(Update: On October 15, 2019, TWLOHA shared a version of this post on their blog as a guest post entitled: “Your Darkness is Not Your Curse.” To say I feel honored is a profound understatement. Please support them and their mission. It is a privilege to play some small role in their work and in serving this beautiful and courageous community. Thank you for being here. You matter. You are not broken. You are not alone. Brian)
A month or two back I checked a movie out from the library I’ve been meaning to see since it came out several years ago. The movie is called To Write Love On Her Arms and is essentially an origin story regarding the founding of an organization of the same name (aka TWLOHA) and the story of the founder. Anyway, among many other things, one of the questions that the movie raised in me is whether we do each other a disservice in hiding our darkness, in hiding our scars, in hiding our struggle. Whether or not we would be better served and better serve each other if we did not do so. What follows is what poured out of me in the moments after I watched the movie with some editing for length and such in the interim, of course. As ever, I hope it will hold something for you. Here it is:
How much of my story should I share with you? How much is healing? How much is help? How much - in this age of glorious and sometimes desperate vulnerability - is self-promotion? How much is too much to share? Should I talk with you more about my darkness, about my depression and anxiety?
We box and label each other. I am sometimes called positive, called motivational, called wise. These are my boxes. And so I offer now to read you what is scrawled on the inside of the walls of these boxes. Scrawled here are insights from years upon years of darkness coming and going like an ocean tide but with far less predictability. Coming, nevertheless, with insistence and interminability.
And maybe waves isn’t the best description. I mean, it is accurate for how they come in and come in but it’s not for how it feels when they crash or as they swell and form into their ferocious masterpiece. It feels most acutely like a tightness, like a constriction, like a cinch strap around my chest and my head. It feels like a curtain clouding my vision to such an extent that all I can see is no, all I can see is hopeless, all I can see is why bother.
After all these years of growing and healing and therapy and books and music and movies and prayers still they come. And, yes, all of those tools have helped. As have tears. Tears help a lot actually. Yes, there are times in a bottle and there have been times with a blade trying to cut it free. There are relationships broken by the weight of it or neglected to insolvency. The specifics are not relevant. Or perhaps they’re just a bridge too far for me to share right now. But in case it might be useful to know they exist at all, know that they do. My smile is chosen not unburdened.
So many ways I have sought to silence this darkness in me, to satisfy this gaping hole. There are books upon books. Yes, the kind that you would expect but for me more powerfully there are the books by other people who are boxed and labeled too. People iconic in their worlds who have been brave enough or tired enough to share their own darkness and, therefore, give me permission to have mine. That permission is water in an endless desert. And when I sit with their confessions in the quiet corners of my life I also feel great sadness and empathy for them because I know what they are describing is not a musical montage in a movie but it was and is, indeed, darkness. Often excruciating whether also a gift or not.
I don’t know how much is too much to share with you. I do know I must tell you, if it’s useful to you at all, that I give you permission to have darkness. You are not broken because you have darkness. You are not “other” because you have darkness. You are not flawed or doing this wrong because you have hunger, because you have lonely, because you have yearning, because you have threads of self-doubt and self-loathing running through the fabric of you. You are not broken because this human experience is hard. And amazing. And awful. And magnificent. You are not broken because you have darkness.
These days I am convinced that most of the answers are right. Prayer works, meditation works, therapy works, medicine works, nutrition works, crying, gnashing of teeth, movies, nature, books, singing, ugly dancing, being with other people, being in solitude, and on and on. I am convinced that they all work and that none of them do. At least not in a way that creates a forever state of light. Thank god.
I am convinced at the heart of it is me becoming conscious enough and willing enough to allow myself my darkness. That the more I am willing to be with that darkness the more that darkness will teach me about me. It will teach me about life. Because, yes, there is beauty in that darkness. Yes. Unequivocally. My darkness is directing me to the places within and without where I am not telling the truth to myself about what I want from my life and who I want to be in my life. Through the harsh language of contrast, my darkness is directing me to my joy. My darkness is a gift.
I am convinced that my internal life is adversarial because I am adversarial with my internal life. Whether by socialization or some deep inner drive, I hold anything that is not joy, not a success, not shiny and post-able in judgment. Not only does this not serve me it sabotages me. I am missing what I am capable of, I am missing what is possible.
And I am convinced that sometimes sometimes sometimes – not to dismiss any biological component – but sometimes I am depressed because I am depressed. I am unhappy because I am unhappy. My darkness directs me there. It is what I do next that makes it a gift or a potentially catastrophic curse. Increasingly and uncomfortably I am more joyfully embracing the gift that it brings.
Yes, I am feeding healing. Always. But that healing is now more about my own willingness to be honest with myself and to then shorten the distance between that honesty and the boldness of my action on behalf of that insight. How quickly can I get from the suffocating darkness to the insight it’s offering through the language of contrast saying to me, “You don’t want this, you do want that” or rather “This serves you, this does not serve you”? How quickly can I get from there to self-care, to healing, to being restored and renewed enough to begin? To begin to do that thing, to make that change, to behave boldly? To behave as if, for instance, this is my “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver). To behave as if it’s nobody else’s business what I do with that life but that it is most certainly mine. It is mine. It is mine. It is mine to make changes in, to grow in, to heal in, and to live the best life I can with all its darkness and light.
Darkness and light are such a loving couple when I let them be. And so maybe I am or maybe I’m not positive, inspiring, and wise. Make no mistake, to the extent that I am that comes as much from my darkness as from any kind of light. And I don’t know how much is too much to share with you but I thought this was a start. Or a next chapter.
At the very least maybe, just maybe, this will reach one of you who, like me, maybe isn’t keeping it a secret exactly but is living it secretly. And maybe, just maybe you’ll hear me saying you and I are not broken. You are exactly who and where you’re supposed to be and your darkness is not your curse. You are not alone. I see you and I send you love.
Be good to you.