There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making. Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer. ~Anne Lamott, from Help, Thanks, Wow
Easy for her to say. Easy for any of us to say, perhaps, from the far shore of healing. Easy to see that the freedom was there, after hitting bottom. The freedom to wave the white flag. To take to bed. To pull the covers over our head and wait until the world made sense again.
But when it's happening to us, when we're in that moment of falling-but-not-quite-yet-hitting-bottom, it's not freedom we're feeling but sheer terror.
We're terrified that there is no bottom. We're terrified that what we think is bottom can still get worse. We're terrified that we're trapped. That we just won't be able to find our way out of the darkness of betrayal. That if we were wrong about this, about him, what could we possibly be right about?
But Lamott, who knows a thing or two about hitting bottom having done it plenty in her life, is right. There is freedom in abdicating responsibility for anyone but ourself. What's more, once we recognize that freedom, which means free from saving or rescuing anyone else, we realize that we're not trapped at all. We have choices. They might not all sound like a picnic in a park, but that's okay. Life isn't always about picnics. Sometimes it's about pain. And sometimes it's about using that pain as a compass pointing us in the direction away from it. Pain can be acute, as in discovering a spouse's affair. And it can be a dull ache, something we've grown accustomed to and hardly notice anymore. When we ignore that dull pain, the one that stops us just shy of truly feeling fulfilled, life sometimes delivers a blow we can't ignore. Like a spouse's affair. That one will knock us to the ground and leave us gasping.
Life's got our attention now.
Which is where the freedom comes in.
It was never our job to save or rescue anyone. To tell them, cajole them, beg them, plead with them, manipulate them, charm them or otherwise spend our precious time on how they should be spending theirs.
Lamott calls it "the place of great unknowing". And for so many of us, we can't imagine anything more terrifying. Not knowing means that anything – ANYTHING – could happen. Except, for you reading this, it likely already has happened. He had the affair. Or affairs. Or is still having it. And you're realizing just how much more painful it is than anyone of us thought it would ever be.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that, as Lamott reminds us, the place of great unknowing is where restoration is free to begin. While we're still holding on with white knuckles, our minds and hearts racing, we're not open to restoration. We're focused on survival. And survival, for me at least, meant controlling everyone and everything around me. Out of control was out of the question.
So finding myself out of control was at first terrifying. Then (after a long time while I refused to recognize that I was truly out of control – I'm a slow learner) it became liberating. I didn't need to have all the answers. I didn't have to be ultra-capable. I could let go and fall. I could hit bottom and I could whisper at first then shout, "Help".
And it arrived. First in the form of my mother. Then in the form of a wonderful friend. A compassionate therapist. A great Web site. Help was there, offering me signposts toward restoration.
But first, I hit bottom hard. And it wasn't the end. It was the beginning of a journey I continue still. Toward choice. And self-respect. Toward freedom.
Try it. Ask for help. Recognize that you've hit bottom, the place of "great unknowing" and that you're ready for restoration. You can't "fix the unfixable" by which I mean you can't fix anyone but yourself. Start there.Restore your own soul. Respect your heart. Slow your mind until your choices become clearer.