Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Yevette Christy

March 6, 2021

It was June of 2016, and I was preparing to move to Westcliffe, Colorado to take my first appointment as a pastor. I wasn’t ready, but I took the appointment anyway. Addiction had been a part of my ongoing narrative since I was 9, and in 2016 I was struggling with alcohol and Ambien abuse. I was in an unhealthy relationship, and as it was my pattern, I used those vices to run away while standing still. I drank to comfort my sadness, quiet my hateful self-talk, and numb the rage of my discontentment. These tactics never worked. I couldn’t escape any of it, and I was spiraling–Spiraling. It wasn’t long before I was being hospitalized for bouts of pancreatitis. One evening I was lying in the emergency room, behind a soft gray curtain, tears falling away from my eyes and getting caught in the folds of my ears while the nurse tried to draw blood from my dehydrated body, for the seventh time. Despondent, and in pain, I turned to my partner, and he was looking at his phone, smiling. I looked back up at the ceiling, and wondered if I would ever be free—whole.

Exhausted, I closed my eyes. Physically and spiritually, I kept regurgitating my own trauma, and then bottle-feeding it whiskey. I had been conditioned—as a child addict—to hold my breath when experiencing trauma, to get faded and hope it would all go away, but it never did. The shadows only grew, and I found myself running from hard place to hard place with nowhere to rest. My trauma and addiction had grown up together, deviant twins, one feeding the insanity of the other. Like “Pig-Pen,” I was perpetually kicking up dust, obstructing my own vision, making my existence more problematic than it had to be. I had been holding my breath for years, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It was December of 2017, and somehow I was thriving as a pastor. And then, while a provisional elder in the United Methodist ordination process, I got a DUI. I was devastated. I was afraid, and ashamed, but within days I was no longer spiraling. Hard times have a unique way of centering us, if we let them. That DUI forced my recovery, but it would be my community that saved my life. Within the year I walked away from that toxic relationship, and the monochromatic world of despair I lived in started to flood with a vibrancy of colors I never could’ve imagined. The lives of the people around me, the ones I had been appointed to serve, came rushing in with a clarity that both startled and delighted me. I was alive, standing in the middle of a community of third-agers: accomplished, wise, parents, grandparents, educators, authors, librarians, veterans, scholars, thespians, married, single and cheeky, nurses, and widows, widowers, and volunteers. In the soft dimming of their eyes, I saw a thousand lifetimes, and through their wisdom I held a thousand books. I witnessed the joyful intensity of truly living life, and the complexity of aging, grief, and death. Walking with them as they lived, and grieved, taught me that there is no use in ignoring the hard parts.

My community of third-agers taught me that I couldn’t truly live, and commit myself to the slow death of addiction. I learned that I couldn’t hike the Sangre de Cristo mountains with a hangover, and expect to reach their summits. I watched them as their parents passed away, their siblings, and life-long friends. I walked with them as they buried children and spouses, amazed by their resilience. I remember a Saturday dinner date with the Bishops. While we were waiting for the pot roast to rest, Phyllis, our church pianist, was looking at an obituary. She looked up at me, “Pastor Vette, I’ve lost three childhood friends in the last two months. One I just talked to a week ago.” As she looked away, I asked her, “Phyllis, how do you do it? How do you continue to live with so much pain, and grief?” Nodding her head, she said, “You just do it. I’ve buried both my parents, and a brother. It wasn’t easy. None of it’s easy. But ya know, death is a reality and life is hard sometimes. You just keep getting up, remembering the wonder of it all, and you face what you have to face. I cry, and my heart aches sometimes. But I can’t stay there, none of us can, that’s not what life’s about. You feel what you feel and then you get up and live. That’s it.” Yeah, I thought. “That’s it.” It sounded so simple.

In that beautiful, small mountain town I was learning that you should never live waiting for the other shoe to drop. You just find the courage to put the damn shoe on, walk around in it and prepare, as much as you can, for the hard times that inevitability come to us all. You live, love, dance, and sing with all the range you can muster, knowing that each song could be the beginning of some lamentation. It’s a painfully beautiful cycle. We cannot know love and escape grief, and we cannot know fullness if we’ve not heard the reverberating echo of emptiness. I became intentional about sitting in the places I feared with a sober mind and an open heart. I talked to my trauma, and rather than being cruel, it whispered to me of my own strength. I had pillow talk with my loneliness, and found I was my own best lover. I had tea with death, and learned that it is a natural conclusion, and beautiful transition into other sacred dimensions. I visited the graveyard and found that there is peace in the mystery of it all, if I intentionally sought it. In 2020 I left that beautiful mountain town, and I walked away with both shoes on.

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