remember the actual moment I chose life.
It was almost exactly a year after my mom had passed. I was 31, living in a three-bedroom house alone in Phoenix. I had a fridge full of booze and fast food. My social interactions were few and hollow. I didn’t have a job and writing, my one true passion, had become purposeless for me—everything had. I found joy in nothing and my dogs didn’t understand why I never walked them around the block anymore. To say I felt alone would be euphemizing; I was drowning in isolation, as many grievers do in today’s society where, like everything else, grief has become privatized.
The only ‘productive’ thing I could manage was to clean. I took to vacuuming my house three times a day and pulling weeds in the yard like I had suddenly developed a case of yard-maintenance-OCD, much like the neighbor dude I grew up next to and never understood. “Live a little, man,” I used to say about him behind his back as he obsessively swept his misplaced rocks into place. Now, 20 years later, I could empathize.
Every particle of dirt I saw was cancer.
I did this Merry Maid act every day for a year, and every night I contemplated my Grand Escape Plan—and I do mean in the finite way. I felt stuck in a life I no longer cared to live and, though my heart beat steadily, annoyingly on, I felt 99.9 percent dead. I kept myself as numb as possible for as long as possible. Then one day, as with all good stories, something happened.
At a bookstore (trying, at the very least, to put myself in situations that had historically brought me joy) I saw a book I had been avoiding for years: A Course in Miracles. I had been avoiding it because I knew reading meant I’d need to quit my half-assed, surface-level spirituality and commit to true discipleship, whatever that meant. I knew I’d have to level up, in so many ways. I knew I’d have to shed lifelong friends and habits and ideas to make room for higher vibrational ones. I knew I’d have to hold myself accountable. I knew all that despite not knowing a thing about the book’s content itself—I just knew.
You know the knowing I’m talking about.
That day in the bookstore, so close to death anyway, I figured, hey, what is there to lose? As a pretty serious atheist, the word ‘miracle’ for the first time in my life appealed to me because for the first time in my life it’s exactly what I felt I needed, even if I didn’t believe them to be true in the religious sense that I’m allergic to. But, here, at death’s doorstep myself, I was finally willing to investigate the miraculous, the ethereal, the invisible. I flipped to the first page of the first chapter and read the first line:
There is no order of difficulty in miracles.
And in that moment I knew that if anything might help me, this was it. Because what I needed in order to continue in this existence without my loved ones and with any perceived shot of true happiness again was nothing less than a big ass fucking miracle.
I went home and read and decided to be open to the possibilities of Spirit, of surrender. Ah, surrender…something I always preached but never really practiced because I never really had to. What I’ve learned from grief is that no one surrenders until they have to and, prior to my mother’s death and all that was lost in the aftermath, prior to the collapse of every safe haven I’d ever known, I never fully had to.
Sure, I was pretty good at surrendering to the moment and ‘accepting’ what appeared to be shitty situations rather than resist what was happening, but this was more of a coping mechanism I adopted over time as my childhood was no five-course meal on a silver platter. Still, I never truly surrendered. I said things like “I’m giving this up to the Universe!” like The Secret suggested I do in times of uncertainty, but I never fell to my knees. I never gave what my friend Diana calls “The Sincere Prayer,” which goes a little something like this:
*Catastrophic sobbing* Pease help me! PLEASE! God or Jesus or Spirit or Source or WHOEVER THE FUCKING HELL YOU ARE—HELP. ME. I want to die. Literally, PLEASE, fucking kill me. I have no reason to live. If YOU think I have a reason to still be alive then HOW ABOUT YOU FUCKING THROW ME A ROPE? IF YOU ARE REAL THEN HELP ME, ALREADY. Where am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to do? Why would you keep me living like this? What kind of god are you to make people feel like this? If you are real, I will do whatever is wanted of me, just please, FUCKING help me do it. If you are real, help me want to live again. If you are real, show yourself. I will do whatever you want, I swear, please just help. Help me.
I gave this prayer, finally, that night after purchasing and intensely reading A Course in Miracles, after being reminded of the option of surrender. For hours, I screamed profanities mixed with pleas at God (or whoever the fucking hell) and cried the kind of cry where boogers were ultimately strewn across the room. I punched a wall. I threw a mug. A solid breakdown. And then, for the first time since my mom passed, I slept like a baby.
When I woke up, everything was different.
It was like waking up to a thousand newly illuminated light bulbs in my pitch-black head, in my cave-dark heart. I knew with a clarity I hadn’t had in years, if ever, what I needed to do. The questions I had asked for a year with nothing close to an answer were suddenly very understood. I knew where I needed to go. I knew with unquestionable authority which creative projects to begin and that they would be my lifeboat—that I would survive. I knew I would soon feel purpose in creativity again even if it seemed unfathomable at that moment in time. I knew I was to learn to help people like me help themselves—lost people, orphaned people. I knew I would make maps for them of where to go post-rock bottom; what to do post-rock bottom; who to be post-rock bottom. Things I had tried for years to unravel in my mind with zero success suddenly were very clear.
I wanted for the first time since the complex losses and deaths I endured, even if ever so slightly, to live—and, more, to help others want to live, too.
A big ass fucking miracle, indeed.
I decided right then and there to try my best to fulfill the promise expressed in my Sincere Prayer: To surrender my life to what I now call Spirit, which some people call God or Allah or Source, but, whatever the name we choose, is Love. I surrendered to Love, fulfilling my promise to be its missionary however it needed me to be. Am I perfect at this? No. But it has become the mark I aim for, and since that day, I have let Spirit guide me as fully as possible and despite how scary it has been to surrender control like that—to release my expectations and desires and align my free will with the higher will of Spirit—you know what? The overarching result is that my life has begun to work.
My life works, now, in a way it never could have prior to sinking to my own personal depths, because today I understand with clarity what matters, and I understand what matters because despair taught it to me. Death and all its taking gives one thing: the invitation to awareness. Not everyone accepts the invite but I’m sure as hell glad I did. Seeing first hand how short life is is the most fierce inspiration to live it fully, meaningfully, authentically.
My new mantra became: If I’m going to be alive, I’m going to fucking live.
Falling to my knees, sincerely, completely, vulnerably, didn’t help me find the lighthouse I was in search for in the hurricane ocean I was tossed into; rather, it made me see clearly that the shore is not even the point. The point is understanding that I was tossed into that ocean to learn that I am a drop of that ocean, and there is nothing whatsoever to fear. The point is to just be the water.
I rise and fall with the tide now. I do it in the light and I do it in the dark. And if fear of what I cannot see tempts me, as it surely does to us all no matter our stage of enlightenment, I remind myself to surrender to whatever it is that pulls the moon that pulls us.
So, you dig this?
This is an excerpt from Arizona Bell’s debut book “This Is How You Be: A Simple Guide To True Happiness.”