When Comes the Night

“There are low points. There are going to be low points. And if you can take me at the high points, then you also need to take me at the low points. That’s what I have to say.”

My daughter uttered these words with passion and much arm movement a few moments ago. She was preparing to go seek out a job. An acquaintance told me to have her come in and talk with him about a possible position at the business he manages, so she was on her way there to see what that talk would bring about. We both have high hopes that it brings about a job!

She has been looking for a while now. And the longer you look, the harder looking becomes. Many of us have been in that position. The more rejection you suffer, the more difficult any risk of future rejection is to attempt. You start to feel tainted or insufficient in some manner. It’s not a good feeling. And she has been feeling it.

Today she was expressing what I have been feeling as well.

I’ve been struggling with my mental health. I’ve had suicidal ideation—not active plans for death by suicide, but the hopelessness and the feeling that there isn’t a reason to keep living—for a few weeks now. I’m working hard to use my psychological “tool box” of coping strategies to keep myself from slipping farther into deep depression and to find some hope. But it is a huge challenge.

And life keeps moving on, even though I am feeling this way.

Bills keep coming in. Appointments keep popping up on my calendar. Responsibility still beckons me to take care of things and be an “adult”.

I’m at a really low point.

I think that the last time I was this low was more than three years ago. And the time before that, maybe another four. And then two years before that. And eight before that.

I can keep walking it back to age 19. And I know that there were extreme low points before that, but 19 is the age where I start remembering those low points with some detail.

Age 19. Phillip. Night work at the bakery. Drinking—so much drinking. Jealousy. Sadness. Remembering, and nightmares, and not knowing how to understand or cope with any of that. Dropping out. Being called a liar. Weird interactions with men. Being called a slut. More drinking. Breaking up. Wanting to be dead. Learning to use wanting to be dead as a manipulative tool. (Something I would later need to work hard to unlearn—and that tempts me even today, because people finally seem to give a shit when you say the word “suicide”.) Crying. Lots and lots of crying. William. Feeling sick. Not the flu kind of sick, but that empty hole in the center of your being feeling of sick. More drinking. More crying. Running away to find some sort of escape, but framing it in a “new beginning” or “starting over” or “opportunity”, only to run to the next place and the next thing a year later.

It isn’t always as bad now as it was that first time that I remember in detail. Mostly because I now have that psychological “tool box” to draw upon for coping strategies, and I have medication, and a concrete diagnosis, and a weekly therapy session. But it is still bad.

If you take me at my high points, you have to take me at my low points.

But people don’t, do they?

Time after time I am left alone when the low point hits. Time after time the bottom falls out of the relationship when I hit a deep depression. Time after time I am alone when the bank balance hits the red “danger days” of overdraft. Time after time I am raising that child alone—okay just one child, one time, but it feels like a thousand times because you keep doing it every day, and keep doing it long beyond childhood, because the words uttered today were uttered by a 20-year-old daughter, who is an adult, fiercely independent and desperate to prove she can make life better than life was when it came to her.

When my daughter was young, we had a rule for birthday invites. She was only allowed to invite to her celebrations those people whom she believed would also show up to her moments of greatest sorrow. That rule always led to a house filled with random people from all the corners of our lives. Family, my friends, her friends, people from church, people from school, people I worked with, people in our neighborhood. A diverse group who were not connected to one another except through their bond with us came together each year, and met and talked and learned about one another’s lives. It was always a great joy. Later, when she was a pre-teen, we abandoned that rule. Every birthday since has been a source of disappointment or challenge—people didn’t show up, or fought amongst themselves, or broke things in her room, or any number of weird things. The moment we stopped allowing only those who would mourn with us to celebrate with us was the moment that the parties started being stressors and not joys.

As I think about my life now, and I think about the joys and the sorrows, I look back to those parties. I remember that rule, and I wonder why I didn’t work harder to apply it to my own life and relationships.

I am a person who loves deeply, and without many prejudices. (We all have some prejudices, and being honest and forthcoming about those biases is the best way to combat and cope with them.) I offer love to all sorts of people whom others might fear or look upon with shame or judgments. And I think at times that openness has been a place where my armor is weak. Love flows out, and blades of dishonesty, violence, manipulation, or some other bad thing can be forced into that space with greater ease. Being open-hearted means being vulnerable, in some ways. And when I stopped considering who would be there in the low points, but let people join me in the high points, regardless of where they were when I was struggling, I left myself vulnerable in unhealthy ways.

