There but for the Grace of God

Keep on going!During the last week, I have experienced ‘the darkness’ twice. It’s enlightening, finding out a bit more about who I am (at the ripe old age of 36!), and not suffocating the bad emotions with too much wine; I am reaching a point close to acceptance of self. There is no perfection in humanity – all of our characters are flawed, but only now am I discovering all the facets of my personality in all their forms, giving them a chance to rise to the surface like lily-pads that have been weighted down on the bed of a stagnant pond.

I’ll describe that dark place to you; it doesn’t seem to arise for any particular reason but I know it’s there from the minute I wake up. A dirty, blackened lens colours my view of everything that presents itself before me; the news on the TV is wrong, their take on a story is prejudiced, unfair. The clothes in my wardrobe are badly fitting, unfashionable, cheap looking. My hair is frizzy and has no style. The weather is too hot or too cold. I haven’t got enough money to do what I want to do, to do what would make me happy. Nobody understands me – the world is acting conspiratorially against me. My maternity leave is running out, time is moving too fast and I don’t want my baby to have to spend days away from me in a nursery. It makes me panic. The laundry is never-ending, the floor is perennially dirty. I’m fat; I can’t shift the baby weight. I look like a middle-aged, tired mum in bad clothes. My make-up is fruitless, a waste of time. I can still see the lines and dark circles beneath my eyes. I am going grey. It builds and builds.

Before I stopped drinking, I would quash the panic with cold, white wine. Its effect was instantaneous, washing away the bad thoughts and filling me up with a rosy glow, ameliorating the world in minutes. These days I go for a run.

On one of these self-medicating runs last week, I saw someone who shocked me to my core. This person is an ex-boyfriend from the days when I spent my life in self-destruct mode; a great catch and someone I think of often. In and out of prison for heroin-dealing, violent, a drug-dealer, an alcoholic fresh out of rehab for his smack problem and who had found his Higher Power in Stella Artois and ecstasy pills, his redeeming features made an impressive list. I had heard that he had been seriously ill, that he had been suffering from throat cancer, pneumonia, and that he had been taking heroin again, but I hadn’t seen him for maybe ten years so I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. An old man of 46, shuffling along the pavement with a walking stick and a stooped back, shrivelled and weak and small. He had no charisma; his swagger had been annihilated by years of self-abuse. The man who I used to walk into a pub with and watch as he bought three pints of Stella in one purchase, in order that he could down the first two like a runner drinking water at the end of a marathon before moving on to the third at a more relaxed pace, was no longer there. Never before has the expression ‘a shadow of his former self’ applied to a person so aptly. The man who used his bulk to push me around when I was twenty has almost succeeded in killing himself with drugs and drink, just sixteen years after our relationship ended.

I didn’t speak to him. He didn’t see me. His eyes were staring at the ground as he dragged his feet along, one in front of the other with slow deliberation. I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a while. My black mood vanished without a trace. Oh, there but for the grace of God go I.

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