I have neglected my blog here for the past few weeks, because I have become more involved in different projects, which I hope will lead to paid employment in time. It has been a struggle to balance what I 'think' I 'should be doing and what I can actually achieve while managing to maintain my sense of equilibrium. One of the 'jobs' I've taken on is a role as an Expert by Experience. Through engaging with local Mental Health services from a new perspective I have started to reflect on how I have changed over the past five years. One particular new development is that I am finding myself less fearful of hope than I used to be.
Throughout my life 'Hope' has been a concept/feeling/idea that was a double edged sword. Take the pre-Christmas time of year, for example. Every year I would look forward to the 25th December with absolute hope, faith and optimism that somehow my family would be transformed and that from that Christmas on, our lives would be transformed. It's not that I bought into any of the commercialism consciously, just that everyone tries harder over that period and so, a bit like when families are on show, we all tended to be on our best behaviour. Also the only expression of acceptance and love from our parents was in giving us material gifts. At Christmas there was an abundance, somehow I hoped this would continue into the new year, but every year that hope dissipated in the reality that our parents were effectively disinterested in our lives. Except when they were angry with us.
I learned to fear hope, and to avoid anyone or anything which gave me hope. If I could learn not to be 'deluded' by hope, then the pain and distress I experienced with my life, especially when my hopes were dashed, would be less sharply felt by me. It is easier to accept life in the gutter if I've never even noticed that I can see the stars from there, let alone reach for them.
The problem I have faced is that if I am to find a life worth living, then I need to have something to hope in. That there can be purpose and meaning to every experience in life, both good and bad. For me that has come from a faith in a God who is bigger than me and my life. For others, they find it in family and other relationships. This has helped me primarily to make peace with the worst experiences of my life. I can see the bits of my character that have been shaped not by the harm done to me, but by the resilience which has helped me to survive and build a life that I can enjoy. One of the most critical moments in my treatment was when my therapist told me there was help and therefore hope that my life didn't have to be determined by my emotions or my past experiences anymore.
It is easy to assume that the alternative to hope is despair. I have learned that, that doesn't have to be true. As I have learned more and more about the DBT Skill of Radical Acceptance I have begun to recognise that sometimes, it wasn't hope and its loss which hurt me most. Rather it is the fact that I would hope unrealistically, or give my hope to people who either weren't worthy of it, or capable of fulfilling it. No individual person can fill the emotional void left by childhood and adult trauma. Sometimes the skill lies in recognising when hope is not appropriate. There are circumstances, or relationships, which no matter how hard I hope it wasn't so, will never change. It took me a lifetime to realise that even Christmas couldn't change my parents and the results of their own upbringing. Accepting that and letting go of the hope that by wishing I could effect a change, has freed to me to build a relationship with my parents that no longer reopens wounds from the past - over and over.
Another area I have struggled with is the sense of injustice I feel about how vulnerable people are treated. However much I hope that the injustice of government policies related to welfare and mental health funding will change, I must accept that, however flawed the election process, a majority of MPs are not supportive of such compassionate and corporate policies to help the most vulnerable in our society. Sadly, the majority of those who voted, voted for that kind of government. There is no point in me hoping that will magically change before 2020 when the next Election is due. However, I can look forward to that year and hope that if I can share my ideas and beliefs about a just society across, join with others who share those beliefs, then there may be hope that a change can happen. For now, acceptance is the right alternative to hope.
As I have moved away from being completely overwhelmed by my emotions, I have noticed that my view of hope has become an active practice of wise mind. Hope is an emotion, I feel it in my gut. However, I need to make sure that the facts of any given situation need to confirm that gut feeling for it to be a force which drives me forward. Unfettered hope, hope that is built on a denial of the realities of the situation is a false hope and it is that which hurts. Hope grounded in substantial, realistic understanding of what is going on around me, an awareness of what I and others are capable of, has a better chance of being fulfilled. Naturally, there are still times, because no one can predict the future, when hope is disappointed, but if we can consider the prospect of disappointment ahead of time, then rather than wreaking wholesale emotional devastation as in the past, it is something that we can both survive and build on.