Where were those people in the low points? I don’t really know. They had an excuse for not being with me, of course. But those excuses started to pile up to the point where I felt used instead of loved. And maybe I was. I probably was.

Because for some reason I give people the benefit of the doubt. I assume that they love in the ways that I love. I assume that they stay through joys and sorrows. I assume that they offer love without conditions and avoid judgment and shame. But they don’t.

I love that way. They don’t. (Or at least most of them don’t, or none of them have thus far in regard to my romantic relationships.)

I have people in my life who do love that way. When my mom died two years ago, there were people who came to the wake and the funeral who were there just to see me and support me. I hadn’t lived in that town for several years, but there were a few people who loved me deeply and truly—in joys and in sorrows—who knew that I needed them to be there in that low point. They wanted to be there with me in that low point. I cannot express how much that meant.

Lately, I feel just as my daughter has been feeling—like she was emphatically stating today. If you take me at the high point you need to take me at the low point. And the reason that statement came from her lips is because there are people in her life who are not there at the low points. There are too many people who want the joys but not the sorrows. I feel overwhelmed with the number of people who are not there in my sorrows.

And I should probably look on the bright side. I should probably see the people who are present and loving me through this very low point. But that isn’t what my mind and my heart focus on easily or naturally. What they focus on is the lack of support. What they see is the lone wolf, fighting her battle without a pack to cover over the weakness or the fatigue or the blind spots in her vision—leaving her vulnerable to attack and making it nearly impossible for her to win the fight and survive the day.

Or, rather, survive the night. Because day isn’t what I am struggling with. I am struggling with the darkness. The depths. The most difficult. And that is the space that so few will enter alongside me. That is the place that people don’t wish to go—the arena in which they cannot support me.

I always find it intriguing (and sometimes find it infuriating) that when I post on social media about my financial need or updates about my disability hearing, people do not respond in any way, but when I post a picture of my freshly cut or colored hair a hundred people will “like” the post. Pretty, clean, happy-looking Christy garners support. Poor, struggling, sick-looking Christy gets far less attention. But the poor and struggling and disabled me is the me that needs the most support, not the me on happy days with well-styled hair. People love my joys, and disappear during my sorrows.

When the night comes, people run and hide behind their doors in “safety”. When the night comes, people distance themselves. When the night comes, people offer platitudes in public and judgmental gossip in private. When the night comes, the needy are left alone on the dark street, fending for themselves. And “joy comes in the morning” for those who wake to step out the door (and didn’t have to face the night) with far more ease than it comes for those who were battling through the darkness while you slept in peace. Yes, we have joy that we survived the night. But it is always tempered with the knowledge that we will likely have to endure the fight again when night falls.

My daughter texted that she got a job! Our joy is inexpressible! But it took months of sorrows to get to this day. And those don’t leave us just because of this joy. They linger. We remember the night. We know that we are inches from it at all times. And we know that many who will celebrate this joy were not there to offer love and support during the sorrow that preceded today’s good news.

It begs the question: Where are you when night falls?

Are you inviting the stranger into your home to find safety behind your walls? Are you in the streets protecting the others, who have no supports in this fight? Are you cowering in corners? Are you behind your own door, somehow believing that you deserve the security you have from the darkness because you are better or stronger or worked harder or behaved with greater morality than whomever might be fighting through the dark night of the soul?

No matter what I, myself, am fighting, I always fight for others.

That seems a bit ridiculous at times. I should put myself first, right? I have problems that need solutions. I need money, so I shouldn’t give my change to someone selling Streetwise on the corner. I am sick so I shouldn’t be hugging and holding the hand of the “dirty” homeless and addicts. I can’t take care of myself, so I shouldn’t take in others that need care. Right?

Wrong. I don’t know why I know with such certainty that it is wrong, but I know it. No matter how difficult my own situation, I cannot and will not lose my empathy and compassion for others. I will always help. I will always seek to ease pain for those around me. I will always try to save lives, bring comfort, offer security, and radiate love. Always. Even in the middle of my own dark nights. Even in my own very low points.

If you take me at the high points, you take me at the low points.

Don’t pretend you care and then not offer care. Don’t tell me you support me and then not give me support. Don’t say you love me and then not show love.

If you wouldn’t stand with me during my deepest, darkest, and most devastating sorrows, then do not stand beside me in my joys. You haven’t earned the right to my joys. You don’t deserve my best if you cannot accept my worst. And my worst is bad. It is really, really bad.

