Maybe God, Maybe Not

When I joined AA I had pretty low opinion of God, if I had one at all. He wasn’t much of a factor in my life. If He created me, He must’ve gotten interrupted by a phone call or needed a bathroom break so that when He got back to it, He forgot what He was doing and left a piece out. If He existed, why wasn’t I happy? It didn’t seem fair that I walked around wanting to die while every day millions of others actually did.

God made no difference in my life, but drinking did. Why waste time on my knees when The Answer was limitless, close and affordable? And fast. If there was a God, He took too long, what with all those people he had to care for. So I took care of myself, starting with Boone’s Farm Apple Wine when I was 12 (those days I could take my 12-year-old-self into the liquor store and buy what I wanted) then graduating to rum, vodka or gin (mixed with soda so it wouldn’t taste so bad), pot, quaaludes, amphetamines and whatever I could find in any bathroom I entered that had a medicine cabinet.

God was a nonstarter until January, 1983, age 24, when I took my beaten self to an AA meeting. Instead of finding smoky basements filled with the old and the wet-brained, I found a group called Young Winners* and met people my own age. Younger, even. The group met on Friday nights, which made sense because Friday was drink-your-ass-off night. After the meeting, we’d go out to a diner. I didn’t do God and I didn’t do diners but I was doin’ what I was told because I believed it would make me better.

AA gave me the idea that maybe it was God that I was missing. I thought if I changed His name to Higher Power, it would change the way I thought about Him. Except HP As I Understood Him was still pretty much as distant and pissed off as my parents used to be. I was told prayer was talking to HP, and meditation was listening, so I tried both but I still felt like the only one I was talking to was myself. I was told not to worry, to “believe that we believe.” After a couple years, that’s exactly what I did. Praying got me nowhere so I let everyone else believe and concerned myself with keeping sober and trying to find the right group or the right book that would lead me to some version of a Benevolent Being just right for me.

What I didn’t know was that I was looking for something Out There that only existed in here. The connection I wanted was with  myself which sounded like some platitude until I understood what it meant. I thought I had a connection to my-self, a worthless, shameful self I devised and despised and so when I wasn’t drinking to destroy that self, I tried to do it by vomiting or starving myself (name me one addict who has only one addiction). I didn’t know that the “self” I hated was born and nurtured from the voices in my head which, powerful as they were, were just, well, voices, and since they were in my head not only could I choose not to listen to them, I could make them say something else. Something nice, even, weird and uncomfortable as that felt.

Which brings me back to Simple Isn’t Easy, but at least it’s clear and sensible. And revelatory.

Feeling more connected to a self that I was starting to like let me feel more connected to my kids. I was never as close to Philip as I was when he died. I might’ve tormented myself when my kids were growing up, but I didn’t torment them. My heart hurt for loving them and for not being able to feel how much they loved me back. And when I would tell Ed that in a show of love, Philip did this or Natalie did that, he’d say, “Why do you act so surprised every time you realize how much your kids love you?”

In the couple years before he died, Philip grew more tender than I’d ever seen him. Or maybe I just noticed it more because once he left to live on his own, he no longer had to come if I called, but he did. He’d often get in touch with me in the middle of the night to tell me he loved me. One night he called and said, “Mom, you fascinate me.” What the?? I was living on the top floor of my friend’s house ‘cause I couldn’t afford an apartment, I hated my job, I was manless and restless and still wondering what meaningful thing I could do when I got up in the morning, so what the hell was so fascinating?

“Because you’re growing up,” he said. “And I’m growing up. And we’re doing it together.” `

To which I said nothing because he’d taken my breath away.

The year before Philip died I found myself desperate to tell him I loved him. He was sweet and vulnerable and I didn’t know what I meant by that except I felt a hole in him that I was trying to stuff with my love. I told him that when I was a kid I was struck by the idea that an inch was such a tiny thing, but if you divided it, it became infinity. “I am that inch,” I told him, “and inside this body, my love for you is infinite.”

And a few months before he died, I sent him a text that read, “I am sorry for any time I was ever angry at you or made you feel bad about yourself.”

There was something between us, me and my son. Something relaxed and familiar and right. Something like we fit together, and all it ever was was easy. And that is why on the landing, when I finally stopped crawling and screaming and gave Phil a moment of space to say what he had to say, and what he had to say was, “They found him…” I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence because what I heard was Philip, and what he said was, “Mom, you gotta go deeper.” In the hot, swirling, sinking, stinking mess my world had become, I heard my son and I knew what he meant but all I could think was, fuck you, are you fucking kidding me, is this some fucking cosmic joke? and it occurred to me that right then, right that very second, there were people all over the world who were finding out their children were dead and they were feeling exactly what I was feeling and if it was possible to feel like this, what was the point of being alive?

