Making the Desert Your Friend

One of the key elements in the 12 steps is surrender. For the first seven years of my sobriety I could never say I surrendered entirely. There was a piece of me I kept hidden, even from God. And then the bottom dropped out.

“Beaten into complete defeat by alcohol … and surrounded by those who can speak to us from the heart, we have finally surrendered.”  Bill W.

My mother had recently died. I was without a partner, my work was sheer drudgery and I had no vision whatsoever of my future. It seemed to me my best days were behind me. In the past I would have escaped into an alcoholic haze but with sobriety my mirage-making machinery had been dismantled. I had no way to escape the darkness and the “black dog” of depression nipped at my heels.

My work had taken me to San Francisco and one morning, while on a run in the Marina District, I came to the beach below the Golden Gate Bridge.

I stood mesmerized. I suspect my gaze looked no different from others, but in truth, in my hopelessly sad, lonely, and depressed state I was contemplating what it might mean to become one of the 1,600 people who had been fished out of the bay during the bridge’s history. I was shaken by these thoughts. I then remembered my “hole card,” the card I could play if I ever got into a really tight place. I could call my buddy, Joe Thomas. I knew if I called, he’d come. I called. He came.

Joe caught the next plane out of Mobile. We spent the next few days in deep conversation. I shared with him my broken spirit, my despair, my feelings of abject loneliness. During that time we talked, went to meetings, and soon were planning a cross-country trek, a personal retreat, a kind of odyssey that would take us through Death Valley.

Maybe it was the hot valley floor that rose up to meet me, or maybe I was just ready, but I finally rendered up that hidden part of me on a day in May 1992.

Here’s what happened.

Joe and I had gotten out of our car and began to walk a short way in the terrific heat, something north of 120 degrees. The air shimmered. As I surveyed this barren, hot, dead landscape I said to Joe, “This place looks exactly like how I feel. How, in the name of God, can anything survive here?” Then, without missing a beat Joe said, “It’s simple. You make the desert your friend.”

Wow! Joe’s statement came as a bolt of lightning that blew apart the fortress guarding my hidden self.

Up to that moment the desert had been my enemy, to be avoided at all cost. Joe uncovered a critical flaw in my understanding of life. I was accustomed to fighting life, treating every adversity as a foe, something to be beaten. Here was Joe, suggesting I make it my friend. Make adversity my friend? Joe was saying the “desert” times that are inevitable for all of us could feed me, nourish me, and introduce me to a whole new way of embracing my life.

  • Desert times are openings to new opportunities
  • Deserts have hidden wellsprings
  • Deserts are filled with fellow travelers

When we left Death Valley and ended our day at Mt. Whitney, I had the opportunity to look down on the valley and I realized I’d buried my Golden Gate Bridge despair in the desert floor. My time in Death Valley had filled me with a sense of new life.

The desert had become my friend and it’s been my friend ever since.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2020 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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