Dark night of the soul…

It seemed like it happened in a week. A quick decline of mood that brought a burst of tears that covered my face for two hours. But the uncontrollable sobbing was the beginning of the escape.

After travelling the world, my consciousness felt too big for my head. Like I was trying to squeeze two litres of liquid into a one litre bottle. To do this I had to hack off parts of my personality. To choose which parts were less important than the others was a difficult choice. It began to plague my thoughts daily. Then hourly. Then I was consumed in the thinking. It was like a whirlpool dragging me into an abyss. I fought and tried to find something to cling to. But slowly the force became too much. The deeper I got the darker it got. I knew what was going on but naively believed that not acknowledging it would make it better. Ignorance is bliss as the saying goes. It wasn’t bliss. I was trying to be a hero in a war no one knew I was fighting. Putting one foot in front of the other got harder and harder. Like an animal who has been tranquillized but fights to escape, I too collapsed when I was overwhelmed. This ended up in a bout of uncontrollable tears. Sitting at home marking students work I was overcome by negative emotion The tears came and wouldn’t stop. The bubbling up inside had finally taken the lid off the pot. It was scary. Mostly due to the lack of positivity available. As if the negativity inside had washed the positivity away when it had spilt out.

One of the recurring themes of my life has been low self-worth, low self-esteem and self-loathing. I medicated it with alcohol. Which then led to alcohol exacerbating the problem. When I quit drinking I did a lot of work on my self-esteem. It helped. I improved but what I had done was deny my anxiety and depression. By doing this I was not only cut off from a part of myself, but I was at war with myself also. A constant inner battle took my attention from the moment. It was tiring. But I didn’t realise it didn’t need to be fought.

If allowed to, the negative emotions place too much stress on my resilience. I am left defenceless. It is a fight I ultimately will lose. The dark clouds descend like a shadowy figure in a horror movie. With the darkness comes the negative messages. My inner chatter becomes self-destructive and self-loathing. Any positivity is blown out of sight. Almost as if the valve has blown on the canister where I’d been storing the negativity. Any escape is hard to find. It is hopelessness in it’s the very essence. I was slowly driven deeper until I could no longer escape.

One night laying in bed in the fetal position I surrendered. I was in utter emotional and physical anguish. I wished for death. I wished to be sectioned and heavily medicated. I wished for an answer. Eventually, through the sobs, I said: “I don’t know if there is anyone. Or what you are. But please, if you can, take this feeling away. I surrender.” 

As an atheist, it felt strange. It was an act of desperation. Ten minutes later, I began to feel better. The thought why are you crying flashed across my mind. I shrugged and started laughing.

The next day I felt terrible. I was still fantasising about suicide. I phoned a friend and asked him to come for a walk because I wasn’t sure of being in my own company. Reaching out was the turning point. I explained what had happened the night before. I told him how I begged for death. He explained he had a similar experience a few years prior. He told me how his friends and family had helped him through. I was so lucky to have called him.

Sharing my feelings helped. Yet, the suicide idealisation still hung around. Googling it and reading methods of suicide began to consume me. Until I started hearing stories from survivors. In AA meetings, through friends, through my family. I wouldn’t tell them how I felt. They would talk about suicide attempts and how surviving impacted them. Also, the stories of how failed attempts had a devastating effect on them. Successful attempts had a devastating impact on others. The thought of trying but living put me off the idea.

The surrendering to my perceived weakness began to slowly take the power out of it. I accepted that it was part of me. That depression and anxiety are part of me. I carry them through life. I accepted that somedays would be worse than others. That may be every blue sky would have a dark cloud tainting it. But does that make it any less beautiful? I figured not. What I learned was that the depression brought the hopelessness with it. Reaching out to friends helped. Going to the doctors helped. The medication helped. But it only got me so far. It was the jump start I needed to get moving. But like a car, I needed to get moving to recharge the battery. It was hard. It seemed like it was impossible. But slowly it began to get easier. FORCING myself to get out of bed was the first thing. Tidying up was a big thing. Shit, making my bed was an achievement. Washing the pots. Anything that is more than nothing is something. Then I started walking. Short distances to begin with. Ideally, in nature. It is the original antidepressant. A day at a time the world got brighter.

Unnoticeable at first. But a week after surrendering I was taken back by the beauty of autumn. The reds and yellows of the leaves that littered the ground like corpses on a brutal battlefield reminded me of the everchanging reality in which I live. The shifting season reflected the shift in my mood. But as the world was getting ready for the darkness of Winter, I was emerging from it. The Autumnal sun felt good. The moments of peace found in nature were a welcome relief after months of chaotic thinking. These brief glimpses of vibrancy through the grey veil gave me enough to push forward.

