“Mister blue sky please tell us why
you had to hide away for so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?”
~ Electric Light Orchestra
It’s been a really long, hard year. Fucking awful hard.
So hard that for the first time, I doubted I’d come out of it. I forgot how it felt to be happy. I had scary thoughts, like how easy it would be to drift into the oncoming traffic’s lane as I drove home from work each night. Home to an empty apartment, for the umpteenth year in a row. I wondered if my life really mattered, and if I disappeared – would anyone beyond my two incredible cats and my mom really care – beyond everyone’s initial shock and sadness. Thank God for those three, or I honestly don’t know…
I lost sight of any direction. For 12 long months I have seen no purpose, no reason – no lesson. Which has made it hard to get out of bed some days, let alone do much of anything else.
I was tired, no – I was exhausted from trying to have hope that it would get better. It’s been way too many years of banging my head against the wall and only making it a few feet forward before being knocked back down on my ass. In both my personal and professional life. My heart was broken in a million pieces and I didn’t really believe the sun would come out again.
This week it finally did.
I am finally seeing a path forward that is giving me the sense of purpose and direction that I’ve longed for. A path that seemed impossible a few short months ago, when I had no idea which way to move. Months that felt like years, because every day was just more of the same. The same dark fog of confusion.
It’s the not knowing that is so damn scary.
Us type-A, take-charge people like to think that we can plan our way out of anything. But the truth is, very little is up to us. People and opportunities cross our paths when they are ready, all we have control over is whether we grab on to them and take the chance.
In the meantime, I’ve come to learn that there’s much to be said about shutting down and conserving your resources in dark times. I realize this flies in the face of the Law of Attraction and positive thinking – which I also truly believe in. But this experience has taught me that there is just as much value in the darkness as there is in the Light.
I am eternally grateful to the few people in my life that encouraged me to feel and be in the darkness. To find peace in its storm, if not immediate understanding. I’m especially grateful to my former advertising partner and dear friend Ann, who recognized my despair and gave it a name.
“Have you ever heard of a Dark Night of the Soul?” she asked during one of many long phone calls.
“I think I’ve heard of it. Is it a real thing?” I asked.
“Oh it’s real. I’ve been there. That’s what you’re going through,” she said. “The things that usually help make you feel better aren’t working anymore, right?”
I was stunned. That was exactly it. My go-to fixes for pain – dancing, writing, volunteering, yoga – they’d all become worthless. None of them brought me joy any more. In fact, they made me feel WORSE. I found myself cancelling every plan I made.
“You’ve got to stop doing everything. Cut out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for your survival. Just for now. And read the book Dark Nights of the Soul. That’s what this is.”
Just knowing what I was going through helped immensely – as did being given the permission to feel shitty. And to shut down for a while. Which I did.
I quit all obligations outside of job hunting and read Thomas Moore’s book more slowly than any book I ever have. Each sentence felt like it was written just for me, and was much needed comfort in my darkest hours. It didn’t take the pain and confusion away, but I no longer was as afraid of it. Better yet, I started to value and appreciate my “dark night” for the moment in time I hoped it would be.
And it was.
Sometimes life is really, really hard. And I’ve come to realize that’s ok, and sometimes necessary. Sometimes you really do need to just embrace the suck. Fighting it can make it worse. Anyone who doesn’t know this hasn’t experienced it, yet.
Fuck being happy when you’re not. When things get murky, embrace your darkness. Trust that it’s like a cocoon, a holding state, keeping you in place while other things fall into place. Other opportunities, people and events that need to move forward to meet you where you are.
In time, when the storm is moving backwards in the rearview mirror, you will see its purpose. And feel immensely grateful.