The Pit of Despair

Hello fellow Greenleafers 4 Life! We gotta come up with a better team name.

Anywho, if you’ve been following this blog, you may have noticed a significant drop off in posted content. Some of you have because you texted me as much.

Thank you for noticing. 🙂

Let’s just say I’ve been busy.

As much as I don’t want to talk about my absence because the inner critic tells me this is a blog about thriving beyond trauma, I know I need to include you on this journey…

Over the last week or so, I did some work for my family which included climbing and trimming trees in 90-110 degree weather.

That’s my excuse, anyway.

I’ve also been spending some time in one of my old haunts affectionately known as “The Pit of Despair.”

My old friend depression has reared it’s ugly head to hold me down by the throat and whisper sweet nothings in my ear such as how worthless and unlovable I am, and of course, the coup de grâce of how everything is fucked.

So ya know, another day thriving beyond trauma… I guess.

Yeah, I’m not convinced either…

What Are Friends For?

Fortunately, for you and yours truly, I have some wonderful friends.

They (for some odd reason) have encouraged me to dust off ye ol’ keyboard and pour my emo-fueled, nihilistic, rah-rah, self-pity onto the inter-webs so we can all have a better day,

Doesn’t that sound grand?

I’m not saying I’m actively suicidal (oh, I forgot the trigger warning… sorry), but there have been some enticing thoughts of non-existence rummaging their way through my consciousness…

I wish my self-destructive thoughts were as friendly as evil gremlins in a movie theatre… but alas, they are not.

Also, I find it incredibly ironic and impeccably good (not so good) timing that the moment I embark upon this journey of chasing my dreams and trying to help people thrive beyond trauma, THAT’S WHEN my issues rise like a tidal wave of shit to slam me to the ground.

Yes, the boy paints pictures with words alright…

So in all humility, I reach out on bended knee to the Almighty, and cry out, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Okay, maybe not in ALL humility…

But I’m getting there… I hope.

So yes, friends… That’s whom I was talking about.

I know I may not be much, but I’m all I think about…

Yeah, yeah, yeah… you’ve heard that before.

And… though it’s a cute saying, it’s not entirely true.

I am so grateful for my friends right now.

Several of them have been there to validate my experience, give me encouragement, and hold up my limping heart as I struggle to find my way back to the light.

So to all of you, thank you!

And before I go down the rabbit hole once again into the pit of despair, I want to point out how crucial it is for you to have your peeps.

We NEED a community to thrive beyond trauma.

And I forget that sometimes… (more like blatantly disregard, but ahh.. semantics) 😉

Last week I talked about independence (https://greenleaf4life.blog/2022/07/04/independence/), but I did not mean that we are meant to live and function in isolation.

It’s quite the opposite…

However, I resist it so…

The hardest thing in the world for me when I feel the crushing lead blanket of shame is to be seen.

All I want to do is hide.

And I do…

I close the blinds, ignore my phone calls, and dive deep into cheerful movies like Dracula.

The imagined pain of talking to someone and being seen as the worthless creature I perceive myself to be makes my skin feel like it’s on inside-out.

I wait until I think my roommates have left the common areas, and if I have to walk past them, I avert my eyes downward and try to be invisible.

When asked how I am doing, all I can mutter is, “Not good” and then I hiss, swing my black cape as I turn, burst into a murmuration of bats, and fly away.

Vampire Bats GIF - TMNTSeries TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles Spooky - Discover &  Share GIFs | Scary gif, Vampire, Scary art

Unfortunately, the antidote for this level of vampirism is connection, not isolation.

But as I said, nearly everything in me resists picking up the fucking phone or looking people in the eyes…

Fortunately, I have a network of friends who reach out to me.

And…

I’ve been through these putrid trenches before and recognize the reek of decomposing hope…

So I know the drill.

Eventually… and I mean eventually

I get sick enough of my own shit, and I begin to emerge and make contact with the trusted few who graciously receive the gift of my grief.

Subterranean

Ahhh… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yes, the pit…

But David, why do you want to go back there? You were making so much progress talking about the gift (and absolute necessity) of friends and reemerging from your funk.

Because, devoted readers, I think there is a part of me that is attached to my pain.

Saying, “I think” in that last sentence is like saying one is “kind of pregnant.”

You either are or you’re not.

I probably say “I think” in some feeble attempt at humility because to claim absolute knowledge about oneself is “kind of” arrogant, and at best of absolutely no use to recovery.

So, I think I’m attached to my pain.

Some literature says I get my kicks from such a soul-sucking identity and attitude:

If temperamentally we are on the depressive side, we are apt to be swamped with guilt and self-loathing. We wallow in this messy bog, often getting a misshapen and painful pleasure out of it. As we morbidly pursue this melancholy activity, we may sink to such a point of despair that nothing but oblivion looks possible as a solution. Here, of course, we have lost all perspective, and therefore all genuine humility. For this is pride in reverse. This is not a moral inventory at all; it is the very process by which the depressive has so often been led to the bottle and extinction.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 45 (emphasis added)

So, two things are apparent to me here.

