Desperation, hopelessness and defeat are what finally saved my life
It was sun-rise when I woke up. I could feel the concrete beneath my face, still hot from yesterday’s Texas sun. I had tried to organize some leaves to provide a barrier between the ground and me, but it was of no use.
As my eyes opened, I began to process where I was and what I was hearing. Some clanging noises had stirred me awake. All I could see was a dumpster, until a man popped up.
He was old and thin, and his white beard was fuller than the white ring of hair hanging from his head and draping down his shoulders. He looked dirty — scary even. Placing his hands on his hips, he looked straight at me.
Frozen for a second, I gasped.
“Don’t worry miss, I’m just dumpster diving!” he said, jovially.
I made no effort to process his words as I quickly grabbed my things and started to run. I ran faster than I had ever run before.
The man had no ill intent and he certainly wasn’t chasing me, but I just kept running. I didn’t know where I was going or who I was running from, I just ran. In hindsight, I was really running from myself. I was running from the awareness of where I was and what had happened. I was running from the man in the dumpster, not because he wanted to hurt me, but because I had just slept outside, on the concrete, next to a dumpster. He was a symbol of that.
I wasn’t running from the man. I was running from me.
When I reached the studio style cheap-motel, where I had lived just a few weeks ago, I sat on the outdoor stair to catch my breath.
I had attempted finding a friend there the night before, but no one answered the door. They surely wouldn’t answer now, at 6 am.
Maybe they saw my giant duffle bag through the peep hole and told everyone to be quiet. Or maybe they were out, passed out, or having sex. Didn’t matter. Less people would be conscious at 6 am than were at 3. And anyone up at this time was probably up smoking crack or meth all night.
I could feel the sun beginning to beat down its thick and oily Houston beams, as I wiped the sweat off of me with some Taco Cabana napkins. It was getting hot already.
I had zero dollars, zero places to go, zero liquor or rolls, and I desperately needed a shower. Being I hadn’t ingested any mind altering substances for a good eight hours, I started to feel my hunger. Hunger was terrifying, because it meant withdraws were only a few short hours away.
As my sobbing began, it was as if I had no tears left in my body. Maybe I didn’t, due to chronic dehydration. But in that terrifying moment, it felt like my entire soul had run dry.
I had known that I was running out of life for a while — even tried to find help a couple times. But this moment, this moment was different than all the rest. It was the absolute worst moment of my entire life.
But it was also the best moment of my life.
For the first time in my life, I felt completely defeated, desperate and hopeless. Not that I hadn’t been all those things before, but not completely. This time there was nothing left. I was the barren shell of a human. There was not a shred of hope or life left in me. My body and my spirit were a wasteland. This wasteland though, it was where my life began. Again. This was the moment I received the divine gift of complete and utter desperation.
The next few months would be excruciating. I would endure more hell than I could have ever imagined. But the next few months would lead me out of the dark hole of death and into a new life. I would never have had strength required to endure that hell — and save my own life — if not for the gift of desperation.
Sometimes, desperation is a gift. And sometimes it is the most unbearable pain that saves our lives. Complete defeat is necessary for a stubborn person, like me, who refuses to start again.
Sometimes the hope we need lies in places we wish to never go. And it is not until we have lost all hope elsewhere that we become willing to venture into the unknown.
It is not until we are completely defeated that we are willing to say, “My way isn’t working, life. I can’t do this. I need help. Please, somebody… anybody… help me. I’ll do anything.”
This is why the 12×12 says that pain is the touchstone of spiritual progress.
It is why Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
Even Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When your heart finally does break open enough, the light enters like a million tiny seeds — seeds that you have been carrying for a very long time. They are seeds of your past, your life, the people you love and the lessons you have refused to learn. Your grandfathers wise words and the love from that teacher in third grade who treated you like you mattered. Every passionate word from your loved ones that you never internalized, so many stories that you didn’t understand, and all the things that you couldn’t hear before finally make their way into your heart. And suddenly, all those seeds get to grow — every single one.
This is the gift of desperation.
Written by Holly Kellums