Ugh. Here we go again. I’m in a funk.
Why are you even telling people about this?
No one cares what you think.
You’re the only one who reads your own dumb blog.
Go write one of your “deep” little songs.
This is such a waste of time.
Oh no? Really? Then what do you have to show it?
Get a real life.
For about a month now, I’ve been trying to deal with a bout of situational depression on my own. Have you ever tried that?
Here’s how it goes: Life throws you some random shit storm. You pull out your healthy tools – breathing, meditation, journaling, songwriting, therapy – and get to work peeling it apart. It turns out to be a bigger storm than you thought, or bonus! Some other stuff gets piled on. Your tools aren’t working fast enough. Then that familiar little gnawing starts in, and you turn to your avoidance thing – food, attention, blaming, judging, busywork – which appeases the little gnawing for a bit, but then you feel like crap because you ate a ½ lb bag of licorice in 15 minutes or you lashed out like a badger at someone you love, and the shit storm whips up from a dust devil into an ever-tightening funnel cloud.
That’s sort of my life at the moment. Excellent song writing weather, but man, it can be hell.
Finally, a few days ago, the storm began to break. How? I told someone about it.
Brene Brown, reknown shame researcher, says that “shame cannot survive empathy.” Once we tell someone, a caring type of someone, about the shame we’re carrying, it lessens.
These are the times I am so grateful to be a people person.
Sharing my depressed state with my dear husband was a first step. Then, in a sweet conversation with an empathetic friend, I cracked open a closet stacked high with shame, and although I’m still leaning against the door, there’ll be no way to close it back up. Like when you have to return something to IKEA and you can NOT fit all the pieces back into the box, some stuff is going to have to come out and stay out for good.
Tara Brach, Western Buddhist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington DC, recently gave a talk about healing addiction. I usually jump as soon as she posts a new podcast, but I put off listening to this talk for a long time, because, well, I’m not an addict.
But my podcast feed happened to be slim pickings, and in my depressed state, I was getting desperate, so I listened on a particularly tender day. That 53-minute lecture kicked my ass.
Brach spoke of the Buddhist concept of the hungry ghost, that insatiable inner tormentor, our own personal Golem. That gnawing agitation, Brach says, leads most of us to grab at substitutions like food, sugar, busyness, achievement, status, judging others, anger outbursts, and, of course, the less subtle substitutions like drugs, alcohol, gambling, violence, porn, and sex.
But why that gnawing agitation to begin with?
The Latin root of the word, “desire,” is “desiderare,” Brach shared, which she defined as “away from your star.” I looked it up, and found her definition to be a more poignant version of the Online Etymology Dictionary’s “from the stars” and “await what the stars will bring.”
Brach suggests that all addiction initially stems from that feeling of being disconnected from our star or source or soul or divine self or whatever hippy-dippy god-like term works for you. In the absence of our wholeness, we seek ways to get whole again. The feelings of disconnectedness are powerful, related to our very survival instincts, and so we’ll grab and grab, like hungry ghosts, for whatever gives us the slightest relief.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough flavors of ice cream in the world to fill the holes in our souls.
Sardonically, our pathetic attempts to get our holes all whole’d up have the opposite effect. The spinning storm keeps us in a disconnected loop, and for most of us, presents the added pain of self-judgment – that we should be able to handle it all.
Although, in my current funk, I’m not expressing a bona fide addiction, the pattern is familiar. My grasping provides temporary relief from the gnawing, reinforcing the loop for the next time around. More importantly, it’s habitual, meaning I hardly think about it, until things get bad, and breaking the cycle will take more than a bit of doing.
Sounds a lot like addiction, but seriously, I’m not an addict.
Brach, like Brene Brown, indicates that to step out of the loop, to turn toward our stars, a few things are necessary including naming the shame and offering it empathy. She concurs with Brown that we can’t soothe the hungry ghost if we hate the hungry ghost. Like every recovering addict knows, it’s that first step that’s the hardest, and you have to take the first step every single day.
It’s no small thing to begin the process, but it is especially challenging to sustain lasting changes to life-long habits. Brach suggests that doing so requires a belief that we can find healthier alternatives. That belief, she purports, comes from sharing the process in loving community. This is why 12-step programs work, she offers. We see that others have done it, and begin to believe that we can too.
So where is the 12-step program for me? Where’s the anonymous group for quick-to-judge/self-flaggelating/forget-to-eat-then-indulge-in-sugar/incessant-tidying/fear-of-real-vulnerability people? Where is perfectionists-R-us? Sign me up!
The chorus of my new song, Broken Bowl, goes:
Hiding here inside myself
There’s a room in my heart that I can’t walk across
‘Cause I’m shattered like an old broken bowl
I imagine my closet, the one that is spilling out all my guts, is at the other end of that room. Somehow, I’m going to have to gather myself, trust that I’ll have the love and support I need, and start sorting shit out. Never the most fun way to spend the day, but there’s not much else to do on a stormy day anyway.
I’m not alone, right? Comment below.