Finding hope in the dark

by Stacey

My progress in getting over the eating disorder has slowed.

Changes at work, family illness, and moving house have left me feeling uncertain and unsettled. I’m increasingly afraid that I will not be able to get better. I’ve pushed through challenge after challenge only to find, as the nights draw in and things quieten down, that my courage is failing. I’m vulnerable and in need of feeling held.

How can I feel supported and nurtured when those I care about can’t be there for me?

It seems small and insignificant, silly, almost selfish, but this evening I really wanted to eat homemade (vegetarian) cottage pie. I stood alone in the empty kitchen, wishing there was someone there to cook for, or someone there to cook for me. This soon dissolved into wishing that there was someone there to give me a hug. I dissolved into tears, feeling unable to eat. I felt overwhelmed and bewildered. I fled.

How can I feel supported and nurtured when those I care about can’t be there for me? Where do I find hope?

I found myself upstairs, lighting a row of candles on the bedroom mantelpiece. It was a ritual meant to dispel the air of wet plaster, but as the flames burned into life some other magic must have happened, as the light brought an answer to my question.

The dark.

Just for now, I could feel safe and held by the dark.

As a child I loved the dark because I loved the stars. Then, on the verge of adulthood, stumbling home drunk from a party, I was left with reason to fear it. But slowly, over the past few years, I’ve befriended the dark once more, letting it wrap me in a blanket of invisibility and the joy of heightened senses.

In this acceptance of darkness, for me then, there is hope. Fears conquered and tamed, signs that change is possible. Hope nestles in the dark, in the bottom of my stomach. How can I feed that? How do I identify it, nurture it, and give it what it needs?

I came across a beautiful untangling of hope this week. Rebecca Solnit writes,

“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.”

The complexities and uncertainties in my recovery are many. They’re dead ends followed and ways lost. But for hope to remain I must learn to attend to the openings, too. As autumn becomes winter and the sun drops further in the sky, I can look for where the light is coming in and not spend too much time lost in the shadows. I can tour my territory, walk the bounds of the body that I am slowly growing into:

Here is a small fissure in my bones – a place where strength is seeping in, a new way of seeing and feeling my body.

Here is a small hole in my heart – a rush of blood and love, nourishing my cells with deeply felt connections with other people.

Here is a scratch in my skin – a clash of knuckles and teeth, an itch reminding me that skin can regrow, healing can come.

Here is a crack in the lens I have used to view the world.

Here is an open door.

Here is a space at the table, a place to sit amongst friends.