As we pulled onto the main road in the town where my mother-in-law lives, we saw a house lit up with Christmas lights. Our three year-old daughter exclaimed, “Lights!” She gleefully clapped her hands and asked for more ‘happy lights’. Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, when most people begin to decorate for the holidays, my husband and I decided to drive around the small town in search of more light displays.
The town, however, was silent and dark.
We continued to drive and even made a game out of who would spot lights first, yet no displays were to be found. A little sigh of resignation was heard from the back of the van and a quiet disclaimer of, “no more lights.” I turned to see my daughter slumped in her car seat and looking disturbed about the lack of happy lights in that town.
It reminded me of what traveling through the dark tunnels of my life have been like.
The light has disappeared a few times along my own journey and I found myself stuck in a deep, dark tunnel with absolutely no perception of the proverbial light at the end of it. I would frantically feel along the cold walls of despair searching for a way out, unable to see what is in front of me or even behind me. I slipped further into the tunnel and got lost in a deep, dark place I couldn’t even see.
And, I almost didn’t make it out of there.
The only sound that kept me company in the dark was the liturgy in my mind convincing me that my worth and value had bled out and gone completely dry. I was a burden, a waste, and there was never going to be any hope for someone like me, that girl who kept getting lost in a maze of symptoms from post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. ‘That girl’ tried to kill herself a few times down in that deep, dark cave and was very nearly successful.
I tried to stuff those painful memories of the darkness down as I reached over to grab my husband’s hand and say, “I don’t think we will find any happy lights tonight.”
My heart felt heavy as the memories of the deep, dark cave began to prance themselves around my mind. I thought of all the empty days, months, and years that were spent merely trying to survive the day and white-knuckling the task of even getting out of bed. I began to see all those nights I spent sobbing on the bathroom floor and reaching out my hand in the darkness with the hopes of feeling a hand reaching back. I could hear words like “crazy”, “selfish”, and “drama queen” bouncing around like the sound of a ball on a racquetball court. I knew those words and heard them coming at me in the voice of others. If only others actually knew or even tried to understand.
The sound of my daughter gasping snapped me out of the melancholia as the twinkling of happy lights caught my attention. There they were, wrapped around a tiny tree in someone’s front yard. That small Christmas tree stood alone, lighting up an otherwise very dark road. Suddenly our van was full of happy squeals as our daughter gasped and pointed at the tree. Our 9 month old son even began to babble happily. My husband slowed the van and paused enough to look over at me and smile.
There was a time I was lost in a tunnel with no perception of the light. There was a time my life didn’t include the happy squeals and babbles of small children or the handsome blue eyes of a man who looked at me with such love. There was a time when all I could hear was the sound of my own hopeless echoing in a tunnel I thought I would never escape.
But, I made it out. I survived.
And, like that small tree proudly displaying a string of lights in the dark, I am sharing my journey to let someone else know that they will be okay.
I am shining my small string of lights at the end of someone’s long, dark tunnel to say, “You are going to make it out. Just keep looking for the lights.”