I used to say that I was grateful that I was drunk enough not to remember being booked at the police station on the night of my DUI. It was Good Friday, 2014. I don’t remember how I got home. I don’t remember how the first person I talked to–my divorce lawyer–found out about the accident. I only remember two things:
When I drove my car into the window of the building I hit, I saw an older Latina woman with a floor mop in her hand, and her face was frozen in fear. I felt sorry for frightening her. And I remember the voice of my friend Ann on the phone the next morning. She’d seen the story of the accident in the newspaper, and she called and said, “Leslie,” her voice containing a well of pain, shock, and compassion. Hearing her voice felt like a hand reaching into the muddy blur of humiliation and terror I’d woken up in, and it remains, to this day, the single greatest act of kindness I can recall.
My rehab counselor laughed the first time I told her that I’d driven my car through a window at a McDonalds. She laughed really hard. We both knew it wasn’t funny, but there’s a very dark humor that permeates addiction and recovery, and her laughter opened up a few molecules of space between me and the accident. Suddenly there was a tiny chink of light. That little fragment of light was enough for me to keep going.
While I don’t remember much of the time after the accident, I do remember the day before. I remember the red wine and the Xanax I used to numb the feelings that came with knowing another woman was living in my former home, the home where my sons lived, in the kitchen where I’d cooked family dinners, in the bedroom I’d painted a warm gold. In the bed I’d slept in, and where I nursed my youngest son in the months after his birth. I felt discarded like a paper doll, with someone new slotted into the life I’d worked so hard to create.
I’d become untethered, which was ultimately to become the thing that gave me back my life, my freedom. But at first it was simply too painful to feel. So I drank, a lot and often. It’s not interesting.
People do all sorts of things to make meaning out of the disasters in their lives, and I’m no different, except I usually have a line from Kurt Vonnegut running in my head that describes most of life’s crises simply as the inevitable accidents that will invariably happen in the very busy place that is earth. Truth be told, that’s a lot closer to how I feel about life, but that doesn’t preclude making meaning out of it.
Photo credit: Kate Toth
The meaning of the accident for me will always be this: I had an experience of excruciating suffering and I was given the privilege of surviving; I was given the gift of renewal. The black eyes and bruises from the accident healed. I made reparations. I prayed to be worthy of forgiveness. I learned to live without numbing my pain, minute by minute at first, then hour by hour, then day by day.
The meaning of the accident will always be this: I learned, in my cells and my spirit, that we experience both betrayal and acceptance; both abandonment and assistance, both crucifixion and resurrection. And the crucifixion is never the end. It is never the end. We are always invited into Easter.
I don’t know of a greater gift, a more human lesson, offered in the midst of the most miraculous divinity. I truly believe that the resurrection is for all of us. Jesus didn’t leave Mary Magdalene alone in her weeping. He called her by her name and offered her reassurance. He told her that the crucifixion wasn’t the end; he blessed her with his resurrection and helped her to become new.
Today we get to celebrate this same blessing, and even if it only opens up a tiny fragment of light between us and our pain, sometimes that is enough.
Photo credit: Kate Toth (www.katetoth.com)