With the flickers of clarity, I was able to hear my inner chatter. I had an incessant feeling of emptiness. Of being loveless. And unloveable. Needing something. Someone. Or someplace to find fulfilment. Yet no matter where I looked for this “missing piece,” I was left wanting. I had meditated, travelled, used alcohol, food, shopping, sex, porn, exercise, anything that promised the answer. Each fleeting moment of completion was soon lost as the pursuit began again. I had been trapped on a hamster wheel for my entire life. The inquisitive child I once was had somewhere been replaced by an insecure adult. One who was desperate to return to the state of blissful joy, that was once held by that inquisitive child.

That is the cosmic joke; searching for something to fit the space of the illusionary missing piece. It isn’t there. There is no piece. Because nothing is missing. I had just stopped living and starting searching. Instead of enjoying, I was pursuing. Instead of being, I was doing. I hadn’t become the adult I had lost contact with the part of me that once was unconcerned by the illusion of being “complete”. I decided to try to change the narrative. The inner chatter that was telling me I was missing something needed to be removed.

All the years of negative thinking that went along with my alcoholic lifestyle had cemented the belief that I wasn’t “enough”. If I had come to believe I wasn’t “enough” by telling myself I wasn’t. Then surely I could tell myself I was “enough” until I believed it? I started to try.

I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

Simon and Garfunkel, I am a rock

I am enough

I started the morning with a compliment. Focusing on something that I felt bad about. Loneliness was a big problem. I started to realise I was looking for that thing to take the feeling away. External factors will take the loneliness away temporarily, yet it still remains underneath. It will return if not dealt with. The loneliest I have ever felt was surrounded by loved ones many years ago. I didn’t think they wouldn’t understand how I was feeling. I felt isolated from them. Like we were in different realms. So this time in depression, even after knowing I wasn’t alone I still felt lonely. It came from the belief that I wasn’t enough. That’s why I felt incomplete. I felt like I was missing something. I’d partitioned off my personality by separating the perceived weaknesses from my strengths. This created an inner conflict. So I accepted myself as a whole person. Dark and light. I started to say in the morning “I AM ENOUGH.” It felt silly at first. I didn’t believe it, to begin with, but I kept repeating it. I mean if I couldn’t believe it then no one else would. I stopped focusing on fixing myself and began focusing on accepting myself. I have to live with myself, so why not put my differences aside and accept who I am? Each morning I would wake and say “I am enough!” If I slipped into comparison then I would say “It doesn’t matter about them because I am enough!”

Slowly, it began to be the truth. I began to believe it. I am enough, just as I am. For years, I had believed I was worthless because of what I’d said to myself internally. I had told myself I was worthless so many times that it had become a core value. All the years of alcoholism and self-loathing had become my story. Even after changing my life, the narrative had remained. I had got through by cutting myself off from my supposed weaknesses. All this resulted in was inner turmoil. A constant battle in my head. So I had to first accept my position. I had to accept I wasn’t perfect. I had to acknowledge that depression and anxiety are part of me. Once this happened I felt at ease. I felt the war was over. It was time to write the future narrative. And that one was that “I am enough!”

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’

Theodore Roosevelt

I am good enough

After I began to believe that I was enough, I added another mantra. It became “I am enough, I am good enough.” I was a complete person who was good enough, not only for himself but also for another. Believing I was enough meant I didn’t “need” another to make me complete. Believing I was good enough meant that if the right person showed up then I would be open to love. Instead of anxiety dictating the outcome of the relationship which had happened previously. Second-guessing and a sense of inferiority had been the death knell of many potentialities. It eventually grew into confidence that came from a place of authenticity. No longer built on bullshit and bravado. The protector that is the ego was no longer needed to defend the inferior being that dwelled within. Behind the shell, the inner had grown to a place of sincerity. No longer seeking for completion or to contort to someone else’s desires in the hope of acceptance. An inner connection of resilience made me centred and calm.

The pursuit of perfection is a road of hardship. Of punishment. And disappointment. I can now stop seeking. I no longer need to try to reach the unachievable heights of perfection. I am enough. The pursuit of contentment is endless. Contentment is acceptance. It is the light and dark combined. It is questioning the illusions I hold of myself. Correcting the fallacies. And accepting what I can’t.

The practices that I go through to get me to this place; meditation, creativity, walking in nature, talking, observing, connecting. They are no longer just “practices” they are now “necessities”. Part of my life to ensure that these new mantras not only remain but become facts. Through these behaviours, I become who I am meant to be. Only I can unlock the door.

