So few people choose to live an actualized life – a life without a ready means of escape. Those of you who have chosen to extricate yourself from medicinal prison, to remove the toxins impairing your body and mind, and to reclaim the best of yourself have marshalled that courage. You are revolutionaries. You stand in the vanguard of medical and emotional enlightenment. You are my heroes.
In the midst of emotional and physical distress you may not feel all that heroic. Beaten down by withdrawal, fear, pain, or nausea you may not feel all that courageous. But you are. I think it is a worthwhile exercise to contemplate all the ways that you embody courage. I don’t believe in accidental heroes. I think each of us has demonstrated courage throughout our lives.
- Courage to seek after and face the truth
What motivates you to seek after physical, emotional, and psychological truth? Self-deception is so insidious: it is behind us, beneath us, inside us; and it sneaks up and strikes so silently that we are often unaware of it.
I am so conditioned to describe myself as a victim in my narrative. Or, I paint myself in the opposite light: as the demonic force who has wrought havoc in the lives of my friends and family. I am a person of extremes, and my stories – my internal narrative – reflect that. It has taken re-conditioning to guard against and interrupt the patterns of faulty self-talk. It takes courage to rewrite our narrative and to ask ourselves, “Is this true?” before we buy into our own story.
- Courage to Surrender
There was no way I was going to get well until I surrendered my meds, my dysfunctional safety blanket, my victim mentality, my disability, my fears, my insecurities, my skepticism about alternative modalities, and my distrust of others. I fought to hold on to these for dear life even thought they were slowly killing me.
It may be frightening to become vulnerable, but only through doing so can we receive the love and help we need. The armor we’ve worn, while necessary at times to keep us alive, may be weighing us down and stifling our growth. Certainly the skepticism, pessimism, and soul-numbing meds I used to defend myself had become the very toxins that were killing me. We all recognize this on some level; but recognizing it and actually surrendering are two completely different things.
What must you do to muster the courage to surrender? Once you do surrender that thought, behavior, or dependency, how will your life look differently?
- Courage to believe / trust
What gives you the courage to believe in yourself and others? We can’t let others into our loves, who can ennoble, inspire, and empower us, unless we take the first step to believe in them. It is awfully hard not to enter into a state of dependency or co-dependency unless we believe we have the strength and value to stand on our own.
I stopped believing that I could get well. I stopped believing that others genuinely cared about my wellbeing. Truth be told, I stopped believing in a beneficent higher power. I became infested with doubt, suspicion, and fear.
Our beliefs can sustain our physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. Or, they can undermine our recovery and sap our will. It takes great courage to believe, especially after we have been betrayed, rejected, and abandoned.
Each moment our belief is tested. It’s a thought by thought pitched battle. It’s a supreme act of courage to hold onto positive beliefs and foster new ones.
- Courage to grow
I’ve distilled my world view into one simple adage: the purpose of life is to grow my capacity to love. I choose to interact with you because it enables me to grow my capacity to love. I chose to get off and stay off meds because doing so enables me to grow my capacity to love. If something diminishes my capacity to love, I try to avoid it or stop doing it. I don’t always succeed, but at least I am keenly aware of the need to grow. When I face a choice, I ask myself: Which path will help me increase my capacity to love? I don’t always make that choice, but I do more often than not. And that’s all I can expect of myself.
The alternative to growth is escape. There are infinite ways to escape growth. I tried a good number of them until my mental and physical health was severely impaired and I could no longer function. While escape may be necessary and helpful in the short run, it certainly hasn’t worked well for me as a feasible lifestyle choice.
It takes a great deal of courage to choose to grow. For a long time I associated growth with pain. And some growth is painful. But the long-term benefits far outweigh any momentary discomfort. Daily, even hourly, I have opportunities to grow. It takes courage to seize them. It’s far easier to watch from the relative safety of my blankets as opportunities to grow pass me by.
- Courage to love / forgive
All love starts with self-love. All care starts with self-care. The busier I get caring for others, the more I have to remind myself to stop and care for myself.
Certainly in my case, before I could love again I had to forgive – first myself and others. Perversely, no matter how compromised my mental faculties became, I always remembered in vivid detail ways I had been slighted and ways I had hurt others. Like the looping soundtrack of a low-budget horror film, I replayed the horrors of my life again and again building up resentment and reinforcing the anguish I felt in the process.
When I feel pain, I tend to replay past trauma and bring to mind those who have perpetrated it. For that reason, for me forgiveness is an ongoing process. I have to forgive people multiple times before my heart seems to get the message. I repeat the affirmation: I free myself and everyone in my life from old, past hurts. They are free and I am free to move on to new, glorious experiences.
Forgiving myself and others takes a huge amount of courage. Although holding onto resentments may be poisoning me, it seems comfortable, convenient, and safe to do so. A part of me wondered and worried who I would be without my resentment, anger, and recrimination. If I let these go, I would be forced to recreate my identity, which, although scary, is full of potential and hope.
I always thought of firemen as the most courageous people alive. Now I think you are. The world celebrates escape. We don’t buy into that world view and want to take responsibility for our physical, emotional, and mental growth. We face the horrors of tapers because we know a life of actualization awaits on the other side. Any creative process is painful, yet we’ve chosen to recreate ourselves. Thank you for choosing to be courageous. I would like to end with a poem I wrote about the firefighters who responded on 9.11. Although the circumstances are different, I extend that same love and respect to you.
Desks on fire off the shore
Ash-beams glistening off
Sixty-some pounds on one shoulder
And my love on the other,
Just Three days ago, your
Jaws of life pried soused teens
From a Sawmill clusterfuck.
As the ultra-orthodox, post holy
Strike, you searched in the flare light
For a story to deliver to
Now, Preppy-tied bondsman
In a world suddenly devoid of
From your own fall,
Are my hero.