As a therapist my currency is hope. I would argue that it is perhaps the most potent gift we have to offer to one another. The unwavering belief that change is possible and no matter our circumstances, things can and do get better. Far too many days I check the news only to see another high profile, tragic suicide in the headlines. People with seemingly everything to live for- money, power, prestige, the things we believe make us invulnerable to the kind of unhappiness that leads to the gut-wrenching decision that life has simply become too much to bear. I am haunted by the countless nameless other suicides that we never even hear about, but for those they loved, their lives have been irrevocably changed forever.
Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in the United States right now and between 1999 and 2016 there was a 25% rise in the rate of suicide. As a person whose own life has been touched by suicide, I can’t help but believe that the act of taking one’s life means we have somehow found ourselves living within a world marked by the absence of all hope. We have come to a crossroad and are shaken by a belief that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we will never feel any different than we do in this moment right now. We reside in the vastness of the encroaching darkness, leaving us only with the echoes of our own deafening hopelessness.
I sometimes wish I had a simple prescription or masterful four step plan to combat this growing public health crisis that would help others find their way back to hope. But if I did, maybe in some way that would diminish the collective sense of hopelessness that we have all experienced at one time or another. Certainly, teachings from countless scholars, authors and spiritual leaders speak to us of the importance of our human need to search for meaning and the existential angst we experience when we have lost our way. It is why we seek out places of refuge, whether it be therapy, time with friends, family, sangha, or places of worship. A lifeline to this thing we call hope when we find ourselves with none. Somewhere, someone, something we can reach out to, temporarily leaning on, borrowing hope until we can once again find our way back home to our own.
Almost 30 years ago now I walked into a self help meeting, myself bankrupt of all hope. I carried with me the heaviness of a young women who no longer believed that life was worth living or worth fighting for. I don’t remember much of what was said at that meeting, but what I do remember, and what very likely saved my life was the hope I found in that room. It did not belong to me yet, but I had found a place to go where I could experience the shimmering, beautiful, almost palpable feeling of hope, so ripe with possibility that I believed them when they told me that things would get better.
I am forever thankful that during this time in my life, I had a tiny crack in my armor, an infinitesimally small opening that allowed for a molecule of light to find its way into the darkness. Not everyone is as fortunate. Many have found themselves in a place so dark, even the light of hope has difficulty penetrating. I imagine if we lived in a world that readied us for the inevitably of suffering each one of us will face at some point in our lives that we would be better prepared when the shadow does come. How might our lives be different if from a very young age we were taught the necessary skills to tap into our innate human capacity for resiliency and we learned the steps to take to gently hold our pain and suffering as readily as we learn reading and mathematics.
Sadly, instead, we are bombarded with images of happiness on social media that perpetuate the illusion that we have somehow failed if our life isn’t Instagram ready. We continually compare our insides to the manufactured outsides of a culture uncomfortable with embracing the full range of all of who we are, including the places that feel dark and uncomfortable. We hide these parts away in the deep recesses of our bodies, walled in by our wounds and layers of defenses and wonder why the light can’t find it’s way in.
I want to live in a world that welcomes it all, the good the bad, the beautiful the ugly, all of it! I want to let the sun shine down on my broken bits, experience the warmth and comfort in those places that hurt and need attention. Invite it all in without judgment, extending kindness, letting it touch the edges of sadness and allow it to be the bridge that connects us to one another. Refuse to let shame relegate us back to the prison of our aloneness. By destigmatizing and welcoming the dark night of the soul we defy shame by fearlessly allowing the sweetness of companionship into our deepest sorrows. Our most meaningful relationships were never designed to make this pain go away, instead, they offer the transformative and magical alchemy of connection to soothe and soften our pain and hold us close until once again, we can find our way back to hope.