Hope. It’s one hell of a word, isn’t it? Who knew that four little letters with their curves, lines, and openings, could hold so much weight in this world? Like a giant cargo barge that should really sink with its insurmountable tonnage, it floats. It floats amid the whitewashed currents and crescent waves that plague it with the constant threat of disaster. It floats. It learns. It provides for those who look after it. It serves. It LASTS. Hope is really like that. It can sometimes feel so tangible that we get goosebumps and yet it is elusive, a thought, a dream, some sort of alternate reality that we are afraid to believe could actually exist.
I have been thinking a lot about hope lately. Of all the world that makes up the human condition, hope is one of the most over-studied and misunderstood elements of the spirit. We all have it. We all have HAD it. We’ve all lost it. We’ve all rediscovered it. Hope, after all, is the positive piece of our imaginations that we actually use each day to survive. If I may pardon the horribly over-poetic metaphor here: Hope floats. Hope rises up when our spirits crash under the incredibly paralyzing stresses of life. Trauma, illness, debt, fear, death, all carry within them a tiny pinhole of light through which the hope can be seen. The moment we choose to see hope is when it bursts forth with a sort of violent beauty that then fills our cells with energy and our brains with dopamine. It determines how we proceed. It crafts a blueprint from which we human. Hope indeed changes us.
But why? What is it about hope that causes us to re-emerge from the quiet dens of our minds that tell us, over and again, that life is too terribly difficult to continue? How does the implanting of hope work for us? Where do we find it? From whom do we borrow it? How does it grow? These questions, though somewhat rhetorical, have answers that can be found inside the change that happens to us throughout our lives. Expectations, regrets, disappointments, successes, failures, betrayals, lessons all leave us with some element of wonder: I wonder if I could have done things differently. I wonder what would happen if… I wonder what this reaction would be. I wonder. It is the wonder that is the seed from which hope will sprout–if we care for it and nourish it in a productive way. Notice, I did not say “the right way.” There is no right or wrong way to hope because it is not something that we DO. Hope is something that happens to us.
I’m 38 and I have been blessed with many things. So many things, I can’t even count them. I have a husband who really really loves me, three incredibly gifted and kind daughters, a house to keep us sheltered, running water inside that house, two jobs I actually truly enjoy, a sweet small liberal town that supports my opinions and challenges my thinking, people in that town who smile and nod on the street when we cross paths, two loving parents who never ever get sick of my phone calls, and friends all over the globe upon whom I can trust whenever with whatever I need. I also have an eating disorder. And that eating disorder wants me dead. There is not a less dramatic way to put that. It actually wants me dead. Mental illnesses are so taboo in this world that we are conditioned to believe they either don’t exist or that their severity is completely made up by the sufferer. This could not be farther from the truth, as any of us who live with mental illness can attest, but that truth is difficult to prove because mental illness is so damn subjective. Even the sufferers wade through deep seas of denial before they come to their senses and get help. Some unfortunates never evade that denial and their illnesses rob them of every single thing in their lives, including their own last breath. Eating disorders are the most deadly of all the mental illnesses. In fact, more people die of eating disorders and their side effects each year than all of the other mental illnesses listed in the DSM-IV…COMBINED. Think about that for a minute. Each day, I battle with my head. Yes, it is my own head and I don’t have some guy living up there in my brain, but chemically the disordered thoughts that are up there have been fabricated by whatever way my brain structured itself to get around genetics, trauma, life experience, and illness in order for me to survive. My brain doesn’t care HOW I survive. It is simply organically wired to make sure all the physical parts of my body work so I DO survive. We can’t ‘think’ mental illness away. It is literally a structural and chemical perfect storm of synaptic and neurological arrangements in our brains. Like cancer, we can’t control the way that nature occurs. We can only treat it.
If you sit with me long enough, you might notice that I’m constantly body checking (Google it) or you might not notice because I’ve had 28 years of practice trying to hide it. But I will tell you that it is CONSTANT. My entire day is filled with it and the thoughts that ensue and, boy, is it exhausting. Add a tough day with my kids, too little sleep, and/or the onset of my period and you may want to steer clear of me. It simply takes too much energy to do all those things at once without losing my temper or completely breaking down. Obviously, some days are easier than others. But mostly I am consumed and I am using an exorbitant amount of energy to hide it so I can appropriately present myself to the world in a socially acceptable way. And then comes the food. I don’t want to eat. I don’t like to eat. But I have to eat if I am to survive. Even though FA hurt me, there are still some things about it that I continue to practice. I weigh my food still because it keeps my head quiet. It keeps me calm. It helps me cope. I don’t really snack, but I will if I’m hungry. I’m learning to listen to what hunger actually feels like. When I am full from a meal that I know was weighed and measured in the amounts that are healthy for me, I am less likely to purge because I know for a fact that I did not overeat. I still try to meditate, keep a routine, write. I still read some AA literature. And…I still hope.
I’ll segway here and introduce another topic that I think seamlessly ties into my aforementioned points with regard to both hope and mental illness. That is the topic of the absolute horrific hell that is happening at our own American border on our own American soil. Without getting political here (because diffusing this human catastrophe into a mere political debate is, at best, juvenile, short sighted, and actually evil), I feel obliged to state that never have I been more ashamed to be a human (because just saying I am ashamed of Americans does not carry near the amount of weight I wish to convey) than during my witnessing of the border patrol debacle that I still cannot comprehend could be taking place in this our 21st century America. At the heart of it is the ultimate topic of sheer American greed that none of its beneficiaries wants to broach; an elephant in the room, if you will, pun indeed intended. Each day, I am plagued with yet another story about kids in actual cages, battling contagious untreated yet treatable illnesses, and dying. Fucking DYING. Without their parents from whom they were violently stripped. I am also reading about citizens. Americans that were born here, on this very soil, being detained by ICE in said cages without running water, food, bathrooms, beds, and all of the things you and I barely notice that we use each day. I refuse to even discuss this with anyone who disagrees because I feel assaulted as a human by that disagreement. I feel attacked by anyone who does not wish to understand and admit that this is a humanitarian crisis that will haunt us for centuries. Centuries. Don’t you dare think I’m wrong about that part. And if you do think I’m wrong, I encourage you to walk a mile. In a fucking cage.
Think for a minute about your childhood. Most likely, it was good in that it contained a bed, food, and shelter. Without going into the nurture part of the debate, because I know many of us have had traumatic abuses that have happened to us in our childhoods, we are simply alive today because we had a bed, food, and shelter upon which we could continually rely. For those of you who did not even have those basics and are still here, I commend you. Now think about these families that have been detained. The ones who were literally torn from each others’ arms, like slaves at auction, and forced into cells to await trials or documentation proof or ultimate deportation. Have you any idea the brain damage that occurs to both adults and children alike in this scenario? The reason this will haunt us is because these physical changes in the brain that (remember, it is simply an organ that is designed to make sure our bodies biologically survive) will most definitely lay the perfect groundwork for all KINDS of mental illness in their futures. And I am just talking about detainees. I haven’t mentioned the separation of families yet. Ok, there. I did now. It’s tough to even type. There are tears parading in a tireless rant right down my Italian cheeks where they arrive at my German chin before they jump off in some sort of S.O.S. tirade toward my black Japanese-manufactured computer keys as I type this. I think about my own kids, up there in the living room watching tv on this restful Sunday that I get to have because I’m considered white and American and ‘non-threatening’ and ‘not seeking asylum.’ I think about their faces, what they would look like if they were literally ripped from my arms. I think about how it would feel to watch them stare in confusion as they are taken in police cars only to arrive 2,000 miles away from me with no one to hug them or tuck them in or make them feel safe.
My youngest is 5 this week. She is strong and fierce and kind of the boss of her two older sisters. I can barely think for three seconds what would happen to her brain, to her mind, to her heart if she were to suffer a similar fate to these detainees. I am lucky I can go up there and hug her whenever I want. She painted the beautiful stone upon which our expensive pellet stove sits yesterday and I lost it when I discovered it. But today, damn it, I see. I see how lucky I am to discover paint on the stone in my house. To know that little hands were there, doing that, happily. I think of my next youngest, the 7 year old. She is literally a walking heart. Everything stains her emotional self. Like, on the outside. It’s painful to watch because I am the same way. I see her pain and I feel it in a fashion that I can’t prevent. She is superbly sensitive in a way to which most humans can only aspire. She is some sort of human that maybe got mixed up in the ether and doesn’t quite fit in with the other humans here for all the best reasons. I think one day she may be president. Either that, or the next Jane Goodall. My oldest is a fucking warrior. She is strong and vibrant and full of curious wonder that spills from her sweet bones each day. She gets draining because she is one giant pack of questions on the constant. But she is an empath. A true Indigo child. Her spirit is loud and bright and intelligent. Her wisdom, God damn, completely abounds. When I think of these kids, these souls I’ve borrowed, the ones that chose ME to mother them, the ones I’ll give back to the ether when they are ready, I think of my own heart walking outside of my body. Tomorrow I send them to PA for a week without me to visit their grandparents. I love/hate it. I get all kinds of anxious knots in my stomach and heart. I can hardly bear to be apart from them. I grew them in my body, sustained them with my body, and I have worked tirelessly to mother them in ways that I hope will keep them safe in this torrential world. So when I think of these families being ripped apart, I naturally and especially think of the mothers. I have seen their faces at the moment of impact. I feel like I can almost see the bruise on their brains that will never leave them and that will plague future generations with a genetic imprint that will take hundreds of years to correct, if ever. I’ve also, sadly, seen the kids’ faces. The sheer terror is enough for anyone to notice. It is piercing. It is unignorable. Just the pictures have traumatized me. And I’m only a bystander.
