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A room with a door

A room with a door

by Larry Ciptak


[Note–the following is a middle-of-the-night, insomnia-inspired e-mail. I have chosen to not edit the original.]


Just thought I'd share a realization I've recently come to. Let me put it into context first.

I met with my therapist the other day, two weeks after his baby died. She was 8 months along and found out their baby was dead. His wife spent 3-1/2 days in labor delivering a dead baby. He told himself if his wife died, he was going to take a chair, break the window and jump 12 floors to his death. Total despair. His wife survived the horrible ordeal, their families wrapped around them, and somehow they are managing to move on.

A few months before this, he met with a close friend of his-32 years old-who just survived his second serious bout with lymphoma. No hairs, no eyebrows… one of those guys.

So my therapist asked him "how he did it"… how he managed to be "so courageous" in spite of the odds, the pain, etc. His friend looked at him and stated matter-of-factly "it has nothing to do with courage. I just wake up every morning and said to myself, 'there is a room with a door'. Am I going to stay in that room, or am I going to walk through that door?" He went on and elaborated that he did not know what was outside that room, but there was only one door to go through, and he knew his only choice was to walk through that door, despite the fear, despite it all.

He had no idea what he was talking about–and my therapist is a very philosophical and extremely intelligent individual. That is, until two weeks ago. He told me Thursday, "now I understand exactly what he meant about the room and the door."

He said "I now have a hole in me the shape of a baby boy that is never going to go away. Al! the love everyone showed us, the outpouring of support, the love we were shown, none of that touched it. And nothing ever will."

We talked about our lives, and I spoke about my hole, and how I spent years trying to fill it with drugs and alcohol, then school, then women, then work–whatever. None of it has worked. None of it ever will.

All of us have "holes" in our soul that will never be filled, and it's futile to attempt to fill them. It'll never happen. And when we focus on trying to fill them, we are led down futile paths that lead to more despair, more unhappiness, more depression. But if we accept that they are here to stay and even embrace them to make peace with them, we can then redirect our energy into more productive endeavors.

It's like having a big garden that has a spot or two where nothing ever grew, yet we keep trying to grow things there. Instead of trying to grow something in one of these dead areas, who not plant those plants somewhere else where they stand a chance of coming to fruition? That certainly doesn't negate the fact that feet away stands a barren area with no vegetation. It's always apparent, but somehow less apparent when the areas around it are prospering and the foliage is rising higher. But we know they are there, and if you look hard enough, you see them.

Then comes fall (depression/stress/difficult times) and the vegetation that was somewhat concealing the barren area starts to dwindle, and that barren area becomes all the more apparent, so we feel that more. It was always there-nothing ever grew there-but now that leaves are dropping and crops have faded (for now), it's a stark, ugly reality. We want to cover it and all its ugliness and pain up, for it hurts too much to see. But we can't ever seem to do a good enough job of it. Sure, spring will come again, and we'll plant new fruit, vegetables–the whole time knowing that nothing is going to grow in those certain spots.

My unhappiness and sense of futility comes from trying to get things to grow in these barren areas. An example would be my family. I keep tilling that soil and insist on planting, then am upset when nothing shoots up. I expect the improbable/impossible anyway, then am let down, which hurts tremendously.

So I am done expecting anyone or anything to fill those gaps/dark areas in my soul. They are there for a reason, and they are here to stay. My task now is to focus on planting where things have a chance to grow.

It's not going to conceal the barren ground, but at least I'll have a harvest that I wouldn't otherwise have if I insisted on making something grow in that barren area.

My therapist said this terrible tragedy "took two families (his and his wife's) that kind of liked each other and got them to love each other." So now another part of their garden is well-fertilized and will yield better foliage, all the while being cognizant that there is now an area that is and will remain unknowable. The two exist side-by-side.

I called a friend in the hospital tonight to see if he wanted a visit. He has a staph infection in his leg, and is in a great deal of pain. I had been waffling about what to do. Go to a meeting? Stay in? Go shopping? But I thought of Max and called him. He said, "Larry, I just found out 10 minutes ago that my mother died." So I spent the night tending to a friend in terrible pain, and all of a sudden my barren areas didn't seem so apparent. Now he has a new spot where nothing will grow, but tonight he had me, and our friendship deepened as a result.

The lessons I learn–the ones that matter–are born of pain and soul-searching, and a dedication to the truth. I believe it to be true that I will never fill those holes that sometimes seem all-encompassing. I can only focus on new growth in areas that are fertile. It's a new awareness to me, and what I do with this new awareness is up to me. Do I embrace it, or go into denial and continue expecting the impossible? It's a choice I need to make every day.

There's a room with a door. I can stay in the room where everything might not be good but is familiar, or I can walk out that door into a strange and sometimes scary world, and see if there's something better out there. Do I really have a choice? Of course. Fear might keep me from exercising that choice at times, but looking at my past, all these years of not drinking have been me walking out of that room and through the door. I now need to apply this to other areas of my life as well.

A room with a door. So simple, but so difficult.

Anyway, I needed to put this stuff down on paper and share it with some friends.