I still have suicidal ideation and hopelessness at the forefront of my mind. I still have significant need that isn’t being met. I still have all sorts of stressors and difficult decisions and challenges along my path, and I do not know how to address them or overcome them or cope with them. I’m still in the midst of the low point.

But I also have the opportunity to rejoice with my daughter over her news of employment at a place she is so excited to work. I still have the joy of celebrating the birthday of a dear friend this weekend. I still have the joy of discovering the offending medication that was making it impossible for me to do effective strength training, and to eliminate that medicine, so I could finally get a decent workout in this week. I have so many joys! They simply live in tandem with deep sorrows.

What is the point of this post?

I’m not entirely sure.

Maybe it is meant to whine about the ways that humanity is failing me. Maybe it is to set a boundary for myself, in writing. Maybe it is to offer a lesson to one of those reading, and to help them see that they are being “fair weather friends” and not true friends at all. Maybe it is just something that I needed to get off of my mind and onto some “paper”, so that I could stop playing it over in my mind, and get on with other tasks.

But I suspect that much of it is to give voice to what I have felt for a very long time—that nobody dares to know, to tolerate, or to manage the depths of my pain. They don’t know how. Or maybe they have never felt that low before and it feels terrible, so they stop. They leave me there in that pain, because it is so intolerable. And it is intolerable pain. Which is why there have been so many low points.

But if nobody ever finds the strength and the will and the compassion to join me there, I might never overcome. I might be stuck with that pain forever, or it might overwhelm me.

It is low. It is so low. And I know it is hard, because I feel it every single moment. It radiates through my body, and it poisons my life, and it hurts everything and everyone around me. That’s how low it is. But if I am ever to have joys to share with you, you need to find a way to join me in that sorrow.

If you are going to take me at my high point, you need to take me at my low point.

That’s what I have to say.

 

Making Enemies and Infuriating People

I have a friend who often uses the hashtag #makingfriendsandinfluencingpeople, which I believe is based on a book about doing just that—using specific strategies to create connection and influence others.  I also believe that it was a book popular within business circles some years ago, so I have suspicions that the influence part was what was stressed, and the getting what you want from others is the point of using the strategies.  I don’t know how much we can then call that “friendship”.  (But I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to its tone or effectiveness with certainty.)

My friends—the true and real and lasting ones—are people whom I suffer with and rejoice with through all sorts of circumstances.  And I don’t think that a book of strategy for connections would have been useful in the development of those relationships, because they were forged in fire, in many ways, and that forging was often horribly uncomfortable.  Really, the way that we became friends was by not appeasing one another, and by venturing into dark waters together … some of which I thought would drown us both and destroy our connection.  But the thing about being willing to sacrifice your friendship for the good of your friend is that it strengthens the bond with the people who are best for you, and offers those who would not be your friend through both thick and thin the opportunity to walk away.

I was recently speaking with a dear friend via Skype, and we questioned how we became friends at all, since we were both very closed to connection and guarded and mistrusting and walled off at the time.  But, as we discussed it, I realized that sharing mutual distrust for humanity was what bonded us.  And that sounds a bit weird, but we created a connection out of not connecting.  We shared uncomfortable space.  We were both different.  We were both damaged.  We were both in need.  We both knew frightening dangers and horrible pain and devastating events in life.  And because we shared all of this, we were able to quickly dive into the dark waters together.

Other friends have been less quick to dive in.  Some friendships were not cemented until years without communication had passed, and the realization that the challenges the other had placed upon us were meant to love us, and not to harm us, and the remorse and the forgiveness and the forgetting of the division and distance made the bonds strong.

Suffering plays a big part in friendship, because the best way to connect is to break together and to heal together.

Religious texts mention this frequently.  Warnings against fair-weather friends, and commands to support one another, and models of rising and falling together abound, not just in one religion, but in many.  Life together means a life of ups and downs together.

I think that one of the reasons we fail, and make enemies instead of friends, is that we react harshly when we are incapable of rising and falling together.  When we think that individualism is of high importance, and we refuse to imagine that those falling are doing so because that is half of life, but believe that falling is a moral failure, we speak in ways that harm others.  When we are falling, and nobody will hold us as we do so, we sometimes lash out in what looks like anger, but is truly fear at its core.  When we are afraid of falling, we pretend to be rising, and we become disingenuous and dishonest and untrustworthy, which breaks apart bonds and ruins relationship.

