Darkness. If you have ever lost power or braved a real campout or tried to see if glow in the dark socks really work in a closet, perhaps you know something about the dark. If you are like me, your childhood taught you that night lights were heaven-sent and there was no need to really know about total darkness. To this day, I would rather sleep with a closet light on than wake to the darkness. I recently stayed in a hotel room that when you put your feet on the ground, a tiny light came on to illuminate your path. The lights were motion activated around the room and stayed on just long enough for you to prevent the inevitable tow stubbing that come from unknown darkness.
That was certainly not the case for me in 2008. The darkness was profound. I found myself in the midst of another bottom. One that brought with it feeling of failure and defeat. In ways that had not previously experienced, I had shut down. There were pieces of my heart and soul and spirit that were in mourning. I really wasn’t sure that I would ever see the light of hope. I had labeled myself broken and useless in ways that I was sure could not be redeemed.
It was from this place that I was introduced to a new skill set. By this point in my life, I had years of individual therapy and now a year of working a 12-step program. What I discovered as I began to treat my eating disorder was that I was missing basic tools. I was introduced to a program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. DBT is a cognitive behavioral treatment developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD, ABPP. This all sounds like squishy psyhco-babble-fluff, but for those of us that don’t have key life skills, once again, my world and life was opened to growth. Here is a great way to describe the gift that this program was for me:
“Problematic behaviors evolve as a way to cope with a situation or attempt to solve a problem. While these behaviors might provide temporary relief or a short-term solution, they often are not effective in the long-term. DBT assumes that clients are doing they best they can, AND they need to learn new behaviors in all relevant contexts. DBT helps enhance a client’s capabilities by teaching behavioral skills in areas like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills help people develop effective ways to navigate situations that arise in everyday life or manage specific challenges.” (www.behavioraltech.org)
For months, I participated in group sessions and individual work with a therapist that was trained in DBT. One of the best and most important gifts that this program gave me was the ability to be alone in my head. The mindfulness focus taught me basic meditation skills. What I had avoided, most notably in my prayer life, was the gift of listening. My attempts to run from myself pushed me to places of avoidance. When my world was opened to this new approach, the light came on.
I did not immediately develop the ability to be alone in my thoughts. I did, however, begin to breathe in my darkness. No longer was the absence of light terrifying. In this season, being comfortable in the unknown was tolerated. And more importantly, the willingness to sit in the discomfort of the dark places and look for the sparks of light was a gift that enabled me to press on.
It was also in this season that I was introduced to a writer that profoundly shaped my ability to use my story, however dark it felt, as a promise of light. I thank God, regularly, for voices like his that transformed my ability to belive that God could use my darkness to tell of the light of The Christ.
“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging