Cultivating a Life that is Real: Finding Hope through Your Darkness

by Jason Pogue, PLPC

I have yet to meet anyone whose middle school years were not fraught with social perils and awkwardness and mine were no different. I can remember days I was so sure I had committed a social disaster that I laid in bed at night dreadfully imagining the possible fallout that awaited me the next day at school.  And yet, I would often awake the next day and march into school doing everything I could to pretend the truth that my knotted stomach betrayed was a lie and that none of the previous day had unfolded as it did. This got me through the day many times, but it was a miserable way to live. And, it still is.

The reality is we all still do this self-deception as adults because it gets us through the day, but we often never slow down to think about what it costs us. In the course of experiencing deeply confusing, painful, frightening, shame-filled, and aggravating events somewhere along the way we make a decision – whether conscious or not – to disown pieces of this experience that feel like too much to bear.

Just like middle school, we act like the wounds and emotions our bodies communicate we carry don’t exist, and we talk ourselves away from what the pit of our stomach knows is actual reality. We become so good at this that we disown parts of an experience while keeping all the good things so that as we move forward it seems like a bright and cheerful time even though it carries shadows on all sides of betrayal, crushed hope, or shame.

My point here is not to “miserable-ize” everything in your life, but to illuminate what is lost when we do this. The reality is what we disown is not only an event but our experience of an event. When we disown that experience we actually disown a part of ourselves – a part of the deep experience of our soul – and we take one more step away from ever being truly known by those around us. No matter how vulnerable we are with however many people, we always have those pieces in the back of our mind holding us hostage with the thought, ‘Yeah, but if they knew that about me they would run in the other direction.” We become lonely, and less and less real – no matter how many people or “positive vibes” we surround ourselves with.

Cultivating a life that is real and fighting loneliness begins with examining the pieces of our soul we have disowned, working through whatever discomfort kept us from doing this before, and bringing those pieces of ourselves back into the present so that we can live a more whole and connected life.

This is certainly not an easy task, but often when we face the darkness rather than run from it, we find some light. As English theologian Thomas Fuller once said, “The night is darkest just before the dawn.”

So what are the pieces of yourself you’ve left in the darkness? What are the parts of your soul locked away inside? Are you ready to face them openly? Are you ready for true connection? For whole-hearted living? Are you ready to be real?

What is Your Story? A Self Exploration Activity

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC 

Oftentimes it seems that whatever may lie in the past, we prefer to keep there. It seems so much simpler or safer or smarter to just pack up our past in a box and put it on a shelf in the storage room of our heart. It’s in the past, so what does it matter? Many of us wrestle with this very question.

I like to think of each life as a story that is being lived out. Just as in the stories we enjoy in the pages of books, each of our lives is filled with highs, lows, joys, sorrows, disappointments, dashed dreams, dreams come true, pain, and love, just to name a few. In order to grasp the fullness of the main character’s story in a book, we have to begin at the beginning. Picking up a novel and starting at Chapter 32 is going to not only rob us of the story’s depth, but would likely make for a confusing storyline. There is much to be gleaned from the parts of our lives we have already lived, as every step has gotten us to where we are today.

Below is an activity that can be helpful in beginning to search back into our life’s story to recapture the valuable pieces available to us there. Consider spending some time revisiting the previously aired episodes of your life. Ask someone, whether a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor, to begin this journey with you.

Activity:

Pick a milestone to write about using the chart below or divide your life up appropriately. Start with sentence: “This was a time in my life when….” and let the writing flow.

Use this outline:
1. Get a clean sheet of paper and date it.
2. Select the milestone that you wish to write about, and write it at the top of the paper.
3. Write down the five questions:
   a. Where was I living at this time in my life?
   b. Whom was I living with at this time in my life?
   c. What was important to me at this time in my life?
   d. What was I afraid of at this time in my life?
   e. Who were my friends at this time in my life?
4. Reflect for a moment on the milestone and the questions.
5. Begin to write, starting with the phrase “This was a time in my life when…”

Major Milestones:
0-10
11-20
20-30
30-40
40-50
50-60
70-80