I can’t believe that I never saw it. I’d spent my life searching far and wide for answers. When it was with me all along. All I had to do was surrender in the war against myself and accept myself completely.

You are the perfect example of yourself

@cjlofus

I have value

Confidence that emanates from a place of genuine love is a gift to be shared. To inspire others. To say “Hey, I was once where you are and never believed I could escape. But I did. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.” The self-realised must pass the information on. To share hope amongst the hopeless. To bring light into the dark lives of the lost. It is to find the damned and shepherd them back to their centre. The connection we seek starts with the inner connection. But it is the help of others that allows us to fully realise. The peace I sought in alcohol was already present at birth. It got misplaced by false promises of salvation and happiness. But I, you, we are born with awe and wonder. Creativity and inquisitiveness. Exploration and quests. But they are forgotten. Suppressed. The stories we are told become the narratives for our lives. They can be changed at any time. The seeds we plant today are the flowers of tomorrow. Our value is not dictated by our compromising of our virtue but being true to it. Knowing what we do is true to our essence. It is our intuition that drives us.

It is the connection with the self that gives the confidence to share the experience with others. Believing I am enough and good enough showed me the amount I have to offer as a person. That the negative tales I told myself were holding me back. They were stopping me from reaching my full potential due to denying part of myself. I am complete. We all are. Just as we are. We are the perfect representation of ourselves. Yet, we strive to be someone else under the false belief that we are not enough or good enough. The answer lays within. It is there. All the pieces are there. We just have to stop searching and realise the beauty that emanates from us all.

You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.

Amy Bloom

You are beautiful

The realisation of the complete being is the realisation of oneness. It is the connection to all facets of our character. The perceived weaknesses become just another part of the whole. Not to be punished or shameful of. They are part of the makeup that makes us the beautiful thing we are. The completeness of ourselves aligns us with the flow of life. The tree doesn’t complain about the wind. It is in its complete. We begin to understand that the weather shouldn’t dictate our mood. It is beyond our control. The knowledge of everything cannot be contained in the mind. It is around us. It is everything and all things. There is beauty to be found in every moment. The flow of life runs like a river. We can be part of it. Our ego is the boat that separates us from it. We fear getting wet and thus never enjoy the pleasurable water. Worry dissipates with the observation of thoughts. The awareness of the self allows for the passing of anger. Thoughts are the dictator of our emotions. Without awareness of our thoughts, we are not aware of our emotions. Moments of peace can be found in chaos. Life is alive beyond the humdrum. The pursuit of completeness loses attractiveness. As it is found in the realisation that we are already there. The return to the childlike wonder opens our eyes to the world we once devoured with eagerness. The feeling we sought in consumption exists in every moment we choose to recognise its presence.

I found the peace I had been seeking. It was all around. It was with me. After this realisation, I returned to work. People commented on my demeanour and energy. I looked like I felt; wonderful. I think it is in us all. Our natural beauty is clear for all to see when we are in our centre. When we fully accept ourselves, a true connection develops. Not only to others but to ourselves. A feeling of heat in our chest is love. Ever present. Some call it God. Some call it the universe. It is unexplainable. And thankfully it needs no description. It only needs to be shared. It is the power within us all. It has always been and will always be. Yet we overlooked it in the pursuit of filling the void that was already filled. We never took the time to see what was in there. It is an authentic feeling of self-worth. Of the understanding that we are enough, and we are beautiful.

It is easier to maintain a peaceful mind when surrounded by nature and disengaged from the “normal” activities of modern life. But it is vitally important for our own well being to integrate the practices that allow for peace into our daily routines. Without them, it is only ourselves that suffer. Plus once a sense of inner peace has been tasted it is difficult to not want more. It is the feeling I was searching for in alcohol and consumption. And to find it is available free was a revelation. I must keep the walks in nature and meditation part of my daily/weekly routine. I have to put the practices in and not get upset if I momentarily slip from the path. I also don’t need to try to cling to the feeling. I have to accept the feeling as it arises. It is what it is. All I can do is try to bring my wandering mind back to the moment. Back to the realisation that the illusion we know as reality can consume the peace if I let it. Our thoughts dictate our emotions. Without control of my thoughts, I lack control of my emotions. Balance is key. Practice is the way.

I may not have the serenity that can be experienced by leaving society but I can just keep up the practices. A life chasing Nirvana is a life chasing rainbows. We may finally reach the pot of gold at the end but will only be disappointed that it contains a mirror.

Charlie.

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