I’m climbing out of hell
January 15, 2016 by Julie Negrin
It’s dank and depressing at rock bottom. The mud that oozes through my toes smells like shit and I’m either too hot or too cold. There is no light, just stale black air – the same shade of nothing whether my eyes are closed or open.
I want to breathe the fresh succulent air of a life outside doctor offices. I want an entire week without being poked with a needle. I want to escape this deep grief that shackles me to this gloomy cave. No matter what I do, I can’t shake it loose.
Is this my life? This unbearable rain cloud pouring down inside my chest, my mind, my heart? Will I ever get strong again or am I trapped forever in this genetically mutant body that doesn’t work?
I cry. I wail. I curl up in a tight little ball to stay as dry as possible as the loud, teardrops keep falling from above me and inside me. I can not live like this, I can not live like this, I can not live like this, I’d rock back and forth trying to soothe myself.
I try meditating. I try taking a Xanax. I try binge watching TV. None of it distracts me from this tiny, miserable hole.
My body grieves. My mind weeps. I spend hours staring at the wall, or what I can see of it.
After months inside my tiny prison, my eyes adjust to the darkness. I notice small grooves etched into the cave and realize it resembles a rock climbing wall.
I don’t like rock climbing. I’m not built for it. It scares me.
But I can not sit here for one more second. I feel the lethargy of grief seep out of me. I’m now antsy, ready to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to ease the pain of this wretched abyss.
I step one foot in the wall and my fingers search for a ledge. I start to slowly climb. I’m a terrible at it. But I keep at it anyway. Instead of focusing on everything I’ve lost, I’m now concentrating on moving upward, forward, away from where I was. One foothold at a time. After awhile, my hands are cracked, bloody, exhausted. When my body screams STOP, I find a small shelf to huddle in for the night.
I hear a noise close to my perch. I squint to see better. I can’t believe I didn’t see this before but other people are climbing alongside me. Were they near me when I was crying at rock bottom? Are we really alone down there or is it just an illusion?
Now I’m distracted by my own journey upward AND connecting with the other climbers.
Through 140 character messages. Watercolor paintings I draw on the sides of the wall when I’m resting. Leaving quotes to inspire whoever is climbing up after me. It feels easier now. I can see in the dark. My arms and legs are more agile, my body is stronger.
I can see some light now. It’s faint and intermittent but it’s there. The weird thing is that I’m used to blackness now. I’m not afraid of it anymore. As much as I long for the light, I realize how much strength I’ve gained by learning to see in the dark.
I know the smallest thing could knock me off the wall. It might devastate me. I will feel despair times one million. But I’ll know my way around rock bottom. I’ll know there are others in the dark I can sing to and with. I know that I can handle however long I’m supposed to be there. And I also know I have the strength to climb back out.
But for now, thankfully, I’m not there anymore. And I’m not quite at the top yet either. I’m just sitting on a little shelf, painting, scribbling down writing ideas. I’m also creating a map. Instructions on how to survive down below – and how to escape.
It makes the journey so much easier for me. Knowing that if I make it out, I might be able to help others find their way out too.
I can do this.