Not everybody is ringing in the New Year with unreserved optimism. For some of us, it’s all become a bit too much and all the New Year resolutions and positive affirmations to the contrary have a hollow sound, empty of power to make a difference. COVID doesn’t help. We’re getting ground down.
The late psychiatrist, Scott Peck, opened his best selling classic, The Road Less Traveled with the sentence: “Life is difficult”. Yup, and it’s true right from the get go. We’re required, by virtue of our descent into a body, into space and into time, to fit our limitless spirit into some pretty snug and non-negotiable limits. This is the true “fall” that Christianity talks about but mostly gets wrong. It’s not, in the first place, moral failure. (How can a baby be morally bankrupt?) It’s about the transition into blood and flesh, and discovering (after a painful birth) that we’re pretty much stuck in this package and nobody seems to be able to slow down and figure out what I truly need.
Even if we never had a single moment of failing to be loved, even if we were not shamed, even if somebody was emotionally tuned into us, even if nobody used us for their own pleasure, Scott Peck would have been right in his assessment. Life is difficult.
But add early trauma to the mix and “difficult” can feel unbearable and impossible. At this very early point in our development we are set up for these feelings to come back and haunt us for a lifetime. It could be decades later, but in the face failure, loss, illness, injustice, insult, etc. the imprint of this early period of development rears its helpless head. We come to the same conclusion as we did when we were two. It’s all too much. I give up.
Our spirit, zest for life, desire to live, and even our desire to desire feels crushed. We’ve given up on the whole arrangement, on the world, on life, our our life. We’re just going through the motions of a life. What’s more, we could spin a whole narrative justifying why we’ve done so. But the narrative is just that. Something we’ve constructed to legitimize our feeling of hopelessness, a story that makes sense of having given up on life. The initial devastation is real and needs to be taken seriously. But the stories we construct later in life are arbitrary.
Okay, but what’s to be done?
1. Don’t trust that voice telling you that there is nothing to be done. That’s the voice of the two year old, who gave up on life as a really bad bargain a long time ago.
2. Stop running from the feeling of emptiness and hopelessness. Face it. Take a deep dive and explore its many dimensions. This is counter-intuitive. Actually, it’s counter your original strategy of avoiding/escaping at all costs. Then it really was too much. It’s not now.
3. Trust the feeling, not the narratives that you are constructing that are based in blaming the myriad shitty circumstances of your life. The feeling is the thing. Let the feeling(s) take you down.
4. Stay with the feeling until it dawns on you that you’re not so much giving up on life as you are giving up on yourself, that is, on your capacity and resilience to face anything and everything.
Ask yourself when this feeling started? How long have I been running from this feeling? Is this what the booze, the caffeine, the drugs, the chasing after success, the addiction to Netflix, etc, has been about? Avoiding this feeling?
If a child is given enough support at the right time, s/he learns that s/he can get through anything with sufficient support. But when you have been abandoned, repeatedly, in your time of need, of course you came to the conclusion that “I can’t do it, it’s too much, I don’t have what it takes.” It’s bullshit. It’s not your fault. And it’s entirely possible to learn new habits of thought and new behaviours.
5. Repeat 1000 times if necessary, “This is a memory” of when life really was hopeless, of when I didn’t have enough support and came to an unconscious conclusion that life is too much for me, and all there is to do is collapse.It was true then.
6. But it’s not true now. I can get the support I need. Life doesn’t suck. Life is life. It ain’t fair, but maybe this is the opportunity to let of the belief that life should be fair? And with a little support and resourcing you can tackle anything that comes your way. You were isolated in your time of need, and this formed an imprint of what “reality” is truly like, so you re-enact it again and again. Because, well, it’s reality. Except it’s not. You just got a crappy deal when you were young.
7. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, feel compassion. There’s a difference. Feeling sorry for yourself is playing the role of the victim. Self-compassion on the other hand doesn’t give a rat’s ass about who’s to blame. The entire focus is on your own broken heart. Yes, hurt people hurt people. What else is new? Now, what’s necessary is refusing to take on the legacy of self-hatred. Break the negative transmission. Remind yourself of how beautiful and exquisite you truly are—this isn’t a positive affirmation. It’s actually the truth, the deep truth, that lies waiting like a beautiful gem, under all the self-loathing.
8. Watch Mr. Rogers. This gentle soul gave his life to resourcing children and treating everybody like they are royalty. That’s you too, and maybe it’s easier to trust Mr. Rogers.
9. Stop connecting with people who make you feel like crap. Even if they are family. Especially if they are family. You had to take it growing up. You didn’t have any choice. But now you don’t. You’re not under any obligation to suffer torture at the hands of a sadistic family. And if you had a loving family, thank G_d.
10. I’m serious about that last sentence. Really do thank G_d, G_oddess, the gods, the invisible ones. Gratitude is the preeminent sign that your spirit has come back on line. Pray, meditate, sing, whatever turns your crank—by which I mean whatever hooks you back up with the “love the fires the sun, and keeps us burning” (Bruce Cockburn.)
Much love and many blessings on the year to come,