Have you ever had a conversation that changed your life? I’ve had several, but one stands out amongst them all. It happened one morning in late April almost eight years ago. I was at a very low point in my life. I felt suicidal and so lost. My life didn’t seem to have any meaning or purpose. Was this it? Was this life? If so, I didn’t want to do it. It was too painful. I despised myself and couldn’t stand who I was or anything about my life. It all just seemed so dark, so hard, and so lonely. I wanted out.
The week before this conversation was one of the worst. I spent five nights not being able to sleep at all. I know not being able to sleep isn’t fun for anyone, but when your existence is as painful as mine had become having to endure it day AND night was just too much. I was on the edge.
I was so desperate. As much as I hated my life, I didn’t really want to kill myself. I had come very close just before Christmas and knew I didn’t want to go back there. I was doing my best to stay alive and find a way to be on this planet. I so wanted to believe that there could be more to this life, I just couldn’t see it.
That morning I sat on my couch talking with my coach. As I sat there I knew I had a choice. I could be brave and speak my truth, or choose fear and continue hiding. There were events in my life that I had never shared with anyone. I was afraid that if people knew, they would hate me as much as I hated myself. Yet, as much as I was afraid to share these things, the secrets were destroying me. “I think shame is lethal,” says Brené Brown. She goes on to explain that feelings of shame can quietly marinate over a lifetime. “Here’s the bottom line with shame,” she says. “The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
I had a lifetime of shame and this was the moment. I sat there trying to get the first word out. “Molly, you can trust me,” my coach said. He looked at me with such compassion and loving. I still couldn’t break the silence. “I know you don’t think you can trust me, but you can,” he continued. With that, I leaped. For the first time I spoke about being raped in college.
I went back to that night and recounted every detail. It was as clear in mind in this moment as 15 years earlier when it happened. After I recounted every detail, I lay there and cried. I cried all the tears I hadn’t allowed myself to cry. When it didn’t seem like there was anything left I opened my eyes. In this moment, my life would forever change. For the first time I saw it. I saw a small light in the darkness. This was new. I now had hope.
Hope was born out of a space. My coach held this space by being present with an open heart. He was fully present without an agenda, expectation, or judgment. Without criticism, advice, or judgment I was able to express what was really there for me. The feelings and emotions were able to be felt and to pass through. With his compassion and empathy the shame lost its power and grip on me. I felt lighter and this opened a space for the possibility that my life could be different. If it was possible to feel love in this moment, than love was possible. I now had motivation to look forward to the possibility of things being different and new in my life. I had hope.
In my view, if there is an antidote for suicide, it is hope. Hope is about possibility, change, healing, newness, and light. It is seeing that despite the darkness and pain in the moment, there is space for it not always to be this way… for the pain to lift, to ease, and the light to uplift and heal.
However, I think hope can be very misunderstood. It can become a barrier and a hindrance when it becomes wishful thinking. This type of hope can be the idea that some external entity will bring about the change we desire. Does this sound familiar? Have you been waiting for the perfect partner to show up? Or to win the lottery? To have your dad finally say what you have been waiting your whole life to hear. Spoiler alert– no one is coming! No one is coming to rescue you or to provide a different set of conditions for you. And this is good news!
I know, it doesn’t sound like good news. The good news is that you don’t have to sit around hoping and wishing and waiting for your life to be better. It isn’t going to change by something outside of you, at least not the way you really want it to. If you want true joy, peace, grace, fulfillment, and connection those things come from healing unresolved issues within. Attaching our happiness to conditions and specific outcomes causes all kinds of suffering. I know! I lived in that place for a very long time.
In that one conversation my life stopped being about trying to change and manage the symptoms and situations I did not choose for my life. It stopped being about hating the circumstance of my life– that I was raped and how this shouldn’t have happened to me. Instead, my life became about discovering the wonder and gifts in living fully given my life situation and circumstance. How could I use my experience of rape rather than suffer with it?
I knew I could share my story to help others, and just like that I had meaning and purpose. I was no longer suffering from my life and trauma; I was using it. I wanted to give others what my coach had just given me, a space to tell my truth without judgment, advice, or criticism. I wanted to pay it forward.
A heartfelt thank you for all of you out there who make it possible to see the flicker of light despite all the darkness.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.