I don't know the average times each person hits rock bottom during his or her life. For me, it's been just a handful. I would guess that is probably below average.
The first time it happened I was 15. My first love broke up with me, and of course I was devastated. I survived it as well as any 15 year old survives heartbreak; a lot of Bon Jovi, raw cookie dough, and hours on the phone with my girlfriends (this was pre-text era).
Two weeks later, he attempted suicide. He took a bottle of some kind of pills and put a knife through his stomach (the details were kind of fuzzy). All I knew was he was in the hospital and I couldn't see him. Oh yeah, and that my name was in the suicide note.
I know sometimes people say in crisis situations time stands still. For me, days played out in fast forward. First seeing the school counselor, then a therapist my mom took me to, non stop headaches, constantly throwing up, seeing a doctor who thought perhaps I had a brain tumor so he ordered a CAT scan. Turns out it was just stress.Writing endlessly in the journal that I titled Suicide 101 (as suggested by the second therapist). Skipping class to sit in the band hall and cry. Then going home to cry more.
Then one night, sitting in church (my dad being a pastor, I spent most of my nights in church), having absolutely no idea what had been sang or said, I just walked out. Our sanctuary was on the second floor and I walked down the stairs aiming for the biting January air. It was freezing, but at least I would feel something besides this pain and guilt that left me struggling to breathe. I got as far as the bottom star and completely collapsed. Exhausted from not sleeping, my body listless from lack of nourishment, drowning in guilt. And so angry. So I did what anyone filled with anger would do. I started yelling at God. "Why? What is the point of all of this? I have done nothing for the last 15 years but what I thought you wanted me to do. I have gone where you wanted me to go, stayed away from things I thought were wrong. I have shown compassion. Loved. I have believed in you. I have loved you. So why the hell is this happening? Where are you right now?"
And then, God showed up.
I couldn't see Him. No Charlton Heston voice filled my ears. In fact if any one would have walked down those stairs, all they would have seen is a 15 year old crying her eyes out. But all of the sudden I was crying in the arms of my Father. I had no answers. I had no miracle. But He showed up. And eventually I walked back up the stairs and into my life.
The next time it happened was a few years after Richie and I got married, and we decided to try to start a family. We had an easy (and fun) time trying to get pregnant and it happened quickly. We were almost through our first trimester (12 weeks) when we went in for our first sonogram. As I lay on the table, I could see the doctor's cheerful disposition begin to change as she searched for our baby's heartbeat. She kept looking, but there was no use. She told us our baby had probably stopped growing at about eight weeks.
But I hadn't had any symptoms of a miscarriage, I told her. I had no bleeding, no cramping. Nothing. This can't be right. She couldn't be right. I could see the baby on the screen. There had to be some mistake.
But there was no mistake. There was no heartbeat. And we would have no baby.
Rock bottom this time turned out to be our bathroom floor. The door locked with me sobbing hysterically and Richie on the other side pleading with me to open the door and come out. I told him I couldn't. I just knew that somehow I had killed our baby. Something I ate, something I didn't eat. An exercise I did or didn't do. Vitamins I took. The ones I didn't take. The cross country car trip. We had our sono too late. I wasn't sure how, but I was sure I killed our baby. And I was sure God let it happen. So I started yelling again. Where the hell was He? If He loved me, if He loved our baby, why did He let this happen? God if you are here, why don't you want me to be a mother? Why did you let my baby die? Why don't I even have the strength to get up off the floor?
And just then, He showed up.
He cried every tear with me there in that tiny bathroom. He assured me that my pain was neither in vain nor was it foreign to Him. He knew exactly what it was like to lose a son. His heart was breaking with mine, but He knew that I would survive this pain, no matter how deep and raw, because He would not let me fail. And eventually, He pulled me up off the bathroom floor and back into my life.
My most recent visit to the bottom of the rock pile was last weekend starting with a trip to the Emergency Room. Surprisingly that was not my low point. The low point came almost a week later after an insurance mix up and some communication challenges with doctors and medication changes left me with nothing to treat my migraines. The combination of withdrawing from one kind of medication to start another, while at the same time catching a cold from the kids and constant nausea preventing me from eating for a week -- that wasn't even enough to knock me down (it gets harder to knock you down the more often you are there, I think).
But at some point I realized, even when the insurance and doctors got it all straightened out, I would be right back where I started. It's like I'm patching a bullet hole with a band-aid. I am not getting better. I spent four days telling myself what a horrible mother and wife I am. How all of this must somehow by my fault. Well meaning friends and family often say things like, "Have you tried this herb?" or "Maybe you should cut out chocolate or try acupuncture?" And it isn't that I don't appreciate suggestions. It is just that what I hear them saying is "This is your fault," "This is your fault," "This is all your fault."
This time, rock bottom looked like a lot like a bench. I decided to go for a walk Sunday night. However, since I hadn't eaten in four days, I only made it about a block and a half to the front of our neighborhood. Luckily there was a bench to sit on since that short walk left me feeling dizzy and nauseous. As I sat there, once more yelling at God (perhaps when I am at rock bottom, I find it necessary to yell in order to make sure He hears me). And then, I waited for Him to show up.
I walked back to the house in the throws of despair and drowning in self inflicted guilt ( See the pattern of guilt. Guilt from the suicide. Guilt from the miscarriage. Guilt from the health issues..) Maybe this really was all my fault. Maybe I had done something so wrong that God was no longer going to show up when I was desperate.
I got home just in time for the kids to go to bed. Both claimed stomach aches, and I was too tired to argue, so I let them climb into bed with me. Their sweet little bodies pressed up to mine, soft even breaths, and the smell of pineapple shampoo still in their hair, I took a deep breath and wouldn't you know . . .
God showed up.
"My child," He whispered. "If you wouldn't have been so hurt all those years ago when your friend tried to take his life you would be tempted to take your own life when your physical pain gets unbearable. Instead, I know, without question, that no matter how much physical pain you face in this life, suicide is not an option for you because you understand the devastation it leaves on the other side. And these babies you're holding in your arms. The ones who bring you so much joy. The ones you would give your own life for. You never would have known them if their sibling hadn't come home to live with me until you join us someday.
I am still here.
I know you don't understand the trials.
I know you are angry.
And I know you wish your life was different.
But there is work to be done here. And it can only be done by you. In this time. Exactly as you are."
Wherever you are today. If you are on a high mountaintop or if you are standing (or lying face down like me) at rock bottom, God is there. I know some of you reading this don't even believe in God. That doesn't mean He isn't there. We are never going to understand suffering. Instead, we have to rely on God's character and believe it when He says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer 29:11
Keep waiting and I promise, He will show up.