my space tracker

Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: See-Saw

Thursday, November 12, 2009


"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up. ~ Anne Lamott

A friend of mine recently told me that she was sick of reading peppy quotes and hearing from happy chipper people who were feeling better inside. Whose dark holes were filling up with Gd, and joy and the color of relief. She did not want to read inspirational or self help books; She did not want to sit her sad frustrated self down in a 12 step meeting, a therapist's office or yoga class.

She was tired of being told that she has to tend to her crazy brain, learn about her moods, her fears, her resentments and treat her tired mind. Phewy on all of it. And to me, she said, she did not want to see my serious, empathic, understanding face. She is tired of hearing that adversity can be overcome, hurts can be healed, and that even the worst of depressive disorders, anxiety, addiction and emotional pain can be treated if the sufferer is willing to move a bit in the right direction. She is tired of being down, and everyone else being up. Life is a see-saw and she is on the bottom.

In my office I hear this kind of hopelessness frequently. I come face to face with the angry, clueless, frustrated part of people that is seeking a different feeling, a different marriage, a different job, life, body. The same part just does not believe better is possible. I talk all the time, and I listen all the time, to the objections to pushing past the prison of addiction or pain, of steadfast beliefs. I am engaged on a regular basis with the hesitations of plunging into something new. Something that may lead to better.

What is the difference between wanting and willing? Really. How badly do we have to want something to be willing to go to any lengths to get it? And what happens when we want two things that are direct opposites? Like endless food and thin body. Or wine and sobriety. A buzz and the ability to make good decisions. Or drive a car. Sexual contact with someone other than a spouse and a monogamous marriage.

How and when do we say no to ourselves when the craving is overwhelming? When it is physical? When we are absolutely pulled to keep going after what we want, when we know that somehow, somewhere, there is an undesirable side effect?

My friend does not believe that the work it takes to feel better is worth it. That there is a higher order of wants and satisfactions. She does not know that she can be successful without someone else getting hurt or lost or deprived. She does not know this because she has been in competition with her older brother for most of her life, and he is a shining star. He has achieved more than she thinks she ever could. He is rich, famous and enormously popular. But most especially with her parents. No success she has had can seem to match his. She sits at the bottom of the see saw and looks up at him. Jealous, frustrated and stuck.

When it come time to consider choosing to give up some of the vices that soothe her when she thinks about her brother, she gets quiet. She knows deep down, as we all do, that life is really not a see-saw, that she can have her own successes, without bringing down her brother. Her accomplishments can count on their own merit. Jealousy, painful as it can be, is just another distraction from doing her part. A lot of the things she wants, like a successful career in photography or freedom from her obsessive shopping, she can actually have, if she is willing to take on the job of getting it. And get off the see saw and walk into the places where many folks are finding hope and making progress.


Shen said...

I can really relate to this post... and also, it was wonderful to read it now and realize that I have become one of those people that I used to despise - One of those people who is happy, has found peace, and has begun to fill that dark hole inside with light.

It's possible... it's just so hard to see that when you are in the dark.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Well put Shen, I think so too..that it is so very hard to see that peace is possible when you are in dark....thanks!

Angela said...

I know how tired I am of all of it.I'm tired of hearing that I have choices. Life doesn't always give you choices, although I know that we have the choice to move from darkness to light. It is easier said than done when you are in the midst of it all. I feel such ambivalence and fear. I do also have hope. Thanks for a wonderful blog. I always look forward to your next post.
Take care:)

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Thanks Angela,

I never lose sight of how hard it is to push forward when you are in pain. And yes, I agree wholly, its much easier said than done...fear and ambivalance are powerful drivers. Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.


Lisa said...

I completely understand the frustration. Why do I have to work so hard when everyone else seems to not need to work at all? It's such a loaded question to which few have answers. The only reason I work as hard as I do is because I know it has helped me get to where I am now, and I know it will help me get even further ahead in the future. But I've been there.. in the darkness that messes with your mind and makes you think nothing is possible. It's awful.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Lisa Marie,

I too think that hard work pays off...Its very often the talking that helps the most. Your comment reminded me of saying "Don't compare your insides to everyone else's outsides"
Thanks as always for your comments!