I still remember the moment. I was in my early 30’s. I had made some terrific progress recovering from anorexia and bulimia.
I had also released my first album of original songs and was starting to perform locally…..a dream I had all but given up when I first got sick with an eating disorder.
But still, there were some things that just weren’t working. Try as I might, wriggling and scrunching and squinching and squeezing every which way, I just couldn’t seem to shoehorn certain old habits and thought patterns into my newly evolving way of life.
One day, it happened. I ran smack dab into a great big brick wall of stuckness. The thought arose in my mind, “This is as far as you can go forward and keep living with your current state of mind. You may make it a few more years, but you won’t survive long-term unless you make some big changes.”
So I set my mind to change. I resolved to fill up my perpetually half-empty glass until it seemed normal to see it as half-full. I would learn to love myself and other beings, not necessarily in that order. I would conquer my fear of dogs and parties. I would make all foods “safe” foods and all pants “safe” pants.
I would become the me I had only met in my dreams and fantasies – a me I was fantastically proud of and happy with being.
The work began immediately and it was grueling.
I will never ever forget how hard it was. Eventually, in the same way I had sweated and struggled to learn to feed myself, I somehow taught myself to smile (not the Mona Lisa kind of smile – a real smile). I learned how to laugh from the belly – the kind of laughter that lasts for longer than a second and makes actual noise. I cleaned and downsized and streamlined my mind until my insides and my outsides began to look and act a lot more like one another.
I started giving compliments and meaning them, because I was finally noticing other people besides myself and caring about them in earnest and letting go of jealousy and lesser-than thinking and realizing these shining lights whom I so wanted to be like were my mentors and inspirations, not my competition.Β
In time, I also began to extend these same courtesies towards myself (which I realize was somewhat backwards, but it is just the way I tend to do things – I typically have to back into a new lesson as opposed to just going straight in face-forward).
Last week, I found myself in tears after watching a wonderful movie, which prompted me to share some of my past trauma with my boyfriend and then spontaneously burst out with, “But it was worth it because I love who I am now! I love my life now!”
I realized in that instant – it is true. I am proud of the hard work I’ve done. And I’m even prouder that my perseverance paid off and I proved to myself there was (is) a being of worth hiding within me after all.
And on the heels of that revelation….
A day or so later, a truly toxic email arrived in my inbox. It was the kind of poisonous message I hadn’t crossed paths with in years and hoped never to encounter again (you can read more about that experience in this post).
While I was very reluctant to open it, it had been sent by someone who used to be at the very center of my life, so I powered on through it, hurriedly scanning rather than reading because it felt so much like sitting next to an alligator wondering if that look in his eyes is just irritation or….hunger.
Then I rallied and launched into action, reaching out to my mentor, talking to my boyfriend and my best friend, receiving their love and support and pure kindness as a life-saving antidote that helped me to re-believe I didn’t totally suck as a human being.
Then I deleted the email.
Several days went by. It wasn’t like I forgot all about the now deleted email or its sender, but it definitely didn’t dominate my awareness. Every so often, usually in moments when I was feeling frustrated or exhausted, the remembrance would pop up again, and I might engage in a little mental tiff with the sender or simply feel angry or frustrated that such a formerly treasured relationship has devolved into what it is today.
But mostly, I went on being me. I felt like this was a challenge for me, a test, an opportunity to see if all the new learnings had “taken,” so to speak. And they had! They have! I was SO delighted. My heart hurt for this other person and the misery they were clearly in, but I also knew I didn’t have what was needed to help them resolve their pain.
So I was feeling quite good, really, peaceful, in harmony with myself, focused on and committed to continuing to move forward in my life and growth.
But then yesterday morning I woke up and it was back. And by “it,” I mean the depression.
When I looked more closely at it, I realized this growing depression felt familiar to me…quite familiar. I also realized it had been making small waves within me for the last day or few, but it took the mental and emotional clarity of that just-waking state for me to put a name to a face, so to speak.
This depression – just so you understand what I’m talking about – it is the kind that tells you the blue/down/hopeless feeling you are feeling within is for your own good.
It tells you it is there to protect you from feeling too good, thinking too highly of yourself, enjoying your life too much, believing other people when they say nice things like “I love you” and “I’m so glad you are in my life.” It wants to let you down easily, gradually, so you don’t have the type of sudden “aha” moment that can literally break your heart.
This depression isn’t at all dramatic. It doesn’t like the spotlight. It prefers to hang around in the backstage area, telling everyone who asks it is your bodyguard and don’t worry, it will make sure you get home safe and sound after the show.
It follows you everywhere, too. It will wait until you are having a very good time, feeling a warm glow, basking in the sunlight, marveling at your good fortune to be a being alive on this planet at this particular time with this particular life, and then it will pop up and say, “Don’t get too attached to all this. Remember, you are YOU.”
It is really crippling. And I used to feel it all day, every day.
I think this is why when people would say, “Oh look for the light at the end of the tunnel” I never could understand what they meant. Every time I looked into the tunnel, all I saw was blackness….all the way to the end.
But this time, I felt stronger. I felt more resilient and determined. I felt brave. I decided I was going to walk into that dark tunnel and keep walking and walking and walking until I walked right through that darkness there at the end.
I was going to walk through the darkness, and if there was more darkness behind it, I was going to keep walking and walking. I wasn’t going to let it bully me any more, even if more darkness was all I ever found from my efforts.
So I did. I started using my EFT tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique if you want to look it up online – there are lots of great how-to resources available). I began to state the issue at hand, which was that even though I didn’t believe I would ever truly be safe or free from this particular brand of so-called protective depression, I was still going to try. I was going to honor and respect myself. I was going to seek out people who treated me with honor and respect.
I don’t know how long I tapped and talked, tapped and talked. It was a long time; I know that. But as time passed, the depression bothered me less. It felt less, well, dark. It also felt less…..right. Then all of a sudden I realized I didn’t have to take the depression’s opinion personally (a la Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements).
So maybe the depression thought I sucked and it was in my best interests to not forget this. I didn’t have to agree!
More time passed, and my sense of calm deepened. I realized I could agree to disagree. I could try to live happily anyway, even with this total downer cloud of depression in the background. I could just see if perhaps it was wrong and I was right. I could give it a try. I could ignore its opinion for awhile and see if it gave up and went away.
At some point I knew I had done all that I could do for now to work on this issue, and I stopped tapping and talking and got up out of bed. I felt better. I felt stronger. I felt less depressed.
It is clear now that receiving the toxic email shook my newfound sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. The email made me doubt whether I was really worth working this hard for, and it also made me doubt whether any of the hard work I had done had really made any difference.
But I got up, shook hands with that doubt, introduced myself, politely told it thanks for sharing but I wasn’t sure I agreed, and then I began to walk. And I walked and walked and walked all the way through the deep and depressing darkness until I reached the end of that particular dark tunnel.
And when I finally walked out the other side, what I found was light.
Today’s Takeaway: This particular tunnel, with its particularly terrifying brand of darkness at the end of it, has been taunting and haunting me for decades. I am so glad I decided not to let it have its fun for one moment longer! Do you have a dark tunnel like this in your life somewhere? What do you need to find the courage to walk through it, to challenge it to a face-off and may the bravest one win?