First, Bill Wilson (writer of the above piece and co-founder of AA) clearly experienced depression.

Second, FUCK YOU, BILL WILSON!

What the fuck do you mean that I get a “painful pleasure” out of this shit?

Really?!?

Really?!?

Okay… so maybe that excerpt touched a nerve.

As I’ve mentioned before… The truth will set you free, but it’ll piss you off first.

So what exactly do I GET out of feeling depressed?

When it’s happening, it feels more like a fucking curse than a choice.

Maybe it’s both?

¿Por qué no los dos? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Okay… stay with me here folks… I’m just figuring this shit out as we go in a creative fit of caffeine and clairvoyance…

The other day, my friend referred me to a podcast about Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, aptly called, The CPTSD Podcast.

In episode 11, the hosts (and therapists) discussed how to deal with despair. (see below link for the full episode):

In said episode, they suggested that despair is our first coping strategy as babies when our needs don’t get met…

Ouch…

Wait, what?

As a baby, when pain and fear become the norm, said baby develops despair because the hope of things getting better is too painful…

Sorry, I should’ve included another trigger warning ‘cuz we just dove into the fucking deep end here…

It’s easier to feel despair (the complete loss or absence of hope) than to routinely be let down by hope.

They also suggested that despair is the oldest of our coping strategies, most persistent, and quite frankly, one of the last to be dealt with in recovery.

The example is that if anger and acting out are the tip of the iceberg, despair is waaaaaayyyyyy under water at the bottom.

You are here—>

So in other words, despair is a protective factor. By believing that everything is fucked, I place a painful shield over myself to keep from feeling the potential pain of reality.

I didn’t say it was a good coping skill….

But it’s effective at keeping me holed up in the pit and presumably “safe.”

When in despair, I don’t have to try.

I don’t have to worry about anyone hurting me.

In fact, I can just check out of reality and not risk anything.

There’s almost warmth in drowning in misery.

I can pull the blankets over my head and drift into dreamland away from responsibility, risk, and fear of failure and rejection.

I will beat you to the fucking punch.

You can’t reject me.

You already did in my head and that’s enough for me to check out.

So, in some ways, it’s a very old coping skill and feels like a curse that comes over me without my permission.

And…

I welcome it as an old friend because it’s familiar.

If I feel despair long enough, maybe, just maybe, I’ll either die and not have to feel any more pain, or someone will come rescue me…

Deathly Hallows/Three Brothers | Harry Potter Amino
Win-win?

So yeah, I get something out it….

And as much as I don’t want to admit it… it’s a painful pleasure.

Self-pity is a drug and despair is the high.

And it is a lack of humility

And pride in reverse…

For me.

I’ve forgotten that I am loved, I love others, and that life is a gift.

At times, I honestly believe I am a waste of flesh and all alone.

If that isn’t self-centered fear to the extreme, I don’t know what is…

Take the Nails Out of the Board!

For the love of God, take the nails out of the board before you beat yourself up!

Or another classic heard in AA meetings of yore, “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”

A recurrent theme in my recovery comes in the loving advice from friends that I need to stop beating myself up so much.

Hey, old habits die hard!

But again, this notion that I am soooo bad and defective is pride in reverse.

Granted, I had that message beaten into me as a kid… so I come by it honestly.

But, I am forty-six-fucking-years-old!

Maybe it’s time to let the little kid in me off the hook?

Maybe I’m doing the best I fucking can?

Maybe, I just need to be myself and to hell with what others think (or don’t think)…

[the pitcher goes for the wind up…]

FUCK THEM AND THE HORSE THEY RODE IN ON!!!

It’s my personal mission to work that phrase into every blog post I can.

Who are the “they” you are referring to, David?

Lest I remind you…

The self-defeating little fuckers in my head.

Someone fed my inner child after midnight and poured water on the little fucker and he formed a committee of pain and inner critics!

At some point, I need to make peace with these little bastards and learn to let them go.

During a more balanced phase of this journey, I shared with you about Milarepa and the demons in his cave. (see post https://greenleaf4life.blog/2022/06/21/cave-time/).

Okay, maybe I wasn’t more balanced since the topic of that blog also included hiding from reality…

But…

As Milarepa faced and embraced his demons, they began to disappear.

I just got off the phone with a dear friend who reminded me that we don’t have to believe our thoughts.

This is one of the fruits of meditation.

We are not our thoughts.

We are not our feelings.

We are not our pain…

I am not the little kid who was terrorized and in despair.

I am a grown-ass man with a vision, passion and incredible insight.