Accept it, leave it, change it. Somebody, anybody – please, tell me; are there any other options? Because these are not going to work for me this time; these are most definitely not going to work.

*I’m not sure if anonymity only applies to people, but just in case, this was not the real name of the meeting.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 16:53:33

    I wish I had answers. Sending hugs and support. xo


  2. tersiaburger
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 18:12:17

    Oh Denise I don’t have words. I feel your pain. Hugs and healing wishes!


  3. Denise
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 21:19:36

    Thank you both – heartfelt hugs back to you. You listen to me and if there is healing, that is where it lies.


  4. anna whiston-donaldson
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 10:21:42

    oh my goodness. this is beautiful and wrenching.


  5. Denise
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 10:35:31

    That means so much coming from you. xoxoxo


  6. Lucia Maya
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 17:56:35

    This is so powerful, beautiful, rich with layers upon layers. I’ve read it a few times and feel there’s still more to receive…i believe that your writing, what you do here is one part of why you’re still here. That your son’s death is not without meaning, that what you can share with your wisdom, experience and clear articulation makes a difference in the lives of others.
    The other option, which I find possible through Byron Katie’s work, is to LOVE it. Crazy as that sounds, it’s possible. blessings to you. Lucia


  7. Denise
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 18:53:37

    I have a book by her (is it called “Love What Is?”) – you reminded me of that. It’s packed away because I have to move (long story, not for now), but when I unpack, I’ll look for it. And believe me, I do not think that’s crazy, it just doesn’t feel possible. I’ve only started getting to the part about Philip communicating with me…there’s so much story here, so much he’s trying to teach me. The work is getting to the underbelly of this grief, where joy lies. But I miss him, I miss him, I miss him.


  8. Rose Vidotto
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 13:24:42


    We don’t know each other and probably never will, however, your life story and your words meant so much to me. Some of the things you wrote fit me and my life like a glove. I do wonder a lot about my life, and why I’m really here. My life if it wasn’t for my kids would probably be very empty. However, by reading your words something struck me and I thought, uau maybe this is Denise’s quest. She is touching people’s lifes through her own raw words and feelings. She is bringing to us a sense of reality that we don’t want to feel, don’t want to be close but it does exist and so many people go through it. You seem the kind of person that has so much to teach to other people. You know how to express yourself, how to put down in words everything you’re leaving, and for those that will take the time to read everything you wrote and realize what your feelings are really about, those will learn a life lesson they will never forget. I laughed and cried reading your words. I went home yesterday after I read your blog and hugged both of my kids so hard and kissed them so hard they had no idea why I was doing. But, I knew. Love Rose


    • Denise
      Jul 03, 2013 @ 13:41:34

      Rose, you’ve no idea how much I appreciate what you wrote. I’m working on my next post, and I started by saying how much I need to write because I want to connect. Losing Philip has left me bereft and I don’t know half what I need, but writing is some of it. My kids are the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m grateful for my relationship with both of them. Philip and I never said good-bye without adding, “I love you,” so no regrets on that score. It’s awful the things I have to be grateful for now, but grateful I am. And as anyone who loses a loved one (and a child; my God, a child?) will say, my life is better for the time I had with him.

      Thank you.


  9. confusedhumanity
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 22:14:30

    I will never say I can understand what you went through, what you are going through!! I don’t know if such wounds heal, may be you just learn to live with it. I have lost a brother and I just pretend at times he is out there in some other part of the world, just that he is too busy to call or visit may be. I really think your words will make a difference to all those out there feeling the same pain, the same loss!!Hope you find happiness again. Peace be with you


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 04:42:06

      Thank you. I’ve tried to do that at times, make believe he was traveling and I just couldn’t get in touch with him. I’m not very good at pretending. And as you say, it’s not the kind of wound that heals, it’s learning to live with it. So that’s what I do every day. See if I can intersect even for a few minutes with others, because the world I’m living in isn’t the one it used to be.


  10. godtisx
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 02:42:48

    Denise I don’t know quite what to say, but I think you had a beautiful blessing in the time you knew your child. May the transformed relationship you now have with him, strengthen more and more with time.


  11. Midlife Modern
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 09:03:26

    YOU are amazing, which explains why he is amazing still!


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