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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Messing with Misery (Hope)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Messing with Misery (Hope)

"Oh, wouldn't the world seem dull and flat with nothing whatever to grumble at?" ~W.S. Gilbert

I was thinking about starting off the new year with a post about hope. Since mostly I write to, for and about people who are hurting in someway, I had in mind to write a bit about the process of becoming un-miserable.

I have an aunt about whom my family is fond of saying, "She loves to be miserable. That's what makes her happy." This was meant to impart to us the idea that we really should not worry so much about trying to change her or cheer her up. She was best left as she was, unhappy, anxious and at odds with the world.

I, for one, believed this to be true. But I did not think that this was the whole story. I had the idea that Auntie was afraid. Whatever caused, shaped, contributed to her deep fear, I did not know, but I had the feeling that the misery sort of helped hold her together, and that to mess with it might be a bad idea. I often wondered if all of her pain was, however legitimate, some kind of an insurance policy against even more pain. Real or imaginary.

Sort of the same as folks who tell me that they worry so much, and expect the worst because then when it happens, they won't be so shocked. The fall will, according this line of thinking, be less far and less hard.

Same goes for self attack. When we pummel ourselves with words (sometimes with actions), figuring that if we beat ourselves up badly, whatever anyone else does will not be as bad. We will have beat them to the punch. So to speak.

So I am not one for New Year's resolutions. Not to dampen your resolve if you have made them. Power on! But mostly I find that many of us make a thousand promises and never a decision. The difference being that we can promise ourselves, Gd, our families, whoever, whatever, but if we have not made a well thought out, well consulted, well informed decision, with a good plan to go along with and support it, we may well be going nowhere fast.

It's risky to mess with misery. It's risky to take stock of the things in your life that are causing you pain and to embark on a journey of discovery. And to head toward a decision. And then to make one, and abide by it. Of course you always have the right to change your mind, re-evaluate and re-do. (Usually you can change course. Unless your decision involved someone else and it may be more difficult).

And sometimes, the things that make us miserable are the things that are holding us together. Or at least we think so. Like bingeing or cutting or drinking or going in and out of a relationship with someone who is unstable or unreliable or mean. And we are afraid to mess with it. Fear of the unknown. Fear of happiness. Fear of nothing: that if we make a decision to mess with our misery, we will have a great enormous nothing. And that might be worse than anything.

Sometimes when someone is in my office and they are hurting themselves, with say, razors or matches, or food, or words of steel, I am not so quick to mess with the symptoms or the behavior. It's hard to be sure that if you "make" (as if one could) someone stop something that seems bad for them, that they won't do something worse.

For those in the throes of an eating or cutting disorder, or addiction, it's about venturing into the unknown. A place that may require replacing the bad feelings with good feelings, which sounds nice on paper, but terrifying in reality. The unfamiliar is often quite scary.

Still and all, fear and glue, I think its most often a good idea to mess with misery. You don't have to mess fast, or even often. But you can decide to take a look at what the misery does for you. What purpose it serves. Is it keeping you close to something you have lost? Is it familiar? Is it protecting you from having to get up and do something you are even more afraid of doing? Do you doubt that you could really have a better life?

And by the way, there are big miseries in life and smaller ones. Not everything has to be on the grand scale of overall angst. There are choices, though. That's my message of hope. You can walk into the sunshine and not get burned. You may need proper protection and a good guide, but you can step out into something new. Just takes a small spark of interest, the right timing and a good dose of support from people you can trust.


therapydoc said...

Great message, Melissa.

Lisa Marie said...

I find this to be completely true. I was terrified to make the decision to start therapy, because I knew it would undo my coping mechanisms I had put into place in order to deal with my life. I didn't know what was going to happen when I started going against my very nature. I never realized I could feel the type of pain I felt in the first 3 months of that work, but at some point you become able to work through the pain, to realize that it won't be that way forever and that the work you are doing is for the greater good. It took me a long time to realize that and it's still hard to swallow sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I know, for me, that self injury, withdrawl, and often times depression is truly about being scared to face the truth. Am I still afraid to face the truth? Yes. But I have decided I am worth it. I am worth more than a life trapped in depression and cycling through self injury. I am fighting for myself. In the past few months I have faced some really tough issues regarding my past, and though the road has been painful, I feel better. I held on to so much. Part of it was my own denial and part of it was fear induced (I was sexually abused...afraid to tell and could not face it myself either...too hard to live with.) I really believe when we hold on to these feelings/memories/etc. instead of validating them, honoring them, and releasing them that they weigh us down physically and emotionally. We carry it with us wherever we go and it sucks our energy, drains our fulfillment, and festers inside us. Validating it, feeling it, honoring the self, and releasing it is the best thing I can do. I'm not there yet. I'm still trying.

My mother was sexually abused by her mother and she has never had treatment for it. She is very negative, angry, resentful, depressed, anxious, etc. and seems content to sit in it. I really believe that she is. She doesn't see that she deserves better. She also thinks she's too old. (You are NEVER to old to heal from trauma!) What it all boils down to, I think, is she is TERRIFIED to face her fears and hurts. She wouldn't "go back there" with a ten foot pole. But choosing not to is the same as choosing to carry it with her everywhere she goes. I am just not going to do that. So I press on with our own healing, and attempt to tackle each day as a brand new day.

Melissa said...

Thanks for stopping by all! And for sharing your very real thoughts on getting through and moving forward.

Yes, this is the message. That healing is possible, that we need good support, and that feelings pass, you can work through the pain and get to a better place. Not easy, but worth it.


therapist said...

I always make new year's resolutions and year after year I am disappointed because I never seem to reach these goals. Is it because I make them too unrealistic and unachieveable? Have I unknowingly been setting myself up for failure all along? I think after reading this article that this may be the truth. I think that from now on I am going to dedicate myself to live life more in the moment and focus on what I want and need from today rather than always thinking about what weight I want to be 6 months from now and the crazy things that I would have to do to reach that goal. Thanks for the insight.

Melissa said...


well put. thanks.


The Real Gal said...

Melissa, thank you for sharing this. You offer a lot on your blogs. I really need to sit down and go through each topic. Blessings!