This type of trauma, being separated from loved ones as children without explanation, even when they eventually reunite (which really isn’t happening at the rate the news outlets are leading you to believe) is vast, severe, permanent, and irreversible. Hell, even the people who aren’t directly involved in this crisis and are just reading it in the news are suffering from brain changes that will leave an impact on how they view and behave the rest of their lives. Humans are wired to be social creatures and we are wired to belong to family units. This is actually how tribes, villages, religions, societies and even cults work. We create likenesses among each other and formulate a sense of belonging to the group amid these likenesses. Our chance of biological survival depends on the group, not the individual. Fitness in numbers. When we reconfigure our sense of belonging due to the trauma of being separated, all sorts of things can happen not only to our brains, but our bodies.
I predict, as many others have already, a deep psychological wound this will have not only on our nation at large but on the world. Who the hell knows what these kids will grow up into? Tyrannical leaders? Peacemakers? Lawmakers? Parents? Shooters? Gang members? Drug Addicts? Teachers? Doctors? ALL of them will have demons from this. And our society will pay dearly for it. But, though horrific, most of these people will survive this mess. When the White House is no longer stained orange, perhaps a veil or two will lift. Families may or may not be reunited. But we will hear the stories. All of them. In one way or another. And one thing they will all have in common? Hope.
Remember that hope is not something we do. It is not something we have. Hope happens to us. And when it happens in an impactful way, it is violent. Violent beauty. I mean it assaults us right into the vein of fruition and we have epiphanies left and right while our downtrodden selves begin to see the bigger picture. Sadly, it doesn’t happen to all of us. Sometimes the blinds are too opaque for the sun. But hope is happening to these families. If it weren’t, no one would be fighting. Kids would be giving up. Moms and dads would walk away. LOTS more people would be dying. But hope is the one ingredient that allows us to continue when we wake up in the morning. More often than not, I’m pretty fucking pissed off that I’m awake and alive each morning. I wish I could convey that in a way that doesn’t sound so sinister. I’m not depressed. It is simply overwhelming to know what I’ll be dealing with mentally each day. I’m not always ready for it. I’m not always willing to grab my sword before I put on my lipstick. Rather quickly (with the help of coffee), hope happens to me. I’m hopeful that today may be better than yesterday. It doesn’t have to be better by a long shot. It just has to be better in that it is different. And in that prospect of difference lies the wonder. I wonder if today is the day. From the seed of wonder sprouts the hope that dares me to take that shower, get dressed, and walk out the door into the cacophone of inevitable events that build up to exhaust me as the hours tick by. Hope lets me lift the sword. The hope lives. I’m not sure from where it originates, but imagination is a close neighbor of it. I tend to imagine a lot of things. Worst case scenarios, best case scenarios, blah blah blah, none of which are definite. And because I don’t ever know what is ever definite, the only thing left is hope. So I let it happen to me. I lie there and let it wash the mud of pessimism from my feet. It’s not always fool proof. But it has a 100% success rate so far because I’m not dead yet.
Hope is happening to these families, these children, these mothers, with a violent beauty that only those who have endured such trauma can know. I don’t know how or in what capacity, but it is happening. I want to fuel it. I want to make it real for them. I want them to be able to discover paint on the stone in their houses again. I cave in on myself when I think of the cages. So I send them the hope instead. I picture them with their families on Sunday dinners around tables they deserve and food they enjoy. I picture the slight wrinkles left in blouses made by huge bear hugs from lost and found loved ones. I picture smiles and tears and loud guffaws of laughter at old memories that spark more of the hope to ignite. I expect them to be angry enough to seek justice in ways that are productive, in ways that serve their future generations. I hope. I hope the kids find their footing. I hope they read aloud to their siblings under the fat moon and audacious midnight. I hope that lawmakers can walk a mile in the cage under the ferocious threat of trauma and come out clean on the other side. I hope empathy abounds in some fascinating way that transcends our internet driven pseudo-connections. I hope for you, I hope for me, I hope for the world as we bear witness to these unthinkable acts that are performed daily not only at the border here, but throughout this giant small world. Let hope happen to you. Open it up. Allow its violence to consume you. And when it does, you won’t be able to stop it. Your only choice will be to open your eyes, look ahead, and survive.
If you want to get out and do more, to go beyond the hope, I encourage you to check out the charity ToGetHerRising at https://togetherrising.org/