We make enemies and infuriate people when we don’t allow ourselves to enter the dark waters together.  When we avoid the falling half of life, and try to wish away the times of struggle and the dangers and horrors that accompany life together, we cannot treat one another in positive ways.  We make up excuses and judge individuals harshly and create scales of worth and value or hierarchies of wrongs and sins and evils in order to justify our refusal to join one another in the sorrows, and be half-friends who only stand in the moments of joy or praise or pride with others.

I am in a season that lacks joy or praise or pride, and others use the scales and hierarchies in attempts to discredit me, so they don’t have to accept that this season—this falling—can happen to any of us at any time.  They hurt me with accusations and define me with degradations, in the name of fairness and righteousness and, at times, even in the name of god.  And I don’t quite understand the instinct to distance one’s self from the one falling.  It seems like far more work to uphold the excuses and the judgments and the scales and the hierarchies than to simply hold onto one another as we fall and as we rise.

I understand that the dark waters are a bit frightening, and that it takes work to swim through to the other side.  But many of us aren’t offered the chance to ignore those waters.  Some of us have been drowning in those dark waters since we were small children.  Others of us wade in the dark waters daily due to lack of resources or abusive acts against us or illnesses or addictions or living in the midst of violence or deep loss.  But those who have a choice, and those who choose not to venture into that space are failing the ones who are falling, and pretending at goodness by attaching themselves to those that are rising.  Being that fair-weather half-friend makes a liar of you, because your joy and praise and pride is not your own, but it is stolen from another.

As one who has been in the dark waters for a lifetime, I want to share something with you.  It is terrible and desperate and contains horrors … and you should long to dive in.  Making friends and influencing people is meaningless if it is this false, half-friend sense of friendship, and the only influence is yours upon others, and not theirs upon you.  Diving into dark waters builds relationships that last and that stand firm in the face of overwhelming circumstances.  Diving into dark waters, and holding one another while we are falling and while we are rising, offers us the fullness of relationship that superficial connections cannot achieve.  Trust, boundaries, vulnerabilities, honesty, and deep love can only accompany these dark-water friendships.  Everything else is insufficient, and you are missing out on love and life if you don’t have people in your life who are holding you while you rise and while you fall—who don’t attend your struggles the way they attend your happiness, who come to the parties and not the funerals.

This is the fullness of love—the “unconditional” that we hear about, but rarely experience.  Rising and falling together.  Suffering and celebrating together.  And refusing to hold on to any judgments or scales or hierarchies.  Wading in the dark waters, and connecting in the midst of that murky river, with walls stripped down and conditions removed and humility and trust and the knowledge that brokenness is not all-defining, but that we can build a beautiful love from the bits and pieces, is a most fabulous use of time and energy.

I don’t often make friends and influence people.  I live a relatively humble life, and I don’t get out into the world to make connections very often.  And sometimes I make enemies and infuriate people, but not for the reasons listed earlier in this post, but because I push back at people’s refusal to accept the existence and the pervasiveness and the importance of the dark waters, and I try to break down the judgments and scales and hierarchies that some hold more dear than love.  But I seek, every moment, to be the type of person who holds humanity in high regard, and who seeks to hold every human I meet as they rise and fall as a result.

I don’t always succeed.  Because even as I seek to break down judgments, scales, and hierarchies, I was conditioned to hold them in higher esteem than humanity and love.  So I know that it is a fight to continue to hold everyone as they rise and fall.  I know that it isn’t easy.  I know it doesn’t always come naturally at first, and there are days when you will revert back to the scales or judgments by default (and you are usually overcome with shame when you realize you have done so).  However, every moment of that fight and every discomfort that results from diving into the dark waters is worth it.

Love—in the most deep and pure and deconstructed form—is worth it.

Rising and falling together is love.  Meeting needs is love.  Standing together in the darkest of moments is love.  And if you don’t brave being in the deep, you won’t find love.  You will find the half-friends who let you remain unchallenged in the good times, but abandon you in the difficult times.

When the deep rises up and you find yourself wading the dark waters, you want to be held by true love, and friends who are there for the whole of your experience.  And you want to hold onto others as they rise and fall.  Because a deeper, richer, more full life is the reward for holding on.

I want that life.  I want those friends.  I want that love.

Do you?

Dare to dive in.