Some people reading this have gotten the message from others that, if they are or were able to “get by,” if they were able to “perform” wellness, if they were resilient enough to survive…then that’s enough.
You survived, they’ll say. So what are you complaining about?
It can be a horribly depressing message to get, that this— survival, resilience— is all we can hope for, or all we should hope for.
I completely understand why so many survivors become frustrated when others observe or compliment their “resilience.”
Many of us don’t experience our resilience as triumphant. Many of us had no other choice— and the entire experience was painful.
There are people who have experienced enormous pain and struggle in their lives, who actually feel embarrassed to describe what they’ve been through, because they’ve gotten the message that to acknowledge their pain and struggle is to be “ungrateful” or “whiny.”
They try to express what they’ve gone through, or what they’re going through now, and they’re told, “but you’re so resilient! Why are you focused on all of that negativity?”
In my experience, almost nobody focuses on “negativity” for the hell of it.
If someone is describing a great deal of pain, it’s usually because they’re experiencing a great deal of pain— and it’s really hard to focus on much of anything else when you’re in that much pain.
Nobody wants to be “stuck” on how much pain they’re experiencing.
Nobody wants experiencing and expressing pain to be most of what they do all day.
Pain has a way of hijacking our focus and our beliefs. We don’t “let” it happen— it happens.
What so many people don’t understand about depression, or trauma, or addictions, or eating disorders, is that we don’t choose them. Things that look like “choices” from the outside don’t FEEL like choices when we’re deep in them.
Convincing ourselves that we DO have choices in how we respond to the symptoms, cravings, and triggers we experience is often an uphill battle.
If we are going to recover, if we’re going to take back how we feel and function from those things that have felt so overwhelming for so long, we need to start out from a place of honesty— including honesty about how bad and helpless we feel.
Feeling helpless isn’t the same as being helpless— but telling ourselves (or being told by others) to just suck it up when we feel helpless tends to only deepen our feelings of inadequacy and shame.
Every recovery starts out with baby steps— baby steps we often take WHILE feeling helpless and hopeless in the moment.
We don’t have to believe with complete certainty that we can recover to take that first baby step.
Taking that first baby step doesn’t need to feel good.
In fact, many of those early steps will FEEL pointless.
If I have a thousand mile journey ahead of me, your brain will say, what’s the point of taking one step, or even ten steps?
You’ll have those thoughts. I had those thoughts. Everybody who has ever made any progress in recovery has had those thoughts.
Take the baby steps anyway.
Regardless of what you’re thinking. Regardless of what you’re feeling.
If all you can do is clean one square foot of your apartment, clean that one square foot.
If all you can imagine is not using a substance for ten minutes, then don’t use that substance for these ten minutes.
If all you can imagine is not self-harming for this half hour, then don’t self-harm for this half hour.
If all you can imagine is not killing yourself today, then commit to staying alive today.
We take what we can get. We take the baby step we feel able to take, right here, right now.
We do not deny, disown, or disparage our pain.
We treat every aspect of our experience as real and important— even if know that pain and trauma may be distorting certain aspects of our experience.
We start where we are, with what we have.
I don’t want you performing wellness. Not for me, not for anyone.
I want you recovering— for you.