By Don Killian
Saturday morning once again. Cup of coffee. Blinds open. Slight haze on the mountain. Peaceful.
While I sit here with my feet up on the coffee table anticipating the yet-to-be happenings of this new day, I am looking up at the mountain barely able to discern my Tree of Hope. I have probably stared at it with great satisfaction thousands of times in the past two years.
I had written about it this summer in my yet-to-be-published and hopefully soon-to-be-completely-edited book.
In a short while, I will be heading to State College, PA to watch a football game with my friend Jayson (who has played a prominent role in my recovery and in the book). Jayson had suffered through many months of post-acute withdrawal from booze and street drugs several years ago. We both have known and survived the agony of withdrawal, and that fills our trips to Happy Valley with an ecstasy that is hard to describe – “pure carefree joy“ maybe.
I wanted to share an excerpt about my Tree of Hope here. I often wonder if I had ever seen this tree during my years of withdrawal but never recognized it until I was well. It had been there all the time. I just didn’t know it. Here is the excerpt:
His vision dropped to another area of the mountain in search of something he had discovered in the autumn of 2012 when the leaves of the trees on the mountain were turning color. At the time, he regarded it as something that was unusual but had given it little more thought. The following year he noticed it again and tried to “mark” its location so that he could identify where it would reappear in 2014 – this year. He marked its location from his chair. It was located at a spot that seemed to “touch” the left side of the cowl on the chimney of the house behind Pastor Dave’s house. Of course, it was actually located a half mile or more from the chimney cowl, but it gave the perception that it was in physical contact with the cowl.
This “something” was a very small tree, or at least it appeared to be very small compared to the other trees on the mountain. In the fall, it was the first tree that could be seen from Lee’s vantage point in the living room that changed color. That in itself was not very remarkable. The extraordinary aspect was the color of the leaves. They were a vibrant, brilliant red unlike the color of any of the other trees on the mountain. Lee thought the tree resembled the burning bush at the side of his house, but, to be visible so far away, it was surely much larger than a shrub.
Even though he had marked its location last fall, the tree had disappeared into the various shades of brown-grey over the winter because its leaves had dropped. All winter Lee tried to imagine where it would be if he could see it. He wanted to be able to “predict” where it would pop up this autumn. One morning last month, to his surprise, he rediscovered it. It was a significantly lighter shade of green compared to the other larger trees surrounding and behind it. Even though it was small, its shape was unmistakable. This was the tree.
It was obviously a special tree in Lee’s mind. The first time he had spied it in 2012, he had just passed his two-year anniversary of being free of benzodiazepines. At the same time, the last of all the mental and emotional symptoms of his withdrawal had finally faded along with that relentless dizzy, disconnected feeling he had had for years. That was a symptom he had expected to haunt him the rest of his life. Even though he had always hoped it would leave, he really did not believe it would.
For that reason, Lee had claimed this particular tree as his own personal tree. It would forever remind him that miracles happen. In the last four and a half years, he had been the recipient of many miracles. He never wanted to forget it, and this tree would help him to always remember the gifts he had been given. He called it the Tree of Hope.
In many ways, this tree was very much like the hope that had helped him survive withdrawal. For many consecutive months, the hope within him was nearly imperceptible. It felt small and insignificant compared to all the other overpowering feelings of fear, despair, guilt, shame, paranoia, weakness, anger, defeat, and even hopelessness. He kept a tiny ember of hope alive every day by reading success stories of others who had survived withdrawal and who promised that there was a rainbow of wellness at the end – a wellness with a greater intensity of satisfaction, happiness, and peace compared to the intensity of the unending fear, dark depression, and total despair of withdrawal. He had hoped that those stories were true, and his hope had paid off. Those success stories were truer than he could have imagined. Even though the hope had seemed small, it was enough.
Lee could not see the Tree of Hope during the winter months, but he knew it was there among the rest of the trees. It was simply camouflaged from his sight. It was much like the many times in withdrawal when his brain lied to him that he would never be well, that he was mentally ill, and that he would always be sick – that he should just give up. At those times, his brain would not allow him to ”feel” any vestige of hope, and he felt no hope. But there had always been a tiny spark of hope inside his very being that refused to cower to the lies of his ailing brain. He didn’t know it was there mentally (because his brain would not allow it), but he knew it was there within his spirit against which his brain could mount no attack.
At some point in Lee’s withdrawal, he did start to feel a glimmer of wellness in the form of lifting depression and fear. This fanned the flames of his hope until it burned brightly – just as his Tree of Hope seemed to burn brilliantly in the autumn. As time went on and Lee’s recovery accelerated, he began to share that hope with others so that their hope would not be extinguished by withdrawal and would eventually grow and be spread to others as they healed.
Lee thought that one day he would like to physically touch his Tree of Hope, but he did not know of a way that could ever occur. It was far away, and the closer he might get to it, the more it would be lost from his view. He would not be able to find the tree for the forest. Maybe it was just as well. Hope cannot be touched, but it is still there. He would be satisfied to see it in full array in the autumn. It was enough just to know it was there and always would be as long as he was alive.
[It is now 17 hours later. I had some difficulty posting this to the blog this morning and had to wait till I returned from the ballgame. Awesome day.]