The Turtle Cried

Magic works undercover. Important moments aren’t always recognized as they are happening. They don’t look important, or feel important, or have any obvious effect right away.

It was eight o’clock on a Monday morning in May of 2011. For me, it was the morning of day 4 in rehab and day 6 with no painkillers.

At this particular facility, we were supposed to strip our beds every Monday morning and change the sheets. I was able to get the sheets off, but while leaning over and struggling with getting the new fitted sheet on I triggered my lower back pretty badly. My default pain level spiked, and I rolled onto my back gasping. Then I started to cry, scaring my roommate a bit until I caught my breath. I laid still for ten minutes or so, then I managed to get up and she helped me get the sheet on.

I cried because my back hurt a lot; because the screwdriver that always seemed to be jammed into my lower left spine had been brutally twisted.

I cried because I knew this meant I faced another long day of fidgeting in chairs during classes and group.

I cried because I felt humiliated at being sprawled sideways on a bed not my own, ungainly as a turtle on its back, weeping.

I cried because I missed my family; because I would have given anything to hear their voices asking if I was all right or to have our dog jump up on the bed and sniff at me quizzically.

I cried because I didn’t want to be 45 and in rehab.

So what made this moment magical? Why do I remember it well? It certainly wasn’t the first, or last, time I cried in treatment. It was only one of many times I had to experience intense feelings.

I realize now that it feels magical to me because it marked one of the first signs that this recovery thing might really be different for me this time.

The moment was a moment in which I was not making any excuses. Not rationalizing anything. Not trying to find a way out, or blame someone else, or making a plan for it to get better. I was expressing distress in the moment, but I wasn’t trying to escape the moment. Nor was I trying to escape the day ahead, or the realities that had led me here. I wasn’t telling myself that it wasn’t that bad.

For the addict I am, and especially for the addict I was then, that is truly a phenomenon worth remembering.

My whole life was about escaping my thoughts, my pain, my feelings, and my responsibilities. I could and did rationalize constantly to make what I was doing seem like logic, or not that bad, or at least the lesser of evils. The real or perceived ordeal of my days led to a nightly ritual of retreat; a ritual enacted during the day whenever possible as time went on.

I’m not immune to this mindset now, by any means. I struggle with it every day, with varying degrees of success. I fall into it more when my stress level is high, so it’s up a lot lately.

Today I remember that unmade bed, that muscle spasm, and those tears because I need that simplicity. I need it badly, and I broke through into some of it yesterday. I broke through, perhaps more so than I have in many months, and even as I write this I feel near tears with a sensation of relief and gratitude.

What brought me here? Several things, possibly; perhaps I’ll write more about them later. It was no effort of mine. I’ve been trying to fight the good fight; I’ve made lots of efforts, but I did not climb some mountain or solve some puzzle. I didn’t “figure out” how to return to that magic circle.

The turtle cried, and the circle appeared around me.

One response to “The Turtle Cried

  1. Love your final sentence, “The turtle cried, and the circle appeared around me.” I hope you continue to break through to that sense of relief and gratitude.

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