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How to Dodge Despair and Lure Hope

shutterstock_165376283With this post, I return again to that literal tome of life wisdom, “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.

I have always learned so much from my animal companions….and continue to do so each and every day.

I also love watching nature documentaries that follow animals during their day-to-day lives so I can learn.

Sometimes while I’m watching these programs I think, “Oh, no, I could never eat termites for lunch!” and that is that.

At other times, the documentary reveals something so profound….a shared sense of deep and timeless, well, humanity – only the species I share it in common with is not technically “human.”

At a particular point in Safina’s book, he is describing the despair researchers have often felt as they have battled against humanity, global warming, inertia (from the general public, interested parties, and other scientists), and the suffering of the sea turtles themselves to maintain the hope for species regeneration.

He writes:

All the senior professionals…..they all work from hope. They’re not the types to gloss over problems or look through rose-tinted lenses. Quite the opposite; they’ve been the first to sound alarms. They’ve felt despair and fought despite it. I’ve learned this by observing the real professionals who go the distance. You dodge despair by not taking the deluge of problems full-bore. You focus on what can work, what can help, or what you can do, and you seize it, and then – you don’t let go. What they see, and what I’ve come to see, is the possibility of making things better. That’s what hope is: the belief that things can get better. The world belongs to people who don’t give up. (emphasis added)

But wait – it gets even better:

“One thing that’s really colored my experience, [one researcher] says, “is having stood on the beach at St. Croix, thinking, “It’s all over – and being wrong. I mean, for a long time it was very discouraging. We sometimes walked [the beaches looking for turtle egg nests] all night, several nights in a row, finding nothing. We’d have, like, five turtles in a week. You start wondering if protecting so few eggs could matter. You begin feeling your efforts are meaningless; it can’t work. Then, after fifteen years, you realize new turtles are coming – it’s working. (emphasis added)

This is my own recovery in a nutshell.

I worked and worked and worked and worked and worked.

And worked and worked and worked and worked and worked.

And I worked and worked and worked and worked.

And nothing happened. It was one bad day after another worse day.

So I worked so more. And some more. And some more.

And still nothing happened. More bad days and even worse days followed.

So I went back to work. I worked and worked and worked.

Finally, I began to despair, wondering if anything – ever – was going to work.

Then, all of a sudden, one day I walked by a section of mirrored glass on the side of an office building.

I glanced over at myself, catching sight of a “skinny jeans” billboard ad reflected behind me.

My mind spontaneously spoke to me and said these amazing words, “No WAY would I ever withhold the nutrition my body needs just so I could fit into a pair of JEANS. As IF.”

It was working.

All of a sudden, there were more eggs. More baby sea turtles. More new life. More HOPE.

I kept working and working, and the more I worked, the more the tide turned in favor of more good days than bad days.

At some point, there were still bad days but no more worse days.

Then, over time, the number of good days became so much greater than the number of bad days that I was actually surprised when a bad day would come.

Finally, so few bad days would come that I ceased from worrying about them coming at all.

And when bad days did come in the future, they didn’t have anything to do with the eating disorder from my past history.

They had to do with love, loss – life stuff – not with eating and weight stuff.

To this day, I continue to work and work and work.

I continue to have more good days than bad days, and when the bad days come, they continue to be about life stuff, not about eating and weight stuff.

In my work, I work on me, on my life, on recovering from frailties within that perhaps preceded the eating disorder, perhaps arose from it, or perhaps are common themes woven into the unique experience of “being me” – truthfully, I no longer worry about that either.

I just address each frailty, each new opportunity for growth and learning, as it arises, trying to muster as much courage and compassion and connection as I can to ease the inner hurt and move forward, eagerly and with much hope.

And I continue to dream of more and more and ever more turtle eggs, and then baby turtles, and then mommy and daddy turtles making more eggs that hatch into more baby turtles that swim across the seas to bring hope to every corner of the world.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever felt pure despair – like, no matter what, nothing will ever change or get better? What turned the tide for you? How did you rekindle hope again?

Sea turtle image available from Shutterstock.

How to Dodge Despair and Lure Hope

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Songwriter. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2014). How to Dodge Despair and Lure Hope. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Oct 2014
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