I remember it clearly.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I lost my belief in my own capacity to change. This loss hurt worse than others because it was terrifying. Because always on the other side of my behavior and mistakes there was some kind of belief that I could turn it around--that change was possible if I wanted it. And if I'd lost that somewhere along the way...if perhaps I'd gone too far, or had become so out of integrity with myself that I wasn't able to return? That was too dark a place to live.
Hope is at first, I think, childish. In the best way, of course. We have faith and hope because life is still so new. Every moment is fresh; there is still magic in the smallest things: a cookie, swimming, flowers, Christmas Eve. We are light.
But we can lose that hope, slowly or quickly. I lost it in degrees over years and years, but finally noticed it when I couldn't stop doing things that hurt me. When I couldn't stop lying. When I couldn't stop drinking, despite actively trying to stop. When I couldn't stop drinking, not even for my daughter. I lost it when the damage was real, profound, and un-erasable and yet I kept choosing things that caused more damage. I lost it when I had gone against who I thought I was so many times that I couldn't deny that darkness was very much a part of me too.
I remember it clearly.
I was driving to work after another night of blacking out, trying to apply my mascara in traffic, and I could no longer un-see my bloodshot, yellowing eyes. How many times had I sworn I would not do it again? How many times had I done it again?
I thought, Maybe I have lost my capacity to change. Maybe I cannot recover from this.
What I've figured out, over time, is that my childish version of belief was based on the innocent notion that life is self-correcting if we just keep living it. We have that luxury as children, most of the time (and of course, many of us do not). What I learned is that the hope and faith I innately had as a younger person had not yet been tested by the fire of life. The fire had come when I wasn't noticing it's seriousness. The fire had come because it always does. I had to make real choices in the fire--my thoughts, my actions--because my life depended on it.
This is when belief became a choice. I had to actively choose what I had for so long taken for granted because I was born with it. And I had to do so based on absolutely nothing but the promises of others who'd gone before me who promised a better way. I had to actively choose to believe in myself, despite all the evidence that I shouldn't. I had to believe there was something much bigger than my body, my mind, my very bruised heart, and that this thing wanted me to live, and live brightly. I had to practice believing because there was no other way to get out.
Many people think I have something they do not: power, will, discipline, creativity, optimism...something. I don't. Every day I have to practice these things. Just last week I was in the heaviness again, despondent and totally disconnected. The only sliver of consolation was the tiniest bit of a remembrance that I'd been there before and it passed, so perhaps it would pass again. That was belief.
Belief is something you have to practice. How did I know I could love my life without drinking, change careers, write this thing right now? I didn't. I don't. But I believe in the mystery, and I believe in taking the leap, and I believe in listening to that still small voice inside me, and I believe--no, I know--that fear and reward always co-exist. If I am not afraid, then it's not really belief, is it? If I'm not afraid, then not much is on the line. And if there's not much on the line, I'm not dreaming big enough.