I am on my honeymoon. I am happy.
I know, I know, that’s what you would expect. If you can’t be happy on your honeymoon, you probably will never be happy about anything. And in a way the two are related, but maybe not in the obvious way. Maybe the right thing to say is that I am joyful. Not I have moments of joy, or I have moments of happiness. Life is full of those tidbits of time and grace, all mixed in with the tough and the tragic. This, it seems, is something deeper.
And I am not sure what to do with it.
For a long time, well over a decade, maybe almost two, life has been a battle to fight. I was not unaware of the joys and blessings in my life. I was very aware of them. I was not unaware of the good things in my life and I was grateful. But I seemed to struggle with…. well….. everything. Everything was hard. From getting up in the morning to making a phone call to the power company to doing my work, to writing. It had all become hard.
A lot of that I know, was due to depression. I suffer from it. I am pretty sure my father before me suffered from it. It almost took me down a little more than a decade ago, and the fight back has been just that, a fight. A day after day drudge of a fight that after a while, with the progress so slow, and so erratic that at times it could not be seen, and at times even seemed to be going backward, and it was hard. . It was more an act of faith than an act of confidence, I built good habits, did the work, chipped away at it all. I made my therapists proud.
But boys and girls, for most of that time, I was not feeling it.
Today at lunch, as the woman I love and I were sitting over coffee, looking over the harbor in Provincetown, we found ourselves talking about acceptance, and emotional safety. It’s an important topic for both off us because we’ve both had long stretches of life that we did not have either, and that fact took it’s toll on each of us. Part of what has drawn us together, I think, is that we’ve gotten a big dollop of both from each other and after a couple years or more with each other, it’s become our norm with each other. We both count on that acceptance and safety, lean on it, and grow within it.
Looking at where we were then, and where we are now, there’s been a dramatic difference, We’ve both taken chances we might have taken without that level of safety. We’ve taken risks and leapt into changes we might have done otherwise. And there are more ahead for both of us.
I have often talked about and written about the power of safety. It is something I believed in even when I was not experiencing it. I have long felt that when we live in a place of safety, that is where we flourish. It’s true when we are talking about kids. It’s true when we talk about employees. It is true of refugees, of people searching for faith, for artists of all stripes. Studies say so. Doctors say so. I believed so.
But I am feeling it for the first time. Or at least the first time in many, many years.
How does that show itself? That came out in our conversation today as well. Things that have been happening without me realizing it. Things that crept up on me, that only now, in their fullness, am I starting to understand.
I’ve rediscovered a sense of possibility. I’ve done good work the past 15 years or so. Some of it I am very proud of. But it was just work. I didn’t have any excitement in it. Not nearly the joy of accomplishment I once had. I worked to pay bills, not to push myself and see how good I could be. I didn’t take any risk in what I did. I went after safe work, stuff I knew I could do without stretching myself. Very unlike my younger self.
Slowly, and this past year, that has changed. I feel a need to be much more as I was when I was younger. To stretch. To push myself to do work outside my comfort zone. To see what I can do and be. I am still paying the bills, but slowly, the money has become less and less a factor of why I do what I do, and I have a passion for what I am doing. I have a need to grow again, not just exist.
I’ve found it easier to battle my depression. No, it is not gone. Depression doesn’t work that way. It never quite leaves, even when things are cruising along like a 1953 Bel Air on Sunset Strip. It hides and waits for the moments when it can kneecap you out of the blue, and it often does. No, the depression is still there. I still have to make an effort to get up each morning and get to my work, to my day, to my responsibilities as a pastor, a parent, and all the other roles that are part of life. But I am finding easier to push back the blackness. When you have people reminding you of your own value regularly, you feel accepted and emotionally safe, and the demons, those snarky little liars that live in my brain and easier to slam back in place.
It’s like playing “Whack-a-mole”. You get better and better at bopping that bad boy on the head and pushing him back in his hole. Or at least I have.
Another thing that has emerged is my humor. I used to have a wicked, quirky dry humor. I saw the ridiculous in nearly everything. No, I was not ready to be the next Fallon or Colbert, but I was funny. Sneaky funny. Twisted point of view funny. and it came out, probably a bit too often. I wrote poems to cockroaches. I had people chuckling even when talked or wrote about serious things like politics and religion. That ended somewhere about fifteen years ago.
But it’s been sneaking back, and people I’ve only come to know in the past few years look at me sometimes, when I insert some silliness or strangeness into an otherwise normal conversation, as if I was a new being. And then they laugh. I am not so sure that this is the best thing in the world. but it’s new, and once again, it only happens (or at least in my case it only happens) when I am in a place of safety and acceptance.
Because when I am there, I am free. I am powerful to create. I am….
Now, let me say this. I don’t think I was unaccepted by all the people around me all those years. Sure, I was rejected my a (now-ex) wife. My dad and I had a round now and then. But mostly I think the people around me have been pretty accepting. I live a pretty mild life without tons of controversy. But the combination of my divorce, my depression beating me about the head and shoulders (especially about the head) moved me to a dark place.
I wasn’t able to feel the acceptance. I didn’t feel safe. Even perhaps, at times when I was. Such is the nature of the beast.
I’ve been making progress the past seven or eight years. Slow, painstaking, two steps forward one step back progress. So slow, I don’t even think I saw it coming.
Part of the magic of the woman I love ( I am sure scientist and therapists would have their own point of view that use big words and buzz words, but me, I am going with magic), is how she has accelerated the process. I’ve never felt so emotionally safe. I’ve never felt so completely accepted. That woman knows my wierdnesses, my weaknesses and my past. She knows my fears and where I don’t work so wanymoremore – physically and mentally and emotionally. And she likes me. Heck, she loves me in that no holds barred, I am in your corner Jack, never doubt it for a minute kind of way that few of us get to experience.
She’s been that way from the start. She’s that way now.
And it seems to be working. I’ve grown a lot with her in my corner. I am less afraid. I am stronger in almost every way. But most of all, I am unafraid to fail, because I don’t doubt she’ll be there to pick me up instead of throwing me to the jackals (most of whom live inside my head.).
Don’t doubt your power to make the biggest of differences simply by letting the people around you know how much you love them, by being fiercely positive and supportive, I’ve believed this forever, and have seen it work with kids, churches and companies. And finally, at the ripe old age of 61, am experiencing it myself. It sounds too simple to be true, but trust this former captive of his own demons, it’s powerful stuff.
Be well. Travel wisely,