I have a gift to share with the world, and when I thrash about in the mire of my depression, I am depriving others from my gifts.

And when I share with you about thrashing about in the mire of my depression, that is a gift, too.

Yes, I need to continue to practice self-reflection and seek guidance and strength to let go of my shortcomings…

And I need to practice forgiveness…

Forgiveness of myself, for those in my life (past and present), and for the world at large.

I can be accountable without being a fucking martyr.

It’s okay for me to desire connection with other human beings (okay, you know I’m talking about women here), and to feel disappointed when that doesn’t work out.

It’s okay for me to feel that disappointment without believing the demon (gremlin, inner critic, lie) that says I’m unlovable and will always be alone.

I don’t have to believe my thoughts today.

I can do things that bring me joy – like writing this blog, helping others, and going fucking roller skating!

I can feel my feelings, and then let them go…

As Tara Brach has said, feelings are real, but not true.

I am not alone.

I am not worthless.

I am not unlovable.

These are old scripts that need rewriting.

Today, I am rewriting the script.

I have a lot to be grateful for.

And today is a gift…

And it’s a gift I want to share with you.

Conclusion

Today, I am practicing being gentle with myself.

I am doing the best I fucking can.

You are doing the best you fucking can!

Sometimes, some of us go into the pit of despair.

As with most spiritual concepts, the choice of entering the pit is a paradox.

It’s both a choice and it isn’t.

The wonderful thing about this pit, is that others have been in it, too.

And more importantly… they know how to get out of it.

As a timeshare holder in the pit of despair, I, too, know how to get into and out of it.

Sometimes, we just have to sit with the demons like Milarepa.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded to take the nails out of the board.

Sometimes, (every time) we need our friends to show us the way.

Recovery from depression is not an individual event.

Sometimes, everything everyone suggests is like food that tastes like ash.

But what I’ve discovered during this round in the pit is that validation is the key to my release.

As painful as it is to be seen and heard during my internment, friendly voices telling me I’m right where I’m supposed to be saved the day.

Although I hope I’m not like Eeyore, I certainly feel like him some days.

However, I also have some tools to transcend this “painful pleasure” of mine.

I also accept that it comes in waves that I need to ride with self-compassion.

Yes it happens TO me and FOR me…

Each time I dive into the pit, I reemerge transformed…

My mom shared an analogy recently that when a bull snake sheds it’s skin, it’s an incredibly painful experience that leaves the snake temporarily blind.

During this painful process of letting the old skin go, the snake will strike out wildly all around it in fear of being attacked.

Once it’s sight returns and the new skin heals, the snake goes back to it’s normal temperament of meditating and helping old ladies walk across rattlesnake-infested streets.

Okay, maybe not the last part, but you get the picture…

As much as I loathe our poor little snake “friends” [*shudders* bleh], I appreciate the image. I, like the bull snake, am letting go of my old skin and blindly striking out against that which I fear.

And the deal is – that which I fear is inside of me…

I’ve heard depression described as anger without enthusiasm.

I think depression is anger expressed inward over things that are too painful to feel.

So the key today, is to lean into the pain…

My feelings will not kill me.

Avoiding them will.

Feel the feeling, then let it go.

Remember who my friends are and reach out for their help.

Take some accountability and do what I enjoy – even if at the moment I don’t want to.

This last Saturday, I made a choice…

I woke up early and was about to go run and work out as is my yoozh…

I debated in my head for 30 minutes and decided I wanted to sleep instead because I felt sad and wanted the comfort of dreamland.

I went back to bed for another seven hours.

Yes, seven more fucking hours on top of the eight I already got.

I had horrible dreams, woke up with a bunch of back and shoulder pain.

I then sat in front of the TV for the next nine hours and hid.

The next day I could barely walk.

Not to mention the barrage of tears and suicidal ideation spiraling around me…

Had I gone for the run instead, I could’ve probably saved myself a bunch of suffering this weekend.

However, before you remind me to take the nails out of the board, let me assure you, this was not a wasted experience.

I learned a bit about myself, who and what I need in my life, and I grieved some losses.

My hope is the next time I am confronted with this crossroad, I will find the willingness to push my ass out the door to move my body and do something I love…. Regardless of what I think about it.

I will call a friend.

And I will reach out to someone else to help.

And if not, the pit of despair is always waiting…

But at least I know how to get out of it today…

Be well

Thank you for reading my blog today. I hope you can relate and that it gave you some tools for self-care and validation. You are not alone! Please like, comment, follow, and reach out. I offer Life Coaching services. If you want to learn to thrive beyond trauma, watch out for workshops and coaching sessions coming your way.

Check out my latest podcast episode found on all major platforms. Here’s the Spotify link:

You can email me at davidgreenleaf4life@gmail.com

Follow me on Instagram @greenleaf_4_life

Or on TikTok @greenleaf4life

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