4 Words That Got Me Through My Darkest Days

How one man got honest with himself and found his way to hope during seriously bad times.

handsome man in his sixties, grey beard, in the woods Jacob Lund / shutterstock 

I was walking down a country road in Westport, Massachusetts in July of 2020. I could hear the ocean in the distance. I had recently been to Georgia to celebrate my son’s graduation from Ranger School. And, of course, we both got COVID.

Mine hit me very hard. Even after the symptoms passed, I could barely walk the mile to the end of the road and back. I'd find myself breathing hard, my heart rate was at my normal hard running pace just from walking.


At the time of one particular walk, I was just over two years out of a psychiatric hospital after being as depressed and hopeless as one could imagine being. I was getting better very gradually but still very much lost and subject to panic attacks.

To get through, I often listened to podcasts about mindfulness on my walks. During one walk, I was listening to a very well-known Eastern mystic. I do not remember his name or what podcast he was on — I wish I did — but I listened to what he was saying and felt reassured. My feelings of terror and remorse still swirled around my head, but he seemed to be saying that it was okay to let go of all that in order to see a deeper truth in my, and our, human situation.


He didn’t say these words, but they somehow came to me and I spoke them out loud as if they were a novel concept. A revelation. Something I could hold onto when the times got tough again, which they certainly would. I was far from out of the woods.

Everything is already OK,” I whispered to myself again and again as I walked. I shut off the podcast to consider the significance of this idea.

Everything is already OK.

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A shift in thinking — and an enormous relief

I had always worried about the future. I had tried with all my might to will my circumstance. To “succeed.” And that I had. But the terror had increased to the point of active suicide planning despite everything I had accomplished on paper.

This new idea relieved me of all that projecting, all that terror, all that “if only” thinking. It brought me back to just this instant, this breath, just as it is right here, right now.

I didn’t, and still don’t, have to do anything, achieve anything, prove anything, have anything happen, or have anyone love me or hate me. Everything — me, my world, my loved ones — is already okay. My life is perfect at this instant. Just as God intended for me.

Phew! What a relief ...


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We are all already OK

In the last almost three years since thinking that thought, the idea has been an enormous relief to me. It has become my tagline since I repeat it so much. I want the concept to spread like wildfire among my friends. We are all already OK.

The second concept — which seems like a contradiction to the first but it is not — is that life is a finite game. I would be introduced to finite and infinite games over coffee with the awesome athlete and performance coach Emily Saul. I never would have heard about or understood it or eventually changed my whole life because of it without Emily.

The concept is easy. Finite games are won and lost. The only rule of infinite games is that you have to keep them going forever. No short-term results matter.


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The 'rules' of the infinite game

I first started using this in my athletic pursuits. The important thing was always to show up. Have an experience. Be courageous. If things went great, awesome. If things went wrong there was something to learn from. No judgment either way. The goal is so far out in the future that we can’t see it. We just are in the process, loving the process.

Then I started to think about this more deeply in terms of my life in general. Yes, mortality is important. Even meditating on one’s death is a very clarifying practice. But is there an end to the soul? What about the concept of Karma? How does healing occur? I really started to question the whole idea of time itself.

The most profound spiritual experience I have ever had involved making amends to those I had harmed in my life, either through alcoholism or just flat-out ego.


I went through this process a couple of years ago. Our recovery program promises that if you do the work you will have a spiritual awakening. I had to do all the work to build the foundation for my amends, deep self-knowledge of my part in each of these situations and my character flaws. But for many of the amends I still went into the room hating the person I was about to make amends to.

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There's no winning or losing the infinite game

Once I sat down and started in on my well-prepared remarks (my sponsor forced me to go over them again and again so I was not blaming the other person for anything nor making excuses, simply laying out what I had done and how I planned to make it up to the other person by paying them back if money was involve,d or treating them with love and respect going forward. Amazing things happened.

Grown men started to cry because they never thought I would ever see and admit what an a**hole I had been. I saw in black and white how wrong I had been in blaming some people for decades, and others my whole life when really I was the one at fault, not them.


The miraculous transformation was that I emerged in every one of these cases unconditionally loving the people I had hated for so long. Our relationship forever changed and healed. And most of all, I forgave myself. 

The self-hate I had carried for 55 years left my body.

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Just show up and take part

More recently I have been doing a lot of work on all the wounds left from my childhood, what some would call “inner children” — the rings on the tree all of which make up me. Again time bends in on itself in strange ways as my current self goes back to comfort the oldest/youngest versions of my being.

At one level, sure, I am a human body. But I am also a part of something infinite. My soul’s true nature, I believe, is love. I am not religious but I am highly spiritual. My highest calling is to tap into a direct connection to that infinite love in the service of helping others.

The best way to live my life is as an infinite game. There are no winners or losers. What matters is that I show up with courage and humility. That I take part in the process. That I bring the infinite into the mortal to heal myself and try the best I can to heal those who I touch.

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Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children.