and even most painful experiences, it has persevered. Quite possibly, it’s the place that held our hand as we took our first step and also the cushion that softened the blow during our first collapse. We’ve witnessed its strength. At “home”, we’ve seen ourselves grow, and we’ve felt ourselves heal. Inside those walls we’ve let go of that hand with trust. We’ve learned to stand and walk on our own. And we’ve picked ourselves back up and fought again without hesitancy, knowing that if we fell again that there would be someone waiting to break our fall.
In January of 2003 when I abandoned my life in California stricken with intense anxiety and panic, I found my comfort by returning “home”. During that period of my life, my move back to Pennsylvania provided me with a lot of strength. I had myself convinced by the following summer that it had nearly healed me altogether, but as I would find out in the years that followed, “home” had only cushioned the blow. “Home” helped me to survive that troubling time and it supported me mercifully as I found the strength to walk again, but it didn’t solve the underlying problem. Even as I reunited with independence and moved forward with my life, there was something very limiting holding me back beneath the surface.
Blame is an extremely powerful emotion. Sadly, it’s how most of us choose to deal with ourselves when life seems to deal us a bad hand. We look outside instead of directing our focus inward. It’s our nature to want to find answers that justify our hurt and our anger. It can’t be us…something else is causing the problem. For me, during that time of my life it was California that was the problem. I lived in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and I had previously fallen completely in love with it. But once my anxiety presented itself, I started turning what I felt inside outward against my surroundings. I cursed sunny days and prayed for rain. I resented the warm weather and the lack of seasons. Who cared about the beach anyway? And what was with all of these people? This place was too far from my roots…it was too far from “home” and I felt isolated. California became my scapegoat.
The scapegoat was one of the essential elements that would hold me back with my healing for the next 9 years of my life. I was just perpetuating an awful cycle of failure and blame, and I was headed nowhere beyond right back to my starting point. Because I’ve learned that until you look inside of yourself and make peace with what you find, you can never truly move forward. Sure, you may be able to keep yourself afloat by shifting blame over and over again. You may even be able to sustain your entire life making that practice habitual. But that’s not going to lead you to greener pastures. If you are constantly practicing blame, then gratitude has eluded you, and you can’t truly be happy. Resentful, yes…happy, no. The answers are within you, but how do you uncover them?
When I began writing my blog this past summer, I found myself in the midst of the most painful time of my life, and I was left completely vulnerable. I really had no idea what I was doing, but God had powerfully made himself known to me and had directed me with a bit of inspiration to take full responsibility for myself, and I felt compelled to listen. And so began the process of self-realization, forgiveness, and healing. I would like to stress the importance of the word “began”. Because even though I was continually gaining more clarity, this was just setting the wheels in motion for a more dramatic transformation that was eventually going to take place. This was the starting line.
Most of you who have followed my blog from the beginning are probably under the impression that things turned around for me quickly as I unveiled my story. This wasn’t the case, however. In fact, reliving those memories and coming to grips with my involvement in the negative twists and turns of my life was a horribly painful thing for me. But it’s what had to be done. Often I would find myself sitting at the computer, eyes filled with tears and anxiety causing my hands to tremble uncontrollably as I documented the events of my past. And I’d just tell myself “this chapter will be closed soon” with the hope that I would feel tremendous relief in only a couple of hours when I completed the entry. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case; usually I was only left with more anxiety. I would often feel short of breath for the rest of the night, as if someone was standing directly on top of my chest and on my throat. I would shake and panic, and would routinely find myself running for herbal supplements to calm myself. Nocturnal panic attacks would continue to wake me throughout the night and make sleep a terrifying experience. Sounds like a horrific way to live, and it was, believe me. But this was also a beautiful time. This is where the magic began to happen.
When things fell apart, there was a big part of me that wanted to flee my situation…to run back “home” and heal. I was living alone and had very little face to face interaction with anyone throughout my day because I was working from a remote office. I had my family about 30 minutes away, but I really only saw them once every week or two, and often only for a few minutes at a time. So the empty, lonesome walls surrounding me…they’re what I had. And I was a grown man, and I didn’t want to forfeit my life. I was not going to abandon my independence and my career. I had to make myself comfortable with the situation, because even if I left momentarily, I knew that ultimately I would need to return to it to continue on. And I was learning that a quick fix wasn’t the answer any longer for me. I had to get to the heart of the problem. Myself. And I could only find those answers in one place…a dark room alone.
In the weeks and even months that followed, I did a lot of trial and error testing on solutions for my issues. What I didn’t understand at the time was that despite my best efforts to heal from within, I was still frequently making desperate attempts to seek answers outside of myself. For instance, I began experimenting with different natural supplements to alleviate my anxiety and panic. One supplement in particular, I took for several months at extremely high doses. It helped to alleviate some of the effects of my disorder, but it complicated other parts of my life. It slowed my thinking and made me feel more tired and depressed, and even seemed to “dull” the responses of my nervous system. In addition, I followed a website that predicted mood behavior based upon the phases of the moon, and it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. I experimented with Melatonin supplementation, which led to disastrous results only weeks later. And I studied self-help material religiously for quite some time; this was probably one of the few positive things that I offered myself.
