Summer Reflection: Using Sadness for Strength
As the sweetness of summer fades into the tartness of fall, I’m reminded of the line from Cat Stevens’ song “Time Passages” – the years run too short and the days too fast. Certainly, this poetic description is relevant to the speed with which the seasons pass through our lives. Perhaps it’s this awareness – of the transient nature of our existence – that autumn’s approach fills me with sadness. In talking to others, I’ve found that I’m not alone.
Rather then looking expectantly to the expansiveness of summer, autumn sets us up for a period of inward, self-reflection.
For the most part, self-reflection is good. We must constantly study our selves and our reactions to the world to be better; more evolved human beings living richer more meaningful lives. Remaining still while the world continues to change leads to decay; and in this decay we’re pulled back into destructive actions, thoughts and distorted perceptions.
It’s also important not to view sadness and other uncomfortable feelings that emerge as part of life’s transitions as “bad” or view ourselves “weak” for experiencing them. We must give all emotions a voice and allow them to breathe rather than destructively medicating over them or impulsively banishing them away. Contained and properly analyzed, all emotions are good and have an incredibly valuable place in our lives. They serve as a barometer to gauge how we are doing in terms of self-care and self-actualization.
Remaining still while the world continues to change leads to decay; and in this decay we’re pulled back into destructive actions…-Paul Hokemeyer
For those of us who suffer from mental health and addictive disorders, this holding of uncomfortable emotions like sadness is extremely difficult. We used substances, behaviors and other people to banish emotional discomfort to almost tragic ends. In recovery, however, we’ve found a healthier way to utilize our uncomfortable emotions by transmuting them into things of value. We turn emotional pain into spiritual gold.
Utilizing sadness to evolve, however, is not for the faint of heart. It requires us to hold uncomfortable truths and accept events that seem irrational, unfair and just plain cruel. In reviewing the significant events of the summer now passed, it’s important we “glance back, but not stare.” We must use the sadness, disappointment and pain that we’ve experienced through these events to deepen our recovery, rather than allowing them to pull us back into the depth and despair of active addiction.
So what were the events of the past summer that caused sadness and seemed chaotic and illogical? Certainly the most shocking of these events was the untimely death of our fellow recovery warrior, Robin Williams.
The Passing of a Comic Light
A man who gave so generously of his heart, body and soul, Robin Williams took his own life after battling with depression and addiction for decades.
As a clinician who’s spent decades working in the field of addiction and a hyper sensitive human being, I’m no stranger to the seductive pull of a self inflicted death. Like active addiction, suicide and suicidal ideation masquerade as permanent solutions to temporary problems and pain.
What made Williams’ death so tragic and difficult to comprehend was his ability to attain periods of sobriety and his celebrity status. On the one hand we felt an intimate connection to him through his emotional struggles and success in overcoming them. On the other hand, however, we put him up on a pedestal and idolized him for being a star. “How could a man who had so much take his own life in such a violent and selfish way?” we asked ourselves.
Like active addiction, suicide and suicidal ideation masquerade as permanent solutions to temporary problems and pain.-Paul Hokemeyer
Most of the patients with whom I processed his death shared this sense of betrayal and bewilderment. “We’re all in this together,” one young man stated with anger that was layered over profound sadness. “[Robin Williams’] suicide sucks. He got to give up when I’m stuck here to fight it out.”
The truth of the matter is that celebrities face enormous obstacles to getting the specialized care they deserve. They exist in isolated bubbles, void of real and authentic connections to other human beings. In their ascent to the heights of success, they become detached from their humanness and objectified as commercial objects. When the pain of their isolation scrapes at their bones, they reach out for help but find themselves surrounded by people who are motivated by greed and a parasitic hunger for their wealth, power and status.
Yes, Williams gave up the fight, but he did so as a result of his thought distortions that originated from his addictive demons and became magnified by his emotional isolation.
We need to use Williams’ passing from this plane of existence as a beacon of truth that we cannot do this alone.-Paul Hokemeyer
We need to use Williams’ passing from this plane of existence as a beacon of truth that we cannot do this alone. We need a community of people with whom we share our struggles. We cannot suppress and deny our sadness. We need to reach out when every fiber of our existence wants us to surrender to the darkness of isolation and despair.
Addictions and mental health issues that lead to suicide ideation are prevalent in people from all walks of life. True healing and recovery comes, not from material possessions and external success, but rather from connecting to other human beings who understand your struggles rather than judging you for them or being disappointed with the truth of who you are.
What summer sadness can you utilize for strength in recovery this fall?
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