Living Light As A Feather: How to Find Joy in Every Day and a Purpose in Every Problem
By Ruth Fishel, M.Ed.
Sometimes we hear an inner voice that screams so loudly that we must listen to it. It might appear to be an actual voice, a dream or some kind of sign. It might come to us as an inner knowing, the simple knowledge that it is time for change, that it might be time to follow another path. Perhaps we know we must do something now, or we feel directed to a change we don't want to make: a new career, a change of lifestyle, a letting go of a relationship. The call can be so very strong that no matter how painful it might be to make this change, we feel we have no choice.
A friend once told me he heard it as a wave that kept pouring over him, telling him to come along, come along, come along until he had no choice but to follow the calling. Responding to the message to serve God, he left everything he had and everyone he knew, and joined a monastery. In the end, when he surrendered to the call, he was very content with his decision.
My own soul searching, my struggle for self-understanding, independence and purpose, sometimes appeared as a loud, confident Yes! other times as a very weak, meek No and once as a roaring Stop!
I was born in Boston and named Ruth Lois Haase after my grandmother on my mother's side. Because there was already a Ruth Haase in our family, my parents decided to call me Lois, a name I didn't feel comfortable using. My father's job took our family to Detroit, Michigan, when I was two and a half years old, and a few years after our move, the Second World War broke out. We could get only a one-year lease when we rented a house and we had to move at the end of each lease period so that the soldiers coming home from the war could receive first priority for housing. Consequently, we moved at least four times from the time I was in kindergarten through the fourth grade.
Still, my memories of life in Detroit are very happy ones. There were lots of children in our neighborhood and there was always something to do. It was a very carefree, confident time in my life. Then, right before I turned ten years old, my father lost his job, and my family decided to move back to Boston. I had to leave all my friends behind. At the same time, I had a very strong urge to be called by my real name. I remember being absolutely sure that I wanted to be called Ruth. I wouldn't compromise. The timing was perfect because we were moving to a new place. The only people who knew me by the name Lois were my relatives and the people who knew me in Detroit.
At first, my parents didn't take me seriously when I announced my plan, and they continued to address me as Lois. Stubbornly and persistently, I refused to answer when they called me Lois. My family gradually trained themselves to think of me in this new way.
We had to move three more times to three other towns in Massachusetts during my fifth grade, because my father continued to change jobs. In all, I attended three different schools for the fifth grade and a fourth one for the sixth grade. As a result, my courage went underground for many years, I became quite shy and self-conscious, and it was very difficult for me to make new friends.
Our last move was to Brookline, Massachusetts, a town that was known at that time to be the home of well-to-do families. My father was unable to find work, and my uncle finally got him a very low paying job in the stockroom of a shoe factory. We had very little money and were fortunate to be able to rent the second floor of a two-family house in an upscale neighborhood. All the other homes were occupied by single families who were far better off financially.
I always felt inferior to the other students, and I remember my mother's excitement when she was able to buy six new school dresses for me for $1.00 each at a bargain store. The only time I felt good about what I was wearing was when I received a "care package" from my cousin Joanie, who lived in a fancy single-family home in Washington, D.C. Her clothes came from an upscale department store and they still had the labels inside!
Once in Brookline, my mother changed. Perhaps because my father lost his job and now we were struggling, she wanted to put up a good front and look as if we fit in with the neighbors. She wanted me to be like other girls who curled their hair and played with dolls. I was still the tomboy who loved to climb trees, play ball and shoot marbles.
I walked the two miles to school in those days, passing by homes that had bowling alleys in their basements and Cadillacs in their driveways. My father couldn't afford a car until I was almost seventeen. By then, many of the girls I knew had been given their own cars when they turned sixteen. I felt insecure, inferior and not as good as they were.
There was always alcohol in my house because my father was a heavy drinker. When I was around fifteen or sixteen years old, my cousins and I were allowed to join the adults on special occasions such as Thanksgiving or Chanukah and have a drink of our choice. I felt very grown-up and enjoyed being included with the adults. And I immediately loved the taste and the warm feeling I got from the alcohol. I began drinking at parties, and for the first time I felt relaxed in social situations. I finally felt as good as, as pretty as, and as smart as the other girls. By the end of my senior year in college, I was a daily drinker.
I started a greeting card company while in college and continued to build it when I graduated. Marrying one year after graduation, I continued my daily drinking-only now I became sneaky about it. I would pour one glass of scotch while making supper, going often into the kitchen to "check how dinner was coming along" while actually refilling my glass so it looked like I was only having one drink. Dinner was often very late in those days!
Eventually, my husband and I had three children, and he soon joined me in my greeting card company, and it continued to grow. Because we had our own business, I could come and go as I pleased, and I was always there when my children came home from school.
My drinking increased until I was up to almost a fifth a day. In the back of my mind I thought, I can stop whenever I want, but I knew I was lying to myself. I tried to stop. For the last five years of my drinking, I tried. I would wake up each morning and promise myself I wouldn't drink that day. But later I would leave work, and my car-as if it had a life of its own-would pull into a different package store each day. So pervasive was my shame that I thought that if I went into the same one, day after day, the clerk might think I had a drinking problem!
Somewhere deep inside me, my soul was screaming for help. I heard my own inner voice screaming Stop! over and over again, but I just couldn't. In the last months of my drinking, I would buy just a pint in the afternoon and promise myself I would only have one drink from it. When the pint was empty my resolve was empty as well, and I rushed out to the package store before it closed so I could buy another one. Once home again, I would drink until I passed out, then wake up in the middle of the night and finish whatever was left in my glass because, as my daily mantra went, "I'm not going to drink tomorrow."
I had arrived at a place in my life where I hated myself so much I could not continue to live the way I was living. I thought I was the worst mother, the worst wife and the worst daughter in the entire world. The emptiness I felt, the feeling that something was always missing, has been called a hole in the soul, or the dark night of the soul. My enemy was alcohol. My dark night of the soul was the years I could not stop drinking.
During the years of my daily drinking, I struggled repeatedly with trying to understand and know God, questioning whether there even was a God and desperately seeking meaning and purpose in my life. While I dearly loved my three children and my work, somewhere inside of me I always felt that I was meant to do more, but I had no understanding of what the "more" could be. I always had a yearning, a craving, as if something were missing, and I had no idea where to find it.