There were nights that my efforts seemed to benefit me, and I’d think to myself “wow, this has to be it, this is the answer.” And then morning would arrive, and I’d wake feeling worse than I had in weeks. It was such a deflating experience. I was running out of tricks to tame this beast. I was losing hope. That dark room that I found myself alone in each night was scaring me to death. I was fearful of myself and of my mind because it was racing out of control in search of new solutions. I couldn’t turn it off. I’d put on my headphones with a self-help audiobook and do my best to try to relax and drift off to sleep. Or I’d turn on the TV to keep myself company and serve as a temporary distraction until my eyes would grow heavy. Those nights were tough. I dreaded them.
Around Thanksgiving, I found what I would now consider to be my real rock bottom. The week before the holiday I had been feeling as though I was coming down with something physically, perhaps a recurring sinus infection presenting itself once again that had been plaguing me since May. I spent Sunday the 20th working for about 15 hours straight in Excel spreadsheets and in our estimating software doing my best to meet a Monday morning pricing deadline for an international prospect. I stayed up until about 3 AM, and submitted the quotes just minutes before they were due in the United Kingdom. I was exhausted, and I knew very well what the stress of that day was doing to me. I heard a voice in my head at about 10 PM say “just stop, it’s not worth it, submit what you have complete and get some rest”. But I couldn’t quit. I was hitting a wall, but I somehow convinced myself to push through it, and remarkably, I did. Two days later, it grounded me.
My anxiety had once again become a complete mess, and now I was also sick physically. My natural response remained what it always had been, to seek a solution. So I ran to Rite Aid for a couple of homeopathic cures to aid my sinus infection, and in turn, only made it worse. I was in terrible shape. I missed Thanksgiving with my family, and I spent the day in bed with really only fruit to eat because my fridge was empty and there was no place nearby open. It was miserable. I never felt more alone. I sat and cried as I watched the football games. What had my life come to?
A day or two passed, and I remained feeling much the same as I had on Thanksgiving Day. Depression was now settling in around me. But something had to be done. Or this could be it for me. And then magically, the answers that I had been so desperately seeking in that dark room alone suddenly came to me. I felt the power of it as it rushed into my soul. It lifted me to my feet. I went to my office, grabbed my laptop, opened up a new Word document and typed the words “Let Go, Trust, Believe, Faith”. I printed it out and taped it to my refrigerator. Then I took a picture of it and made it the desktop image on my phone. Immediately I began to feel some new life in my aching bones.
It was at that very moment that everything became so incredibly clear to me. I had been practicing my faith actively every day. I was doing my daily devotions, reading scripture, practicing prayer, asking for forgiveness, and doing my best to take responsibility for myself and be a better person moving forward. But in that dark room alone, I wasn’t fully trusting in God’s ability and willingness to heal me in His time. I was continually attempting to construct my own solutions, and it was pulling me away from my faith. Fear was winning the battle. It was time to “let go” and trust wholeheartedly that God would restore me in time. I had nothing else to lose; I had exhausted every other option. I dropped to my knees and asked God to show his mercy on me and told him that I would make every effort to trust His plan moving forward. And I could feel the weight being lifted from my shoulders.
I made the decision that day to stop looking outside of myself and my faith for answers. I slowly worked my way off the heavy dosage of the supplement that I had been taking regularly and by January 1st, I cut it out of my life altogether. In addition, I haven’t utilized any other calming supplements in about a month and a half. My mind is beginning to feel sharper, and I’m gaining confidence in myself every day. I’m not free of anxiety and panic, but I’m handling it differently, and it’s working. When I become overwhelmed, I talk to God and he eases my mind because I trust Him. If panic strikes in the middle of the night while I am sleeping, I allow my heart to race and I pray. Minutes later, I am back fast asleep. And those attacks rarely even choose present themselves anymore.
In that dark room alone, I now fear nothing at all. In fact, I enjoy my time there. I use it to be in solitude with my thoughts, because since my mind has calmed, I’ve been able to embrace them again. I often will put on some music and just think. I’ll seek inspiration for a new blog, or just contemplate my life and my dreams. My unwavering trust is now in my “home” with the Lord…the place where I will continue to seek refuge when adversity strikes in my life. I’ve witnessed His power, and I believe in His ability to heal a broken mind, body, and spirit. I know that He will never abandon me, so no matter where I am, I am never without a “home”. Thanks to Him, I now see a future beyond these days. Thanks to the peace and comfort provided by answers found in a dark room alone…with God.